Friday, 21 February 2014

New Zealand- the cost of a life



A frequently asked question: Isn't the cost of living in New Zealand extremely high?  

Disclaimer: This post is anecdotal and in no way meant to be any kind of economic indicator (that sounds important, but may be a phrase used totally out of context).  I'm no expert.  

The NZD to USD is 1:.83.  That stays fairly consistent.

Housing is more expensive than we were used to but not shocking to our Chicago BFF's.  After meeting so many Poms (common slang here for British) in NZ, and having a sneaking suspicion, I asked a realtor if "they" had anything to do with what I considered to be high real estate and rental prices.  There was no hesitation, "Yes."  

If you've ever visited the UK you get the whole, very tiny island with very many people piled on top of it thing.  Imagine being a person that loves beaches and loves nature, but doesn't like the idea of being shoulder to shoulder to people on a beach, parking a mile away to get to said beach, or living right on top of your neighbour.  If you are that outdoorsy Brit and you visit New Zealand, you may just think you've landed in heaven.  Beaches galore, where you may be the only person enjoying their majesty.  

Oh, and the other part is the exorbitant British real estate prices.  Again, a Brit sees a huge New Zealand house with loads of land-- something they would have never had within their financial grasp (or practicality grasp) in England-- and they are willing to pay well over what might have been a traditional Kiwi market driven price.  So boom.  Blame it on the Brits.  (love them.  married to one.  no haters please.)

Gas, or petrol, as you may say.  Yes, outrageous. Gone are the days of me sympathising with Americans who cringe at paying $3/gallon if it gets up that way.The US Banks estimate the average price for gas in 2012 as 97 cents a litre for Americans.  New Zealanders paid, on average, $1.77 NZD  (1.46 USD) per litre in 2012.  So yep, gas is more.

General items-- furniture, bicycles, clothes all can be more than US prices.  Again, New Zealand has import prices because being a small country, the industry in NZ does not create all of these products.  Don't even ask me about importing cheap things from China-- I haven't explored it, but I imagine it is behind some of the less expensive clothing shops. 

Food.  Yes food is more expensive.  It is also seasonal.  We are on an island.  We do have imported bananas regularly, but much of the produce is absolutely seasonal. 

Eating out.  Yes, feels more expensive, BUT, included in your bill is tax AND tipping is not expected because, get this, NZ actually pays their restaurant industry workers a living wage! 

Minimum wage information taken off the government website follows: 

The minimum wage rates are reviewed every year. 

The current adult minimum wage rates (before tax) that apply for employees aged 16 or over are:
  • $13.75 an hour, which is
  • $110.00 for an 8-hour day or
  • $550.00 for a 40-hour week.
The minimum rates that apply to starting-out workers, and employees on the training minimum wage (before tax), are:
  • $11.00 an hour, which is
  • $88.00 for an 8-hour day or
  • $440.00 for a 40-hour week.
So there you go.  I'm not going to wax lyrical about a living wage and all that goes with it (and how I know a US person with a Master's degree that was making $9/hour in their very professional field), but obviously it makes a difference to a person and nation's quality of life; you can come to your own conclusions.

Which leads to  . . .  drum roll:  A nationalised health care system.

The freedom given by knowing that every person has access to affordable health care and it is not dependent on their employers' benefit package is immeasurable.  The basic right of health care being addressed, as well as a decent minimum wage, allows many creative souls to take part time or day jobs while they are pursuing their creative dreams or honouring their passions-- whether it be working their land, doing their art or music, homeschooling their children or the like.  They are not trapped into soul-sucking jobs just for the insurance and retirement benefits (although I'm sure there are many Kiwis that feel they are in less than fulfilling jobs, but honestly, I haven't met many of them).

Even if you are visiting and have an injury you will likely be eligible for coverage through ACC.  I accsessed it for a pulled back before my residency had come through-- it was simply offered as a payment option when I went to see an osteopath.

