Healthcare costs, home ownership and water quality have topped the list of consumers’ concerns for the future in our latest survey. 68% of consumers picked healthcare costs as their biggest worry with just half expressing confidence in the healthcare system.
Home ownership costs were close behind, identified by 66% as the most pressing issue. That was on par with the level of concern about water quality at beaches and rivers, highlighting the growing importance of the environment to consumers.
Among renters, worries about home ownership were more pronounced. With house prices showing little sign of easing, 77% of renters picked home ownership costs as their biggest concern, along with worry about their level of savings and investments.
Consumer NZ head of market research Vaibhav Kawale says results show renters are also feeling day-to-day financial pressures more acutely.
24% of consumers in our survey were finding it difficult to get by on their household income.
"24% of consumers in our survey were finding it difficult to get by on their household income. But that figure jumped to 36% among renters,” he says.
Renters were also more likely to be cutting back on essentials, such as power: 50% had reduced spending on essentials in the past 12 months compared with the average of 34%.
The income effect
Not surprisingly, income had a major influence not only on whether consumers rented or owned their own home but also on how they were coping with everyday expenses.
Just over a third (35%) of consumers felt they were able to live comfortably on their household income. But among those earning more than $150,000, 76% were comfortably off. Money can’t buy happiness but it can significantly improve your economic outlook.
In comparison, middle-income earners were much less likely to feel they were comfortably off.
“Among consumers earning $40,001 to $60,000, just under a quarter were living comfortably. In the $60,001 to $80,000 income bracket, 41% were comfortable but the majority were either just getting by (33%) or finding it difficult to make ends meet (26%),” Vaibhav says.
Income also influenced how consumers perceived the state of the economy. High-income earners were significantly more likely to have a rosy view. 71% taking home $150,001+ felt the economy was in good shape, compared with the average of 54%.
Consumers aged 65 or older were also more likely to have a favourable view of the economy with nearly two-thirds rating it in good shape. “Consumers in this age group were significantly more likely to own their home mortgage-free and be coping well with day-to-day living costs,” Vaibhav says.
|Doing it tough vs living comfortably[width=40%]||[bar;width=40%]|
|Finding it very difficult on present income||7%|
|Finding it difficult on present income||17%|
|Getting by on present income||39%|
|Living comfortably on present income||28%|
|Living very comfortably on present income||7%|
|In the past 12 months, have you... [width=40%]||[bar;width=40%]|
|Cut back spending on non-essential items (e.g. entertainment, holidays)||51%|
|Cut back spending on essentials (eg. groceries, power)||34%|
|Dipped into savings to cover the gap until payday||31%|
|Delayed a major expense or purchase of an expensive item||30%|
|Lived off a credit card to cover the gap until payday||17%|
|Borrowed money from friends or family||14%|
|Deliberately missed paying a bill by the due date||11%|
|Deliberately missed a rent or mortgage payment||3%|
|None of the above||29%|
Cost of living pressures
It’s understandable renters are feeling the pinch. Headline inflation has been trailing below 1% but rents have been rising much faster. In the year to September, market rents rose 2.1%. The hike was 3.4% in Auckland where housing pressures have intensified.
Other household costs, such as power, have also been rising faster than inflation. Statistics NZ data show electricity prices rose 2.3% in the year to September while gas jumped 4.1%.
73% of consumers in our survey reported household bills had increased last year either a little (49%) or a lot (24%). Among all consumers, the price of power was the biggest cost of living concern: 63% were concerned about what they paid, with renters more likely to be very concerned.
Food and grocery costs were the second biggest cost of living concern, flagged by 62%, followed by home and contents insurance (60%).
Food prices rose slightly last year (0.6%) but increases for some products were more marked. Milk prices started to climb towards the end of the year, up 6.1%. Restaurant meals and ready-to-eat foods increased 1.8%.
Home insurance costs also rose, up 2.4%, although there was a small drop in the cost of contents insurance (-0.1%). Home insurance premiums have risen markedly in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes. Last year’s rise comes on the back of significant annual increases for much of the past decade.
|How concerned are you about the following issues? [width=40%]||[bar;width=40%]|
|Home ownership costs||66%|
|Water quality at beaches and rivers||66%|
|Your level of savings and investments||64%|
|Quality of aged care||61%|
|Education costs (primary and secondary)||50%|
|Your level of debt||47%|
|Public transport costs||39%|
|How concerned are you about the current costs of the following household expenses?[width=40%]||[bar;width=40%]|
|Electricty and gas||63%|
|Food and groceries||62%|
|Home and contents insurance||60%|
|Mobile phone services||31%|
To gauge how consumers are faring in the marketplace, we asked them to rate how confident they felt in their day-to-day dealings with traders.
61% said they generally felt confident and were aware of their consumer rights. But one in five weren’t confident. One in three worried about dud products and being ripped off.
Overall, more than half (56%) had experienced some type of problem with a good or service in the past year.
The most common problem was paying for a product that didn’t work as expected: 24% had been in this situation. Almost as many (23%) had experienced a delay in delivery or non-delivery of a product.
16% had work done by a trader that wasn’t up to scratch. 15% felt they’d been given information by a retailer that was misleading or incorrect, which is a potential breach of the Fair Trading Act.
12% of consumers had difficulty getting a replacement or refund from a trader for a faulty product and 8% had ended up in a dispute with a store. 8% had also fallen victim to a scam in the past year.
|In the past 12 months, have you experienced any of the following? [width=40%]||[bar;width=40%]|
|A good or service you paid for did not work as it was supposed to||24%|
|A delay or non-delivery of a good or service||23%|
|Work done was below standard or was not done as promised||16%|
|You were given misleading or incorrect information by a retailer||16%|
|You had problems getting a replacement or refund||12%|
|You felt the conditions of a contract were unclear||11%|
|You felt the conditions of a contract were unfair||9%|
|You were scammed, either online, in person or by phone, post or email||8%|
|You had safety concerns about a product||8%|
|You complained about a product or service and ended up in a dispute with the vendor||8%|
|None of the above|
Survey results show environmental considerations are a priority for many consumers. However, they also show companies are failing to meet consumers’ expectations for greener products.
A majority of consumers (59%) felt companies weren’t doing enough to reduce the environmental impacts of their products.
46% of consumers rated environmental considerations as important and said they looked for “greener” products. More than one in three (38%) were prepared to pay extra for them.
But there was also scepticism about environmental claims. Green claims were trusted by less than half of consumers (46%).
Older consumers (those 60 and over) were generally more likely to be sceptical of green claims and less willing to pay extra for goods making these claims.
Even though environmental considerations were just as important to them, low-income consumers were also less willing to pay more for green products.