Cost of living crisis: Kiwis from all walks of life share 'soul-destroying' reality of skyrocketing costs

Kiwis from all walks of life are sharing their experiences with New Zealand's skyrocketing cost of living, with many finding even the basics hard to afford. 

It comes with Kiwis spending on average an extra $4000 to $5000 in the past 12 months on basics like food, rent and petrol. The vastest increase is on fuel, which is setting New Zealanders back an extra $678 a year at the pump on average. 

Following public pressure, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern finally conceded the increasing cost of living was a crisis this month after earlier refusing to do so, and the Government introduced a reduction in the fuel tax to combat it.

Newshub spoke to several Kiwis who are struggling with the cost of living about what it looks like for them, and what they want to see change. 

The student 

Newshub spoke to a Christchurch woman who is studying marketing. The 27-year-old receives the student allowance and has a side hustle that brings in some cash. She lives with her 38-year-old partner who works part-time. 

The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Newshub this is her second time studying - but her experiences this time round couldn't be more different. 

She feels her and her partner earn enough money they should be able to get by, but every week is a struggle and they can't see themselves ever owning a home.

"I think my main issue is that we are bringing what should be more than enough to get by and save some, and it's just not stretching like it used to. 

"When I first did my degree, I was able to live on $280 a week just for myself and was quite happy. It wasn't all super fun being a student and living on it, but I still had a car and I only lived with two other people - it was quite nice. 

"But now, even with what we are bringing in, I'm worried week to week about how we're going to go at the food shop. I'm constantly working the budget each week to make sure that we have enough to eat."

She said she's doing everything right but there's just not enough for the basics. 

"We don't get takeaways, we don't go out, we don't buy coffees out, we are on a strict budget for food and everything - and nothing seems to be working. 

"I'm looking for a job. I'm trying to find a part-time job on top of my studying. But, you know, my class timetable doesn't make that very easy - it's not that compatible. I can't really change anything else. I'm already doing everything that we should be doing."

She said she feels let down and stresses constantly about money. She sees a counsellor and financial anxiety is the main thing she talks about. 

"Money is one of the biggest stresses in my life. I count myself really lucky and I can't even imagine the amount of mental stress someone who might not have a job or anything coming in would be under. 

"It feels like the whole system is keeping us stressed and awake at night."

She said to add insult to injury, her rent and grocery bills keep increasing but her income doesn't. She believes the cost of living has been a crisis for many people for a long time.

"It just hasn't been noticed and it's starting to boil over now and affect more people, and I think now people are starting to realise. 

"This has been going on and it's probably a huge part of people's lives for a really long time. I'm really glad they're finally calling it a crisis because it's been a problem in New Zealand for a long time, not just for middle-of-the-road people."

She said tax cuts wouldn't solve the issue for her if it meant the tax-funded services she relies on, such as counselling, were cut. 

"With tax cuts, you're also disadvantaged a lot of people. I benefit from a lot of taxes because I do get counselling and mental health help. For me, it's more than just cutting back on taxes - it's more of a holistic approach and looking at things differently. 

"I don't think we can just blame this Government, I think this has been an issue that's going on for a long time."

The mum 

A mum of four Newshub spoke to said every week is a struggle. The mum, who wished to remain anonymous, says her partner works in the trade industry and earns around $63,000 a year. She is studying full-time to try and provide better opportunities for her family. 

She doesn't think she will ever own a home and can barely scrape enough together for the basics each week. 

"We struggle weekly. It is always a case of what bill can be put off this week so that something else can be paid. 

"We barely scrape by and live paycheck to paycheck. Taking our kids out anywhere that costs is out of the question. Things like movies and restaurants do not happen at all and birthday parties have become a distant memory."

She said the costs of basics are increasingly difficult for them to afford. 

"Food and rent and petrol are the biggest killers for us and I dread going grocery shopping these days as it's a soul-destroying experience."

The mum said her partners' pay increases don't come anywhere close to matching the increasing costs and she feels let down by the system. 

"Wages increase at a snail's pace. The last time my partner had a pay increase was two years ago and he has to work overtime so we can get by. It is ridiculous. 

"I believe that every New Zealander has been let down by the system. We are one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in. Our meat and dairy prices are exorbitant when we are a land that is plentiful in farming and overseas customers pay less for our products than we do."

She said rents should be capped so Kiwis aren't expected to pay nearly their entire weekly wage just to have a roof over their family's head. 

"This country is broken and in need of a complete overhaul - and if it doesn't happen, I envisage many moving across the ditch in search of a better life as New Zealand is just not liveable anymore."

The homeowner 

Daniel Hausen, 34, and his 30-year-old partner were lucky enough to buy a house in Lower Hutt just over a year ago thanks to KiwiSaver and family help. But despite owning a home and making around $140,000 combined, the couple are finding it difficult.

"We get by, but we struggle to save. We recently had to foot a bill to trim some trees that overhang our neighbour's drive - that’s $1000. 

"We need to do some general repairs around the house, and we simply can't afford to have someone come and do it. While we are obviously insured, any extra costs like this we struggle with."

Hausen says he feels National's proposed tax cuts are aimed at them, but doesn't think they would be worth potential cuts to public services.  

"Our main issue is financial anxiety. I don’t feel like we would be ‘better off’ with an extra $20 or even $50 in our pockets through a tax cut, if that comes at the expense of public transport going up, or a rise in power costs, or more pressing – interest rates. 

"I would really rather not have the tax cut and for that money to go towards ensuring that we can afford to earn money and keep the lights on – things which are generally out of our control."

He said he can find a side hustle to make some more money if needed, but can't bargain with Metlink over the cost of his train fare. 

Hausen says because he and his partner only just left the rental market after years of exorbitant rents, they still have anxiety from it. 

"I know that if interest rates go up significantly, the train tickets rise [in price], if power rises, we are in trouble. We go to two supermarkets to get the best prices on items. You shouldn’t have to do homework on who sells eggs for the cheapest out of the two supermarkets just to get by."

Easing the cost of living crisis

The Government recently announced it would slash $0.25 per litre off the fuel tax and halve public transport costs for an initial three months to help ease the financial pressure at the petrol pump. 

The tax reduction - expected to cost $350 million - will save motorists $11-17 per average fill-up, depending on the vehicle. Halving the cost of public transport - expected to come into force from April - comes with a $25-40 million price tag. 

The cuts come as other Government measures previously announced are set to kick in, such as an increase to the benefit, minimum wage and Family Tax Credits in April, and the Winter Energy Payment in May. 

National on the other hand is proposing tax cuts to help struggling Kiwis out. The way income tax currently works is, each dollar you earn up to $14,000 is taxed at 10.5 percent, and then each dollar you earn between $14,000 and $48,000 is taxed at 17.5 percent. These are known as 'tax brackets'. 

The next bracket is $48,000-$70,000, taxed at 30 percent. The next is $70,000-$180,000, taxed at 33 percent. Each dollar earned above $180,000 is taxed at 39 percent - the final bracket introduced by Labour after the 2020 election

National would lift almost all of the brackets by just over 11.5 percent, to match the 11.5 percent increase in the cost of living over the last four years. For example, the 10.5 percent tax rate would be applied to each dollar earned up to $15,600, instead of $14,000. The 17.5 percent bracket would go to $53,500, and the 30 percent bracket would go up to $78,100. The top tax bracket would be scrapped. 

The most typical salary in New Zealand is about $55,000, according to the Average Salary Survey. Those earning $55,000 would save about $800 a year if National's tax changes were applied. But someone earning $45,000 would only get about $112.