Elarna Spinks and her partner Luke have everything going for them, except the hope of owning a home to raise a family in the city where they grew up.
Ms Spinks, 23, is just one of thousands of young Australians who has had enough of working herself to exhaustion while barely keeping up with bills just so she might one day be able to afford a house.
‘I don’t think we’ll ever be able to afford our own house,’ the fashion designer said.
‘The average house price here is more than $2million.’
To raise a 20 per cent deposit for the kind of unit she and Luke live in – a $1million one bedroom flat at Warriewood on Sydney’s northern beaches – the pair would have to save for years on end and sacrifice experiences such as holidays.
Like many young Australians Ms Spinks is now wondering if there’s any point in working hard when there’s no guarantees she’ll ever own a home.
While that might sound entitled to some, many young Aussies are deciding that busting a gut for the chance of buying property is too much of a gamble thanks to an ever-surging market, recession fears, spiking interest rates and the worsening cost of living.
Fashion designer Elarna Spinks (pictured) is just one of thousands of young Australians rebelling against working herself to exhaustion
Elarna and her partner Luke are paying 40 per cent of their income on rent, which her parents and grandparents ‘frown upon’ because it’s ‘wasted money’
Ms Spinks and Luke have talked about getting a foot on the property ladder by investing in regional properties in the hopes that the combined equity might help them to come up with a 20 per cent deposit on a city unit.
But it all relies on the numbers falling in her favour, while the opportunities to have fun pass her by.
It’s something her friends talk about regularly.
‘One hundred per cent, we do,’ she said.
‘We are living to work, not working to live.
‘You go “am I actually stuck in a cycle here”? Will have to rent forever anyway? So much is unknown.’
Luke does well as an electrician, but Ms Spinks quit her fulltime job in March as a store manager for an Australian high street fashion label in order to preserve her mental health.
The job paid $31 an hour with no penalty rates for nights and weekends and no extra money for up to 10 hours unpaid overtime every week.
‘I was going crazy, it’s a huge relief,’ Ms Sparks said.
‘I’m so much happier and my mental health is better.’
Since quitting Ms Spinks is making more money by making side hustle – hiring out designer dresses through online rental platform The Volte – her main gig.
But she’s still paying about 40 per cent of her income on rent – significantly higher than the ‘safe’ level (30 per cent) that property managers are told to stick to.
Elarna’s (pictured) story is echoed by two viral posts online in the past month
Those are worrying statistics when you consider the traditional definition of being in ‘mortgage stress’ is when a homeowner puts more than 30 per cent of their pre-tax income into repayments.
Ms Spinks said her parents and grandparents ‘frowned on’ the amount of rent she and Luke pay because it’s ‘wasted money’.
‘But just to be able to afford a deposit for a house, that’s more than a year’s wage,’ she said.
‘With the cost of living and other expenses it just doesn’t work out that we can save enough for deposit if we want to be living near our family.’
Ms Spinks says Sydney property prices are making Australia’s biggest city less attractive to her and her friends.
‘We have got no idea where we might be living, but we know it wouldn’t take us as long to buy a home if we were living on the Central Coast or the Gold Coast,’ she said.
‘Is it really worth me working so hard, saving so hard and missing out on other things I could be doing just to try and live in this area?
‘Would I live a better lifestyle elsewhere, because I wouldn’t have to spend so much just to live?’
Faced with uncertainty over property and the risk that they could slave away in fulltime jobs and still not get ahead financially, young people are increasingly unwilling to sacrifice once in a lifetime experiences, like travelling in their 20s
Ms Spinks’ story is echoed by two viral posts online in the past month.
One was by a young nurse who quit her career because it was unlikely to deliver her a home, and another by a couple who bought a home – only to be penalised with crippling bills.
They showed how dissatisfied young people are with the cost of living and especially of housing.
The couple posted that ‘being a young person in Sydney is a scam’.
According to the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition, Ms Spinks’ concerns and the social media posts are the tip of the iceberg as frustrated young Aussies are looking at their lives and asking ‘is this it?’
According to the AYAC’s Luke Rycken, Australia’s ‘social contract’ – the idea that you work hard and you’ll be rewarded with a home to raise a family in – is crumbling.
