Australians continue to prioritise spending on travel and entertainment despite feeling ongoing pressure from rising living costs, according to the latest CommBank iQ Cost of Living Insights Report.
The report shows quarterly spending by Australians on essential goods and services rose, but well below inflation, while overall discretionary spending was flat.
Australians are increasing their expenditure on essentials such as insurance, medical costs and pharmacies, leaving less room to spend on discretionary categories like household goods and clothing.
Travel and entertainment spending were the only discretionary categories to record above-inflation growth (8.2% and 8.6% respectively) – compared to an 8.1% decrease in households good spending.
Consumers in 20s cut back
According to the report, 25–29-year-olds have been the hardest hit with a 5.1% decline in their total spending – the only age group to decrease both discretionary and essential spending. Despite a pullback in discretionary purchases, those in their twenties continued to find room in the budget for entertainment experiences (up 13%).
“Leaving room in the budget for experiences is a continuing trend. However, they are having to reduce spending in other areas,” says CommBank iQ Head of Innovation and Analytics Wade Tubman.
“We’re seeing consumers in their twenties cut back spending but still leave room to fund experiences. We’ve also seen younger people redirecting discretionary spending from things like clothes and homewares, to spend on cinemas and ticketed events such as concerts and sport.”
The report uses spending data for the September 2023 quarter compared to the same period in 2022. The latest results confirm that, despite interest rates remaining on hold through the period, many Australians are feeling more pressure from rising living costs.
“Given the most recent rate rise, it will be interesting to continue to monitor these trends, as we expect to see a dampening of the post-Covid experience spending preference,” says Mr Tubman.
The report also reveals a divide in spending by geography, with spending by Australians in regional areas outpacing those in metropolitan areas.
On average, regional Australians are growing their spending more than double metropolitan consumers (2.9% vs 1.2%). The gap between regional and metropolitan areas was most prominent in NSW and Victoria.
“We’ve seen lower or negative discretionary spending growth in metropolitan NSW and Victoria where many people are grappling with higher rents and mortgages,” says Mr Tubman.
Another sharp divide was spending across age groups.
Consumers under 40, who are more likely to be restricted by mortgage and rental costs, decreased year-on-year spending in the September quarter.
Older Australians are proving more comfortable with the only above-inflation total spending growth seen in those over 70.
While discretionary spending went backwards for consumers under 55, those over 55 have increased their purchases this quarter, compared to last year.