This article was published on 28 August 2010. Some information may be out of date.


  • How can a woman persuade her partner to stop spending more than the couple earns?
  • Retiree’s share buying hobby turns ugly — but he hasn’t given it a chance
  • Why splitting this column into KiwiSaver and non-KiwiSaver columns is not a good idea
  • It won’t always be quite this good for KiwiSaver enthusiast

QMy question is perhaps a little simplistic compared to those of your other readers, but I would be grateful for any guidance you can offer.

My partner and I both work hard and earn good salaries. We have a reasonable-sized mortgage, which I would love to pay off more quickly. That won’t happen, however, until we stop spending considerably more than we earn each month.

I want to take action before it is too late, starting with a budget. However, at the very mention of the word “budget”, my partner puts his head in the sand and denies we have a problem. He gets quite cross at the thought of his discretionary expenditure being reduced.

As we have joint finances, and he earns considerably more than me, there is a limit to what I can achieve on my own.

If Mohammed won’t go to the mountain, how can I get the mountain to come to Mohammed? Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

AFar from being simplistic, this is a tough question.

When people decide to marry or live together, it seems they don’t often take much notice of whether they are compatible financially. But having different attitudes to money may cause more disharmony than anything else. And it sounds as if you two are miles apart.

So what can be done about it? I suggest you drop the word “budget” — and to some extent the whole concept of budgeting. You’re not going to get anywhere if it makes your partner angry.

Instead, the two of you could commit to making certain payments, leaving you free to spend the rest of your money whatever way you wish.

Presumably you are financing your excessive spending on credit cards or similar. With interest rates commonly around 20 per cent, anyone who runs up large long-term credit card debts will pay thousands of dollars in interest over a lifetime. It’s dumb.

How about you start by both promising to pay in full all the new charges on every credit card bill? And, if you have ongoing credit card debt, talk to your mortgage lender about adding that amount to your mortgage, so you can pay off the credit card. The mortgage interest rate will probably be much lower.

It’s not wise to stop there, though. If you continue with the same old mortgage payments, you’ll end up with a longer-term mortgage, which means you won’t pay off the former credit card money for many years. You could easily end up paying more total interest on that money, despite the lower interest rate.

To avoid that, you need to take the next step: commit to paying extra off your mortgage. You could start with $50 or $100 more a month, increasing that by perhaps $20 or $40 a month. Gradual change is usually easier to cope with.

If your lender won’t accept constantly changing mortgage payments, transfer the money to a separate bank account and then pay off the mortgage every now and then. If your mortgage is fixed, and you face penalties for early repayment, wait until the fixed term ends to do the pay-off. Whatever you do, don’t let your partner near that account in the meantime! Perhaps put it in your name only.

What if your partner rejects these ideas? Some points you could make to him:

  • If he follows the plan, he will pay much less on interest payments to financial institutions, leaving much more to spend on himself.
  • It might help for him to imagine his pay has been cut, or he has moved to a lower-paid job. If that happened, he would manage with less spending money, so why can’t he now?
  • Many of his purchases probably don’t really make him happier. Usually when we buy something non-essential it lifts our spirits for a while, but then it just becomes part of the status quo. Point out purchases he made several months ago and ask if they have really improved his life.
  • This is serious stuff. Your situation clearly worries you — and it should. I’m no relationship counselor, but if you both continue the way you’ve been operating I don’t like your chances of staying together.

Readers might have other suggestions. Ideas are welcome.

Meantime, good on you for realizing the importance of tackling this situation now.

QAs most of your newspaper Q and A seems to relate to KiwiSaver and property matters, I thought you might appreciate my experience on share trading.

I started share trading by internet when I retired as a hobby and to make some money. With an accounting background, and as a reader of financial advisory books, I thought I stood a better than even chance of making some part-time money.

I invested some $30,000 in some twenty major companies that had good prospects, and the results including dividends and the current capital portfolio value after nearly a year are pathetic — minus seven per cent!

I am now slowly selling the stocks whenever their price increases, and unless the market improves will be lucky to get my investment back.

I also invested $30,000 in three top managed funds and had slightly better luck, but not much. After six months the three funds were showing a healthy surplus of 14 per cent, which reduced to between 4 and 5 per cent over the last six months.

