Managing money problems can be one of the most stressful challenges in life, but as of January, the Wellsford Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) now offers a free budgeting service to help keep finances on track.
Budget service manager Jo Walker says a lot of households struggle with debt at this time of year, as back to school costs put finances under strain.
“The number one reason people visit us is debt, and a big issue right now is the cost of going back to school, including uniforms, IT, and stationery supplies,” she says.
One of the main obstacles is the reluctance to talk about debt, but people need to know they don’t have to be alone in their worries.
“Kiwis don’t often like to bring up their crippling debt over dinner, but they can off load to us because our service is confidential and free,” she says.
“We get them to give us all the numbers, then we work through creating a simple budget, and they get a road map that says how much can be spent and on what.”
Working with CAB can also dissuade creditors from taking action such as shutting off the power or repossessing a car.
“Once we have permission, we can talk to the creditor and tell them budget services is now working with the client,” says Jo.
“Even if payments are in arrears, if we can show that we have done a budget and are monitoring the client then it can give the creditor some comfort.”
The budget service is run by volunteers from various backgrounds, with 17 budgeters responsible for doing home visits from Puhoi to Maungaturoto, and a further three based in the Wellsford CAB office.
Volunteer budgeter Adrian Tracz has been working for the CAB for two years and recently completed an eight-week budgeting course. Tracz was previously a credit manager for Fletcher Building for 35 years and says it feels great to be on the other side, helping people to manage their debt.
One of the growing worries in the region is the significant rates increases in recent years, which is particularly hurting retirees, she says.
“I recently learned of a process called ‘rates postponement’ that allows you to defer paying rates until it can come out of your estate or the property is sold.
“It’s a great option for the elderly who may have a low income and an asset in a home, but it’s not widely known.”
Both the Auckland Council and Kaipara District Council postponement schemes require that rates and debt on the property do not exceed 80 per cent of the available equity. CAB Wellsford manager Janny Baker encourages struggling households to approach the budget service before they make the decision to get into debt.
“It’s better to get everything down on paper and figure out what size repayments a budget will allow for,” she says. “All our clients leave happier than when they arrived, and the service is available to everyone including workers, small business owners, and beneficiaries.”