The Cost of COVID-19: How Are Aussies Spending Money as Lockdowns Ease?
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The Cost of COVID-19: How Are Aussies Spending Money as Lockdowns Ease?

Angelica Silva

Angelica Silva

26/03/2021 • 8 minute read

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Just three months into 2020, the world was forced to watch on as the Chinese city of Wuhan went into lockdown. While we were hopeful that the newly emergent coronavirus COVID-19 would be detained (and quickly) it wasn’t long until we saw major disruption to not only the health of China’s population but the Chinese economy as a whole. Now, with many countries still under lockdown, how is the virus continuing to reshape consumer behaviour here in Australia?

Australians’ spending habits have changed remarkably in these few short but impactful months. AlphaBeta director and former economic adviser to prime minister Kevin Rudd, Dr Andrew Charlton, said new modes of spending adopted by households during the lockdown are likely to endure. 

“People are getting used to doing things differently and some of the changes will be persistent.” - Dr Charlton.

COVID-19 is changing the way Australians spend their hard-earned cash in many ways. For one, most of us are spending less in sectors curbed by lockdown restrictions. This includes hospitality, tourism, transportation, recreation, and entertainment. Yet, on the other hand, we have increased our spending on groceries, food delivery, bills, cleaning appliances, and furniture and office equipment.

As lockdowns and restrictions ease across certain areas of Australia, shops, restaurants, and businesses are opening their doors to the public again. But will this alone revert our buying habits back to pre-pandemic days? Or can we expect to see heightened online shopping addictions stick around long-term?

The findings so far

Picture this: you finally hit the shops after weeks of lockdown. Once you’ve donned your face mask and packed your mini hand sanitizer, you head out. Browsing in the stores you’re careful to disinfect your hands after touching any surface, also taking care to avoid other customers where possible and occasionally stopping to have your temperature taken by a shop attendant. Finally, you head to a cafe for a quick bite to eat where you have to ‘sign in’ by scanning the establishment’s QR code and filling in your details.

After all of this, ask yourself how enjoyable was the experience? 

A research report by The University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Institute revealed 45.5% of Australians are spending less than what they were at the beginning of 2020. Although this proportion is expected to decrease, the report also found that one third of Australians will not have recovered pre-COVID-19 spending levels in six months. 

Atmospherics, such as scent, touch, temperature, music, and even crowding, all coexist in a space to create an engaging sensory experience for the public. Research suggests customers will stay longer, spend more, and feel more satisfied in a retail environment they find pleasing to their senses. 

COVID-19 has changed that, probably forever.

More than just stores

The new economic reality we are living in has had a profound impact on the shopping sensory experience, manifesting into a kind of retail anxiety, rather than therapy. Founder and CEO of Adore Beauty, Kate Morris, summarises this feeling perfectly.

“The ‘Did I touch something? Did I sanitise? Did that person breathe on me?’ I don’t think people are going to forget about that.”

So, while statistics can provide critical insights into the impact COVID-19 has made on Australians’ spending, we still found ourselves wondering – how have people’s relationships with money changed?

To find out, we asked some of the team behind Oiyo just how much the pandemic had impacted their spending habits. Coming from different  ages, living situations, and financial backgrounds the answers may just surprise you.

Oiyo’s spending profiles

Gabby, 23

Meet Oiyo’s resident Art Director, Gabby! When he’s not flexing on us with his UI design and development skills, you’ll find Gabby, bubble tea in-hand, amongst Brisbane’s foodie scene. Gabby currently lives out of home with a housemate.  

Has your spending increased or decreased during COVID-19?

My spending has definitely decreased during COVID-19, due to all of the restrictions. I saved a lot of money while working from home as I no longer needed to commute or do as much laundry, compared to when I was working in an office. I’m also a big foodie so the inability to dine-out has made me save quite a bit.

“COVID-19 highlighted a few expenses which I could cut. The realisation happened at the beginning of the pandemic where there was a lot of uncertainty regarding job stability and financial wellbeing, so I tried to save as much money as possible.”

What does the majority of paycheck go towards?

Outside of rent, food. So much food!

Have you found it difficult to budget and save your money during COVID-19?

I found it quite easy to budget. In fact, COVID-19 highlighted a few expenses which I could cut. The realisation happened at the beginning of the pandemic where there was a lot of uncertainty regarding job stability and financial wellbeing, so I tried to save as much money as possible. 

