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Aussies couldn't afford to blow their tax refund last year, and it's not doing retailers any favours

Jack Derwin
  • New research shows many Australians weren't able to spend their tax refunds last year, despite what the government had hoped.
  • Just 5% of Australians went shopping with it, while the same number spent it on their own leisure.
  • One in three simply saved it, 28% used it to pay their bills, and 15% chose to pay down their debt.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australians simply can't afford to splurge.

While that won't be news for the everyman, or regular readers of Business Insider Australia for that matter, it may be a wakeup call for the Federal Government, which promised its tax cuts would pump some much-needed cash through the retail economy. New data shows more than 80% of refunds weren't spent at all.

"The lack of wage growth over the last few years and the rising costs of living has led to Aussies feeling the financial pressure," Helen Baker, financial adviser and spokesperson for Money.com.au, which conducted the survey, said in a statement provided to Business Insider Australia.

"In previous years, people would spend their tax return on retail and leisure, but the findings reveal that the majority of us are struggling and are anticipating that the hard times will continue."

Of more than 1,000 Australians surveyed, one in three simply saved their refund, while more than one in four used it pay general bills. A further 8% made essential purchases like groceries or repairs with it, while a good portion simply paid down debt – 7% paid down their mortgage, 6% their credit card, and 2% a personal loan.

"The tax refunds are simply helping us to get by now – help us to catch up where we were behind, or help us in the future," Baker said.

In fact, when it came to discretionary spending, just 10% of us actually did any at all – 5% on retail therapy and 5% on leisure activities like a holiday.

More significantly, those who saved it overwhelmingly reported having little intention to ever really splash it, with 42% saying it wasn't going anywhere, and around one in four acknowledging their savings will just be swallowed up by the cost of living.

It demonstrates the refund – which maxed out at $1,080 – simply helped people live a little easier. While a noble achievement, it's hardly the economic stimulus Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was hoping to unlock. With two more rounds of tax cuts on the way, and the government having previously ruled out much else, retailers especially will be hoping for more.

In the last few years, waves of them have exited the market, under pressure as Australians cut back on their spending amid years of missing wage growth. The unemployment rate hovers at over 5%, and interest rate cuts also failing to translate to shopping sprees.

If nothing gives, the retail body count looks set to keep climbing.