Things I wish American PF bloggers knew about New Zealand

tawharanui lagoon 2When I blog about something, unless I add a disclaimer, it’s usually the norm. I’m aware most of you guys are American and so I try to present a generally accurate picture of things for your sake, ya know?

I often find myself clarifying the same kinds of things over and over with incredulous American readers, such as:

Yes, we really do pay rent weekly. This is the most common frequency. I’ve only ever paid fortnightly rent at one house – and I’ve lived in a LOT of places. People pay rent through automatic payments. Cheques are so last century. While leases with fixed terms are getting more common, there are still rentals to be found with periodic tenancies, which are open-ended. Moving out usually requires 2-3 weeks notice.

Sometimes we get paid weekly, too. It’s more common in call centre/hospitality/trade type jobs. Temp jobs also tend to pay weekly. This is apparently something a lot of immigrants struggle with. If your income source is the government – e.g student allowance, student loan (living costs), or a benefit of any kind – you will also be paid weekly. And if you were wondering, yep, student loans and allowances are all administered by the government (though I suppose there’s nothing actually stopping you taking out personal loans elsewhere to boost your income while studying). Loans cover your tuition fees and remain interest-free as long as you stay in the country.

Apartment living isn’t big here. Most people rent houses. And the people you live with are flatmates, not roommates (unless you actually share a room, maybe). You do find apartments in the CBD and the odd block further out in the suburbs, lots of which were part of the leaky building wave of construction. In an effort to lift standards and stem the housing shortage, the new rule for Auckland apartments is a minimum of 35 square metres. But breaking down the ‘shoebox’ perception that’s already established will take a while, and changing a whole culture even longer.

Things (everything?) cost a lot. Food, for one – as a commenter pointed out ages ago, we don’t have subsidies or tax breaks on food – so no, I really can’t get our grocery bill much lower. Cars – that’s why we tend to drive really old cars, and you’ll still see a fair few late 80s Toyotas and Mazdas tooling around on the roads. In the cities, property affordability is WAY over the 2x income guideline, or whatever the benchmark is (it’s so irrelevant that I don’t even know offhand, and can’t be bothered looking it up) – think 4-6x. We don’t have the security of 30-year fixed rate mortgages. Also, the general quality of property is dire. Count yourself lucky if you have insulation. Last winter we found a mushroom growing through the carpet in the hallway by the laundry room.

If you missed it last year, you might also like Living in NZ: the ultimate post.

 And if you have any more questions, ask away and I shall answer…



29 thoughts on “Things I wish American PF bloggers knew about New Zealand

  • Reply Leslie April 3, 2013 at 07:12

    I like this! I didn’t realize getting paid weekly was so uncommon in the US, though. I do love the idea of renting weekly though. Signing a one-year lease after seeing the place once is such a scarybig commitment.

  • Reply Well Heeled Blog April 3, 2013 at 07:12

    Fascinating information. What I love about blogging is I am learning so much about other countries (especially New Zealand and Canada!) that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

    Do people from New Zealand ever move to other countries in search of better job opportunities? Or people move from the smaller towns to places like Auckland and Christchurch?

    • Reply eemusings April 3, 2013 at 09:09

      Yep, we have a really high expat rate.

      It’s pretty typical to go off on your OE soon after graduation (often to London) to work and travel. And of course there are plenty who move to Australia, and increasingly, Asia, for the job opportunities. I suppose with the tech boom more expats are going to the US too, though visas are still a bit of a pain. Going overseas to teach English is another common rite of passage.

      Lots of people never end up coming back even if they originally meant to. (I have a bunch of friends currently overseas, most of whom have extended their stays, and a few more who’ve done their OEs and already come back.) And yeah, lots of people move from small towns to big cities, for obvious reasons.

  • Reply Kara April 3, 2013 at 07:44

    I love hearing about these kinds of day-to-day differences. I grew up overseas so some of it isn’t that different to me, but some of it really is as most of my adult experience has been firmly in the States.

