Cost of living: More than half of NZ parents report 'disheartening' lifestyle changes to afford food, research finds

Photo of a young couple going through financial problems, inset grocery trolley
Photo credit: Getty Images

From avoiding social engagements to foregoing family holidays, New Zealand parents are making a number of sacrifices in order to put food on the table, new research has found.

Despite Aotearoa's annual inflation rate falling to 6.7 percent in March, the figure was still more than double the Reserve Bank's target, with inflation still at levels not seen since the 1990s. Figures from Stats New Zealand found that the price of store-bought groceries had accelerated by 12.3 percent in the year to March, with food prices across the board also gaining 11.3 percent in March on an annual basis, up from 11 percent in December. 

With the cost of living continuing to pack a punch on New Zealanders' wallets, the new research sheds a light on the real cost of the crisis. Commissioned by My Food Bag's Bargain Box, the research indicates that more than a third of Kiwi parents have given up travel and family holidays, a quarter have scrapped their subscriptions to entertainment services in a bid to cut costs, and more alarmingly, almost a fifth said they've been forced to decide between buying food and paying their utility bills. 

The Bargain Box Dinner Time Check-In research surveyed 600 Kiwi parents in February from across New Zealand, all of whom have children living at home. Of the participants, 95 percent reported making sacrifices with their food shops, such as favouring affordability over nutrition, while 63 percent said they are sacrificing elements of their lifestyle to provide food for their family. 

According to the research, many Kiwi parents have been forced to rethink their social lives due to the increased cost of living, with almost a third admitting to avoiding social engagements and events to pinch pennies, while more than half said they've stopped or limited dining out at restaurants or cafes. Meanwhile, a fifth said either they or their partner has picked up a second job or side hustle to make ends meet, compromising their quality of life. 

Those who reported changing their lifestyle due to the increased cost of food were then asked to reveal what sacrifices or adjustments they've had to make, which were shared exclusively with Newshub: 

  • Doing more with less food - 36.5 percent
  • Dining out at restaurants / cafes less often - 56.9 percent
  • Ordering takeaways less often - 62.2 percent
  • Cutting back on retail spending - 60.6 percent
  • Cutting back on luxury spending - 57.7 percent
  • Myself / my partner working a second job or side hustle - 21.4 percent
  • Myself / my partner work more hours at our main job - 18 percent
  • I've had to cancel a subscription/s to entertainment such as Netflix or Neon - 25.4 percent
  • I often or always turn down social engagements / events - 31.7 percent
  • Giving up other luxuries such as travel and holidays - 36.2 percent
  • Deciding between buying food and paying the utility bills, e.g. electricity, gas, internet and water - 16.4 percent
  • Buying affordable food that is unhealthy instead of nutritional food - 38.4 percent.

Just under 70 percent of participants reported an increase of almost $100 to their household's weekly food bills over the past year ($50 to $149), while 51 percent of the parents surveyed admitted feeling stressed or exhausted when they have to think about the cost and hassle of putting a meal on the table.

This price hike has also forced Kiwis to rethink what's on the menu, with 34 percent reducing the amount of meat they buy; 25 percent only buying items that are discounted or on special; and 48 percent only purchasing the necessities. 

The research comes as Bargain Box commits to a price freeze on all its meal kits for the next six months in a bid to help Kiwi families. 

"As a dad of two, I can absolutely relate to the pressure parents feel to prepare and cook a meal the kids are going to enjoy, and it is incredibly disheartening when that can't go to plan because of external factors," Mark Winter, the chief executive of Bargain Box's parent company My Food bag, said in a statement following the release of the data. 

"It's no secret that inflation has affected food prices and this, coupled with the overall cost of living, is having a significant impact on Kiwis. This research has highlighted some very specific challenges parents are currently facing, such as having to reduce or sacrifice the amount of meat they're buying. The uncertainty of food prices is a hugely unwanted barrier when there's already so many other challenges at play.

"We want everyone to feel confident their food budget is going to cover what they need - meat included - without any fluctuation that may impact other household finances, such as utility bills."