Ondine Grace has to pinch herself sometimes when she realises that she bought her first home in Dunedin at just 20 years old. Her friends are astounded.

Looking back, Ondine’s financial journey started young. Money was something that was discussed in the Grace household when Ondine was growing up. She knew ‘what things cost’ and learned the power of saving early.

The launch of KiwiSaver when Ondine was 16 years old started her on the road to saving to buy a house. Her parents encouraged her to sign up when they saw the benefits for first-home buyers.

At first, while still studying, Ondine saved small amounts of money from part-time work at the local New World supermarket.

When she began working full time as a client manager for an online language learning website, she started saving seriously. Ondine committed 8% of her pay plus $50 a week to KiwiSaver. Her employer also made contributions.

Ondine had done the sums and worked out that if she saved hard and used the KiwiSaver first-home subsidy and withdrawal options she could buy her first home in her early 20s.


The goal of buying a house was very motivating and Ondine looked constantly for ways to ratchet up her savings. She lived with her parents and avoided drinking alcohol, which saved a lot of money.

Ondine would also check her bank account every few days to see if there was a spare few dollars to transfer to her savings.  ‘Every cent counts,’ says Ondine. ‘Most people think saving one or two dollars isn’t worth it.’ Even she was surprised how quickly the savings mounted up.

As well as saving into KiwiSaver, Ondine opened a savings account with Whai Rawa, a personal savings scheme for Ngāi Tahu whānau. She saved $4,800 into that account, which grew to $7,000 thanks to matched savings, annual distributions and accumulated earnings.

Including the KiwiSaver and Whai Rawa money, Ondine built up a $22,000 deposit in four years.  In July 2012 she realised her dream and bought a $182,000 four-bedroom Dunedin house.

Ondine says that having access to Whai Rawa sped up her savings. Without it, however, she still would have been able to buy a house – it just would have taken 12 months longer.  Her parents were also willing to stand as guarantors on the property. Not all young homebuyers have parents who can do that.

Ondine still has a few tough financial years ahead of her.  ‘The mortgage is about half of my pay and I also have to pay [renovation and utility] bills,’ she says. ‘After that I have about $100 to spend for two weeks.’

Her plan is to finish renovating the house, move in and collect rent from flatmates, which will ease the pressure on her pay packet. The rent will enable Ondine to pay down the mortgage faster – hopefully whittling it down to nothing by the time she is 30 or 35 years old.

As well as hard work, Ondine has some fun planned. That includes travelling to Europe for an OE in three or four years’ time.


Comments (11)

Gravatar for Django


9:33am | 23 Jan 2020

If our government had not allowed the housing market to be played by investors, domestic and foreign, we would not have to 'dream' about owning a house. It is madness that every dollar you will ever earn in your life will go to paying off a house. . Housing in NZ is shabby, damp, badly made - but among the most unaffordable in the world. We need a Capital Gains Tax fast. So stop blaming people for not living in austerity, saving for the 'dream'. And blame greedy goverments, their business cronies and the media for colluding to make housing so unaffordable

Gravatar for Ally


12:41pm | 5 Feb 2018

This is a really awesome story and I wish we would focus on being happy for this girl who obviously worked her butt off rather than trying to drag her down and using spiteful phrases - congrats Ondine, awesome effort.

Gravatar for Gareth


7:27pm | 9 Jan 2018

I was laughed out of a Hamilton-based bank with a $40000 deposit today and I was amazed. Want my story Sorted?

Gravatar for anonymous


9:03am | 7 Oct 2017

Good girl and well done to her. It's a great start towards financial security and a stable future. Like many posters here I'm in Auckland as well and despite having 2 mortgages my elderly parents and family live in one (mangere) and my husband kids and moko live in the other (wiri) it's still tight money and space wise due to dumb debt. Im applying for "better" paid jobs which will be more demanding in terms of responsibilities and we're hoping to rent our next home because we can't afford to buy another. Our daughter and her family can pay the mortgage because the market rents are way too high for them. I wish each of you the very best in your endeavours to achieve your financial goals. Bless.

Gravatar for Tina


11:57am | 30 Jul 2017

Seriously guys, grow up life is not fair. I did not even have a family growing up I am an orphan and literally had nothing to my name when I got tossed out of the system on my ass with no money or knowledge. Life is not fair but we can get close by thinking out of the box and working hard. The girl in the above story could have relaxed back and not done all the extra hours of work, she could have gotten married and had kids instead of buying a house first. She didnt. Our choices define our path and there will be always obstacles. If it was easy everybody would be doing it and there would be no such articles. I have been working hard and saving since I was 18 and still cant afford a house in Auckland at age 33. I did make a few mistakes, I got in a relationship, money was used to support a useless person, some wrong investments, a few good ones after a paid course done, etc etc. I wish I had parents I could have lived with, never got in a relationship or done a investment course early before investing but it wont change today. So I think about the future. I am $50,000 short of getting into my own house, if i sacrifice all my personal life and pull extra shifts i will get there in 12-24 months by which time the market would have moved on and instead of a 3 bedroom house I will have to settle down for a tiny 2 bedroom place in need of renovation or a 1 bedroom apartment. Or I can look for a job in a smaller town or city Hamilton, Whangeri, Rotorua a few hours from Auckland so can still visit friends and enjoy life on weekends and can buy a decent 3 bedroom house now. Choices and hard work is what defines us.

Gravatar for 24yr old gal

24yr old gal

7:47am | 29 Jul 2017

Well this chick is damn well lucky. I have to live with my parents to support them not the other way around! we don't own a house yet and it's hard trying to rack up your savings fast

Gravatar for Anonymous


9:58am | 2 Jul 2017

The point that's being missed is it's about determination and regular savings plus thinking laterally about how to make a bit more that can be added to the savings. Everyone's circumstances are different and depending where you live yes it can be harder especially nowadays. Now it takes creative thinking and hard work and yes some of us will rent for longer. Developing a savings mentality is key

Gravatar for Riwa Wahitapu Addis

Riwa Wahitapu Addis

8:57pm | 24 May 2017

Awesome job! Taught early the value of money... I personally find this story very inspiring and it's never too late.

Gravatar for anonymous


10:19am | 1 May 2017

Yep nice story but how about myself. Living in Auckland on the North Shore, renting, in a low- average income job. I have 2 kids in primary school, living week about with my ex-husband. So buying in where-in-the-world-is-that where houses may be costing less is great but not when you have shared care with your ex, then you are kinda stuck where he is. So how do you buy a house even with a deposit but you dont qualify for a mortgage for an Auckland home. What if the bank would loan you enough to buy somewhere in the country in the middle of nowwhere. I dont want a luxury home, just any house would do as long as its nice enough to live in.

Gravatar for anonymous


7:22pm | 15 Oct 2016

Yeah a little outdated much? A $182,000 house that would probably be more like $500,000 now. How about we do an example of an average NZer situation? With current house prices? For the majority of people who don't have access to tribal whanau funds?