NZ debt levels a point of concern

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 05:00 06/04/2014
Graeme Ramsey
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ
MATHS TAX: It is possible to enjoy gambling at a safe level, says Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey, who says that as a cause of problems, lotteries do not compare to casinos and pokie machines.

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Despite his day job, Problem Gambling Foundation boss Graeme Ramsey isn't averse to the odd flutter.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey lives in Baylys Beach on the west coast of Northland with his wife and dog and is also a councillor on the Northland Regional Council.

The foundation received a setback last month when it controversially lost a Health Ministry contract to provide support services to gambling addicts, with the Salvation Army picking up the funding instead. Ramsey shares his thoughts on money and gambling and is one of many interviewed for this column who says his wife is better at finances than he is.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude to money?

I was brought up in a household shaped by my parents' upbringing in the Depression. My parents were careful with money, worked hard and built from nothing a successful business. As a result I find it hard to throw anything away.

What was your first paid work?

As a student I was a haymaker, a butter maker and worked in a freezing works. My first "proper job" was to work as employment officer for The Herald in Queen St. Those were the days when, if you were seen in public, you had to be wearing a jacket whatever the weather and to go to work without a tie was unthinkable.

Do you think Kiwis in general have a healthy attitude towards money?

I am concerned at New Zealanders' collective and individual level of debt. Debt constrains choices. There seems to be a number of causes; a "want-it-now pay-for-it-later" attitude, the increasing unaffordability of basics such as housing and the struggles many are having to make ends meet. But I am always amazed at how much time and money people will put into community and environmental projects and improvements.

What was your best financial decision?

Marrying my wife, she is much better at finances than me.

What has been your first financial mistake?

In the late 1980s I lived in the UK during the property boom. My biggest mistake was to think that property would only ever continue to rise in price. The 1989 crash quickly cured me of that view.

What is the best financial advice you have been given?

To save and invest 10 per cent of your earnings and any windfalls throughout your life. Unfortunately we do not always listen to good advice. However, the wisdom of this approach has become increasingly apparent as I have grown older.

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Has your attitude to money changed through the years and if so how has it changed?

When I was starting my career I thought success was measured by money. I can recall a fridge magnet in a wealthy person's home which said "He who dies with the most toys wins". In time I realised that friends, community and quality time are more important. My wife's work in a hospice also taught us to enjoy life while you can.

We often ask people if they have a flutter, on Lotto for example. In your case that would probably be a "no"?

Quite the contrary. I agree with the old saying that lotteries are a tax on people who cannot do maths. Despite this I buy a ticket from time to time. I don't so much see this as buying a chance to win but rather buying an enjoyable discussion with my family about what we would do if we did win, knowing full well that we won't.

Is there any such thing as a "harmless" or safe level of gambling?

If you can afford to lose it is not a problem. And more importantly, not all gambling is the same. As a cause of problems, lotteries do not compare to casinos and pokie machines. I think that people can enjoy gambling and do it at a safe level. A day at the Dargaville races isn't quite the same without a bit of a flutter.

Do you think direct sharemarket investing and gambling push the same kind of buttons for most people?

These are not the same at all. One is a true "investment" where the investor has the choice of when the result will be known. Some forms of gambling are similar but the "problem products" are designed for a very different experience.

Do you trust the "money men", financial advisers and the like?

There are good and skilled people out there. The trick is to find them, then the key question for me is can I count on them acting in my interests?

- Sunday Star Times

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