Zofia Zayons has cancelled her gym membership, physio sessions, streaming services and has stopped eating out.
“At this point, the only thing that I can leverage is my time,” Ms Zayons, from Hobart, said.
Juggling an interest rate rise after purchasing her first home last year, and an electricity bill she was warned by the provider would double, Ms Zayons decided to find extra work.
Outside of her full-time role as a venue manager, Ms Zayons, 29, is moonlighting in a wine bar and as a freelance communications officer for a government agency.
“I’m managing [working three jobs] but I’m tired … and I know that what I’m doing now isn’t sustainable forever,” she said.
With little time between shifts at her three jobs, Ms Zayons plans her meals ahead, determined to avoid eating out.
Adapting to rising costs while remaining on a stagnant wage, Ms Zayons said she had also begun to buy some frozen vegetables rather than fresh ones, and was thinking twice before turning on the heating.
“You don’t really expect that after studying two university degrees, taking on further study in your field, [and] having worked for five years that you do have to take on extra work — it’s kind of frustrating,” she said.
Plans breaking down
Lucas Walsh, director of Monash University’s Centre for Youth Policy, said young people were coming of age in a time of soaring house prices, less secure job markets and credential inflation — where more and more qualifications were needed to secure a particular level of earning.
All of which, Professor Walsh said, was making it harder for them to plan their futures.
“Not being able to plan creates a level of uncertainty that has anxiety attached to it,” he said.
The markers of adulthood, like moving from education to the workforce, securing a house through ownership or rental, and starting a family were breaking down, Professor Walsh said.
“These markers are being eroded by things like the inflated housing prices and the fact that less secure work is making it more difficult for young people to secure loans,” he said.
While Professor Walsh said it was too early to understand how the current cost of living crisis was exacerbating these trends, he was certain about one thing.
For culturally and linguistically diverse communities, Professor Walsh said the impacts of an economic downturn could be compounded.
“If you’re from a first- or second-generation migrant background, you’re more likely to experience racism and exclusion, and that flows on into employment,” he said.
Cutting out luxuries
Mira Sulistiyanto, 25, in Adelaide is tossing up whether she should take a financial risk and return to university for post-graduate study next year to upskill.
Ms Sulistiyanto, who currently works full time in the international development sector, said she was worried that reducing her working hours and accruing more HECS debt was not a smart idea in the current economic climate.
“I think there are some important questions about whether increasing economic pressures do cause a deterrent for people to pursue further study, and the potential consequences of that,” she said.
The rising cost of living is also up-ending other parts of her life.
Ms Sulistiyanto said she normally travelled to Indonesia as often as possible to visit family in Java because it was incredibly important to her.
But it was becoming difficult to justify the travel costs, she said.
“Since the pandemic, and then with these increasing economic pressures, that’s starting to feel not impossible, but definitely increasingly out of reach.”
Ms Sulistiyanto said many in her social circles felt the same.
A sense of economic dread was hovering above the conversations she had with friends as they increasingly talked about money and shared tips on how to save.
Ms Sulistiyanto said she had tried to reign in spending on “luxuries” like catching Uber rides, eating out and cutting out takeaway orders.
She used helpful tricks from her friends including planning groceries a week in advance and dividing her earnings into ‘buckets’ in her bank account to save money.
Do we stay or do we go?
In Wyndham Vale, on Melbourne’s western fringe, Vinu Shankar Ganesun and his young family recently moved into their newly-built home.
But as costs continue to rise, Mr Ganesun and his wife Akila — who immigrated from India six years ago on skilled worker visas — are beginning to consider if they should stay in Australia.
“Do we move closer to the family [in India] and at least that way we feel more comfortable?”
Mr Ganesun, who runs his own business consulting firm, said new migrants like him were in a unique situation when it came to cost of living pressures.
Not only does Mr Ganesun support family in India, and cover travel costs so they can visit each other, he is trying to build a life from scratch in Australia.
“[It’s] kind of like travelling on two rails,” he said.
“A lot of times you also have wider responsibilities, especially if you have younger siblings, so you are sort of financially responsible for them as well.”
With his wife driving more than 110km each day to work in early childhood education, and the family eating a plant-based diet, Mr Ganesun said fuel and grocery costs had risen steeply.
He said it was hard to cut down on fuel costs because the public transport in his area was not very accessible.
Mr Ganesun said the rising prices meant he was yet to start paying himself super since starting his own business last year.
“I’ve been busy making ends meet and have not reached the level of substantial savings when I feel like I can now start investing in my super,” he said.
“The cost of living just eats into the savings, and that has a longer-term impact on our financial goals.”
Assessing needs versus nice-to-haves
Laura Higgins, from ASIC’s MoneySmart — which provides free tools and services to help people make financial decisions — said there were a number of things people could try if they wanted to improve their financial situation.
The best place to start was to make a list of all spending, Ms Higgins said.
“Understanding all of your financial commitments, being really honest about that, and understanding where your money’s going,” she said.
It was important to assess needs versus nice-to-haves and consider where changes in spending and priorities could be made, she said.
“How much money are you spending on groceries versus takeaway and going out to restaurants — sometimes tweaking your spending and changing the balance of that can make a big difference.”
Transport was another area where savings could be made. Ms Higgins said carpooling or bike riding were things people could consider to lower fuel costs.
“[Even] once a week, those behaviours can make a big difference over time,” she said.
Sharing costs and downsizing — everything from finding a housemate and sharing bills to culling online subscriptions could be considered, Ms Higgins said.
For those feeling overwhelmed, Ms Higgins suggested reaching out to the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 or accessing MoneySmart’s other resources online.
“Making some changes can be a good thing and can be quite empowering, and change the way people feel about their financial situation,” she said.