Taking the Pulse of the Nation

Informing Australian economic & social policy. A Melbourne Institute & Roy Morgan partnership

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Taking the Pulse of the Nation (TTPN) surveys the Australian population to capture their sentiments and behaviours related to current economic and social issues

Since 2020, the Taking the Pulse of the Nation (TTPN) survey has collected compelling information on the changing behaviours and attitudes of Australians. Together, Melbourne Institute and Roy Morgan understand the value in capturing the voices of Australians on the issues that matter right now. We use this information to create expert analyses to directly inform social and economic policies for our Nation.

This survey data is available subject to relevant fees and conditions.  Please contact us for more information and access.

Australians using various measures to deal with higher cost of living

Australians have experienced substantial increases in their cost of living over the past few months. Given relatively low growth of incomes and wages, for most people, making ends meet can require changes to behaviour and finding ways to mitigate the impact of higher prices on their personal finances. Melbourne Institute’s Taking the Pulse of the Nation (TTPN) Survey recently asked Australians to indicate which of a selection of 14 possible strategies or steps they have taken or are taking to deal with the rising cost of living.

Food choices and depletion of savings are major strategies

About 56% of Australians state they bought cheaper food options, and just over half have reduced the frequency at which they dine out (Figure 1). Almost 38% of respondents are dipping into savings, and 37% are cutting back on home energy use. Less than 10% have borrowed money, either from friends, relatives or financial institutions.

Single-parent households with children are struggling

Among single-parent households with children, just under half report using savings to cope with rising prices and almost 64% have sought out cheaper food options (Figure 2). Worryingly, almost 15% have pawned or sold possessions, 24% have cancelled or deferred medical appointments, 34% deferred bills or negotiated payment plans and a quarter have borrowed from friends or relatives. Although these strategies are also present among partnered households with children, the prevalence is much lower in comparison to single-parent households with children.

Strategies are very similar across income groups…

Though greater proportions of lower-income households dip into their savings or seek cheaper transport options compared to higher-income households, most income groups still report relatively similar proportions in their methods of adjusting to higher prices (Figure 3).

…but differ greatly by financial stress status

While cost-of-living pressures are experienced by individuals across all income groups, the use of the outlined measures is vastly different depending on reported financial stress status (Figure 4). Roughly 64% of people in financial stress are using their savings, compared to 30% of those not in financial stress. Other measures most common among those in financial stress include pawning items (21%), borrowing from friends or relatives (23%), deferring bills or negotiating payment plans (32%), cancelling or deferring medical appointments (33%), cutting back on home energy use (53%) and on recreation (60%), reducing dining out (74%) and buying cheaper food options (78%). In many cases, these proportions are more than triple for those in financial stress compared to those of people not in financial stress.

Australians are employing a range of strategies to deal with the widespread increases in prices of goods and services, particularly in decisions related to food and use of existing savings to fund expenditure. High proportions of individuals in single-parent households report more extreme strategies (such as having to pawn or sell items and cancelling medical appointments). Higher living costs have undoubtedly increased levels of financial stress across all household income groups. People in financial stress also report the highest proportions of more extreme steps taken to deal with higher prices such as using savings to fund current expenditure, which may have negative long-term consequences to their finances.

This Taking the Pulse of the Nation insight was authored by Dr Ferdi Botha, Senior Research Fellow, Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, 21 September 2022.

*Beginning in April 2020, the Taking the Pulse of the Nation (TTPN) was conceptualised and implemented by a group of researchers at the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research. In 2022, the Melbourne Institute and Roy Morgan formed a partnership to extend the running of the TTPN. Each wave includes a set of core questions, as well as additional questions that address current and emerging issues facing Australians. The sample is stratified to reflect the Australian adult population in terms of age, gender, and location. The TTPN Survey uses a repeated cross-sectional design. This report is based on a total of 1,058 respondents from data collected in August 2022. The 14 strategies are not mutually exclusive. Respondents are deemed to be in financial stress if they report feeling ‘moderately’ or ‘very’ financially stressed in terms of paying for essential goods and services such as bills, rents, and mortgages. If you are interested in adding questions to the survey or accessing the data, please contact us at: melb-inst@unimelb.edu.au.

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