Paul's Insights: The way we regard money is changing

The impact of digital money is greatest on our under-25s, who have grown up knowing nothing of lunchtime queues at the bank to withdraw or deposit cash.

The way we regard money is changing. These days, our kids see us pay for purchases with a piece of plastic (or our phones), and if we ask for cash out, we appear to walk away from the check-out with more money than we started with! The bottom line is that money is no longer visible, and it’s easier to be less connected with how much we earn versus how much we spend.

The impact of digital money is greatest on our under-25s, who have grown up knowing nothing of lunchtime queues at the bank to withdraw or deposit cash. Add in digital wallets along the likes of Afterpay, and for younger Australians the link between making a purchase and how much hard cash is being spent becomes even less obvious.

As it stands, almost seven out of ten under-25s own a credit card, and a recent Reserve Bank report found that young Australians (together with low income earners) are most likely to carry an ongoing credit card debt. Figures from Finder show millennial women have the highest credit card debt of all generations – almost seven out of ten (64%) have an outstanding balance, with the average debt being $3,811. 

It’s not much of a way to start your adult life especially if you’re trying to save for a car or first home. But whenever I speak to people – of any age, who have high credit card debt, no one ever says “I must be spending more than I earn”. But that’s what it boils down to – and invisible money is a key factor. 

Just as technology is breaking the link between income and spending, technology also has the potential to bring us back in touch with our money. And that matters as we enter the peak spending period of the year.

There’s a whole stack of budgeting apps and spend tracker apps that can help us stay on top of cash management. There are even Christmas budget apps that let you plan ahead financially for the festive season. A couple of apps definitely worth a look are MoneySmart’s TrackMyGOALS and TrackMySPEND, both of which are free to download.

These apps provide different ways to get us thinking about our money habits, and that can be a far more effective option for getting on top of card debt than shifting from one balance transfer to another. In fact, ASIC estimates Australians who persistently carry a card debt could have saved around $621 million in interest last year alone just by sticking with a low rate card.

Paul Clitheroe is Chairman of InvestSMART, Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine.

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