Australia’s cost of living crisis worsened in January with inflation hitting a new 32-year high of 7.8 per cent.
The consumer price index in the year to December surged at the fastest annual pace since the March quarter of 1990, with Treasurer Jim Chalmers describing it as ‘unacceptably high’.
The main contributors to the CPI increase were housing (up 9.8 per cent), food and non-alcoholic beverages (up 8.2 per cent).
Faced with rising bills and housing costs eating up more and more of their pay packets, young Aussies are abandoning demanding careers that in the past would have set them up financially.
Luke Rycken, of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition says is a major Australian ‘social contract’ is breaking down for young Australians: work hard and you’ll be rewarded with a home to raise a family in. They are increasingly cynical about it
‘We’ve been sold a raw deal’: Nurse
A young Sydney nurse, 25, said she had quit the profession she felt committed to because it barely covered her bills.
She worked five days a week, for 12 hours a day in the high dependency unit of a major hospital, but quit because the money left over after paying rent and bills wasn’t worth the stress of the job.
‘I just quit my job and I’m giving up. We have been sold a raw deal’, they wrote in a viral social media post.
‘I’m saving at a rate so slow I’ll never be able to buy a house, and if I can get one it will be two hours from the hospital.
‘At the end of the month I’m left with such a small amount that it makes no sense.
‘Not working anymore, getting abused daily, having poor sleep and failing my health.
‘I give up. I’m laying down. I’m not going to partake in the rat race anymore and just focus on living in the here and now.
‘I’ll move in with my parents and I’m considering changing to another career and even moving to Japan. Going to take some time to decompress and figure things out.’
Although house prices have stopped boiling over because of interest rate rises, actually buying a house seems like a fantasy because high rents are stopping young people save
It’s worth noting that is the experience of someone able to handle working 60 hours. As one Aussie said, if you are someone with a chronic and debilitating physical or mental health issue you are ‘straight up drowning’.
Although house prices have stopped boiling over because of interest rate rises, actually buying a house seems like a fantasy because high rents are stopping young people save.
Across Sydney the median cost of renting a unit jumped 18.6 per cent to $575 in the past year but in some suburbs, such as Zetland, rent went up 23 percent or $140 a week.
In Melbourne rents jumped 20 per cent, to reach $450 a week, but tenants reported increases of $75 a week were common.
With the average weekly wage for the 21-34 age bracket at $1,127.60 according to a survey by Instant Offices.
That means on average Melbourne renters are spending 40 per cent of their pre-tax income on housing while in Sydney it’s 51 per cent.
Once tax is taken, people have to pay for owning a car and fuel, cabs and public transport, phone and broadband plans, groceries, clothes, study and actually having a social life by going out.
And if you do what is recommended and see a psychologist to cope with the pressure of work, relationships and the cost of living, you’d be lucky if there’s anything left at all.
The Australian Psychological Association’s recommended rate for psychology for 2023 is $280 for 50 minutes, with and initial assessment fee of $406 for an 80-minute session.
It’s little wonder young Aussies look at house prices and resign themselves to never owning one.
In Melbourne the average house price was $897,222 in February while the cost of units is $585,366.
The median price for a house in Sydney in February was $1,217,308 in December and for a unit it was $769,773.
According to analysis of CoreLogic data, Sydney property values grew 449 per cent in the past 30 years.
It’s clear that for many young people, Australia’s capitals cities are losing their appeal because of their high costs.
So they are looking further afield – to overseas and in many cases regional Australia.
For the nurse, leaving Australia to live in Japan is an option she’s considering.
She was impressed her friend, who is married to a Japanese man, ‘bought a house for $350,000k in Osaka.’
Young Aussies face a dilemma: stay in big cities to party and meet people – like their parents did – but go nowhere financially, or move somewhere cheaper to save, but have a quieter social life. Pictured, Madame Brussels Cocktail Bar, Melbourne
Mr Rycken said the nurse’s decision to quit and opt out of the ‘rat race’ is not unusual in 2023.
