When money is tight and times are tough... how do you find happiness?

24 June 2020

“I used to just spend money because I thought that’s what made me happy…. I was in thousands of dollars worth of debt, and I didn’t even recognise it. I was still sad. It was making me happy, but it was only making me happy for a moment. That’s the cycle.” - Gemma

When times are tough, and money is tight, it can feel like our choices are limited: we can accept our lot and suffer on with less... or take out more debt. 

We can be tempted to think that the only way to fill the feeling of emptiness is to buy more 'stuff'.

For Gemma, happiness was like a mirage - every time she spent money the thrill she experienced disappeared almost as soon as she got what she purchased. She felt like it was a never-ending cycle.

“Back then, I had this sense of sadness, which was just always feeling alone…. All I knew was that I had to live and I had to survive to be the best mother that I could be.”
"I needed Jese to have everything, because I didn’t have that growing up. I thought that happiness was having all these things.
Coming to CAP, I went on this journey that life isn’t about that.

When Gemma began her journey out of debt, she realised the most valuable things to her weren't the things that had a pricetag. "I realised I didn't even know my son."  

“I went on this journey of figuring out what is it that actually makes [Jese and I] happy. And the main thing was meaningful time."

Gemma discovered a richness in the simplest of things: time with her son. It wasn't measured by her bank account, or the new item of clothing in her wardrobe, but on the joy she experienced while being with him.

How to find happiness & meaning in things that are free...

Here's two starting places:

1. Make a list of what's important to you in life.

“I realised that quality time was all we wanted. I hardly ever spend money on materialistic things now, I spend it on time with Jese.”

“My discovery of joy is hiking with my family. We don't even have to hike... but just being in nature, it reminds me of God's creation and how beautiful it is. Every time I'm out here, God shows me something different about myself…”

What do you love doing? What makes you "come alive", or gives you joy?

Taking a walk in the bush? Listening to music or singing waiata? Gardening or throwing a frisbee? 

Make a list of your personal 'tank-fillers' and post that list in a place where you'll see it regularly and refer to often (think: on the fridge, back of the bathroom door, car dashboard or even the homescreen on your mobile).

Then, choose one (or more) of your personal 'tank-fillers' and pop some time in your calendar to prioritize it this week! 

2. Next, write out your favourite things to do with family or friends - then brainstorm some creative, cheaper alternatives.

Spending less doesn't mean you have to sacrifice quality time with people you love.

In fact, spending less can actually force you to think of ideas for connecting with friends and whānau in ways you've never tried.

Here are some examples of alternatives that you could try... or better yet, create your own!


Gemma worked long work hours to pay off her unmanageable debt, leaving her with little time to spend with her son. After calling CAP for free help, CAP created a liveable budget to allow Gemma to repay the debt using her own income.

CAP’s Debt Help service took away the money stress. This support enabled her to discover a new relationship with her son, and go from simply surviving  to now thriving. 

And, now Gemma has joined over 1,700 NZ CAP clients who have gone completely debt free!

"The time that [CAP] spends with each person… They really care about each person. They put a lot of time and love into each client and they did that with me from day dot! They help you with ideas and they gave me tools to budget my money wisely."

Gemma's top tip: spend quality time with family

    "My advice would be to prioritise your time and make family time... it’s so important. If you have a partner, go on dates. When you have children, spend one-on-one time with them. And when you’re with them, ask them questions.
    One thing I love to do when Jese finishes school is to take 20 minutes and just talk about how school went that day. Kids love meaningful conversations.
    And those conversations have taught us to become closer. They've taught us how to communicate. They've opened up doors that I never would've if I was still buying him all these materialistic things."

If you're finding it hard to manage your finances, please do reach out to CAP for help.

Finally, it’s important to acknowledge the difficulty of not being able to do some things right now.

But just as important; take the opportunity to gain something money can’t buy… You may just stumble into a ‘joy that lasts’!


"I have come, that they may have life, and life to the full." - John 10:10b


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For free help call 0508 227 111.

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