Financial stress on the rise: Here’s how to stretch your grocery and utility budgets

Grocery and utility bills are an increasing worry for Australians.

Grocery and utility bills are an increasing worry for Australians. Photo: TND

Financial stress is on the rise as millions of Australians navigate lockdowns with less government support than was available in 2020.

National Australia Bank’s latest financial wellbeing report finds the number of Australians struggling with money rose in the June quarter as households felt the weight of cost-of-living pressures.

Rising grocery prices were a particular concern. Almost two in three (60 per cent) respondents said they were an increasing budgetary burden.

And there was also a rise in the proportion of Australians reporting rising utility costs, up two percentage points to 47 per cent.

So, if you’re stuck in lockdown or emerging from one, what can you do to make your dollars stretch a little further?

Budget tips to ease financial stress

Thousands in grocery savings

Spending extra time at home and avoiding the daily commute offers a great chance to start a meal plan.

The average Australian throws out 20 per cent of their weekly grocery bill in food waste, according to NSW government commissioned research. And that soon adds up.

If you’re throwing away a fifth of your $150-a-week grocery budget, then you’re wasting more than $1500 on food every year.

The good news is that trialling a meal plan could turn that cost into a saving, according to Centaur Financial Services managing director Hugh Robertson.

Mr Robertson said a good strategy is to order your groceries online and then pick up in store in one go.

“You won’t waste money on unnecessary things,” he said.

“It’s shopping with purpose.”

And it’s not the only way to save money at the supermarket.

Here are some other tips, with links to relevant research:

Disloyalty: How to get cheaper utilities

It’s a simple equation. If there’s less money coming in because you lost work during lockdown, the money going out for things like utilities is  much more important to your budget.

So, what are the best ways to get on top of your expenses and lower them where possible?

The conventional wisdom is to shop around, but Mr Robertson said savvy shoppers turn that idea into a mindset that prioritises constant disloyalty.

The idea is that utility companies actually punish their loyal customers.

“We’ve got a client that sets a date for Foxtel on his calendar every year and rings them up to cancel,” Mr Robertson explained.

“Funnily enough, that gets him straight to a person who offers him 30 to 40 per cent off. [But] if you’ve been there for 10 years you don’t get a discount.”

Mr Robertson said the first step is to audit your bills, work out how long you’ve been on the same plan, and then call your provider to renegotiate.

Those willing to walk away are more likely to be offered a cheaper deal.

Other bill-saving tips include:

Government support is available

Support is also available for those struggling to make ends meet.

People in NSW under lockdown restrictions have access to income grants, bill relief and deferrals.

You can find out more from TND’s dedicated guide here.

Other Australians can access hardship programs available throughout the pandemic from their banks and utility companies.

And additional options include:

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