BusinessDesk investments editor Frances Cook responds to emails from readers on a weekly basis to answer questions about money. Below you will find her expert advice. Send your own questions to answers@businessdesk.co.nz.


Hey Frances,

My partner and I recently purchased our first home and I have been planning to start studying next year. Do you have any advice on how to go from two steady incomes down to one while still being able to afford all of our bills?

Or is studying a bad idea in the current economic climate?

Appreciate any help you can provide,

C


Hi C,

I’m glad to see you planning this with a few months up your sleeve. That gives a good amount of time for you to test out different strategies, and see which ones work for you.

The first thing I would do is practise living on one income now. This has two benefits: one, you get to test drive this before doing it for real, and see just how big the gap is between theory and reality; and two, the income you’re not using can go straight into savings, giving you a cushion for life’s unpleasant surprises once you’re on one income for real.

Cutting costs

I’m sure you’ve already decided to cut costs. A good place to start is by taking your bank statement for the last month, and going through it line by line.

Look for any unused subscriptions that you can cancel or regular bills that you could negotiate or find a better price elsewhere. 

There are also websites and apps that help you find the best prices on things like your petrol and groceries. I’ve previously put together a list of the best ones, which you can find here.

If you need to cut more costs, try keeping a money diary. 

Write down everything you spend for at least a week (although a month would be even better if you can stick with it). Then write down how much you absolutely had to spend that money, and also, how happy it made you.

First, you want to cut the stuff that you didn’t need, and that didn’t make you happy either. There’s usually a surprising amount in that category. 

Needs will obviously have to stay, but could you perhaps get them at a lower price? Look for different ways to fill those needs or places where you can get a better price. Don't be loyal to a company just because you've been a customer for a long time, because the company won't be loyal to you.

In terms of the things that make you really happy, I don’t want you to cut those, if at all possible. If you need to save money in that area, you could try doing those things less often instead or finding a cheaper way to get the same happiness hit.

Don’t forget that there are also costs involved with going to work, which you may not have to pay any more while you’re studying.

Will you be travelling less, or travelling outside of peak hours, reducing your transport costs? Will you be able to wear cheaper clothes? Will you have a more flexible schedule, so be able to take on jobs like being the person who’s in charge of cooking, to make sure that you’re eating cheaper home-cooked meals? 

These are all things to factor into your budget plan.

Earning more

It doesn’t have to all be about cutting back either. If you own your own home, do you have a spare room? Are you willing to consider a flatmate, to reduce your bills?

While we’re at it, if you have the time, it’s worth considering part-time or casual work in the field that you’re studying. Yes, you’ll earn money that will help with your bills, but this is also an undersold way to break into the area that you’re studying.

It’s a comment I see all the time: "They say this is an entry-level role, but it also needs experience. How can it be both?”

It’s both because there will be people who were working in the industry part-time while they were studying, and that’s who you’re competing against. It doesn’t matter how low the part-time role is, it matters that it’s for a company that’s doing what you want to do.

People like to hire people that they know. Or at least, to get references from someone they know, and often that valuable reference will come from someone who works in the industry but for a different company.

Working for one company in your chosen field can mean a foot in the door with many other similar companies.

From the boss’s point of view, it’s not just about hiring someone who has the right knowledge, it’s also about being a right fit for the company culture, and frankly, being pleasant to be around.

Study in a recession?

In terms of whether you should study in the current economic climate? I’m a big believer that studying, in general, should always be done strategically. 

It’s less about the current economy, and more about what you’re studying, and why.

Make sure that what you’re wanting to do actually needs you to have this qualification. I’m a big fan of improved knowledge, but a degree costs a lot, so you want to treat it as an investment that you hope to get something back from.

If you don’t need to study for the job you want, or you might be able to get the job through work experience instead, it’s worth picking that option over a student loan. 

Or, if you’re studying something that you’re interested in and hoping a job just turns up afterwards, I would strongly recommend not doing that. The library is full of books that you can get for free if you’re just wanting to keep your brain active.

But if it’s a degree that’s required for a job that you want, then now is as good a time as any other. Taking the time to get your finances prepared is an excellent thing to make sure your study isn’t derailed by financial concerns.

Get more money info when you listen to Frances Cook's Cooking the Books podcast here:

Send questions to answers@businessdesk.co.nz if you want to be featured in the column. Emails should be about 200 words, and we won't publish your name. Unfortunately, Frances is not able to respond to every email received, or offer individual financial advice.

Information in this column is general in nature, and should not be taken as individual financial advice. Frances Cook and BusinessDesk are not responsible for any loss a reader may suffer.