‘We are hearing lot of young people reconsidering their career and the rest of their lives because of constant worries about paying bills,’ he said.
‘They are seriously questioning they can justify working fulltime if they still won’t be able to afford a place to live anyway.’
Mr Rycken said a major cause has been the failure of wage increases to keep pace with rises in house prices and rents.
‘The relationship between wage and the cost of buying a house has changed dramatically in Australia over the last 50 years.
‘The reality is this isn’t just about young people, it’s a problem for the entire country.
‘Do we really want to live in a country where working fulltime doesn’t provide enough money to visit doctor, raise a family and afford a home?’
‘Being a young person is such a scam’
Even when young people do make huge sacrifices and manage to buy property, financial penalties seem to be waiting.
A young couple’s angry post social media post was titled ‘Being a young person in Sydney these days is such a scam’.
The couple, who battled to buy an apartment, described how they became saddled with unexpected bills of $10,000 a year in ‘special levies’ to repair the shoddy work of builders who constructed their block.
‘I just feel like giving up honestly,’ they wrote.
‘No matter how hard you try it just seems like there are huge obstacles at every step to achieve what the older generation was essentially handed to them.’
The couple claimed that in their small circle, who were all were apartment owners, all of them have to pay levies of between $2,000 and $10,000 a year to fix dodgy building work.
Special levies are charged in addition to normal strata levies and are raised when a major unexpected repair requires urgent action.
In 2019, unit owners in Sydney’s Mascot Towers building were told the bill to repair cracking that evacuated the building could blow out to $20 million.
‘With the levies can never hope to get ahead,’ the couple wrote.
‘I know life isn’t fair but come on.’
Mr Rycken said a online survey of 500 young people done in January by the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition asked what they wanted the federal government to address in 2023.
An overwhelming 68 per cent answered they wanted the cost of living brought under control.
Broken down further, the three main types of costs young people worried about were housing costs and affordability (including rents), the cost of seeing a doctor (including mental health professionals) and day to day expenses, including petrol and groceries.
While it’s tempting for older generations to mock people in their 20s as soft or lazy, Mr Rycken says younger and older Australians share the same concerns about cost of living pressures.
The only differences between generations are the type of costs that are affecting them, for instance the rising costs of education tends to be a young person’s concern.
Fixing the problem of housing affordability is a problem that won’t go away – and will only get worse – he said.
‘What is required is a direct response from the federal government about how they will improve the problem of house and rents prices for young people.
‘Certainly there needs to be a big increase in the number of affordable homes built.
‘Then there needs to be a plan to address faults in property market and tax system that feed into high prices.’
Is moving to regional Australia the answer to capital city prices?
Social media posts illustrated a dilemma facing twentysomethings: stay in big cities to party and meet people – like their parents did – but go nowhere financially, or move somewhere cheaper to save, but have a quieter social life.
Many are reluctantly giving up on big cities such as Melbourne or Sydney as they consider what they want out of life.
Feedback online pointed strongly in the direction of moving to regional Australia.
‘Can defo recommend moving regional,’ one person said.
‘We left Melbourne (from NSW originally) just before Covid, moved to a regional city of 100,000 people.
‘Loads of work/opportunity and everything we need, with none of traffic, insane prices or hectic late-stage capitalism bullshit you get in our big cities.’
‘Come to Queensland,’ said another
‘I’m on $140k a year as a nurse with my $350k unit. I have 2 overseas holidays booked for this year.
‘Life is good. Graduates start at $80k/year base pay compared to NSW’s pathetic $67k.’
Western Australia was recommended in the discussion too.
But there were big downsides to moving regional for young people: the perception of more prejudice out of major cities.
‘if you’re lgbtqia+, you’ll be lucky to have a big community in a regional area,’ they said.
‘I’m from a state with a tiny community and it really sucks big time. I’d move to Sydney in a heartbeat if it weren’t for the insane costs that come with it.’
A global survey of 19,000 people in 27 countries found that nearly 1 in 5 people from Gen Z identify as something other than heterosexual, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual or asexual.
‘Or if you are a person of colour,’ another added.
‘I’m constantly watching my back in suburban Sydney, forget asking me to move regional.’