Ever wondered how people manage their finances? This is what hundreds of Australians told us

Ever wondered how people manage their finances? This is what hundreds of Australians told us

In an increasingly expensive world, money is on everyone’s mind. But talking about money is often taboo. So, we asked people for you.

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From people on government support to those earning more than $250,000 a year, more than 750 Australians across the country responded to an audience call-out asking readers to share their budget breakdowns and thoughts on the cost-of-living crisis.

It’s no secret many people are doing it tough, as you can see by scrolling through the responses below using the arrow on the bottom right …

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But despite some feeling like they’re going through the crisis alone, many common threads emerged that contradicted cost-of-living stereotypes and grievances — for example, that extra income would solve financial woes, or that older generations are better off than today’s young.

To give you a peek into people’s experiences, we’ve broken them down into themes and trends — including a handful of budget sheets — along with anecdotes and tips many are using to navigate a rapidly changing economy.

Housing, utilities, transport and food

A photo of miniature people standing outside a miniature house.

Rising inflation, interest rates, rent hikes and energy prices are creating a perfect storm for many Australians.

Rents, mortgages and food have always been key household expenditures, but the simultaneous rising prices of petrol, groceries and utilities means daily habits are rapidly shifting and feelings of uncertainty are setting in.

A photo of miniature people standing next to light bulbs.

  Energy bills.

A photo of a miniature man next to a VW.

A photo of miniature people sitting on food.

“My monthly income is basically spent on rent, child care and debt repayments,” says Lauren, who is in her 30s and earns over $100,000 a year working in finance in Western Sydney.

Lauren’s household budget 

Item

Cost

Rent

30 per cent

Loans, Debts, Bills & Utilities 

30 per cent

Groceries, Petrol

20 per cent

Childcare

10 per cent

Other (Medical, Streaming Services, Outings)

5 per cent

Savings

<5 per cent

NB: Costs are an approximate percentage of total monthly expenditure and subject to variable change.

Her husband works part-time in the hospitality industry with a variable income, which the couple — who have a young child — allocate to petrol, groceries and outings after the non-discretionary expenses are paid.

A photo of supermarket shopping.

Groceries.

“But we can’t buy them all in one shop because they’re all too expensive so I’ve got to space them out.”

A car accident earlier this year that was not covered by insurance meant the family of three was forced to take out another unexpected loan and resort to payday lenders or AfterPay when their budget didn’t stack up at the end of the month.

The family is banking on tax time to hopefully get some money back to help pay down those debts, and they have cut back on pricey outings while allocating funds for streaming services as a cheaper way to “unwind” at home.

Which highlights the second key budget spend trend after living essentials:

Guilty pleasures

A photo of a miniature man watching TV.

Recreation, alcohol, gaming, streaming and travel — the second-biggest expenditure theme seemed to boil down to escape and leisure.

When taking stock and watching where the money goes, a guilty pleasure might be “paying for a gym I barely go to” or “Magnum ice-creams” or boozy lunches “on the champagne [to recover] from stressful work”. 

Streaming services and food deliveries have become a post-lockdown mainstay for many, while alcohol has become a tender spot — “frivolous but nice” — in the budgets of those who can still afford it.

A photo of miniature people on a Nintendo.

A photo of a football with tennis balls.

A photo miniature people sitting on alcohol bottles.

Christine, a 74-year-old Wiradjuri widow and pensioner who occasionally works with the AEC for extra funds, says her guilty pleasures are a slice of cake and a go at the pokies. 

Christine’s household budget

Item

Cost

Rent

35 per cent

Utilities and bills

30 per cent

Groceries, petrol, incidentals

25 per cent

Debt (credit card)

5 per cent

Recreation (Pokies, cake, etc)

<5 per cent

NB: Costs are an approximate percentage of total monthly expenditure and subject to variable change.

Christine keeps her budget simple: “I enjoy my life. I’ve got food in my fridge, I’ve got a car I can drive, I’ve got a comfortable home.” But she says she spends $50 on pokies when she goes, noting that anything she wins she saves for another day. 

“If I win, then I know I can go again the next week,” she says. “But I don’t sit there and just put it all back in there again. I can’t do that.

