Frugal? Modest? Luxe? Here’s how much you need to earn to fund your lifestyle

“Is $110,000 enough for a family of four to live comfortably in Auckland?”

It was a simple question, posed this week on Reddit by an American engineer considering a shift to New Zealand with his young family. However, responses were anything but simple.

While once, not so long ago, the immediate answer would have been “absolutely”, the more than 200 replies to our would-be immigrant showed opinion today is divided.

For every person who claimed $110,000 would be ample, another warned it was nowhere near enough. Many, many more pointed out it would ultimately come down to an individual’s definition of “comfortably”.

READ MORE:
* So you want to retire…
* Coronavirus: Can the average Kiwi afford to live on the Covid-19 wage subsidy?
* My three-year plan to buy a home

Stuff crunched the numbers to find out how much you really need to earn to fund three different lifestyles in our biggest city, from frugal to luxe:

(Note: Calculations are for a family of two adults and two school age children, living in Auckland, with no debt. Each scenario allows for a 3% contribution to KiwiSaver and assumes the children attend a state school. All other costs are based on data from Immigration New Zealand’s cost of living calculator.)

RYAN ANDERSON/STUFF

People in Auckland react to the announcement of a $350 cost of living payment for people earning under $70k. (Video first published May 19.)

Frugal

Our frugal family lives simply, with few treats or entertainment. They’re happy to buy cheap and secondhand goods, and run a cheap car that travels around 8000 kilometers a year.

They rent a two-bedroom home in West Auckland for $500 a week, with the kids bunking in together, and spend $220 a week on food and another $25 on other necessities from the supermarket.

Other expenses – including, medical costs, running and maintaining a vehicle, insurance, power and phone – come to $270 a week.

The family also puts $10 a week aside for Christmas and $50 a week into a “rainy day fund” for repairing or replacing major items, like the car or an appliance, and other unexpected expenses.

Another $40 a week is earmarked for entertainment. They don’t plan to take a holiday.

That brings their total estimated spend to $1130 a week or $58,760 a year. To have that much cash in hand, they’d need to earn at least $79,000 a year before tax.

Modest

This family lives reasonably but without any real splashing of the cash. They enjoy some wine each week, and the odd takeaway meal. They rent a nice house in a good area and drive a good quality, secondhand car that travels around 16,000km each year.

Weekly rent for their three-bedroom home is $700, and they spend $380 a week at the supermarket.

They’re a bit more free and easy with running heaters and buying new clothes, and also have medical insurance, bringing their other expenses to $380 a week.

A family with living costs of $1,695 a week will need to earn $126,500 a year before tax to fund their modest lifestyle.

Grant Matthew/Stuff

A family with living costs of $1,695 a week will need to earn $126,500 a year before tax to fund their modest lifestyle.

They also squirrel away more than the frugal family, putting $30 a week towards a summer holiday, $20 a week towards Christmas and banking $75 a week for those inevitable mechanical breakdowns.

Their total estimated weekly spend is $1695 ($88,140 a year), which means they’d need to earn $126,500 a year before tax.

Luxe

Our luxury family lives in a very nice house, in an above average area. They have two good cars, bought new and upgraded every few years. They eat nice food at home, enjoy meals out and a glass or two of wine with most evening meals.

They pay $1150 a week to rent a four-bedroom home in Ponsonby, and their weekly supermarket bill is $500.

Their other expenses come to $525 a week, including $120 for clothing and $130 to run two cars.

They’re happy to spend $200 a week on entertainment and put $180 a week into their rainy day fund. Their Christmas kitty and holiday funds are also healthy, with weekly deposits of $50 and $100 respectively.

That brings their total weekly spend to an estimated $2725 ($141,700 a year), meaning they’d need to earn $213,500 before tax to fund their lifestyle.

“That’s not our reality.”

Makerita Makapelu laughs at the mere mention of medical insurance; let alone the ability to spend hundreds of dollars a week on groceries.

“Medical insurance? Come on. Poor people are trying to scrap together enough to eat. And $380 a week on groceries? That’s how much people get on benefits.”

While the numbers of our frugal, modest and luxe families apply to those in Auckland, the team leader of Wesley Community Action says they’re a world away from what she sees in Cannons Creek, Porriua City.

There, Makepelu works with mainly beneficiaries or the working poor: NZers on low wages and often not entitled to Government assistance. For them, allocating even the smallest amount of money for entertainment is impossible, as is putting aside any savings for car repairs, holidays or Christmas.

“We’re forced to crate our own sense of control where we can and support our families to do the same. Usually that’s about knuckling down on wants and needs. They have to live very basically.”

She’s been in the role for 15 years and says the need in her community is growing. The idea that even a “frugal family” could pay for insurance is laughable.

“That’s not our reality. It might be a reality somewhere but not where I am.”

So Stuff asked people on the street what they thought about the calculation that even a frugal lifestyle would need $1130 a week, or a wage of least $79,000 a year before tax.

Shannon Croot, 27, New Plymouth

Shannon Croot

LISA BURD/Stuff

Shannon Croot

“As a nurse I earn much less than that, but the figure does not surprise me. It’s hard to live on that figure let alone what I earn. I can never think of owning my own home at the moment.”

Christian Hipp, 25, New Plymouth

Christian Hipp

LISA BURD/Stuff

Christian Hipp

“It does not surprise me at all. I think you actually need a lot more in the current climate.”

Stuart Day, 48, Wellington

Stuart Day

LISA BURD/Stuff

Stuart Day

“I think the figure is a little low, to be honest. We live in Wellington and there is no way you could survive on that figure. There might be some people living in small towns where you probably could.”

Nick James, 32, New Plymouth, with his son Gareth (7)

Nick James, 32, New Plymouth, and son Gareth (7)

LISA BURD/Stuff

Nick James, 32, New Plymouth, and son Gareth (7)

“That figure is an absolute joke. We are in the top tier of income earners, and we struggle with how things are at the moment. We have to watch every dollar we spend. If that figure was based on someone who was single, and they had no kids, then maybe they could get by.”

Nelson Campbell, Motueka

Nelson Campbell

Catherine Hubbard/Stuff

Nelson Campbell

I’m retired. I was earning $114,000 and that was enough to save very comfortably. The KiwiSaver, that was the best thing ever. Before I came to New Zealand, which was 1987, I earned £90,000 a year, which was $270,000, so where I am coming from I took a big wage cut to get here. It’s never, ever, gone above $114,000. The wages in New Zealand are fairly poor. That’s why we can’t keep the people we need in the jobs that we need them in. Pretty ridiculous isn’t it?

(To live comfortably) I think you would take the pension and add $10,000 to that. About $30,000. I own my own home – rates are $4,000 a year, the insurance is $2,000 a year, to run a car, about $8,000. I would say you need about $30,000. I spend about $10,000 a year of savings on top of the pension I get.

Additional reporting by Virginia Fallon and Catherine Hubbard