Some people are getting an over-65’s pension, some are on the job seekers benefit, some are between jobs, and some are long-term unemployed. A number of the people who come here have a criminal record, which can make it very hard to find work (as you can read in our guests’ stories).

Making ends meet on a benefit is really tough, and takes quite a lot of skill. One of our guests, Mike, shared his situation.

How Mike lives on a benefit

Mike has been in Wellington for three years, and lives in a council flat. He receives an invalids’ benefit, as he’s injured his back. He also has served some time in prison, and is having a hard time finding suitable employment.

Mike’s income:

  • $280 a week benefit, including an accommodation supplement

Mike’s expenses:

  • $160 rent
  • $30 power
  • $15 child support
  • $15 a week paying off fridge/freezer
  • $12 other fixed costs

This leaves Mike with $48 each week for food, clothing, transport, any entertainment and any unexpected costs that might come up.

It’s hard for many people to imagine trying to cover weekly food costs from that amount of money, let alone any extra expenses such as clothing, phone costs and transport. Food is a major expense for most households – the Otago University Cost of Food Survey shows that the cost of a basic balanced diet for a man living in Wellington is $72 per week.

Working within these tight financial constraints limits many choices, and can be socially isolating. Participating in activities that many people enjoy, like joining a sports team, going to the local swimming pool or gym can be out of the question for people living on such tight budgets. Buying appropriate clothing and shoes for sport can be another barrier to participation, as is getting to and from matches and venues.

Most of our guests do not own a car, and many say that they find public transport too expensive. When you consider that one fairly short return bus ride could cost $7 of your small weekly budget, that’s pretty understandable. While some of us might choose to go to a supermarket that’s a bit further away if they have specials or lower prices, the bus fare there and back can be prohibitive for those on a tight budget.

The high cost of public transport can exact an even greater toll.  We’ve now heard from a few Soup Kitchen guests who have preferred to give up hard-won tenancies in Wellington’s suburbs and resume sleeping out, as they were so isolated from friends and social activities. The cost of the bus fare meant few of their friends were able to visit, and it became too expensive for the guests to travel to and from town to see friends and family, or visit the library or supermarket.

Some guests also mention that they struggle around friends and families’ birthdays, and Christmas time. Giving a birthday present or taking some food or drink to a celebration is something that most people accept as a ‘normal’ part of fitting into a family or community.

There are many organisations in Wellington who offer help with budgeting and different ways of managing money. Wellington City Mission, the Downtown Community Ministry and St Vincent de Paul Wellington are a few of the organisations who offer services to those needing help with budgeting.