The Reality of Kiwi Austerity


Our pamphlet, “Tips on Emigrating to New Zealand” paints a pretty favorable picture of New Zealand, and in my last blog I even linked to a New Zealand tourism video that presents an even more positively biased impression of New Zealand. With or without my help New Zealand is becoming known around the world as an easy, safe, fun place to live that’s not responsible for any of the bloody conflicts that are making front page news around the world.

This is a point worth dwelling on. In the eyes of the media a country isn’t worth talking about until a tragedy happens there. Since we see the world through the eyes of the media, a lot of young people had probably never heard about New Zealand until the earthquakes in Christchurch happened. If the media doesn’t think New Zealand is shocking enough to cover then that gives some credence to the claim that you can expect to experience an un-problematic life in New Zealand.

As a general rule I’ll stand by my statement that if you move to New Zealand you’ll live in a relatively stable, civilized country. You can sleep soundly at night knowing that. It’s a great place for American veterans, because you can go just about any place in New Zealand and be confident you don’t have to look over your shoulder. It’s a place you can let your guard down a little.

If you’re from New York City you know what I’m talking about. If you live in Uganda or Compton, I can pretty much guarantee that New Zealand would feel like Utopia to you, and you probably wouldn’t even notice the first world problems all the white people around you are always angry about. However, if you currently live in a giant house in a mega-burb outside an American mega city and have central heating and airconditioning, a huge back yard and every super store imaginable within a 15 minute drive (that are all open 24 hours a day) then you’re going to experience a significant loss in your quality of life as measured by material standards if you move to New Zealand.

I’ve talked about Kiwi austerity before, but I haven’t done it justice yet. To enjoy the safety, beauty and culture of New Zealand you’re probably going to  have to accept an obtrusively low quality of life by material standards. Unless you’re working in upper management or a highly technical, understaffed career field then there’s a realistic possibility you’re going to have to wear a sweater or two around the house during the winter.

That might not sound like a big deal until  you wake up at 6:30 in the morning and it’s dead cold in your room, and your electric blanket turned itself off hours ago. So you don’t want to move, because you don’t want to lose any of the heat you have trapped under your blanket. But you have to go to work. So after working up the courage you dash from your bed to the shower butt naked skipping on your tip-toes because the wood floor is freezing. Then you wedge yourself into a cold, ceramic shower and turn on the water and wait for it to heat up while you squirm like an alien. Then you don’t want to get out of the shower because it’s cold out there and you’re all wet and you know you’re just going to snap-freeze as soon as you get out of the shower and you know you’re not going to dry yourself completely because you’ll be in too much of a hurry to get your warm clothes on. Plus, since the humidity never drops below London fog your towels are permanently damp and asthma inducing, sinus-infecting mold grows on all the windowsills. So you end up going to work feeling a swamp beast.

Then on your way to work in the morning you  stop to get gas and pay $9 a gallon to fill up your micro car that you bought because it gets great gas mileage, which is important when gas costs $9 a gallon. You take solace from these problems though by reminding yourself that you have really cheap health care, which is important because you’re not getting enough vitamins since bell peppers and squash cost $4 a piece in the winter, and 3 boneless,skinless chicken breasts cost $14 when they’re on sale. The stores don’t stock much variety of anything. So you’re basically eating the same ten meals over and over again unless you can find some hole in the wall ethnic market to shop in.

At least it’s easy to blend in because everyone you see at any gas station is wearing the same clothes as you that bought at the same three department stores, and those stores are just selling all the old left over stock American department stores had left over from the 80’s.

If any of this bothers you, you won’t be able to smoke and/or drink your brain into a comatose state where you don’t realize you’re broke all the time because cigarettes cost $16 per pack and alcohol costs $16 a six pack.

