This is how long it’s taking Australians to start ‘financial adulting’

Brendan Ward didn't start 'financial adulting' until his 30s. Now, at 37, he owns a home.

Brendan Ward didn't start 'financial adulting' until his 30s. Now, at 37, he owns a home. Photo: Brendan Ward

Australians are getting their finances in order much later in life than previous generations.

More adult children are living with their parents, with 43 per cent of 20 to 24 year-olds living in the family home in 2016, up from 36 per cent in 1981.

And the rising cost of home ownership means it’s common for us to delay buying a home until our 30s.

Meanwhile, Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) services have exploded in popularity for splurge purchases, with 60 per cent using Afterpay to buy items of clothing.

This year in particular, the broader BNPL sector has boomed on the back of job losses as consumers fall on hard times.

A big part of the issue is a lack of financial literacy, with only half (55 per cent) of Australians falling into the category of financially literate, in a worrying sign that understanding how to make wise financial decisions remains a mystery for even young adults.

Rockhampton man Brendan Ward is typical of the one in three Australians who don’t start ‘financially adulting’ until after the age of 25.

It’s a time in life when financial decisions become more complex as we meet the milestones of life, like career changes, getting married and starting a family.

In his early 30s, he had nothing in the bank to show for his years of work and was $35,000 in debt.

Now 37, Mr Ward started accumulating debt at 18, with a $25,000 credit card debt later trapping him in a vicious cycle of paying off a little more than the minimum amount, before spending it again.

The interest repayments kept adding up – partly because he also had a $10,000 personal loan – and he could never get in front.

The retail worker had racked up the debt by overspending at bars and clubs, eating out and enjoying the finer things in life, like upgrading his car.

I was enjoying a rich man’s life even though I was in debt,” he said.

“And when you carry debt, you’re always adding more to it.”

Mr Ward is by no means alone. One in 10 of us aren’t keen to start financial adulting – spending less than we make each month – until we reach 30, according to a new survey by BNPL service Openpay.

The survey revealed that half (49 per cent) of those over the age of 25 agree that paying bills – whether that happens to be council rates, medical bills or vet bills – is the worst part of being a financially responsible adult.

It also found that adults get most excited about spending their money on furniture (61 per cent), household appliances like washing machines and fridges (58 per cent), bed linen (32 per cent) and even mattresses (29 per cent).

New research shows one in three Australians start ‘financial adulting’ after the age of 25. Photo: Getty

Mr Ward decided to get his finances in order a couple of years ago. Realising that his partner had more in the bank than him despite being 10 years younger was the wake-up call he needed.

“My partner is a lot more switched on about money than me. He got a car loan and paid it off, and still had more money in the bank than me. I knew it was time to start getting serious about money,” he said.

The pair left Melbourne and moved to Rockhampton, securing cheap rent through a family member. And Mr Ward finally delayed the instant gratification that comes with a new purchase to focus on paying off his debt once and for all.

He traded in his car for a cheap runabout and used the money to pay off his debt. And as soon his wages hit his bank account, he paid off his debt before he could spend them.

There was no more eating out, and he secured a better-paying job.

It was like a light-switch moment. I just didn’t want the debt any more, and was happy to go without to end the cycle,” he said.

In 18 months, he had managed to pay off his debt. And the couple recently purchased a house together.

“I didn’t have a bad financial record as such, because I always paid a little above the minimum payment and always paid on time, which meant I could secure a home loan with my partner.”

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