Top tips for getting out of a financial hot mess

New Zealand has one of the world's highest levels of household debt, with half of us wading around in it. Most of it - 87 percent - is tied up in property, with mortgages the ball and chain for most of us in our middle-age years.

For younger Kiwis, those aged 15-25, 78 percent are saddled with student loan debt. Add in the rising cost of living and it becomes obvious why so many of us are struggling to stay afloat. 

Whatever your situation, it's easy to get in a financial funk. 

But help is at hand.

Frances Cook, author of Tales from a Financial Hot Mess, says getting out of that financial hole is not as hard as you think.

The basics, she says, are simple.

The first step is to "stay out of debt no matter what," she told The Project on Tuesday.

Then, "figure out what will motivate you". 

The third step is to "sort out a savings account".

"Just $1000 in a savings account will make most people really happy, it doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, that will work. And then sort out your KiwiSaver."

She admits that getting out of debt is "really tough" but says it is possible. 

"You'll have to go through your budget and have a little look. Housing, transport, food - those are the biggest ones for most people. I don't care about your coffee or your avocado toast, those can stay. But if you can hit those three big expenses, for most people that will make a huge amount of difference. Once you've freed up that money just chuck it all on that debt."

Although it may seem hard to change the cost of necessities like housing and transport, there are a few things we can do to bring costs down. For example, is to shop around for an electricity provider.

"All of our situations are different, but all of us can usually do something," she says.

For her, it took "two years of scheming" to get her finances in order.

Her final piece of advice is to keep a money diary for a week and see what outgoing costs you can lose.

"You obviously have to keep a roof over your head, so anything that you actually need, keep. And anything that makes you happy and that you can afford, that's fine. 

"But you will find when you keep that money diary, the vast majority of us have things that automatically go out, we don't even notice, or things that we don't even enjoy but we feel like it's a need but it's not actually a need - cut them."