26 September 2023

Coping with the uncertainty of rising cost of living

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Kellie Scott* shares advice on managing stress around the rising cost of living.

Bianca has celebrated some exciting life updates recently.

The 30-year-old Gold Coast resident bought her first home late last year, and she’s about to go freelance full-time as a graphic designer.

But the cost-of-living crisis is dampening her spirits, to say the least.

Bianca says she’s overthinking spending she used to be “happy go lucky” about.

“There are small things to keep you happy in life, like treating yourself to a coffee,” the Gold Coast resident says.

“I’m doing that less and less. Those everyday small luxuries or positive things are starting to decrease.”

Bianca knows she can manage as things stand, but is fearful about the future.

Rob Sams, CEO of Lifeline Direct, says in January there were 26,000 searches for assistance related to financial pressures on Lifeline’s website — the highest on record.

And referral searches by Lifeline’s helpline counsellors specifically relating to financial issues and homelessness went up 49 per cent since August 2022.

“This is affecting more and more people,” Mr Sams says.

“Homelessness used to be thought of for people with no jobs, but I know of couples with full-time jobs that don’t have a home.”

We can’t escape it

Part of the problem is we are constantly being reminded that costs are rising, explains Lea Clothier, a behavioural money coach and former financial adviser.

“What we are seeing on social media and on the news and other external environments can cause of lot of stress and fear,” she says.

“It can impact our self-worth and be really detrimental to our outlook on life.”

Even a simple trip to the supermarket can be a rude shock, with the rising cost of everyday items.

The overwhelm can also mean we aren’t able to give to others, whether financially or altruistically, says Mr Sams.

“For example, at Lifeline we’ve noticed that volunteering has become tougher.

“We are so grateful for our volunteers, but understandably there are other things in their lives they need to take care of, or it can be harder to give to others when you have put a good boundary around yourself or your family.”

He says there is cumulative trauma for some people, having lived through the pandemic and natural disasters in the past few years.

Getting a clear picture

While it can be tempting to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to financial stress, Ms Clothier says gaining an understanding of where you are at is vital.

“Review your budget. Break it down to your essential bills and discretionary spending.

“You can shop around to reduce some of the bills, and in terms of discretionary spending, you can reduce there.”

She says small changes add up to big savings, so consider things like subscriptions — whether it’s streaming services, or apps you had maybe forgotten about and don’t need.

As well as looking at potential savings, Ms Clothier suggests brainstorming ways to make more money, too.

“Sometimes there might be things around our home we can sell, or it might be things we can do, like a side hobby that will be bring in additional income.”

If you do foresee issues with being able to pay bills and make repayments on loans, Ms Clothier says speak to your providers.

“Being proactive rather than reactive is also good for stress.”

Bianca recently reviewed her budget and says she’s more dedicated to following it.

“I also have nine sub-bank accounts where I am saving for things, which stops me from overspending because when I look at my daily expense account, that reflects what I actually have to spend.”

She and her partner have also been doing more “cheap” outings, like grabbing a coffee while going for a walk, rather than going for dinner.

Taking care of yourself

Money can be a taboo topic, but overcoming that discomfort can be the difference between getting help and struggling alone.

Ms Clothier says chatting to someone you trust, like a family member or friend, can be beneficial.

You can access free financial counselling if in crisis, and there are also great resources online, like at government website Money Smart.

Taking care of your mental wellbeing should also be a priority: making sure you’re getting enough sleep as possible, eating well and exercising, says Ms Clothier.

Reducing social media use may ease some of the overwhelm.

Ms Sams says there is no shame in asking for help, and to reach out to those around you, also.

“Just letting someone know you are there for them can have a huge impact,” he says.

Lifeline is available for crisis support over phone (13 11 14), text (0477 13 11 14) and online.

*Kellie Scott is a digital journalist based at the ABC Brisbane office.

This article first appeared at abc.net.au.

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