Frugal Russel true to his roots

Last updated 05:00 16/03/2014
Russel Norman
RUSSEL NORMAN:'You just need enough money to do the other things which actually really do make you happy, whether it's your relationships, your passions, or what you find enjoyable.'

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Russel Norman has risen from stacking supermarket shelves and working the factory floor to become one of our most well-known political figures.

But the Green Party co-leader has not forgotten his working-class roots. He's always lived frugally on limited means, though that's now balanced by the need to provide for his young family.

Norman is deeply cynical of the never-ending treadmill of consumerism, and says money alone will not make us happy.

What was your first paid work?

[Age] 15, I think, I started at Woollies. I started packing … then I got promoted into the fruit and veg department, which was awesome.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude to money?

We were a bit short of money on occasion. I don't like spending money, as anyone who knows me well knows. Both my grandfathers were Depression-era out-of-work carpenters, who drank too much so both my parents had a rather frugal attitude. What happened later was my father got an education, and got more of a middle-class income [lecturing in engineering, with a master's degree in science].

If a child asked you the best way to make money, what would you say?

Don't be overly obsessed with money. Do things you think are important and that you enjoy in your life. Obviously we've all got to earn an income - I'm a realist. But I think you need to start from a different point.

What are your best and worst investment decisions?

Probably my education is my best investment. It's a mixed bag, actually. When I first left school I did 3 years of medicine. It actually was very useful in the long run, but in the short-term, it meant I wasted quite a lot of time and money on what is effectively a trade, without ever completing it. Later on I went back and did a BA (Honours) and PhD in politics and history.

Are you in KiwiSaver? What sort of fund?

I've got an ethical KiwiSaver [provider]. I'm a big supporter of responsible investment.

Are you a big spender, or a big saver?

I've pursued things that haven't always been well-rewarded, financially. When you're an environmental activist, the financial rewards aren't particularly high, for example. Because I'm not a big spender, it's meant that I've been able to support myself. Now that I've got a family [partner Katya Paquin, and sons Tadhg and Francis], of course, it's a bit more challenging. I obviously need to be able to bring in enough money to support them.

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Do you think society would be better off if people were thriftier and lived on less?

I'd probably look at it slightly differently. If you look at, say, TV advertising, it encourages what I call a consumer mindset, which says that you will get happy by consuming things. [But] it's never quite satisfying enough. Then you watch the telly, and they tell you all you have to do is buy one more thing. That is very problematic - both in terms of people not being happy … but also because the consumer ethos is quite destructive environmentally.

Do you trust the "money men" - bankers, financiers, advisers and others who handle money?

I trust them to act in their own interests, if that's what you mean. We need to be pragmatic about their advice, and obviously they're going to do what's good for them. What's good for them isn't necessarily good for the rest of us.

Gambling is something of a national pastime. Do you ever have a flutter on the horses or buy Lotto tickets?

Almost never. I might buy a raffle ticket, but not in the expectation of winning anything. Basically it's a donation disguised as a raffle. I never win anything.

What's the biggest lie about money that people routinely tell or fall for?

That money can make you happy. Don't get me wrong, it's very important to have enough money. You just need enough money to do the other things which actually really do make you happy, whether it's your relationships, your passions, or what you find enjoyable.

- Sunday Star Times

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