    Here in the US jobs that are paid weekly tend to be the lower income ones. The white collar/professional/higher paid jobs usually get paid bi-weekly or monthly. For example, I get paid every 2 weeks on a Wed, and my housemate gets paid on the 1st and 15th of every month.

    Rent on a proper house or condo or apartment is always paid monthly (in my experience). The only time you pay weekly is if you’re staying at an “executive apartment” type place that caters to people who work out of town a lot (and are very expensive) or the other extreme, the really low end places where they don’t require a lease or a time commitment.

  • Reply Michelle April 3, 2013 at 08:57

    Love this! I’m not going to lie, whenever I read some of your posts, I sometimes have to tell myself that you’re not from the US so things are slightly different.

  • Reply Savvy Financial Latina April 3, 2013 at 13:00

    Not going to lie! NZ is in our bucket list 🙂 I see the movies and I want to live there.

    • Reply eemusings April 3, 2013 at 14:19

      Let me know when you’re coming to visit!

  • Reply Just One Boomer (Suzanne) April 3, 2013 at 16:17

    A guy from New Zealand once asked me if I knew what the 8th wonder of the world was. I didn’t. He said, “It’s a Kiwi with a return ticket.” Ouch.

    BTW, what’s a “PF” blogger?

    • Reply eemusings April 3, 2013 at 16:25

      Ha! Awesome.

      PF = Personal finance

  • Reply Michelle April 3, 2013 at 17:03

    I still don’t understand why you would pay weekly for rent? Isn’t it a pain? Does paying it weekly allow you more flexibility in getting out of the property? That would be a huge deal here! I love posts from overseas because they help expand my awareness of the world.

    • Reply eemusings April 3, 2013 at 17:42

      Touche – I don’t understand why you would pay monthly! I think THAT would be a huge pain. Also, paying rent by cheque in this day and age is unfathomable to me, but it seems to be the norm still in the US from what I read.

      When you go out on your own in NZ, you are most likely going to be paid weekly – if you’re a student getting student allowance or living costs, or alternatively, in your first entry level job. Makes sense that rent would be weekly. It might make it easier to get IN – I think the maximum rent you can charge in advance is two weeks, and bond is maximum four weeks (though sometimes you get charged less).

      As I say, notice periods (for flatting situations or period/open ended tenancies) are usually 2-3 weeks, and for fixed terms you’d discuss renewal options probably a month or two before it’s due to expire/roll over. I don’t know how that compares to getting out of a property in the US.

      • Reply Kara April 4, 2013 at 06:09

        In the US you usually give a 30 day notice, although some places do require 60 days.

        For example, my place is on a year to year lease. Our lease expires April 31, so we were expected to let the landlord know no later than March 31st if we were going to renew or move. Now I’ve lived there for 10 years and am actually on a lease-to-purchase agreement, so I’m obviously not moving out any time soon, but if I had wanted to move, I would have had to give notice before the March deadline or be responsible for a re-leasing fee (usually a percentage of the rent until the unit can be rented out again).

        Some places will allow for “month-to-month” renting, but it’s uncommon and usually costs more per month than if you sign a full year lease.

        • Reply eemusings April 4, 2013 at 12:15

          Hmm, interesting point! It doesn’t cost more to rent here on a periodic basis, BUT you are open to rent increases. If you sign a fixed term, though, the rent cannot be raised at any point during the time of the lease, so while you are locked in you do have a bit of budgetary security.

