Inflation forces Australians to buy second-hand for the first time – and some are ashamed

Celine didn’t expect that she would haggle second-hand clothes, and she certainly won’t tell her book club.

But desperate times have called for desperate measures – even for the “solid middle class” homeowners on the Central Coast, with engineer salaries and respectable combined incomes.

“I’d be really embarrassed if people knew about it,” says Celine, whose name has been changed.

“I never thought we’d be in this predicament. As middle income earners, it really should be a lot easier.”

The mother of four never bought much second hand, but now she’s constantly chasing offers and freebies — everything from clothes and shoes to bedding, furniture, and home improvements.

“I picked up free curtain rods this morning because the curtains are black with mold after all the wet,” she said.

As the cost of living rises, the second-hand economy seems to be booming – and many Australians are getting there for the first time.

Despite the economic downturn, resale platforms like Gumtree, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace are reporting increased activity in some categories, as are other neighborhood gifting and sharing groups.

Necessity and hardship seem to lead us into a new era of second-hand buying and selling.

Cost of living squeeze ‘sharper’ than GFC

For many Australians, the pinching started sometime in the past two years.

Unemployment rose with the pandemic, followed by inflation. In mid-2021, inflation outpaced wage growth, causing the real value of a typical worker’s wage package to decline.

It has been declining ever since. Annual inflation is now at 5.1 percent and growing at the fastest pace in 20 years, driven largely by fuel prices (up 35 percent) and construction materials (up 15.4 percent).

In May, Anglicar Modeling showed how tight the pinch had become:

  • A full-time minimum wage worker is left with $29 after essential weekly expenses, excluding health care or utility bills
  • A family of four, with two full-time minimum wage workers, has no income after expenses
  • A single parent on minimum wage is short of $195 a week, even if he’s on benefits

The battle to break through this downturn has been generally more difficult than it was during the global financial crisis of the late 1990s, Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said.

It’s sharper. It’s much sharper,” she said.

“We have the recession, we have the pandemic, we have a much higher level of precarious work than 10 or 15 years ago.”

Last year’s drop in average real wages was the worst this century (beyond the time when the GST was introduced).ABC News: Claudia Chiu

What’s striking about the downturn, she said, was that families who had never used charitable services showed up at Anglicare’s depots, hoping not to be seen by anyone they know.

“It’s now very common to find working families and even two-income families who can’t make it through the weekly or biweekly payment cycle,” she said.

The rise of the ‘second-hand economy’

In the past ten years, the second-hand economy has grown enormously.

The advertising platform Gumtree, which publishes an annual snapshot of the economy, estimates that the value of second-hand goods sold in Australia nearly doubled between 2011-2021.

A fan, vase, radio, rotary phone and crockery are displayed on a wooden table with cheap stickers.
Retrostyled homewares are back in fashion.Getty: James Worrel

A major reason for this was that consumers want to avoid the waste and emissions associated with buying new ones, said Louise Grimmer, an online shopping expert at the University of Tasmania.

It’s also just easier now to buy and sell second-hand stuff, she added.

“Online marketplaces have really enabled more and more consumers to buy and sell second-hand items.”

With prices rising, these marketplaces will become even more popular, she said.

Early figures seem to confirm this.

Facebook Marketplace has a 72 percent increase in second-hand listings in Australia in the first half of 2022, compared to the same period last year, according to owner, Meta.

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