Young cop brunt of cost of living pain

Adrian Rollins
November 21 2023 - 5:30am

Young adults are bearing the brunt of soaring housing and living costs, cutting back heavily on spending on essentials and discretionary items like clothes as they struggle to make ends meet.

WATCH: Michele Bullock has faced the Senate Committee on finances.

Consumers aged 25 to 29 years slashed their expenditure by 5.1 per cent in the past year - more than 10 per cent when taking into account inflation - by far the biggest pull back of any age group, and the only ones to cut their spending on both essentials and discretionary items, according to an analysis by Commonwealth Bank of purchases by around 7 million customers.

The data shows that those in their late 20s have cut their spending on essentials like food and medicine by 3.7 per cent in the past year and have slashed purchases of clothes, household goods and other discretionary items by 6.2 per cent.

The one area where they have splashed out is entertainment, spending on which jumped by 13 per cent as major events and one-offs like the FIFA Women's World Cup, Taylor Swift concerts and the Barbie film enticed them to loosen their budgets.

Middle-aged households are also feeling the pinch, if not to the same extent. Those in their 30s have trimmed their overall spending by around 1.4 per cent while those in their 40s and early 50s have cut back on discretionary spending and the amount going on essentials has not kept up with inflation.

Even people in their late 50s and early 60s are falling behind, with the amount going on essentials and discretionary items being outpaced by the increase in prices.

The only ones to have pumped up their outlays are those at retirement age and older, who significantly increased the amount they spent on eating out, travel and other optional purchases.

Separate research by National Australia Bank adds to evidence of how many households are adapting to deepening financial pressure.

A survey of more than 2000 people found that more than 40 per cent of adults aged 29 years or younger have cancelled streaming services and other subscriptions this year, saving around $900.


But NAB personal banking executive Kylie Young said many were choosing to maintain subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, audio books and apps like those for dating.

"Australians are choosing to stay informed, connected and they're prioritising spending on premium lifestyle subscriptions including news, magazines and even paid dating apps over streaming," Ms Young said.

The CommBank data highlights how unevenly the pressure from high inflation, rising housing costs and surging interest rates are being felt across society.

Overlaying the differences by age is a significant city-country divide.

Spending across regional Australia grew by 2.9 per cent in the year to September, more than double the 1.2 per cent pace in metropolitan areas.

CommBank iQ head of innovation and analytics Wade Tubman said the city-rural divide was starkest in NSW and Victoria, underscoring the impact housing costs was having.

"We've seen lower or negative discretionary spending growth in metropolitan NSW and Victoria, where many people are grappling with higher rents and mortgages," Mr Tubman said.

Young consumers have cut back heavily on their spending but are keeping enough aside for experiences like Barbie and big-ticket concerts. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong
Young consumers have cut back heavily on their spending but are keeping enough aside for experiences like Barbie and big-ticket concerts. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong
Adrian Rollins

Adrian Rollins


Adrian Rollins is economics correspondent for the Canberra Times