Need to know
- Two-thirds of Australian households are experiencing financial discomfort
- Concerns about the costs of fuel are on the rise
- Private health insurance and electricity costs remain key drivers of economic distress
Despite living in one of the richest countries in the world, two in three Australian households are finding it tough to get by, or are just getting by.
That's the standout finding of CHOICE's 22nd quarterly Consumer Pulse survey, in which we measure the economic pain points across the nation.
The culprits of financial discomfort have remained fairly consistent over our recent surveys – the cost of fuel is a key concern for eight in ten (80%) households for the second consecutive quarter, up from six in ten (60%) in 2016. Cost-of-fuel concerns are especially acute in Victoria.
Baby boomers are in a better spot than Gen Y or X when it comes to accessing cash for an unexpected expense.
Health and insurance and electricity costing plenty
Once again, the cost of private health insurance is a burden for many. Overall, eight in ten (81%) respondents cite it as a key concern and nearly nine in ten (89%) baby boomers say it's a struggle to afford.
The cost of electricity also continues to squeeze household budgets. Almost eight in ten (78%) households say it's a worry, though this is down from 84% two years ago.
Despite the widespread economic anxiety, the proportion of Australian households that believe bills and expenses have increased over the past 12 months is lower than it's been over the past four years – but it's still eight in ten (82%).
Gen X and Y on the tightest budgets
The source of this modest drop in financial discomfort is declining rents and interest rates. The cost of food and groceries remains steady, but it may rise as droughts around the country affect food prices.
Almost one in three (30%) respondents correctly predicted that official interest rates would fall over the past quarter, although more than one in four (26%) would be happy to see rates go up in the next 12 months. Among baby boomers, almost four in ten (38%) would welcome a rise, compared with just one in five Gen Y and Gen X respondents (18% and 22%, respectively).
This generational gulf opens up again when it comes to accessing cash at short notice.
Asked how confident they were about being able to pay for an urgent repair to their home in the next month, baby boomers were significantly more confident than Gen X and Y respondents, who said they were more likely to have to borrow money, use a credit card or cut back on other expenses.