Living on $35 per week – easy as

While the Green Taliban and Labour moan about the minimum wage of $550 per week ($13.75 x 40 hours) this inspiring story of a family living on $35 per week puts all that in perspective.

Since almost losing her home and business during the height of the recession, Lyn has saved more than $100,000 by cutting her weekly shopping bill down from $200 to just $35. She says without the drastic measures, she would have lost everything.

“I’d be on the DPB right now, I think,” she says from her Northland farm. “I was really in the poo in 2009. I spent money without thinking about it and I had no nest egg, so when I ran out of money and the farm was struggling, the banks wouldn’t help me.”

Excellent – Lyn owns her life and accepts responsibility for her situation – seems she does not expect or want to be dependant upon the state

Lyn’s youngest daughter Stevie – once resistant to the budget – has developed a real skill for making innovative lunches and snacks in the kitchen from nothing at all.

Living mostly out of her garden – collecting milk and eggs from her livestock and only purchasing staple items such as ­flour, sugar and legumes – Lyn also refuses to buy any cleaning products and cosmetics, replacing the majority with baking soda.

Amazingly, the entire family doesn’t miss any food item from their “previous life” – the only thing Stevie misses is dishwashing liquid. 

Not only does growing their own fruit and vegetables mean cheaper grocery bills, but it gives the Webster family the opportunity to pitch in together – from weeding and watering, to picking the produce for meal time.

“It’s so easy once you get in the swing of things,” Lyn says. “At the beginning, we were hungry sometimes. I know middle-class New Zealanders shouldn’t feel hungry, but we did go hungry for a little bit.

“We soon got used to portion control and the different foods we were eating. If anything, we’re healthier now we’re not eating anything processed.”

What? No KFC McDonalds or Lotto?  That might make the Green Taliban happy, but then these people must be class traitors living on $35 per week?

“It’s not like I’m a hippy or anything,” she smiles. “But when I made the ­first batch of laundry powder, I felt the most amazing sense of achievement, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Even worse she is not a hippy who freeloads their parasitic existence off the state. Nor do they look like hippies either.

Along with a weekly column she’s been writing for the local paper about her experiences, Lyn has just released her ­first book, Pig Tits & Parsley Sauce, which tells readers exactly how to save money and live more sustainably.


Baking soda and white vinegar. I’m kicking myself at how long it took me to discover the joys. Between them, they will replace most cleaning products and cosmetics.

  • Don’t go shopping hungry.
  • Take cash to the supermarket, then you can’t overspend.
  • Buy cheese and butter on special and freeze.
  • Don’t turn things down. If someone is offering you something for free, take it and try it.
  • Don’t give up – it takes 21 days to change a habit.

Pig Tits & Parsely Sauce (Penguin, $25) is available now from bookstores


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • ozbob68

    Not really fair comparison, they are living on a farm so have less distance to commute to work and much more staples easily on hand. But the point that it is possible to economise is noted.

    • Paranormal

      You may find living on a farm increases your transport costs for those simple trips townies take for granted.

  • Robust

    I’m guessing a certain enormous, yet curiously media-friendly green would spend that much on lunch.

  • Mr_Blobby

    Nothing new. When you have money the Banks want to be your friend, when you need them they don’t want to know you.

    When was the last time you saw a vegie garden growing in a state house.The good thing about growing your own, is that if you have to much of one thing you can swap, sell or trade it for something else. It is surprising how much you can produce on even a little bit of spare land.

    • Kacanga

      No way could you have a successful garden by a state house – it would all be stolen before it got ripe

    • Most cases I’m sure you are correct, but for balance I have several rentals with DPB tenants and they (usually islanders) mostly have large vege gardens.

      • Hazards001

        What toss pot voted Euans statement down..and why? FFS I’m sure he knows if his tenants have a garden..and good for them. I have land to do the same and should…but I’m too bloody lazy…of course I do work 50 to 60 hours a week…still…I wonder…hmmmmm..might get me off the bloody computer!

        • Appreciate your support H001. I think I may have my own personal troll. I don’t comment often but when I do I seem to get a down vote each time. I enjoy this blog but sometimes feel there needs to be a little balance given. I disagree in the main with longterm/lifetime benefits. But I think many such beneficiaries are not lazy, but rather don’t see the point in working when they can survive quite well on a free handout.

  • While having a farm helps this family a lot, the reality is what skills are there in the community to live on this level of income? A lot of people are brought up on and think only about packaged food etc.

  • unsol

    $35 – maybe……if you live on a farm. But impossibly naive for the average suburban family. And how does she pay her mortgage, toiletries (does she make her own tampons & what about condoms or have they been de-sexed?), utilities, petrol or diesel, phone bill, clothing, doctors, stationary for the kids etc? Going to the PHO doctor with a child still costs & even for adults it’s still $35.

