It’s sparked serious dinner table discussions, been the topic of heated Facebook threads and it’s even got a gen Z slang term: cozzie livs. The cost of living is the talk of the town and if it feels inescapable, that’s because it is. In the 12 months leading up to December 2022, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 7.8 per cent, the highest rate in more than three decades. The price of housing, petrol, electricity, groceries and, yes, even a cup of coffee is increasing. So much so that 51 per cent of Australians surveyed by CommBank responded that their top financial goal for 2023 is to reduce living costs and expenses.

Here, we speak to four everyday Aussies about how they’re dealing with the growing financial pressures by cutting costs, making savings and changing habits.

Finding big savings with small cuts

Georgia Bowden, paramedicine communications officer, and Tim Bowden, schoolteacher, Frankston, Victoria on being proactive and how.

Georgia: “I returned to work [in paramedicine] in March after a year on maternity leave with our first child. It was incredible to have that time. I know some mums who’ve had to go back to work earlier than they’d like so they can afford to pay for groceries because the cost of living has risen so much. I was ready to go back to work – and ready for the bump in income that came with it.

I’ve been proactive with the rising cost of living. When we bought our house in 2018 we decided not to borrow more than we needed. I think we were smart to buy a place that would last us through the different stages of our life. Still, the mortgage is our biggest expense. I’ve cancelled all subscription services, like Netflix, and switched phone providers for a cheaper plan.

There’s a sense of security in knowing where our money’s going and I’ve always been on top of my finances. I hate paying full price and I love getting a good deal and buying second-hand where we can. It’s empowering to take control of your finances.”

Tim: “I went to grab sushi for lunch the other day and was shocked to see the price of one roll was $4. I’m sure a year ago it was more like $2.50. That’s a big difference. I skipped the sushi and have been cutting other things out as well to keep within our family budget. We used to order takeaway for dinner every few weeks but we’ve stopped doing that. I enjoy going out for breakfast as a family, though, so I’m happy to spend money on that.

Georgia has helped me get better with money. Before we lived together, I wouldn’t think twice about spending $200 on jeans for the weekend. I don’t do that anymore. I’m now more of a saver than a spender. As well as cutting spending within our household, I’ve recently started doing labouring work for my brother on Saturdays to make a little bit of extra money.

When Georgia returned to work from mat leave, I went down to three days a week at the school I teach at so I can look after our daughter. It’s exciting but financially it’s a bit of a squeeze. That’s why working Saturdays was a good idea. I come home exhausted but it’s a rewarding feeling.”


Focussing on quality over quantity

Jane Robertson, small business owner, Wagga Wagga, NSW

“As a small business owner and a mum of three, I’ve been feeling the rising cost of living from both sides. When the Australian dollar is low, my business margins change dramatically because I import from China and Spain so I constantly revise my forecasts depending on the exchange rate. To protect the profitability of my business, Millwoods – a footwear label I launched in 2019, I’m looking at different ways I can sell into international markets. Being able to sell in US dollars and have a US dollar bank account will be a major help.

At home, I’ve been getting creative with meal ideas. The kids love having breakfast for dinner and we also do a ‘freezer night’, where we use up frozen leftovers. I’m a fan of bulk cooking so when I make spaghetti bolognese, I use two or three kilograms of meat so it lasts and it’s cheaper that way.

Living on a farm and driving diesel cars, the cost of fuel is a big expense. It’s a 40-kilometre drive to get into Wagga Wagga so I recently bought a second-hand run-about that uses petrol, which is cheaper than diesel. So, even though I had to make an initial investment to buy the car, I know the savings on fuel will add up.

As a kid, I was brought up to buy the best available quality I could afford – and it’s a lesson I’m trying to pass on to my own children. Buying one pair of quality jeans and wearing them until they split is better than buying four pairs of cheap jeans that last half as long.

It’s this thinking that I’ve built into my business, too. I’ve been getting emails from customers asking when I’ll be having a sale – which I understand – but I’d like consumers not to expect frequent sales. Instead, I’d like our customers to know that the shoes are worth it, to recognise that the price point is fair and to trust in the quality and wearability of the pieces. Fast fashion has made it harder for quality brands but there’s a movement towards shopping small, local and premium. I love to see that support.

Since starting Millwoods, I’ve invested almost everything back into the business. I only pay myself the cost of my family’s groceries every week. But recently I’ve had to make some tough decisions because of rising costs and I’ve scaled back the subcontractors who assist me. That does put more pressure and stress on me to get things done but I’m here for the long haul. In business – and life – things are cyclical so at the moment it’s all about getting through this part of the cycle and staying strong.”


Enjoying life on a budget

Paul Kamler, health informatics consultant, Darwin, Northern Territory

“I consider myself a sensible spender. I’m not ostentatious but I like to enjoy myself and I value fine food and fine company.

I live on Larrakia Country in Darwin with my husband, Steve, and our two ‘fur-baby’ cats, Maisie and Missy. Steve and I both have government jobs – him in events management for Parliament House and me in health – and we live a comfortable life. But we’ve still noticed the cost of living increasing. Because Darwin is so remote, we do pay more for things like petrol and groceries due to the cost of freight. That’s always been the case but things seem to be getting even more expensive. The cost of our Sunday lamb roast has gone up by at least $10 so we’ve been having more steak and sausages instead. We’re not missing out but we’re certainly considering our purchases.

We planned to travel overseas last year to celebrate my birthday but when we looked at the prices, we decided to holiday in Australia instead. We had a great time staying at the Rydges in Brisbane overlooking the river and South Bank.

In our day-to-day life back in Darwin, the main cost that we’ve noticed skyrocket is electricity. We used to leave an air-conditioner on for the cats when we left for work but we’ve stopped doing that now. Don’t worry, the cats are still spoiled! We spend a fair amount of our income on toys and good-quality food at the pet store.

“The cost of our Sunday lamb roast has gone up by at least $10 so we’ve been having more steak and sausages instead.”

I’m glad – and feel lucky – that we bought our apartment 14 years ago and we have always paid more than the minimum repayments so we have a bit of a buffer. We’ve been able to do that because we don’t have huge expenses, dependents – other than the cats! – or multiple properties. It’s a fortunate position to be in.

The other day a colleague asked me if it was payday and I genuinely had no idea. It’s been a while since I’ve had to count down till payday and I’m grateful for that.”

For more ideas on how to offset the cost of living

Cost of living tips

This article was originally published in Brighter magazine

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