7 Jan 2024

Frances Cook: What to know for your money in 2024

From The Weekend , 8:41 am on 7 January 2024
Business Desk investments editor and financial educator Frances Cook

Business Desk investments editor and financial educator Frances Cook Photo:

Are you an avalanche or a snowball?

Now that the festivities are behind us, many New Zealanders will be taking a cautious look at their bank balance and experiencing a post-Christmas comedown. 

Business Desk investments editor and financial educator Frances Cook tells RNZ's The Weekend what to expect this year and how to handle those rising debts.

It has been a chaotic run the last few years, which has played havoc on many peoples' financial planning. 

"I feel like we all keep waiting for some precedented times rather than unprecedented ones," she said. 

"The good is that it's actually looking like inflation is starting to come under control and that that might continue this year."

Cook said predictions are tricky to make these days but experts are making at stab at it. 

"It's looking likely that it's going to get a bit less stressful at the supermarket. 

"It doesn't mean that prices come down, but they stop rocketing up so fast and wages could catch up, so that's really good and that also means that interest rates could come down."

Many experts are betting that interest rates will come down in the middle of the year, Cook said, although the Reserve Bank has been somewhat more pessimistic on that.  

"Everyone is hurting on interest rates. It's the number one question that I'm getting at the moment." 

It does look like the first six months of this year "are going to be a toughie" for many people, she said, with interest rates high and inflation rumbling.

"We're seeing more of that biting in terms of job losses, because interest rates also really, really affect businesses and how they run their books because a lot of businesses use debt in order to expand or hire or do big exciting projects."

Some companies are cutting back on employees as a result, and while sometimes there's nothing to be done if you're for the chop, it's still worthwhile to impress your employer with your value, Cook said. 

"If you're thinking about investing into yourself and your money one of the big things you can do right now is just protecting your job as much as you can. Making sure you're one of the employees who is working hard and seen as an invaluable member of the team. 

"It's a bit ruthless, talking about it like that, but it's survival for a lot of people and it's reality for a lot of people this year." 

Now that Christmas is past, the bills are also coming due for many people. 

"About a third of New Zealanders come out of Christmas with debt of some level.

"Even if you're not coming out of it with debt you might just feel like things were tight and you're a bit stressed and you're not feeling great." 

"The first thing is just to not beat yourself up" about debt, she said. "Beating yourself up only makes you more avoiding of your money."

If you do have debt you want to resolve it as fast as you can, though. The longer you have it the more it costs you, she said.

"Time is literally money." 

Two methods Cook recommends to people are "avalanche" or "snowball."

Avalanche "is where you organise your debts by highest interest rate. The higher the interest rate the more it will cost you. You pay all the minimums, but you focus all of your extra money that you can on the highest interest debt. Once it's gone, onto the next".

"And that will, technically on the numbers of it, get you out of debt the fastest."

But if you're someone who needs a bit of help with motivation, "snowball is for you."

"That's where you organise your debts from smallest to biggest and then you take out the smallest debts first.

"And that reminds you can do this, look at this, you're making progress, that one's gone already, on to the next!

"It really doesn't matter which one you pick. What matters is that you pick one and you use it and it will help you get out of debt faster." 

A good part of managing debt is finding a system that works for you, Cook said. 

Housing prices are also a big financial worry for many people.

"New Zealanders are obsessed with it for very good reason," she said, but it is important to look at your own financial situation before making big life changes. 

"It looks like we've probably hit the bottom in terms of how far house prices will fall. And it looks like maybe from here house prices start to increase, but just slowly, not some of those crazy increases we've seen in the past.

"It is a little bit of a breathing space for first home buyers ... a slight break, not the break many of them were hoping for but a little break where you can take the time, check out a house, make sure it's the one for you and then take the time to put in an offer that works for you. And not panic, if you lose it, you can just keep looking for the right one that is right for you.

"So if all of those other lifestyle factors, your personal situation are working for you, then 2024 is as good a year as any."