47,000 Northern Rivers families on brink of financial crisis

MORE than 47,000 Northern Rivers householders are on the brink of financial crisis thanks to high rents and spiralling utility bills.

A special APN investigation found 34% of - or 47,374 - families in the Lismore, Byron Bay, Ballina, Richmond Valley and Kyogle areas were unable to raise $2000 cash in a week to cover a crisis.

And of the region's 140,353 residents, 44,049 people relied on government incomes to survive over the past two years.

>> Simple solutions can help when you're at financial breaking point

University of Adelaide figures reveal 25,335 people had cash flow problems in the past 12 months.

Northern Rivers Social Development Council chief executive, Tony Davies, said it was consistent with what the organisation was seeing in the community sector.

"We have low incomes relative to the rest of NSW, but high costs," he said.

"In our region, 53% of households earn less than $1000 a week, but you've got those really high costs.

"If you look at council LGAs the average rental is $440 a week, but in the greater Sydney metro area it's about $430 a week."

St Vincent de Paul Society National Council chief Dr John Falzon said some residents were taking drastic measures to cut costs.

"We've recently seen huge increases in the costs of gas so many of the homes our members visit have people huddled together freezing in the dead of winter, unable to afford heating, and we find people going to bed early so as to conserve electricity," Dr Falzon said.

"People are even reducing the number of times they'll use the stove top because they're worried about the cost."

Low income support specialist Maree O'Halloran said people in areas like northern NSW went without fresh food and medications just to pay the rent.

"What we see is a lot of debt," the National Welfare Rights Network president said.

Mr Davies agreed that governments could help find solutions, such as affordable housing and affordable public transport.

"In terms of solutions, one is for the Federal Government to invest in affordable housing," he said.

"The State Government can also put incentives on development and land tax to help.

"And there needs to be investment in public transport."

Simple solutions when you're at financial breaking point

THERE is hope when you're at the financial breaking point.

Financial expert Miles Larby said simple solutions could make a world of difference.

"If you have a clear savings plan, you can take control of your money, instead of feeling like it controls you," the senior executive leader at the Federal Government's MoneySmart website said.

"This builds confidence and encourages good money management habits and the ability to move onto the next savings goal.

"You may think spending up on big things is why you're finding it hard to save.

"But often it's the everyday little things that end up costing more over time.

"It's easy to lose track of $5 here or $10 there."

Mr Larby said putting money aside for emergencies and compiling a budget were good options.

"Another tip is to pay yourself first by having your savings deducted from your pay and paid into separate savings account with no ATM access - you don't miss what you don't see," he said.

"The trick with saving is to start small and then build on that success."

Mr Larby said credit cards could prove useful but needed to be treated with caution.