Even the comfortable among us are feeling the pain in the back pocket lately. 

Mortgage rates and rents are up, food prices are soaring and petrol seems to get more expensive by the day.

The latest Statistics NZ figures show annual inflation at 6.9% – the largest jump in prices since 1990.

Get more tips when you listen to the latest Cooking the Books podcast episode, here:

In times like these, the best course of action is to band together to find ways to live the good life for less.

Cooking the Books podcast listeners are a savvy-minded bunch, and generously shared their best ways of staying on a budget.

Here are their top tips.

1. Food

Online shopping can help you find the best deals, without spending forever trawling through supermarket brochures or driving between shops.

The trick here is a savvy combination of the Grocer app (grocer.nz) and then using the click-and-collect services from supermarkets. Use Grocer to compare prices, then get the best deals from each supermarket’s website and pick up the groceries on your way home from work.

Using online shopping helps you quickly compare prices and stick to a list of only what you actually need. You're less likely to buy expensive convenience foods on impulse, and you’re less likely to waste food.

Here’s listener Marina on how she does it.

“I use the Grocer app to figure out where to get the best price deals, so now I'm shopping over a variety of supermarkets instead of just one – keeping in mind that I pass all the supermarkets on my way home from work so there's no need to divert or make special trips.”

You can also try bulk-buying from discount sellers, including Reduced to Clear, local fruit and vege co-ops, and specialty stores such as Asian supermarkets.

Some people are changing what and how they cook. 

Good old-fashioned bulking out the meals is making a comeback, such as adding lentils or grated carrot into mince. 

Some people are going vegetarian, or at least reducing how much meat they buy. Those who can are planting gardens.

Karen makes sure there’s no wastage and suggests these tips.

“Meal-plan and have a pledge to throw out no food. It’s fun to find inventive ways to use up every piece of fruit and veg. 

"I also check our fridge every day for stray leftovers lurking in the back that can be eaten or things that are in danger of going off. 

"I don’t take any notice of use-by dates, using the sniff test, instead.”

There’s no need to give up your social life either. Some listeners are making it work by ditching the restaurants and cafes, and hosting meals at home, instead.

Jessie turns entertaining into a group activity, revealing her secret.

“Potluck dinners instead of going out to eat. Dumpling night – bring fillings and make them up together. It's super-fun.”

2. Bills

Negotiate what you can and switch companies for the rest.

You’d be amazed at the number of companies that are willing to negotiate with you. Credit card companies can sometimes be persuaded to waive their annual fee. 

Power, phone, and broadband providers can be persuaded to match a competitor’s deal. The same goes for insurance. 

Get quotes for any home maintenance that’s needed, and talk to them beforehand about whether there's any way of doing the work for a lower price.

Listener Carl had these hot tips.

“Ask your power company for a deal, even if it means signing up to a 12 or 24-month contract. Sometimes, they’ll throw in some credit. 

"Make sure you are on the best telco plan – some of them have retention teams and they can sometimes sharpen the pencil.”

If your provider won’t budge? Then it’s time to consider moving to a different company. 

Websites like powerswitch.org.nz make it easy to compare power deals, and a bit of time browsing online can help you compare other services.

Matthew said it created a big saving for him.

“We switched power companies and are saving $100/month – and have the heat pump tuned to the off-peak and free power times. Plus, we have switched supermarkets, emptied the storage shed, switched to a cheaper soymilk.”

3. Transport

Those who can are taking advantage of the new flexibility post-covid and are working from home more often to save on petrol bills. 

Others are walking or biking as many places as possible, which has the double bonus of reducing the need for the gym.

Don’t forget that public transport across New Zealand is half-price until Aug 31, which can be a significant saving if you have decent services near you.

Venla is using a combination of tactics to reduce her driving time.

“I'm using my car less, walking for anything local (bakery, post office, library …) or using the discounted public transport when I can.”

When you do have to fill up the car, don’t forget to check the Gaspy mobile phone app first. It’s updated regularly to show the cheapest fuel near you.

Hannah is already making use of the new Costco.

“I got a Costco membership card for $60 (this will give you two cards per household). Their gas (in Westgate) is about 30 cents cheaper than other gas stations. 

"I filled my car for $2.82 per litre about two weeks ago. Once the Costco store is completed, I’ll probably start shopping there, too.”

While you’re at it, make sure you take anything heavy out of the car if you don’t need it (those with a boot full of the kids’ sports gear, I’m looking at you). 

You pay more in fuel for every kilo you lug around with you, and nobody wants the bill for that these days.

4. Borrow instead of buy

Libraries are cool again and they’re not just for books. You can use them to borrow eBooks, DVDs and magazines, or you can try a toy library for the kids.

It extends to your clothes, too. Have a fancy event but don’t want to drop $200 on a dress you’ll wear once? Try a rental service instead.

5. Track spending to find your personal weak points

There’s a reason for the saying “what gets measured gets managed”. Even one week of keeping a money diary can make you realise that you’re spending more in a certain area than you realised, and motivate you to find a smarter way to indulge the habit.

Even better, sit down and go through your bank statement for the last month. Look for any unused subscriptions or payments that you’d forgotten about that could be cut.

It's a strategy that worked for listener Tania.

“It started with tracking spending. I knew I spent a lot on bought lunches and daily hot choc but got a massive shock when it was $250 a month.”

Meanwhile, Laurel checked her spending and realised she was better off with a one-off expense that saved money overall.

“I bought a massage cushion rather than going for massages for my RSI. The ROI [return on investment] and savings are massive for my family. I think it may just be my best purchase ever!”

6. Be entertained for free

Living on a budget doesn’t have to mean sitting at home all weekend. Now that tourism is making a comeback, there are plenty of free activities that towns and cities are putting on to win back visitors. Happily, there’s nothing stopping locals from joining in.

Start by checking your local council website or library for community events. You can also often find online guides to free activities in your area, such as hikes or attractions, by simply googling “[city] free activities”.

Even though it’s winter, wrapping up and taking advantage of our natural surroundings is working for many Cooking the Books listeners.

Kathryn makes a day of it with the family.

“I'm saving money in the weekends by taking the kids out to new playgrounds and checking out the free and low-cost activities and attractions around our local area. Pack a lunch and the only cost is petrol.”

7. Find ways to earn more

Cutting back is useful, but increasing income can help even more. It’s a long-term strategy, sure, but trying to get a pay rise, promotion, or starting a side-hustle can reduce a lot of the stress of the bills.

Start by checking if your current company is recruiting, and check the pay rate. If it’s not listed openly on the job posting, see if you can reveal it by using a website such as whatsthesalary.com. If your company is paying more to bring in new people, then you have a good case to ask your boss for a raise.

You can also apply for new jobs either at your current company, or a new one. Changing jobs can be a quick way to boost your pay anywhere from 10 to 30%.

Other tactics to try include selling clothes or things around the house that you no longer use. 

Some people have started side-hustles by advertising home maintenance services in their local area, or are freelancing their work skills on the side.

For Adrienne, it’s a family strategy.

“I'm supporting the husband to earn more. His main job pays well, as does mine, but in his spare time he can do part-time SharePoint/web development work to boost the income.”

Get more tips when you listen to the latest Cooking the Books podcast episode, here: