Last week, the Government released its Budget, and many people had a lot to say about there being too little money. We are told 250,000 plus kids (and presumably their parents) are living in poverty. The strange thing about poverty is that nowadays it seems to be defined as living in a household with a low income, rather than going without the basics.

We thought we would add an oily rag voice to the poverty chorus. So here are our Oily Rag Budget policies for 2015 to help parents deal with child poverty.

Let's start with free food. Raised gardens are easy (and transportable). Pretty much anything can be used to hold the soil in but it needs to be about 300mm high. Most people use timber, but discarded car tyres also work. Why not try growing some of the following: silverbeet, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, beans, carrots, sprouting broccoli, green peppers -- and if you have room, courgettes, pumpkins and potatoes.

That's the free veges taken care of, now add free fruit. The biggest job is deciding which fruit trees to grow and where to put them! Planting can be done pretty much from now on until early spring. Dig a hole about one and a half times deeper and wider than the root ball of the tree. We reckon the perfect backyard orchard would have the following trees: orange, grapefruit, mandarin (for school lunches and snacks), lemon, tamarillo, feijoa, plum, peach and two apples -- one for eating and one for cooking. If you have space, don't forget a clump of rhubarb for winter puddings!


Some people say they don't have the time to garden, but some of those people do find time to watch television.

Statistics New Zealand says the average person watches about 14 hours of television a week. That equals about two days' working, which in dollar terms is about $200 worth of time a week for the person on a minimum wage. That time is better spent on money-saving activities like a vege garden.

Limit money spent on takeaways and junk food. Your children will like the free fresh food from your backyard more -- and it will be better for them.

When supermarket shopping, only buy house brand products or items on special -- that will save the average family about $50 a week.

Repay all debt, including your mortgage, as quickly as you can. Over the lifetime of a 25-year mortgage the borrower will pay more in interest than the value of the loan itself! Repaying your mortgage is one of the best risk-free investments you can make.

Have a big cleanout! Most families accumulate various items that they don't really need. It should be recognised that since oily raggers tend to save things that may come in "handy" one day, they usually have lots of stuff to turn into cash. Surplus assets typically include a second car, sports gear, boats, books, caravans, clothing, well-loved furniture, and so on. When sold, these goods can add up to serious money that can be used to knock a significant dent in a family's mortgage -- or be converted into something else that the family needs.

Don't buy stuff on credit and certainly don't buy from door-to-door hawkers that cruise low-income neighbourhoods.

Never go past something that's free. Everything is worth something to someone. One oily ragger recalls being offered a piece of old machinery that was cluttering up a shed. He did not need to think twice - quicker than you could say "ummm, ahhhh" he stripped it down and sold the workable parts through an online auction site and other bits to a scrap dealer. He made a tidy sum -- a nice reward for a little bit of time and initiative. It's amazing how much stuff is free.


For most, having a lower income does not mean a household needs to go without -- it just means adopting an oily rag attitude and becoming more creative about doing things for less.

Thanks so much for your questions and tips - please keep them coming!

You can send in your ideas and join the Oily Rag mailing list, by visiting - or you can write to us at Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.

* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Read tips at