Australians are finding it so difficult to make ends meet that almost half are cutting back on household essentials, while one in five are relying on their credit card to make it through to pay day.
That’s the finding of a new survey released today by consumer advocacy group Choice, which shows 46 per cent of people are cutting back on essential items like food, groceries and car maintenance.
Renters, low-income earners, and parents with school-aged children, are identified as the groups who are struggling the most.
Electricity bills and fuel prices top the list of people’s biggest budget headaches.
Choice’s Consumer Pulse Cost of Living Report survey paints a bleak picture of the financial security of Australian households in the face of rising bills and everyday expenses.
The report found 31 per cent of Australians are finding it tough to survive on their current income and that 44 per cent are just “getting by”.
Many are coping with increased financial pressure by slashing their spending on non-essential items, with 57 per cent of people surveyed reporting clothing and entertainment as the first items they cull.
Alarmingly, 35 per cent of people say they resort to using savings to cover monthly expenses and 19 per cent are forced to borrow from family or friends.
Choice chief executive officer Alan Kirkland says the findings are distressing.
“This reveals some striking concerns with cost of living, which is perhaps not surprising at a time when inflation is outstripping sluggish wages growth, retail sales are fragile and the political debate remains focused on household expenses.”
When it came to household expense concerns, 84 per cent of people said they were most worried about their energy bill, closely followed by petrol and food and groceries.
Professor Jakob Madsen,of the Department of Economics at Monash University, says the results of the survey are troubling, but expected.
“It doesn’t surprise me because there’s definitely an increase in inequality in Australia, which means there’s an increasing share of the less well off population that’s feeling the pinch.”
The survey was conducted in June, prior to the repeal of the carbon tax, and quizzed over a 1000 Australians aged 18-75.
Nine in ten households reported their bills had increased in the past year and one in five people admitted they’d deliberately missed or put off paying a bill.
The research also revealed Australians were cutting back in spending on areas such as clothing and holidays, but were unlikely to curb their usage of the internet, mobile phones, and cable TV subscriptions.
While consumers from across all age spectrums reported financial difficulties, renters and those with a household income of $50,000 or under were pinpointed as the most vulnerable.
“The squeeze on essentials is most for this group. Seven in ten (72 per cent) have had to cut back on essentials in the past 12 months,” the report said.
In terms of the biggest worries, renters were most concerned with losing their jobs while families were more focused on the costs of medicine and visiting doctors.
“We also identified government spending cuts as the main consumer worry, perhaps reflecting the federal political debate, with the future of billions in budget savings, including family payments, still unresolved,” Mr Kirkland says.
While Professor Madsen concedes the current climate is grim, he nevertheless stressed caution when interpreting survey results.
“It does indicate that consumer confidence is not as high as it was some time ago,” he says.
“[But with] these kinds of surveys, sometimes there’s always a negative bias, so it’s difficult to see this from once a year to gauge the mood of the population.”