Cost of living in Australia: how to budget for household utilities and expenses

100 dollar notes household cost of living

Here’s Foxie’s Australian cost of living breakdown for housing, utilities and general expenses such as groceries, travel and clothing.

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Breakdown:

Average single-person household monthly total: $658 + housing

  • Electricity and gas: $106
  • Water: $74
  • Home internet: $70
  • Groceries: $408

Average two-person household monthly total: $869 + housing

  • Electricity and gas: $126
  • Water: $89
  • Home internet: $70
  • Groceries: $584

Average four-person household monthly total: $1057 + housing

  • Electricity and gas: $135
  • Water: $108
  • Home internet: $90
  • Groceries: $724

Australia is a big place, and your cost of living will vary greatly depending on which part of the country you’re budgeting to live in. Of course, lots of things will come into play here – whether you’re moving into a CBD area or the suburbs, the number of people in your household, the amount of travelling you expect to do, and the kinds of luxuries you’re accustomed to. The purpose of this blog is to give you a baseline to guide you through budgeting for your primary household expenses: rent, utilities, groceries, travel, entertainment and the like.

Is Australia expensive to live in?

Australia actually makes it onto the list of the world’s top 10 most expensive countries to live in. According to internations.org, average living expenses in Australia are higher than in the US, but lower than the UK.

Saving for rent, the average Australian family of four spends around $4700 per month on basic living costs. For singles, it’s around $1300 per month. Splitting expenses in a shared household is definitely the way to go if you’re trying to keep costs down, whether that be with family or flatmates. But the main thing to keep in mind is that housing is often the largest expense for any Australian, whether they’re paying for rent or mortgage.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll be using rental prices for the housing portion of your budget. This will be the bedrock of your budget, and will determine the split of expenses allocated to the rest of your living costs.

Housing/Rent

The overall average Australians pay for rent per week is $447, according to a report published by Domain in late 2020. Broken down by cities – Adelaide and Perth have the cheapest average at $340 per week; Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne and Brisbane average around $390 to $400 per week; and Sydney and Canberra around $480 to $495 per week.

In Australia, rental prices historically tend to increase the closer you get to the CBD of a given city. According to the Australian Financial Review, however, average apartment rent in the Melbourne CBD has fallen over the past year to $393 per week, a decrease of 34.4% over the previous year. In turn, rent further away from the city centre has increased in suburban and rural areas. Though this phenomenon has been most noticeable in Melbourne and Sydney, other Australian cities are experiencing a similar shift, which experts attribute to economic slowdowns in CBD areas caused by COVID-19.

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bedroom first-time renter

It’s still unclear when or if rental price dynamics will return to normal in the rental market, and on the whole, city versus suburb pricing patterns are probably not most influential factors in how people decide where to live.

Utilities

The amount you’ll spend on utilities depends on three main factors: which providers you choose, the number of people in your household, and the kinds of facilities your house includes – do you have ducted heating? An electric hot water system? A heated outdoor pool?

Of course, the more people living in a single household, the higher each utility bill will total. However more people living under the same roof means that utilities will actually be cheaper per person.

Bear in mind that some utilities like water and gas are billed quarterly, as opposed to monthly, depending on the state you live in and the supplier you use. For the purposes of this article, we’ve broken things down into monthly expenses, to help you develop a baseline for your monthly budget.

Electricity and gas

According to a study carried out by Canstar Blue, the average single-person household spent approximately $106 per month on electricity in 2020. The average two-person household spent around $126 per month, and the average four-person household spent $135 per month.

For gas, the average monthly expense tends to vary less depending on household size. Canstar Blue’s survey found that in January 2021 the average household spent about $60 per month on gas supply, with negligible differences between larger and smaller households.

Water

Water bills across the board in Australia average out at $91 per month. For single-person households the average monthly cost sits around $74 per month, two-person households average at $89 per month and four-person households average at $108 per month.

Home internet

This one is the easiest to figure out, as most of Australia’s network has now switched over to the National Broadband Network (NBN) rolled out by the federal government. So while providers offer different prices to access different speeds through the NBN, most households end up spending a relatively similar amount.

How to find the best internet service provider for you »

woman video chatting on laptop at home internet broadband provider

Assuming you’ll be looking into connecting to an NBN50/20 speedpack – meaning average download speeds of 50 Mbps and upload speeds of 20 Mbps – with an unlimited data cap, you could pay within the range of $70 – $95, depending on the provider you choose. 

Of course, you’ll have the option to pay more for faster speeds; however an NBN50/20 should be more than enough bandwidth to support multiple devices connecting to the internet simultaneously in a four-person household. Unlimited data caps are also becoming more standard, though some providers still offer 200GB or 500GB NBN plans at a lower price tag.

Groceries

Grocery bills actually vary very little from state to state in Australia – the far more influential factor will be your household size and ability to minimise overspending. The average single-person household spends around $408 per month on groceries, two-person households spend $584 per month and four-person households spend around $724. This should account not only for the weekly food shop, but also household cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products.

Travel

Driving is by far the most popular, but also the most expensive way to get around in Australia. The most recent data for Australian travel habits comes from 2020, during the peak of COVID19 – in that year, the average driver spent around $305 a month on petrol according to Budget Direct. In 2017, a few years prior, a Canstar Blue survey found that the average Australian driver was only spending around $144 per month on petrol. This will vary greatly for you depending on the car you drive, and the number of hours you spend on the road per month. Try to record your own petrol consumption for a few weeks to work out a rough budget.


For some, driving will be the only way to get around, whether that be because of where you live or what you do for work. Those commuting in and around city centres will have public transport options like busses, trains and trams. The average public transport commuting Australian spends approximately $105 per month on travel passes. Unfortunately, Australia’s public transport system isn’t renowned for being the world’s most affordable, especially in large cities like Sydney and Melbourne where the average expense can reach $151 per month. It is, however, still cheaper on average than driving. 

All up

Calculating together the items which are most likely to depend on your household size…

The average single-person household spends around:

  • Electricity and gas: $106
  • Water: $74
  • Home internet: $70
  • Groceries: $408

Total per month: $658 + housing (rent) + travel

The average two-person household spends around:

  • Electricity and gas: $126
  • Water: $89
  • Home internet: $70
  • Groceries: $584

Total per month: $869 + housing (rent) + travel

The average four-person household spends around:

  • Electricity and gas: $135
  • Water: $108
  • Home internet: $90
  • Groceries: $724

Total per month: $1057 + housing (rent) + travel

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Image credit: Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

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