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In the United Kingdom, nurses are reportedly skipping meals to feed and clothe their children, and battling the cost to commute to work due to rising living costs.


Inflation in the UK reached 10.1% in August, outpacing household incomes. Rising prices across energy, fuel and food are having a significant impact on staff health and wellbeing, according to the Rising living costs: The impact on NHS, staff and patients report by NHS Providers.

Australians are likewise increasingly feeling pressure with successive interest rates rises since April. In addition, prices for items like petrol, electricity and eggs have been rising, driven by factors like global inflation, logistics costs and the Russia-Ukraine war.

Rising living costs are putting more people into the position of making difficult choices; and it is expected that more people will be pushed into poverty. One in eight Australians, including one in six children, is living in poverty as a cost of living pressures according to the Poverty in Australia 2022: A snapshot report released during Anti-Poverty week in October.

Queensland south-east public sector nurse Kirsty is paying an extra $900 a month since settlement on her new property in April.

“We made our first repayment and it’s pretty much gone up every month since. It’s got to the point where you think it’s got to stop – it’s been going up 0.5% every month except for the last two months which was 0.25%. It wasn’t too bad to start with, but it’s starting to hit now.”

Kirsty says the first thing to go is entertainment which is “your lifeline”. “That’s your release from work on the weekend; it’s for your mental health. You start to think, ‘oh maybe next weekend’.

Vacationing is out and Kirsty has told the family, including the kids, they’re doing Secret Santa this year. “We’re looking at anything and everywhere we can save. We’re not eating out, there’s no takeaway. I’m taking my own lunch to work instead of getting a sandwich, and I’m not buying coffee.

“We’re super vigilant with electricity – lights off, power points off at the sockets. We’re not using the air con and we weren’t running the pool filter in the winter. I’ve put the kids’ rents up a bit too.”

They’re also saving on fuel where they can. “We make sure we’re buying at the right cycle, making the most of fuel vouchers and we go where it’s cheapest – whether that’s close to work, where we live or where the kids play sport.”

While the federal government’s cost of living relief measures including on childcare and early education announced in the last federal Budget may bring a sense of relief for some, rising prices on multiple fronts are still hurting many Australians.

Here’s seven starter areas to reduce your costs:

Take control

Take control by knowing what your costs are. Use an online budget planner. Take advantage of the many free online ones that suits you, a good one is Bank Vic. Re-assess and cull any subscriptions you may have taken out during COVID. Take advantage of food and fuel discounts – Flybuys, fuel vouchers or similar rewards schemes. Flybuys points can be cashed in as gift cards for birthday presents when cash is tight.

Sustainability

Energy bills will have significantly risen for many Australians in the second half of 2022. Look at more energy efficient and sustainable ways to maintain your home’s temperature. Set your air con to 26 degrees and your central heating to 18 degrees. Switch off appliances at the wall.

Make sure you understand your energy plan. Look closely at your bill which has information about your energy retailer and your plan. You can contact your energy retailer directly to discuss your plan. Visit the Australian Government energy.gov.au website for home energy saving tips, advice on energy efficient appliances and a government rebate and assistance finder.

Food

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates the cost of food has increased by 5.9% in the year to June 2022. With 24% of Australians cutting back on food because of rising prices in the second half of 2022. Whilst not always easy juggling a family and working shift work, try to plan ahead where you can. Make a weekly meal plan. This will help avoid unplanned takeaway and reduce the number of trips to the supermarket. Plan when to shop – check out the reduced priced item section in your grocery store generally at the beginning or end of the day (often Sunday afternoons) for discounted items that are still within expiry dates.

Car

Revisit your car insurance policy. Some insurers have changed their insurance policies to accommodate changed working circumstances during and since COVID – with many people still working from home or having hybrid arrangements – and offer better deals.

You might not have the option to carpool to work but consider it with family activities and sports for the kids.

Salary packaging

If you’re not doing it and it’s available to you, look at salary packaging. Salary packaging offers nurses and midwives to take advantage of an ATO allowance for expenses which are deducted from your salary before tax, which reduces your income. The main advantage of salary packaging for healthcare workers is that it enables you to pay less tax and take home more pay. You can even use this pre-tax allowance to pay your rent or mortgage. Read more about salary packaging for healthcare workers.

Do your homework

Spend an afternoon calling your insurance company, internet provider and utility suppliers to ask for a discount on your current rates. If you have a home loan, consider refinancing. Several online comparison services can give you an indicator of whether a better deal may be available. Remember to look at the conditions, there are often terms and restrictions.

Free fun

If you’re like Kirsty and entertainment has been curtailed, be creative and look at alternative ways to have fun on a limited budget. Maximise free local events, or put on your own with friends at the local park – ask everyone to bring their own food or a plate. Find your local gym equipment in your area – many councils have invested in more outdoor gym facilities in parks and open areas in recent years.

Try a new hobby or group – your local library or council websites may offer a list of activities available in your community or free courses. Join a volunteer organisation (if you can spare the time), even better recruit a couple of your friends and do it instead of meeting for coffee.

Seek help if you need it

Reach out to someone you can trust if you’re experiencing financial distress, says Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria Glenn Taylor.

“For a lot of people that come to us, there can be feelings of shame and embarrassment. There is a fear of being seen as not being able to manage. But it’s important to speak up before things spiral out of control.

“Find someone that you can confide in. We know that talking about it is incredibly beneficial. A problem shared is a problem halved and you get a different perspective.

“If you find that you need to proceed to intervention we can help you find the resources you need, whether that’s financial advice, mental health, physical health, or legal advice.

“As a generalist service we can help connect you to the service you need and help you take active steps whether that be through the bank, your doctor, or your manager. When you’re fearful, it’s often difficult to get perspective and make decisions.

Taylor says the service is seeing increasing numbers of people with complex presentations – “There may be more parts to the problem or more complexity to the problem and I don’t think that’s a coincidence with the COVID pandemic.

“Nurses and midwives have had less resources and have been expected to do more in every area of their lives. If you’re feeling burnt out, overwhelmed or that it’s difficult to get out of bed every morning – you’re not alone. It’s real and it’s not just you experiencing it. Reach out to us and we can help normalise the way you’re feeling and help you work through it.”

Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria is free, confidential and independent and is provided by experienced nurses and midwives. Phone: (03) 9415 7551.