For many others, take-out coffee or eating out have become guilty pleasures they can no longer afford, while those with more to splurge have booked ski holidays or taken to nice bottles of red to make winter more cheery. 

A photo of miniature people sitting on takeaway coffee cups.

A photo of a miniature plane flying past an Eiffel tower.

The rising cost of living also seems to be encouraging some people towards better habits, with the price of tobacco being called into question.

“People that don’t budget but then smoke, drink and play the poker machines as well — I don’t know how they do it,” Christine says.

“People are getting stressed out and letting their mental health get them down.

“Talk to someone because everything builds up and becomes bigger than it really is and there are [people] out there that can help.”

Commitments and curveballs

A photo of a jar with teeth and pill boxes.

Life challenges — illness, debt or divorce — and family commitments — insurance or caring for those we love — loom large on the budgets of those trying to keep up with rising prices. 

Some young professionals juggling a mortgage and HECS debt on stagnant wages lament it’s a bad time to be young. Others on the pension or struggling to find a path to retirement say it’s also an inconvenient time to be older. 

A miniature photo showing Four Generations of Australians.

Kirsten lies in bed at night wondering if she will become “one of those women”.  

Kirsten’s household budget  

Item

Cost

Mortgage, body corporate

30 per cent

Utilities and bills

30 per cent

Groceries, petrol

30 per cent

Other (sponsorship, charities, recreation, etc)

<10 per cent

NB: Costs are an approximate percentage of total monthly expenditure and subject to variable change.

She currently earns about $60,000 per year but a divorce and caring for an adult daughter with an intellectual disability — after years of being out of the workforce, raising children and caring for an elderly relative — means she has little super and is still repaying a modest mortgage. 

“I’m on the end of my working career, age-wise,” she says.

A photo of a miniature camper van and two miniature people.

“I’ve already got bad hips. 

“There’s no going for coffee anymore. That used to be our luxury on a Saturday morning. My daughter and I would go have a coffee, a muffin, a Pepsi. Not anymore – that’s nearly $20.”

She is not alone. Others say that in the current environment, one traffic fine or a miscalculated solar energy cost is all it takes to blow a budget out.

A photo of a miniature fine on a miniature car.

A photo of a miniature man holder a phone charger cord.

Some say they’re getting by via tough sacrifices or trade-offs — for example, cutting off their internet, winding back insurance or opting to go to bed instead of turning on the heating. 

Others, however, suggest this might be the silver lining because while budgets are being regularly reconfigured, plenty of tips and examples of creative financial workarounds are becoming fixtures in Australian homes. 

What’s in the tip jar?

A photo of a tip jar.

For example, to counter the price of rising groceries, one South Australian man in his 60s recommends foraging in public parks. 

Up north, a young couple in Queensland in need of a couch cut back on household costs by building one from recycled wood.

A photo of miniature people pushing cherries.

A photo of miniature people building a couch.

Scroll through the gallery below using the arrow on the bottom right to read a handful of people’s tips and solutions …

Whatever your strategy might be — getting savvier at the supermarket, documenting expenditure, re-evaluating your utility providers, analysing expense sheets for tax deductibles, or refinancing your home loan — many readers stressed the importance of managing expectations and remembering that no one person is experiencing the cost of living crisis alone.

A photo of miniature people playing with blocks.

In the meantime, the ABC’s editor of Your Money Explained, Emily Stewart — whose financial newsletter with tips and news can be subscribed to via this link — says if you are struggling financially, there are places to get help.

“You could call the National Debt Helpline (1800 007 007) and speak to a financial counsellor — they’re free, independent and can help you put together a budget and sort out debt,” she says.

“It’s also worth speaking to your bank’s financial-hardship team. They can put a hold on repayments or make other arrangements to take the pressure off.”

If you’d like to write in to the ABC to let us know what you’re experiencing or have a question you’d like answered, please fill out the form through this link.

Read the story in Chinese: 中文版 or Indonesian: Bahasa Indonesia

Credits

Note: Some quotes and comments have been edited or paraphrased for clarity. The information provided in this piece is also general in nature. If you need personal financial advice please see a professional.

Posted , updated 

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