  • Reply American Debt Project April 3, 2013 at 17:33

    America rules! Haha, just kidding, try not to picture me as the obnoxious American tourist over here. New Zealand is a black box to me, but I look forward to visiting. It’s funny how we’re all ignorant about something. I can tell you the history of almost every Latin American country but absolutely nothing about New Zealand. Reminds me of Flight of the Concords when Aziz Ansari confuses New Zealand with Australia…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs_rXxi0zhM

  • Reply Stephanie April 3, 2013 at 18:48

    As an American, thanks for this post! I feel more informed now and will remember this for the future. I will enjoy the cheap food and affordable housing in my country. 😛

  • Reply Holly@ClubThrifty April 4, 2013 at 00:14

    One of my co-workers daughter’s is a dairy farmer in New Zealand. They go there to visit once or twice a year and I was actually just talking to them about it yesterday. They love it there!~

  • Reply Pauline April 4, 2013 at 02:17

    the rent thing is the most surprising, but with the high interest rates it must really make a difference for people with a mortgage.
    I thought prices were high when I visited but I had just spent a few months in South America so anything would have looked expensive. And it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen, so really worth it.

  • Reply Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce April 4, 2013 at 03:34

    Weekly rent seems like a very interesting system. Less financial flexibility, but perhaps a better method of staying on track without fail.

  • Reply oilandgarlic April 4, 2013 at 05:28

    I hate paying rent with a check but it does seem to be the norm in the U.S.

    Your post reminds me of how often I must remind my European friends/family that Americans average 2 weeks of vacation a year, I don’t get a week off between Christmas and New Year, we don’t celebrate May 1st, and we don’t get a year maternity leave!! I have to explain over and over sometimes and it is frustrating because I would love longer vacations and would have loved a longer maternity leave!

  • Reply Kylee April 4, 2013 at 11:46

    Wow. My husband and I are/were seriously considering moving back to NZ (I’m an ex pat, he’s american, our son is a dual-y)

    This is actually making me reconsider, somewhat!!

    • Reply eemusings April 4, 2013 at 12:11

      Haha, well, having actually LIVED in both countries you are probably well equipped to make that decision yourself (esp. if you still have friends and family here). When did you leave? I’m sure the high cost of living can’t REALLY have changed all that much, though it might have gotten more pronounced … ditto the state of property here. Maybe the health insurance, paid leave, and education stuff counts for a lot – but I didn’t really go into that here as I don’t find myself clarifying that stuff a lot to readers … I think it’s pretty well understood.

      I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the rest of the world firsthand and getting a real understanding of the good and bad of living in NZ … and if there’s anywhere else we might realistically like to settle down.

      • Reply Kylee April 5, 2013 at 04:24

        I left when I was 23 – for the UK. Returned… but to Australia when I was 27. Moved to the USA at 31 (the travel bug bit me very hard – and I ended up doing a CA – NY – CA trip via the south on the way there, and the north on the way back). I met my husband here – and ended up moving here.

        Because we have son – education and health insurance and paid leave is a big deal. I’m now a little worried about the housing situation, I remember it being so cold (inside AND out), and I’m kind of americanized now. I like my AC. And my drive through everything…. (banking, pharmacy, coffee).


  • Reply Budget & the Beach April 4, 2013 at 13:07

    Weekly rent would be hard for me. I have a hard time remember once a month already. Interesting!

  • Reply Cait April 4, 2013 at 14:27

    What a great post! Paying your rent weekly… what a concept!

    One of my best friend’s boyfriend is from NZ and is unfortunately having a difficult time getting a job up here, so they haven’t seen each other in a while. But from the pictures I have seen of her trips down there, it looks like NZ is equally as beautiful as British Columbia. I think I’ll have to visit someday. 😉

  • Reply Ian April 5, 2013 at 09:30

    Definitely neat to learn some of these things. I suppose the cars cost more because of overseas shipping, same with food. I am pretty sure Hawaii has real high food costs because it is so far out. Always cool to learn how it works in other places.

  • Reply Mackenzie April 5, 2013 at 11:26

    Quite interesting! One of the things I love about blogging is hearing different perspectives, with regards to where people live and how it affects them financially.

  • Reply Mo' Money Mo' Houses April 6, 2013 at 07:57

    I think I’d like being paid weekly and paying rent weekly. That sounds like it makes a lot more sense to me. It would definitely be easier to budget, I find it so hard to budget for an entire month so I budget on a bi-weekly (paycheque) basis.

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