My summary as a pensioner/investor is that I would have been better off placing these funds as bank deposits, but of course would not have had the fun of following the daily share market prices. Perhaps I should open an account with the TAB?

AI’ve got two comments:

  • It makes no sense to judge a share investment over a single year. In any 12 months, there’s about a one in three chance that the share market will fall. But the long-term trend is upwards.
  • Your background and books probably didn’t do you any good. Sure, they might have helped you to identify companies with good prospects, but full-time professional investors will have already realized that and bought shares in those companies. That will have pushed up their prices, so you were simply buying into good companies and paying high prices to do so.

That’s no more likely to make you rich than buying into bad companies at low prices. Broadly speaking, any share is probably as likely to do as well as any other — although riskier industries, such as mining, are more likely to do either particularly well or particularly badly. A random group of 20 shares will probably perform as well as your carefully chosen ones.

This assumes the New Zealand share market is efficient, which is debated. Many people claim they can pick shares that are more likely to gain. But watching what’s happened over the years, it seems to me that the market is efficient enough that non-professional investors — even with backgrounds like yours — are not likely to benefit from careful selection over throwing darts at a list of shares.

Sure, most share pickers do well over the long term. But so do most people who make random selections.

Having made your choices, though, your 20 shares are probably as good a bet as 20 others. If you don’t need to spend the money for more than a decade, I suggest you leave the investments where they are.

With that many shares, plus three managed funds, you’re quite well diversified. Fifty shares would be even better, but 20 is much more than most shareholders own. Chances are good that in the long run you’ll feel much better about your foray into shares.

QMay I offer a suggestion? That the editor finds someone else to respond to KiwiSaver queries and put these into a KiwiSaver column, while you are left free to do what you do so well — talk about all matters financial (except KiwiSaver!).

I only make this suggestion as I read a recent column with, yes, the same questions about KiwiSaver — about the $1043 credit — from last year, and the year before that.

AIf the Herald did that, I should probably be the one who writes the KiwiSaver column, given that I’ve written three books on the scheme. But I don’t want to give up the non-KiwiSaver topics. I like the variety.

In defence of including quite a bit on KiwiSaver:

  • Every Q&A — on KiwiSaver or not — won’t appeal to everyone. I suspect the KiwiSaver ones have more relevance to the majority of readers than many others. Despite that, I answer a disproportionate number of non-KiwiSaver letters, partly because of comments from people like you and the previous correspondent.
  • These days, the KiwiSaver letters I do answer are often about more obscure aspects, so it’s new information for most people. I do, though, occasionally repeat the basics — if there are still many people who don’t understand them.
  • Many KiwiSaver letters concern investment issues that also apply beyond the scheme, to other savings. See, for example, the next Q&A.

Can I make a suggestion back to you? If you are too old for it, or for some other reason you are not in KiwiSaver, you could still read about it and help friends or family to sign up and make the most of the scheme. It really is too good to miss.

QI have recently received my member statement for KiwiSaver. I’m a believer!

My opening balance at 1 April 2009 was $2010 and my closing balance a year later was $4,000. All of this with contributions of only $600 from my pay. The rest was made up from employer contributions, member tax credits and investment earnings. The investment earnings were a whopping $430 for the year.

My question is: if the fund I am with performs poorly, can I get negative investment earnings? Could I end up in a situation where the balance at the end of the financial year is less than the balance at the start of the year?

AYou could certainly end up with negative investment earnings. If your fund earned a return that large, it’s probably a riskier fund, which means it invests mainly in shares and perhaps property. Returns on such funds are negative quite often — although over the long haul they tend to grow faster than more conservative funds.

In your early years in KiwiSaver, it will be rare for negative annual returns to outweigh the money you’ve received from the government and your employer. As your account gets bigger, though, your balance is certain to sometimes fall over a year.

Hang onto your hat!

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Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, a director of Financial Services Complaints Ltd (FSCL), a seminar presenter and a bestselling author on personal finance. From 2011 to 2019 she was a founding director of the Financial Markets Authority. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary’s advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it. Send questions to [email protected] or click here. Letters should not exceed 200 words. We won’t publish your name. Please provide a (preferably daytime) phone number. Unfortunately, Mary cannot answer all questions, correspond directly with readers, or give financial advice.