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Budgeting: Tauranga Budget Advisory Service co-ordinator Diane Bruin, left, and educator Debbie Green.

“Living on a low income is very difficult. We could all do it for a week, but month in and month out, everyday life is stressful and difficult,” a local budget advisor says.

People that have been helped with multiple food parcels from the Tauranga Community Foodbank have been sorting out their finances by joining the Financial Capability Training course.

The course was provided by Tauranga Budget Advisory Service (TBAS) and priority was given to those that had utilised the foodbank many times this year.

The participants took part in four sessions: meal planning, budgeting, buying stuff and saving/housing/Kiwisaver.

TBAS educator Debbie Green said the course was an extension to working one-on-one with a budgeter.

“We hope that participants are able to make wiser choices in the future and not get ripped off so much – we discuss being a canny consumer, keeping receipts for items they buy and taking them back to the retailer if they break, quoting the Consumer Guarantees Act,” she said.

“As participants are on such a low income, they cannot cope with large bills. For example, rather than fearing a large power bill in winter, we discuss paying the same amount each week, year-round, so prompt-payment discounts are always received and late fee charges are avoided.”

Ms Green hoped the participants would pass on what they learned to their children to begin a cycle of improved financial knowledge.

“Sometimes participants had not been brought up in families where getting a good deal, shopping around, saving up is the cheapest way to buy, was discussed. Others have just had a lot of bad luck and do not have families that are able to help them out.”

She said it was “humbling” to see the bad luck experienced by many, such as ill health, deaths of children and accompanying unexpected funeral costs, and the difficult circumstances many of the participants lived in.

“They have no buffer to deal with things like a car break-down and repair bill, or a large power bill. They find it difficult to get good deals on things that those on bigger incomes and with better credit records could get,” she said.

“The course provides a supportive non-judgmental atmosphere where participants can share tips that have helped them – I have certainly learned more money-saving tips from those participating.”

Tauranga Community Foodbank manager Nicki Goodwin said as well as helping people with budgeting, the course left the participants with a real sense of achievement.

The foodbank kept records of all the people that had been given a food parcel. Any that kept returning to the foodbank for help but refused to take part in the course would get decreased help in future from both the foodbank and TBAS.

“It means going forward, we understand if they need help it is because of an emergency, not because it’s a back-up plan.

“It’s really helping people take responsibility.”

Mrs Goodwin said the course had worked better than anticipated.

“We have seen a decrease in food parcel requests from people who were high users at the foodbank. There has been a massive decrease from those clients.”

Financial Capability Training Course sessions

* Meal planning – planning a menu, shopping tips, recipes and what to do when the cupboard is bare.

* Budgeting – preparing a spending plan, stretching your dollars, reducing costs such as bank fees, phone and power costs, setting up regular weekly payments for costs such as power, school costs and medical costs.

* Buying stuff – needs versus wants, different ways of buying things, downsides of hire-purchases, interest-free deals, credit cards, shopping trucks and how to prioritise debts.

* Saving/housing/KiwiSaver – emergency funds, educating on how KiwiSaver works, encouraging them to get children to join as soon as they start work, how it can be the path to home ownership.

* First classes were held in October and November. TBAS hopes to run the Financial Capability Training course again early next year at Hillier Centre, Merivale Community Centre and Welcome Bay Community Centre.