Financial stress starting to strain relationships as cost pressures rise

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Ever-rising cost-of-living pressures are starting to have real impacts on the relationships of Australians, with calls to the national debt hotline booming and incidents of financial stress growing.

Sydney resident Tómas Guðmundsdóttir says the past two years of financial stress have impacted his relationship more than he ever imagined, labelling the recent interest rate hikes as “tiring and dreadful”.

The jobless rate is driving wages down.Credit: Rob Homer

“At first, I didn’t see much effect on my everyday life as I would have expected, but then it hit hard – the groceries price increases, changes in interest rates, bills and payments became overwhelming for my partner and I,” the 23-year-old says.

Guðmundsdóttir has taken on more work to make ends meet. “On top of my 9-to-5 and a side business, I’ve taken on another job, and I’m working 70 hours a week. I have no personal time or social life and no weekend. Life is just one job after another, then I go to bed.”

He said he and his partner have become ships in the night and have been on just three dates over the past six months.

“My partner is also doing the same thing – juggling two jobs and working over 60 hours a week. All this work and, we just make enough to have a few hundred dollars saved up each month towards our goals,” he says.

“We barely talk to each other these days. I get home from my restaurant job at 12am and work on my other projects. My partner gets home around 11pm, and he’ll go to bed immediately. It feels like we’re drifting apart.”

“Honestly, as a gay couple with no kids, we couldn’t even fathom how hard it is for couples with children; how do they manage?”

In May 2023, consumer group Choice reported the National Debt Helpline received 56,618 calls, a 29 per cent increase on the previous 12 months. Additionally, 94 per cent of households told Choice their bills have increased over the previous 12 months, marking the highest level of financial stress Choice has recorded in the last seven years.

Arrears in rent, energy and food costs, loans, credit card debt were called out by respondents. Financial Counsellor, Geoff Cornwall said financial stress is a large component of the work financial counsellors address daily.

“This stress can cause significant problems in relationships, especially when a family’s circumstances changes from reduced income. Increases in mortgage rates over the last 15 months and rents, along with increases in cost of living seems to be driving the stress within relationships.”

According to the Financial Counsellor Association of NSW, (FCAN) more than 2.5 million Australians, or 13 per cent of the population live in households of high financial stress.

This can be spurred on by a multitude of situations including a job loss, downturn in business income, an illness, having an accident, gambling, family and relationship changes, domestic violence, or simply not enough money to cover the bills and loans and other commitments.

For anyone experiencing financial stress in their relationship, Cornwall recommends reaching out to a financial counsellor as a first step.

“A financial counsellor will work with the clients to provide options on the way forward along with referrals for further support. The service is free and can include advocacy work on behalf of the client along with budgeting support to help them.”

A financial counsellor can also provide referrals to counsellors for therapeutic support, and agencies for practical support such as food packages, vouchers etc; and legal support if required.

“This holistic approach usually provides significant relief for relationships under financial stress,” he adds.

The National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 is free, confidential and independent information and advice and offers financial counsellor access across Australia.

  • Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.

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