Sudden health scare sends family to edge

Last updated 05:00 01/07/2012
Roberta and Ralph Morunga
MICHAEL BRADLEY/Fairfax NZ
MONEY WOES: The debt mountain is growing for many families like Roberta and Ralph Morunga.

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Roberta Morunga and her husband might once have been considered a high-income family.

They were bringing in $130,000 a year, had a mortgage on a sizeable house, owned two cars and were sending their three children to private education.

But late last year, Roberta's husband, Ralph, fell into a diabetic coma at the wheel of a truck. His doctor said he had to manage his health and could not do that on a 16-hour work day. He reduced his hours and took a $600-a-week pay cut.

There were times Roberta, who has an honours degree and works in education, thought they would not be able to service the mortgage. A credit card kept for emergencies in case the children got sick or injured started to be used for the weekly groceries. Before they knew it, they were deep in debt.

"We were like `what are we going to do?'," Roberta said.

Now, almost a year on, Ralph is still out of fulltime work despite being an experienced and highly skilled driver. They are still missing that extra $600. "Who can afford to lose that?"

They did what they had to do. They were lucky enough to be able to borrow from their parents to ensure they didn't miss any payments.

Now, however, their finances are so tight that each week, after servicing their debt and paying the bills and buying groceries, there is only a minimal amount for petrol.

They cut their grocery bill, Ralph gave up smoking and the two older teenage children got holiday jobs. The teenagers even dipped into their own pockets for their $200 school blazers.

"Our savings account doesn't have anything in it, we used it to live our everyday lives," Roberta said.

The family, who do not qualify for any government assistance, are still not out of the woods. Although Ralph has just got a job that pays a little extra, the prospect of moving to Australia, where they could earn $100,000 each, was a real temptation.

"That $100,000 sounds very nice," Roberta said. "Sometimes you just feel swamped."

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