Last year master plumber Regan Frost bought his wife, Helana, a $20,000 baby grand piano for her birthday. Last week he was flogging his children's Christmas presents to make ends meet.
The Frosts, of Karaka, south of Auckland, are the face of the recession, albeit an extreme one. Millionaires on paper, they have a cashflow crisis they term it "over-committed for the recession" but the bank won't give them a loan to tide them over. Their answer? Sell all their stuff.
Over the past two weeks the couple has taken the radical step of putting virtually everything they own house, furniture, clothes for sale on online auction site TradeMe. They banked about $10,000 in sales in their first week.
Until they sell their house (they've slashed the asking price by $250,000), the extra money will go towards their mortgage payments.
If it's not nailed down, it's for sale. A table and chairs and trampoline they gave their daughter Porsche, two, for Christmas was offered to the highest bidder. Helana is sacrificing her evening gowns and high heels bought on trips to Europe, while Regan put up for sale his "toys", including an HSV-GTS racecar worth about $95,000 new, a dirt bike and boat.
But it's not just the big-ticket items that are going. A pair of Porsche's ballet slippers was offered up, along with a pair of Regan's boxer shorts (never worn). Even an adult Spider-Man suit Regan wore to a plumbers' fancy dress party was for sale.
The couple believe that if they sacrifice luxury and everyday items they will be able to save their plumbing and electrical businesses and drive-through coffee shop. "We don't need a couch, we can sit on the floor," Regan says. "We can sell the piano, the spa pool, we don't need that stuff, it can all be replaced but the business can't."
It was hard telling Porsche that her presents would be sold. Baby brother Jag is too young to know what's going on.
Helana: "We told her one day we'll replace them when we have some money, and she said `OK'. Sometimes she picks [an item] up and says `sold?'."
The couple's "riches to rags" story, as Helana calls it, is a remarkable one.
At the age of just 30, Regan has become one of the country's top plumbers.
He was the 2007 Master Plumber of the Year and sits on the board of directors of Master Plumbers NZ. He owns Regency Plumbing, which has reduced its workforce from 21 to 12 because of the recession, and has the rights to the 0800 PLUMBER number for all of New Zealand.
He's also done a bit of property developing on the side. In 2006 during a trip to Noosa in Australia he saw a house he loved, took a picture, and had it replicated in a new subdivision on the shores of the Manukau Harbour at Karaka.
During their "ripper" years the couple wanted for nothing.
They would often travel overseas, eat at fine restaurants and buy expensive clothes and accessories. Nowadays, Helana says, you're most likely to find Home Brand groceries in her pantry and they eat leftovers from their coffee shop.
"I certainly don't go shopping any more I used to go shopping and do lots of it. I hadn't looked at the bank account for years and I said, [to Regan] `Oh my God, why didn't you tell me to stop shopping?"'
Things started going wrong around October last year, when a number of building companies Regan had contracts with started falling over, failing to pay their bills.
"We ended up being a bank for all the people who failed," he says.
By the end of the financial year on March 31, he had written off $96,000 in bad debt.
Then the couple realised they would not be able to meet their mortgage payments and asked BNZ for a $100,000 loan "bridging finance" to tide them over. It took the bank seven weeks to say no. In the good times, Regan says, he could get a loan within a week.
He admits he could have taken a closer look at his spending. "You can easily waste money just because you've got it to waste; that's a lesson we've learned."
But Regan is proud that he has always paid his bills on time. He seems outwardly relaxed, but the financial pressure is taking its toll last week he was diagnosed with shingles, a stress-related illness.
The Frosts are confident the steps they have taken will save their businesses, and they are happy to live in a smaller house (they will move to a one-bedroom flat at the back of their coffee-shop if the house sells).
"Life is not about money," Helana says. "We find it easier to be less materialistic about things you only have to look around to see people who have it so much harder than yourself."
So is there anything she wouldn't sell? "I'll keep my children," she laughs. "I could probably recoup a lot of money from my wedding dress if it came to it. I had it made by an Irish designer. But I'd prefer not to. If Regan told me to I would ... or maybe I'd hide it."
Yesterday the Frosts altered their TradeMe listings to remove references to financial stress, concerned it might give the erroneous impression that their businesses were struggling.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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