Is Autism the reason I’m so “careful” with money?

This week hasn’t gone at all the way I’d planned it to – thanks to the NDIS making a royal mess of my application for a simple plan variation, and a belligerent brush turkey that decided our yard was its idea of a four-star hotel. [More on both those topics in the coming weeks!]

So generally crappy has this week been that I jettisoned the story I’d started writing on Monday, about doctors, in favour of the one you’re reading now – inspired by this news report that my wife sent me.

To set the scene, in Australia (and in many places around the world in fact) interest rates hit a record low of 0.10 per cent in November 2020. They stayed there for a full 18 months, until May 2022, at which point they rose to 0.35. By the end of 2022, interest rates in Australia sat at a whopping 3.10 (yes, sarcasm intended) after eight increases – still an incredibly low figure, no matter which way you slice it.

Yet every time I turn on or read the news, I hear about something called “mortgage pain”, and all of the people who are in it.

I’m probably going to enrage and offend some readers here (so sorry in advance if I do!), but this is starting to resemble what happened when we all went into lockdown during COVID – and I couldn’t understand that at the time either.

So many people (at least if the reports were anything to go by) couldn’t cope with being confined to their home at the height of the pandemic. It seemed, from what I could gather, that it was tantamount to being imprisoned for some crime they didn’t commit. Some “inmates”, in hotel quarantine, even lost their lives in falls from balconies in their attempts to “Spiderman” their way to freedom.

All manner of modern-day connectivity that literally has the power to place you in someone else’s living room apparently wasn’t enough. Nor it seemed, for those holed up in hotel accommodation, was having your meals prepared for you.

Lockdown for me, however, was one of the best things to have happened in a very long time.

COVID, of course, was utter tragedy. The heartbreaking loss of life, the strain put on healthcare systems and other vital infrastructure, the collapse of countless businesses.

But being “stuck” at home – that was heavenly.

Was this actually the start of the Autism ‘awakening’? Was this the yardstick by which to sort the neurodivergent from the dominant non-neurodivergent pack? If you could handle being at home for a couple of weeks with the ability to speak to, and see, everyone you loved in the world via video, but not in person, without falling to pieces, did this mean that you might be Autistic?

‘Mortgage pain devastating Australian families’ is the latest popular catch call surfing all discerning media outlets. Okay, I hear you, and I agree – it’s terrible, stressful, anxiety inducing, and probably even much, much worse than that.

But if that is the case, then why every time I step foot outside my house, and go for a coffee or a meal, are there people everywhere, eating and drinking and generally entertaining themselves at pubs and at bars and at retail outlets, and even at concert halls, like we’ve all just inherited the entire family farm?

I’m sorry if it sounds like I’ve suddenly adopted the persona of the radio ‘shock jocks’ I myself loath so very much. Only, on this issue, I truly am incredibly perplexed.

Is this Autism, my confusion about this matter that most people seem to buy into? Is this why I will never ‘belong’?

In 2008, when my wife and I first entered the housing market, the median house price in Brisbane was $399,000 (we paid ever so slightly more than that).

And in an article published by the Brisbane Times in 2010, they reported that house prices rose sharply shortly thereafter: “Figures released…by the Real Estate Institute of Queensland showed that the median house price…in Brisbane rose to $535,000…

In 2016, when we sold our house and bought in a much quieter suburb than where we’d initially pitched our brick and mortar tent, and renovated the place we moved in to because it was almost 50 years old and still had the original bathtub (nasty!), we were in the hole, in total, for more than $700,000.

At the beginning of 2023, CoreLogic reported that: “The median dwelling value in Brisbane has increased from $506,553 at the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, to $707,658 at the end of 2022,” which, as I’ve already told you, was similar to our own level of debt.

In saying that, I accept that people buying a house these days generally pay more for it than we did. But they also earn a lot more than we ever have, and, you know, interest rates couldn’t have been any lower during the first couple of years of their mortgage – unless they actually hit zero.

Besides, interest rates during my wife’s and my time began at 7.06 per cent in 2008, rose to a high of 7.13 in 2011, before dropping gradually until they hit their lowest point during our mortgage in 2016, at 4.65. But that was still higher than anything anyone who’s bought a house in the last several years has had to endure, including this week when the Reserve Bank of Australia increased interest rates to their current 4.35 per cent.

Of course I understand that if you bought your house when interest rates were less than or around 1.00 per cent, anything more than 3.00 is going to come as a bit of a shock. But here’s the part where I lose most (maybe all) of my sympathy for those specific home buyers: If interest rates have been at historic lows, and you knew this going in, why didn’t you anticipate them ever going up again?

In my parents’ day, interest rates in Australia were utterly ridiculous – 17.50 per cent in January 1990 was the peak. Yes, back then houses cost barely more than the 4WD vehicles a lot of Australians love to own these days. But wages were a pittance as well, so it’s all relative to the times you live in.

To illustrate my point further, I recall my wife telling me a story many years ago about a former colleague of hers who said when discussing her financial hardship (and I’m paraphrasing): We had eggs again for dinner last night. It’s getting so bad we might have to think about getting rid of Foxtel. [For those readers who live overseas, think ‘pay TV’ or ‘cable’ before all the streaming services came into existence.]

