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Judy Bailey on living the simple life

In these tough times, the popular former newsreader is keeping to a budget.
Judy Bailey

Thriftiness has long been second nature to Judy Bailey. Even in the days when she was one of our top TV newsreaders, she was careful not to fritter away money.

“That’s the way I was brought up,” she explains. “I think all of us with parents who went through the Depression had it instilled in us.”

Thriftiness is about making savings wherever you can and in the Bailey household, leftover food doesn’t get thrown away and expiry dates aren’t respected.

“I use the smell test instead,” laughs Judy. “If it doesn’t smell or look off, then I eat it.”

She’s always liked to keep an eye on where the dollars go. “I’m careful,” she explains.

“I’m not big on shopping. My parents always drilled into me the idea that debt was bad, so I pay off my credit card every month and I’m not afraid to haggle if I buy a big item.”

When Judy received her largest ever power bill, $800, she was shocked.

So when Judy (61) opened her largest ever power bill – a whopping $800 – it gave her a real fright. “It was horrendous,” she admits.

There was a reason for the sudden increase. Daughter Gemma and her family have moved from Whangamata and are living with Judy and her husband Chris while they look for a house in Auckland. Still it came as a shock to see how much extra it had added to their bill having the washing machine, dryer and heat pump chugging away so much more than usual.

That’s why it was very timely indeed when Judy was asked to be an ambassador for the What’s My Number campaign being run by the Electricity Authority and Consumer NZ.

This campaign is aimed at helping us all get the best possible deal on our power and make savings where we can. The first step is a quick questionnaire on the website whatsmynumber.org.nz. “It only took me a minute to do,” says Judy. “If I can use it, anyone can because I’m such a technophobe.”

Fronting the campaign has made her rethink her household’s power consumption.

“I’ve become the electricity Nazi,” she admits. “Showers are now a lot shorter and appliances are turned off at night instead of being left on standby. I don’t ever want to see another bill like that one.”

Aside from the scary bill, having their family villa on Auckland’s North Shore bursting at the seams again has been a joy for the Baileys.

“It’s the most glorious thing having grandchildren,” says Judy. “And it’s such a bonus to be able to get to know them really well while they’re living with us.”

Gemma’s children, Mila (3) and three-month-old Macy, along with three other Auckland-based grandchildren, Harry (7), Sadie (4) and 18-month-old Hudson, are keeping Judy busy reading stories, playing at the park and helping out at bath-time.

Judy is passing on her thrifty knowledge to her grandchildren.

She’s also been passing on a little of that thrifty knowledge she picked up from her own parents, planting silverbeet with her grandchildren in the flower beds of her Auckland home and a bigger vegetable garden at the family’s beach house in the Coromandel.

Hopefully, in the coming years, granddad Chris will show them some of the DIY skills his father taught him.

“Chris is extraordinary, he can do anything. He designed our beach house, then built it over a period of 20 or so years – and he’s still building it!” laughs Judy.

“He has every tool known to man and a few more besides. His idea of taking me on a hot date is going to Fieldays and looking at diggers! But if you can turn your hand to DIY, you save a lot of money.”

Judy is usually roped in on the DIY projects. On weekends, she can be found with a paintbrush or sander in her hand – she can even drive a digger. “Sometimes we’ll work ourselves to a standstill,” she admits. “But it’s very satisfying and I think it keeps you fit and young.”

These days, since leaving TV, much of the work Judy does is voluntary and unpaid. Husband Chris, a TV executive, is the main breadwinner, allowing her to pursue her passion for helping people. She’s deeply involved with the work of the Brainwave Trust, which is focused on making sure New Zealand kids have the best possible start in life, as well as a number of other charities, including Women’s Refuge, Hospice and the Seasons programme, which offers grief support for children and young people.

It’s rewarding work and it keeps her on the go, but Judy also has another great passion – international travel – and her waste-not-want attitude to life has helped take her to some amazing places.

“When we were young, Chris and I travelled Europe on the smell of an oily rag,” she remembers. “We even used to reuse tea bags – we’d make a cuppa and then hang them out to dry!”

These days, Judy indulges in a little more comfort when she’s overseas. Recently, she travelled alone to Hawaii and at the end of the year, she’s heading to Sri Lanka and Rajasthan. “I love intrepid travel,” she says. “And I like the chaos of India – the smells and colours. It’s a total assault on the senses.”

So far, her sixties are proving to be a very happy decade of Judy’s life. She doesn’t miss being constantly in the public eye as a newsreader, but is still prepared to lend the weight of her fame to the causes she supports. The What’s My Number campaign may be a little different from her usual work, but Judy’s seen first-hand how important it is.

“Times are tough out there and people are struggling,” she says. “Everything seems so expensive and I know my own kids find it hard to make ends meet. So to be able to help people with their power bills – having just had a big one myself – that seems like a positive thing for me to do.”

Judy’s power saving tips:

  1. The clothesline: Dry clothes on the line instead of the dryer and save around $200 per year.

  2. The towel rail: Save around $120 per year when you switch off the towel rail once they’re dry.

  3. The light bulb: Change to energy savings bulbs and save around $120 over the life of each bulb (about $6 a bulb).

  4. The washing machine: Wash your clothes in cold water rather than warm and you could save around $65 per year.

  5. The hot water and pipes: Wrap your hot water cylinder and pipes and save around $80 each year on older cylinders (a blanket costs around $70).

  6. The showerhead: If your shower fills a bucket in under a minute, save around $150 a year when you change to an efficient showerhead.

  7. The home appliance: Turn off appliances left on standby and save around $125 a year.

  8. The beer fridge: Switching it off could save you up to $300 per year.

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