When you put it all together it’s kind of a big deal. It just never really hit me because I’m used to being completely broke all the time. I hate to say it, but if you’re poor, white trash you’ll likely find New Zealand an easy place to live. Case in point, in New Zealand  it’s normal to walk around the city and into stores barefoot. I suspect this is also why there are so many hippies in New Zealand. They’re used to scraping by below the poverty level, and they want to spend their weekends and vacations going on grand adventures to green places. So they stay. The kind of Kiwis who detest hippies tend to move to Australia where they can make more money and enjoy more sun.

I hate to put a specific number on this. I don’t know how New Zealand defines the poverty line, but I see lots of people making $60,000 per year eating wilted vegetables and living in cold, rickety houses where everyone gathers around the space heater at night. If you make $30,000 per year you’ll definitely be living like that.

I can’t guarantee that if you move to New Zealand you’ll ever experience any of this. All I’m saying is that I’ve looked around, and I’ve seen a lot of it. If you want to learn more about Kiwi austerity, see what real Kiwis have to say about this article.

This is all I could afford to do that day.

[This was all I could afford to do that day.]

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5 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for this post Travis; do you mind if I repost this on my blog? I would love to add my commentary?
    This is EXACTLY how I live and exactly the reasons why we are returning to America.
    When we lived in a mobile home in the States in a state that gets colder than the coldest NZ day we were still warm… I cant wait.

    • Feel free to share. Glad you liked it.

  2. Here you go :-); Hope you do not take anything personally.

    http://www.escapenz.com/articles-of-interest/do-you-have-to-lower-your-standards-of-living-to-be-happy-in-new-zealand/

  3. Hi Travis and Amber,

    I read your pamphlet 1st and am now discovering your blog. Me and my husband are thinking of moving to NZ with the kids, from the UK. and it’s kind of funny, because a lot of things you have mentioned above, i.e. being cold all the time and liquor etc being expensive in NZ are how life is like here! But the $9 for gas would be an amazing b

  4. Oops, I pressed the wrong button, sorry. Anyway, $9 for gas would be great for us. I really enjoyed your book, laughed out loud in a lot of places…. ie stay at home in the USA if u like watching thousands of TV channels etc. I was born in California and my parents moved to the UK when I was 5. I think the things they wanted to get away from there have now come to pass in the UK…. corrupt govt, crime, etc. and my own family want to move on. The only other family member I have is my mum and I am trying to persuade her to come with us, but she’s 73 and has all sorts of issues and barriers she puts up to the idea. I don’t feel we could come if she didn’t come…. But then I feel it was her choice to leave her folks back in in the USA, and should we not forge a new and better life. It is a huge dilemma. I know it would cost way too much to fly back to the UK once a year, it wouldn’t be possible. at the moment I probably see her 4 times a year. when we lived in Australia for 18 months (work contract for my husband) she refused to visit even though the flight would be paid for. and whenever I spoke to her, she’d say, ‘I haven’t seen anyone, I haven’t done anything!’ It was very hard. Anyway, I’m sorry I am waffling away to you. It is something only myself and my other half can deal with. We have been to NZ. Again my husband worked in wellington for 2 months back in 1997. unfortunately it was winter and when I visited him for 3 weeks I huddled by the wood burner most of the time (instead of studying! He managed to get some time off and we did some great sight seeing. I guess I can cope with a cold and wet winter as long as I KNOW FOR CERTAIN that NZ has PROPER SUMMERS!!!!!! We haven’t had a decent summer in the UK since my oldest daughter was small, about 9 years I think!!! Every year we say, if we don’t get a decent summer this year, we’re emigrating. and after this long freezing winter. I think we’ve finally had enough.We love camping and hiking and would also love to get into more water sport and I want my kids to grow up with a great outdoor lifestyle. Is there at least 2 months of good weather every summer? That is all I am really concerned about…. we need some SUN and HEAT!
    sorry for my waffle. I just enjoyed your book so much, hearing about your move from a Texan point of view, mostly I’ve read or heard about the Brits. Good luck in all your endevours. I shall continue mining your blog for all its wonderful gems-LOL!

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