    If I cut out the luxuries, paid minimum on our mortgage, pulled our child out of her after school lessons, sold one car & cut out all insurances (including life & health but reducing car to 3rd party), grew all our own veges, stopped putting money aside for house & car maintenance etc (would just have to hope we got no blocked drains etc), savings & retirement then biked everywhere, stopped donations & got rid of the pets, we would need a minimum of $550 net per week (about $30 for power – realistic as we have a wetback), $35 for petrol, $80 for groceries etc. In our area our mortgage is cheaper than the average rent, but rates are expensive. We have also found it is cheaper to run a car (if you have free parking) than to go public.

    • She didn’t say her income was $35 a week. That is how much she spends on average on groceries. I once fed our family on about that per week and we lived in a suburban Lower Hutt home at the time. Wife had a brilliant vege garden and we had a cash flow crisis. Managed to feed kids three meals a day and no one went hungry.

      • blokeintakapuna

        Yep – but growing veges takes time and effort – difficult to achieve whilst firmly planted in the couch too pissed to move..
        I also remember growing up in Glenfield, when Glenfield was a “new” suburb and Manuka Rd was only 1 lane wide each way and only reaching the primary school. Back then, my parents seemed to live on baked beans as much as we did… 4 nights a week. Mum went to night school to learn how to weld so she could do shift work welding – as a house wife with 3 youngin’s.
        But don’t get me started having to walk to school barefoot through snow and ice…

      • unsol

        My mistake then. But $35 is still unrealistic for most people & further, she implied toiletries as being part of that $35 p/w as she discussed cleaning products & laundry powder. So still seems like an unattainable figure.

        Re your comment “I once fed our family on about that per week and we lived in a suburban Lower Hutt home at the time”. When was this?

    • Bafacu

      Simple – don’t make planter boxes. Trees and plants grow really well in soil so just get a spade and dig the area up and plant. Then grow next lot from seeds. We have managed this for the past 10 years now and hardly buy any veges or fruit. All it takes is some effort and a bit of cadging off other people who have plants (they generally like to share) so you can get a start – then a bit of work. It’s called initiative! We would not have survived the last 5 years of business downturn without a garden (and buying food in bulk and freezing it until needed).

      • unsol

        No, you have made too many assumptions there.

        You already have the dirt space.

        We dont. It’s all native bush up a hill on a long sloped section bar a gravel part that hides decking/pole support. So we turned that into a a vege plot so our daughter knew that veges didnt ‘grow’ in the supermarket. We also made room for 2 fruit trees (we have the smallest apple tree in the world producing delicious apples) & one grapevine (again the smallest ever….so a taste rather than a snack!).

        But many people on low incomes who live in State housing – they often have lovely flat sections so could easily cultivate a vege plot.

        Re freezing – you need to have good sized freezers too.

        Make no mistake, I’m not making excuses for people who live like muppets, but $35 per week including toiletries is unrealistic for most people. Like I said, are tampons or condoms part of her grocery budget & what about things like contact lens solution & other miscellaneous things.

        But the post worked, I will check out her book & see for myself whether she is full of it….

    • Cadwallader

      The point is: At least give it a try.

      • unsol

        Why? We know to plan for worse case scenarios….it’s called budgeting. Keep your debt under 30% of your gross worst case scenario income & ensure you have at least 2 months worth of savings for expenses & you should be sweet.

    • StupidDiscus

      But impossibly naive for the average suburban family

      Get a grip. $35 buys a big bottle of meths. (not meth aka P – meths).

      Enough to keep the cold out while you starve in the gutter.

      • unsol

        Haha of course. My mistake. Mind you, glue is probably far cheaper than meths….or you can just steal what you want…..

  • blokeintakapuna

    I would love to see Cambell Live go interview and meet this family…
    Just for a bit of balance…

    • Cadwallader

      Campbell couldn’t bring himself to do that, his programme is a vehicle for whinging hand-out demanding bits of shit. Good luck to this enterprising family.

    • sheppy

      Hahahha, love a good joke…

  • rockape

    No Doubt you can save but its NOT EASY1 I reduced my veggie bill by 75% on a small Nelson garde of 348M Now moved to 5 acres at a cost of not much more property wise and hve 20 chicks,2 cows and 16 sheep so all I buy is flour beans, pasta and a bit of exotic fruit. Still spend too much on wine and beer but lifes too short for bad wine and beer!

    • StupidDiscus

      When you’ve only got $35 per week – then you live on $35 per week – easy.

  • Rodger T

    But I don`t like vegetables.

  • StupidDiscus

    There’s only simple failsafe technique that can make anyone live on $35 per wekk: have no more income than $35.

    I’d chop all the benefits (including super) to zero, but I guess you could convince me that moving to $35 per family would be a good transitional step.

    • fozzie2

      I don’t usually swear – but fuck you really are stupid !

  • fozzie2

    Cool let you all take up the challenge – $35 a week – you first wa’il and no cheating !!