Taupō Budget House co-ordinator Jan Otsuka says she thinks people are "shell-shocked" after having two days' notice of the Alert Level 4 lockdown last week.

She said enquiries to Budget House so far had been quiet but she expected them to pick up soon. Staff are working from home answering the phones and responding to requests for information and advice.

"It's been a little bit quiet because everyone has been shell shocked and doing what they need to survive, battening down the hatches.

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"But just today we are starting to get some enquiries and I expect that to pick up in the next week or so.

"People were probably in limbo waiting to see if employers were eligible for the subsidy but by now I think a lot of employers have applied for it."

Mrs Otsuka said people would be anxious because there were no clear answers yet on which businesses would survive and how many jobs would be lost.

She said key advice for people trying to find information was to be patient.

"At the moment everybody is trying to get on the phone to talk to WINZ [Work & Income] and their banks or their creditors and their phones are being tied up. We're hearing stories of 90-minute waits for WINZ and people give up and then have to start again later, so what might have taken them two hours is taking three days. Be patient, stick to it, get your phone call done."

Mrs Otsuka said giving up and hanging up ultimately only makes people feel more stressed.

"We suggest that you have an activity to do while you're waiting on the phone. Write a letter, do your shopping list, do a puzzle, make sure you're not idle otherwise you're more likely to hang up."

Another suggestion was for people to plan their weekly shop ahead of time. At peak times people were having to queue outside the supermarkets to be let in and having to stand two metres apart. Doing a weekly or fortnightly shop with a list meant people were less likely to waste money on things they didn't need or couldn't afford and was safer because it reduced community interaction.

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But Mrs Otsuka cautioned that the more food people had on hand, the more they were likely to eat it, even if they weren't hungry, and their kids at home off school were likely to always be diving into the pantry.

"The natural instinct is to stock up and stockpile but if you're going to do that, hide some and just put it in the pantry as needed."

Taupō Budget House co-ordinator Jan Otsuka. Photo / Supplied
Taupō Budget House co-ordinator Jan Otsuka. Photo / Supplied

Mrs Otsuka said people in financial hardship should prioritise food, rent and power as essential expenses.

"You need to make sure that you are eating, that you have power and that you have paid your rent and have enough for your medical needs."

For other payments, if they were genuinely struggling with things like car repayments, they should contact the creditor and ask about applying for hardship under the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act. For trouble with living expenses, people should ask WINZ for help. If it was mortgage repayments, they should speak to their bank.

The Retirement Commissioner has also put out a list of resources for people under financial pressure.

Commissioner Jane Wrightson urged KiwiSaver members under financial stress due to the effects of Covid-19 to consider all forms of Government and bank support before resorting to withdrawing money from their retirement savings through hardship applications.

"While your circumstances may qualify for withdrawal under significant financial hardship, taking out money now may severely impact your quality of life in retirement later," said Ms Wrightson. "There is a lot of other help available you could access before going down that road."

Retirement Commissioner Jane Wrightson. Photo / Supplied
Retirement Commissioner Jane Wrightson. Photo / Supplied

The Commission for Financial Capability is urging people to consider options that may be available to them under the Government support package announced last week.

It includes: leave and self-isolation support, wage subsidy scheme, mortgage holiday and business finance support schemes, business cash flow and tax measures, a wider $12.1 billion package, support for Māori communities and businesses.

There is a free government helpline to ask about other help that may be available on 0800 779 997 (8am–1am, seven days a week).

People who have lost their job, can't work at present, are struggling to meet living costs or have reduced incomes may be able to get a benefit or other help from WINZ. Even if you're not on a benefit, WINZ may be able to help. Visit www.workandincome.govt.nz

The government-funded website sorted.org.nz has tips, guides and tools to help you work through your money problems. You can also email office@sorted.org.nz and contact the team through social media.

The Money Talks helpline is also government funded and gives you access to expert financial mentors via phone, text, live chat and email: phone 0800 345 123, help@moneytalks.co.nz, or text 4029. www.moneytalks.co.nz

Banks and other financial service providers are willing o work with customers who are struggling financially, by restructuring loans or giving access to short term credit. Borrowers have a legal right to ask for changes to their repayments when they are experiencing unforeseen hardship.

Ms Wrightson says people should try to avoid making a decision based on fear.

"Emotional situations tend to lead to poor financial choices, so access the help above before turning to the long term savings and investment that is your KiwiSaver. You will not only crystallise the losses your fund has suffered since the effects of Covid-19 began, but also lose out on future returns."

Budget House tips for budgeting during the Covid-19 crisis

1. Be Patient

Your phone call to your bank, creditor or Work & Income may take a long time to be answered. Go to the toilet beforehand, make yourself a cup of tea, let your kids know you will be on the phone for a while and set yourself and your kids up with something to do while you wait. Don't hang up in frustration, you'll only have to call and wait again later.

2. Plan Ahead
You can't just duck into the supermarket every day to pick up what you're going to get for dinner. Plan meals a week in advance and try to get the bulk of it in one trip.

3. Prioritise your spending
Food, rent and power should be your first priorities. Don't be tempted to not pay your rent or power.

4. Keep up with your contracted payments
Keep up with repayments as much as possible. Not paying bills will come back and bite you eventually. If you are worried about your ability to repay, contact your creditor and ask about hardship under the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act, but be aware that you will have to repay more overall later.

5. Don't Panic
If you start getting letters or texts from collection agencies such as Baycorp, don't let it make you stressed. These are often automatically-generated. If you need help, talk to Budget House, who can contact the collection agency.

6. Talk about it
If you're stressed, find someone to talk to. You can contact Budget House on 377 1094, text them on 027 577 0080 or email them at info@tbas.org.nz. Or call Money Talks on 0800 345 123, email help@moneytalks.co.nz, text 4029.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website