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How High is the Cost of Living in Australia

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You would need to be living under a rock in a cave deep in the outback to have missed the one issue that unites us all – the cost of living in Australia. Once a comparatively affordable place to live, Australia now ranks in the upper echelons of the world's most expensive places to live. In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest bi-annual Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, Australian cities are among the most expensive places to live in the world. Sydney (3rd) and Melbourne (4th) are now more costly than London, Paris, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong.

For the sake of brevity we aren’t going to get into the reasons why it is more expensive than ever to live in Australia or the anecdotal evidences of it that we can all point to. These are both obvious and have been written about many times before. Instead, look at some actual, real-world numbers.

Luckily, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has been recording the prices of good and services for a number of years. And, even better, it is publicly available to download and use.

Of course we could simply regurgitate their data,  but we don’t want to bore you to death. Instead, we have been speaking with Andy Boyd, co-founder of creditcardcompare.com.au, whose team has taken years of ABS data and overlaid it on a Google map to create the aptly named ‘Australian Cost of Living Heatmap’.

Australia Heat Map

“When you see the ABS pricing data in this visual format, it allows for a very interesting analysis of the price index. The increase in the cost of living is very obvious. It just lights up like a Christmas tree,” said Boyd.

And he’s right. The price index is most reliably available from around 1975. Back then the combined price index for goods (housing, alcohol, tobacco, clothing, etc.) and services (education, healthcare, insurance, etc.) was 27.4 and the heatmap has a vague green hue in urban and suburban areas. Fast forward 35 years to 2010 and the price index for goods and services has risen to 171 – more than 6 times higher. The graph itself though doesn’t show a hockey stick rise. Rather, it’s quite steady, with the rise flattening out in the 90’s.

Australia graph

That doesn’t reveal the real story. “When you start to filter for separate goods and services, the rise is much more obvious. This is particularly true for the types of goods that have attracted regular tax rises over the years, such as alcohol and tobacco, a category that has had a meteoric rise from 24 in March 1975 to 274.3 in March 2010. That’s nearly 11.5x higher.”

Alcohol and tobacco aren’t the only things to get more expensive, as we all know. Housing rose from 24.1 in March 1975 to 158.8 in March 2010. Transport increased more than 7.5x from 21.6 in March 1975 to 165.3 in March 2010. Food has risen from 27.1 in March 1975 to 191.3 in March 2010, a 7x increase.

So what does the heatmap tell us? “Some verticals have seen relatively modest increases, like clothing and communications, while recreation and culture have actually seen a modest drop in the last few years. The resource boom has driven our economy and consequently the cost of living up, but the graphs tell another story that gets a lot less air time. Put simply, without cheap imports from countries like China, the situation would be even worse. The impact of cheap imported consumables is plain for all to see and without them, the cost of living in Australia would be even higher still.”

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