Callum Godde
(Australian Associated Press)


When lockdown hit, Sydneysider Billie Gurr thought she would at least save a bit more money, but that silver lining never materialised for her and many other Australians.

Working from home and not going out, the 26-year-old advertising worker was optimistic her bank balance would balloon courtesy of a lower cost of living.

“There was a perception that people had the opportunity to save more because they were stuck indoors but it was completely not the case,” she told AAP.

A nationwide survey by non-bank lender Wisr conducted from late October to early November, indicates she was not alone.

Some 36.81 per cent of the more than 1000 survey respondents, published on Tuesday, reported re-adjusting their financial calculations because of COVID-19.

Most of those who did were taken aback, with 62 per cent saying living within their means was not as cheap as expected.

That tracks with the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data, which found living costs for employee households rose 0.6 per cent in the September quarter and 2.6 per cent over the past year.

The consumer price index also rose 0.8 per cent in the September quarter and three per cent for the year to September 2021.

Moody’s Analytics senior economist Katrina Ell cited increasing fuel and house prices, as well as mortgage costs, as contributing factors.

In addition, she expects retail prices to rise due to global supply chain disruptions and noted a shortage of foreign labour for sectors such as construction, farming and hospitality could lead to employers raising wages to attract staff and passing costs onto the consumers.

“It’s not a great time to be a consumer or a household even though COVID isn’t the same concern it once was,” she said.

Ms Gurr was shocked by her expenses both during and after lockdown.

While no longer needing to spend upwards of $120 a week on her commute from the Northern Beaches to the city for work, other expenses filled the void.

Working from home full-time along with one of her housemates, Ms Gurr’s electricity bill went “through the roof” and there were other associated cost increases that started to add up.

“It goes down to the granular details like the amount of toilet paper,” she said.

And while she could not go out, that did not put an end to spending on a few indulgences such as wine or making lavish dinners – a similar experience to 57.16 per cent of survey respondents saying COVID-19 redefined what they considered to be luxury spending and essential costs.

Ms Gurr’s friend Hannah Matolcsy similarly found she was “doing less but the expenses are the same”.

The 25-year-old interior designer from Manly was grabbing a coffee each working day to get out of the house and with housemates would order take-away from their favourite pizza joint every Friday night.

Other ongoing costs in lockdown were more conscientious, such as retaining her gym membership despite not switching to online classes.

As well as COVID-19 slowing down everyday life, news of the booming housing market made both women want to dig deeper into their finances.

“I would love to buy a house in the next two years. It’s probably not going to be possible anymore,” Ms Matolcsy said.