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What’s the cost of living for 20-somethings?

As the Australian housing affordability debate rages on, young people are caught in the crossfire. Are millennials lazy or genuinely worse off financially than generations before them? Recently demographer Bernard Salt claimed that young people could save house deposits if they stopped buying brunch. But smashed-avo-loving youths fought back in the media, arguing that Australian housing prices are beyond them whether they’re buying brunch or not. We spoke to three young people to see just how hard it is to make ends meet today.

Tom Rochford: Farming for a future

Tom Rochford is no stranger to living on a budget. The 22-year-old is from Bendigo and spent two years living in student residence at Deakin University. He’s now living in a five-person sharehouse as he completes his third year of a Bachelor of Science/Laws. Thanks to Youth Allowance, Tom makes approximately $550 per fortnight, which helps to cover his $603 per month in rent and some expenses.

‘We’re in the suburbs so rent is cheaper. I know some people paying up to $1100 per month,’ he says. Tom and his girlfriend contribute $50 each per week to food costs and split meals. In addition, he earns a small casual wage working as a student ambassador at Deakin, but he’s primarily focused on studying and getting professional work experience, which will give him a leg-up when he completes the degree.

Because he’s living out of home, Tom lives frugally. He doesn’t go out much and rarely spends on clothing. To supplement his income, Tom heads back to Bendigo during summer holidays and works 60 to 80 hour weeks during grain harvest in order to save a lump sum of money. ‘$10,000 is what I’ve targeted in the past,’ he says and explains that this covers additional expenses for the coming year, like text books. ‘There’s no way any of us in the sharehouse could afford to buy a house. But I wouldn’t say we’re wasteful,’ he says. Tom and his friends are living for the now. ‘We’re not complaining about the housing market. Graduation is two years away. I’ll start thinking about it then,’ Tom says and points out, ‘You can save your whole life and drop dead tomorrow.’

'We’re not complaining about the housing market. Graduation is two years away. I’ll start thinking about it then'

Tom Rochford,
Bachelor of Science/Laws student, Deakin University

Cassandra Bellassai: Working to live

Cassandra Bellassai has been a student for five years. She first completed a degree in health science, followed by a four-year speech pathology degree, which she’s halfway through. At 23, she’s pocketing $150 per week, fitting 10 hours of work as a medical receptionist around her study. ‘I spend money on coffee, breakfast, getting my hair done, clothes and makeup,’ Cassandra says. To bolster her funds, she does more work during uni holidays.

Fortunately, she’s able to live with her parents who don’t expect her to pay board. If she goes out on the weekend, shops or goes to brunch, she’ll spend about $100 and put the remaining $50 away for later. Those savings have enabled Cassandra to take annual holidays. ‘I’m going to Japan in February,’ she says and admits that being able to afford a property will take time. ‘I think it would be impossible for me to buy a house by myself,’ Cassandra says.

Carmen Chen: Struggling for employment

Malaysia-born Carmen Chen, 23, recently completed her marketing and communication studies and says the search for graduate work is a challenge. ‘A lot of the jobs I look at applying for only accept permanent residents or citizens,’ she says. While searching for work, her parents have provided an allowance. Carmen is currently completing a part-time internship. It pays $60 per week that she’s putting straight into savings.

While she applies for full-time roles, Carmen is living with her boyfriend, his parents, her boyfriend’s brother and sister-in-law. Although she doesn’t pay rent, Carmen contributes to the cost of groceries, household items and cleaning fees. ‘I budget $200 per week. That goes into dining out, groceries, petrol and my phone bill,’ she explains. ‘If not for my parents, there would be no way I could self-support,’ Carmen says. Moving out or purchasing a home is some time off. ‘Right now things are uncertain because I don’t have a permanent job. I think my parents and my boyfriend’s parents could help us out in the future. If it was just us it could take decades,’ she concludes.

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