So how do people afford to live in New Zealand?  My partner (that's what you say here in NZ no matter your orientation or longevity) and I asked each other that question frequently while experiencing the initial sticker shock, but after awhile our lifestyle began to give us the answers.

When mascara costs $15 or $20 for a tube of Maybelline guess what happens?  I don't accumulate a bunch of cheap makeup lying around.  There's really something beautiful about paying a bit more for things that used to be dirt cheap-- it helps me reach that unattainable goal of simplifying my life by clearing the clutter.  I'm more mindful about my purchases.  

In the long run, guess what happens?  I spend far less on clothes and miscellaneous shopping in New Zealand because I am a much more conscious spender here.  Funny, that.

On paper, we spend, at most, 15% more on food here, bearing in mind that we eat lots of fresh seafood and other items that would have put our bills over the top in the US.  Rather, we have become more mindful (there that word is again) of the food we buy, making it quality and fresh as much as possible and waste less than we ever have in our lives. Eating more efficiently makes us feel that in reality we spend less than we did in the US.

Our subtropical climate lends itself to great growing of many foods and what we don't grow a lady down the road does, organically, or we can pick up at the farmer's market or other venues as well.  We treasure our produce more when we know the land it comes from.

Eating out is another area that we give more thought to and thoroughly enjoy when we do indulge, but probably do far less of than we did in the US.  One thing about New Zealand is they love their food, coffee and wine and they do amazing things with all of them.  Even your little coffee shop will have fresh delicacies creatively prepared.

Automobile/petrol is a mixed bag.  One thing you can get for value here are used cars, and where we live there are no fashion shows for better and more flash.  In fact I call mine a beach buggy and have to accept the fact that it will be filled with sand because I can't even count the beaches in a ten mile radius around us, but a bit of each of their sand lives in my car, er, buggy. That would have been a major stressor with the new Mini Cooper I had in the states, but isn't with the vehicle I paid $5000 for and runs like a dream.

Commuting could seem to add up petrol prices, but that's where that living wage helps.  And the fact that we are so into the natural beauty in our own back yard, besides business and work, we are not making mindless car journeys.  I do think petrol can be a difficult hurdle for very low income folks and young ones just starting out.  Americans find the gas prices a fright, but the rest of the world is familiar with similar prices.
  

I'm not a fair judge for everyone obviously.  We are a bit secluded in the Northland and my partner and I aren't going out for cocktails regularly.  Neither of us had ever had a hankering for being a mall-bunny; I actually loathe the idea of shopping, not that I can't partake once I make the effort.  

One habit I've taken up is ordering Old Navy and picking it up when I am in the US, but as time has gone on I have a real investment in contributing to the local economy so I love to pick things up at funky shops, such as our local surf shop that has some amazing gifts and clothes and household items.  New Zealand is full of quaint shops.  And lots of amazing art. 

My son's favourite activity is surfing ten minutes down the road so we are not constantly toting him far for activities (she says right before soccer, er, football season starts).

Living in Auckland is a entirely different experience that I can't speak to, but it's an amazing prospect.  For those that still like the idea of country living you can find that within a fifteen minute commute.  Auckland's a very sweet little city.

"Lifestyle" is a buzzword in New Zealand and a topic I could write a book on,now that I understand it.  You can't put a dollar value on it, and it has been more responsible for my return to health than all the US specialists combined.

People here live creatively. They frequently have roommates, some live in caravans (campers), some invest in land with others to make housing more affordable. Lots of folks live off the power grid, as we are now.  I've met people who totally survive on what they catch in the sea and grow in their gardens and the rain that falls from the sky.  Interesting stories of how people make it work in New Zealand are part of the unique tapestry of this country.  

Hopefully this peek into our perspective might be helpful if you are considering relocating to New Zealand or are just curious.  

Signing off as I stare out at the ocean view that would have been absolutely unaffordable in our previous lives.  

It's all about perspective, I reckon, and to me and my health and wellness, this one's worth a million bucks.



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