One in four households struggling to get by

17 November 2016 | Our latest consumer survey reveals small gains, but many are still struggling with cost of living.

Taking the pulse of the nation

More than one in four Australians are finding it difficult to get by on their household's level of income, according to the latest cost of living research conducted by CHOICE.

The results of the quarterly Consumer Pulse survey show that while the proportion of people struggling on their current income has decreased slightly in the past six months, concerns about the household costs and the state of the economy still weigh heavily on people's minds.

"There are lots of economic indicators that don't speak to the basic underlying pressures consumers feel. The Consumer Pulse survey lets CHOICE put numbers around those concerns, and understand how these pressures are changing over time," says Matt Levey, CHOICE's Director of Content, Campaigns and Communications.

Some things get better, others stay the same

The most recent results paint a slightly rosier picture than two years ago. In the June 2014 survey nearly two-thirds of respondents reported cutting back on non-essential spending in the previous year, while 46% reduced spending on essential items. Today those figures are 55% and 32%, respectively. However, nearly one in five people still report having to resort to credit cards to make it to payday.

The biggest cost pressure is still in the price of electricity, with nearly four in five people feeling concerned. The cost of health treatment (74% concerned) has come to be the second biggest source of anxiety, displacing groceries (70% concerned). While other cost pressures have remained static, fuel is causing far less stress in these days of low bowser prices – more than a third said this was not an issue that worried them.

Different strokes

Breaking up the results by gender and generation reveals that not everybody feels the pinch in the same way. Women are more likely to be under financial pressure than men. More women than men are concerned about current costs, the particularly when it comes to groceries (75% vs 65%) and fuel (67% vs 56%).

Nearly three in ten men say they are living comfortably on their current household income, compared to less than than a quarter of women. The gender ratio is reversed when it comes to those who are struggling to get by. Women are also more likely to cut back on spending, dip into their savings before payday, and deliberately miss paying a bill by the due date.

Younger people – recently much maligned for their supposed thriftlessness and smashed avocado addictions – have shown themselves to be generally more conscientious savers than older Australians. More of the 18-29 age group planned to increase the amount they saved than any other cohort. They also showed as much concern about the value of their superannuation and other investments as Gen Y and Gen X respondents.

Consumers not convinced by sunny economic data

The amount of people worried about interest rates has remained steady at just under half of all respondents, despite the RBA cash rate sitting at record low levels. Confidence in the Australian economy is at a nadir, with one in three rating it as "fairly poor" or "very poor". Despite the fact that Australia recently passed the 25-year mark of continuous GDP growth, fewer than one in four were positive about the state of the economy.

"There are also some other underlying factors to this, such as slow wage growth," says Matt Levey. "In some areas people might not be feeling the benefits that growth and in some cases might feel like they're going backwards. If you're trying to enter the housing market in Sydney, for example, you might not feel economic growth is really benefiting you."