Robyn, 32

When she’s not balancing being the managing director of two companies and building media platforms that facilitate important conversations, you’ll find Robyn being the ultimate #mumgoals, raising a son, and enjoying the occasional glass of red – full. 

Robyn and her husband are homeowners, currently paying off their mortgage.

Has your spending increased or decreased during COVID-19?  

Yes and no. School fees for my son were free for a limited amount of time, so I had more disposable income and did some online shopping here and there. But I also saved – aggressively – in case. 

What does the majority of your paycheck go towards?

My partner and I divide our expenses equally. We combine all of our major expenses, including our mortgage, school fees, health insurance, internet and car.  

Have you found it difficult to budget and save money during COVID-19?

“I actually found it easier to save money during COVID-19. I found that I generally shopped and ate better, and there was far less wastage as I was at home a lot and could spend more time on cooking.”

Michael, 27 

Introducing Michael, another one of our talented web developers! When he’s not spending his money on a good bowl of curry for himself, Michael’s spending his cash on 2 bowls (one for his girlfriend). Michael currently lives in an apartment with a flatmate.

Has your spending increased or decreased during COVID-19?

During the very beginning of the pandemic, I found I was spending less money on buying food from cafes and restaurants as I was buying my groceries in bulk to gear up to eat at home more. As restrictions began to ease in Queensland, I’ve noticed that there are more instances where my flatmate, friends or partner and I will order takeaway or go out to eat. 

What does the majority of your paycheck go towards?

Food, rent, Internet, stocks. 

“During the very beginning of the pandemic, I found I was spending less money on buying food from cafes and restaurants as I was buying my groceries in bulk to gear up to eat at home more.”

Have you found it difficult to budget and save your money during COVID-19?

Saving money has actually been easier. However, there is definitely still more temptation to spend money on entertainment, like adding Disney+ to my streaming services, purchasing new games, books, etc. all while at home. 

Ellen, 24

Meet keep-cup queen, Ellen! A passionate environmentalist and avid saver, Ellen is currently living at home with her parents but is looking to move out in the coming months (if the world promises to keep itself in check). 

Has your spending increased or decreased during COVID-19?  

I’m generally quite frugal by nature. However, my spending has increased (a lot) during COVID-19. I realised, if I suddenly die and don’t get to enjoy any of my hard-earned savings, what was the point of saving it all? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m going out and splashing my money all over the town. But now, when I see something I want, I just get it (instead of waiting months and sitting on the idea).

What does the majority of your paycheck go towards?

Despite my increased spending, well over half of my paycheck still makes its way into my savings. 

Have you found it difficult to budget and save money during COVID-19?

Because I’m one of those very lucky people who haven’t experienced financial hardship during this time (touch wood), I haven’t had difficulty with my money. However, I kind of threw out the idea of budgeting a while ago. I’ve (mostly) been maintaining a dumbed-down version of the Barefoot Investor’s money buckets. Every paycheck, I know X amount is going towards my savings, X is going towards bills, and the rest is for me to play with. I’m mostly just trying to not beat myself up if I spend the majority of my play money. I mean, what a silly mentality – it’s my money after all. 

“I realised, if I suddenly die and don’t get to enjoy any of my hard-earned savings, what was the point of saving it all?”

So, where does this leave us?

At the end of the day, we are all creatures of habit. These new habits created by COVID-19, once formed, are difficult to break. What these responses from our team members reveal is that there are surprising shifts in spending habits and consumer preferences. Australians’ discretionary spending has noticeably reduced. Yet, despite this downturn, online shopping and digital activity have accelerated, largely driven by the consumers that have maintained their income. 

With the gradual removal of restrictions and reopening of businesses across the country, perhaps the biggest take away for Australians is that this is a moment to reevaluate. A moment to reconsider consumer behaviours and beliefs, and possibly put in place new, innovative mechanisms – not just return to normal.

This could be a chance for all parties involved to find out how we can emerge from a post-COVID world stronger and, most importantly, more engaged in the role we play in our country’s economy. For more tips on how to save money fast, check out our money-saving tips article. 


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Angelica Silva

Written by Angelica Silva

Angelica Silva is a contributing writer for Oiyo. Over the years, Angelica has worked as a journalist for a range of publications with her work appearing in SBS, Business Insider, and Brown Girl Magazine. She has a Bachelor of Journalism and Arts from the University of Queensland.

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