When reading the ABC news article a couple of days ago, Lisa Mammone, the mother of three featured in the story, made comments about the “hurt” she’s been feeling, which reminded me of this tale about my wife’s colleague and her reluctance to do away with something I consider an absolute non-essential.

From the ABC article in question, published in response to the latest interest rate rise:

“It hurts me, because sometimes the kids are like, ‘Can we go and get such-and-such today?’ or ‘Can we go and do this tonight?'” Ms Mammone said.

“I have to say ‘No, we don’t have enough money. Sorry, you must wait until next payday.’

“That’s the most horrible thing that I’ve ever had to say to my kids, and I hate it.”

“We used to buy coffees, we used to buy lunches at work — now we’re finding that we’re cooking extra the night before now and taking those for lunches,” Ms Mammone said.

“We’re making our own coffees or tea at work without spending the extra money.”

Excuse me, but egads! Is that really considered hardship?

Interspersed within these comments from Ms Mammone is a photograph of her, her husband, and her three kids, with the caption: The Mammones have been doing all they can to cut costs on essentials, but the situation just got tougher.

Either ‘The Mammones’ have a very different understanding of the word ‘essential’ than I do, or this article by the ABC is utter BS.

Either way, I come back to my earlier point: Didn’t anyone, including The Mammones, see this coming? Didn’t it ever cross their minds to take the opportunity, much earlier, to deprive their kids (not a bad thing in itself, by the way) before it came to this, or to cut back on the coffees and meals out to save a bit of cash, or, better still, to get ahead of the mortgage repayments?

From where I’m sitting, if you have interest rates at anything less than 3.00 per cent, then the only direction they’re ever going to head is up, potentially way up, to numbers much higher and more crippling than where they already are.

I’m not sure what the cost of living is like in your part of the world, but in Australia, it’s already completely out of hand. Prices don’t rise by a few cents, like they used to. Nowadays we’re talking about 30-50 per cent increases in one fell swoop.

The expression “cheap as chips” can’t reliably be used anymore either (and seldom is anyway granddad! 😝) because even the price of the humble crispy deep-fried godlike delicacy that it is the potato, has gone through the roof.

Petrol prices are unhinged, electricity is out of control, and doctors, especially specialists, are practicing extortion rather than medicine in what I will no doubt describe in an upcoming article I had wanted to finish this week and will hopefully publish next week, as criminal.

The reason I’ve written this article now, apart from the inspiration delivered by the comments of Ms Mammone, is that I wanted to ask you, dear reader, a question, one that will hopefully demonstrate just how confused I really am: Is it being Autistic that results in this view of the world that I have? Or am I missing something else? Am I just hard hearted perhaps? A callous, judgmental prick, out of touch with young families and everything they have to deal with? Has the world really changed that much?

A friend of mine previously called my wife and me “outliers”, because we don’t buy coffee out all the time, or eat out every week (let alone every day!), or update our clothes and phones and goodness knows what else each year, and because we don’t have multiple streaming services, like Netflix or Disney or Apple TV, on the go at any one time.

My thing (and it’s my wife’s thing, too, which makes us a financial match made in heaven) is that we don’t believe we could ever afford to live like that, so we never have. And that, therefore, leads me to wonder how anyone can expect to live with such abandon – unless of course they’re actually wealthy, with silly money to throw about whenever and wherever they choose.

I’m sure The Mammones are terrific people (they look like a lovely family if the photo in the ABC article is anything to go by), but my goodness their sheer naivety, and that of what I’m led to believe are thousands of families like them, leaves me scratching my shiny bald head.

Here’s an idea: Don’t stretch yourself, financially speaking, to the point of breaking. Leave a bit of a buffer, something in reserve for when times get tough, as they inevitably will.

Maybe it’s me being Autistic, or maybe I’m just old fashioned. Or maybe, just maybe, we all need to start thinking a little more about what’s around the corner. As the past 12 months have well and truly taught me – you never know what’s about to happen, so it’s always worth having a backup plan.

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  1. Thanks for this Glenn. I totally agree with it being a strange way to think and act! But most people these seem to think that’s the way it’s done (spend as you want, not depriving yourself of a single desire), and then complain about how financial tough life it! I have spent my whole adult life never replacing anything unless it is broken or I’m forced to (goodbye, Samsung S6 phone with no updates now), living on all home cooked and prepared meals (even when on holidays…), and generally having a 1940’s post war thrifty attitude to living. And now I own my house 🙂

  2. Yes. I was also perplexed by the surprise of people when interest rates went up. Many of whom lived through the interst rates of the 80s in the UK. It never ceases to amaze me how little forethought so many have. I often point these things out at the time and am mostly ignored. By the time the obvious is recognised by the masses they’ve forgotten I told them so! 😄

    • Thanks Lottie, it’s good to hear that I’m not the only one! And I know exactly what you mean about people forgetting what you told them earlier and then looking at you (well, they do this to me anyway) with a blank expression if you mention it. Frustrating! 😝

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