The rapidly rising cost of essentials like housing, energy and education is pushing households deeper into debt, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
The 2015-16 Household Expenditure Survey shows the average family spent about $1,425 a week — $190 more than six years earlier.
Household debt had also doubled since 2003-4, with the average family owing $169,000. Property debt accounted for nearly 90 per cent of this.
The largest weekly expense for families was housing — such as rents and mortgages — followed by food and then transport.
However, the amount spent on power and energy had jumped 26 per cent since 2009-10 — an increase of 11 per cent in real terms.
Emily Maron and Peter Gagliardi have five children under the age of nine and balance their weekly budget down to the last cent.
They have amassed a $6,000 power bill debt, despite using a payment plan.
"Most of the money goes on rent. Food is a big one and school, and then the bills are huge," Mr Gagliardi said.
According the latest ABS figures, the largest proportional increase of any spending category was on education — jumping 24 per cent in six years.
Ms Maron said money needed for school trips could blow their budget, with their eldest children needing iPads for class, and constant demands for special school days and trips.
"Things are always coming up at school that they can't participate in and that separates them from the rest," she explained.
Going back further, in 1984 it was food and non-alcoholic drinks that most people spent their money on, and housing was the third-highest category, making up just 13 per cent of spending.
The proportion spent on education has more than tripled over the past 32 years, while money spent on clothing and footwear has more than halved.
Across Australia, the Northern Territory and ACT spent the most on goods and services, despite Western Australian having the greatest rise in median weekly household income, from $1,111 to $1,782 over the past 10 years.
Tasmania saw the smallest rise in average weekly income, from $950 to $1,209, and had the highest number of low-income families.
The ABS said nearly 30 per cent of Australian households were over-burdened with debt, with mortgages the driving cause.
Not surprisingly, higher-income households were more likely to be swimming in debt, given their access to credit.
A quarter of the households in the top income bracket were over indebted, compared to one in six low-income families.
More people in Sydney amassed more mortgage debt than Melbourne, with Sydneysiders owing on average $269,000 more than their Melbourne counterparts.
"The wealthiest 20 per cent of households in Australia has remained stable since 2013-14," ABS chief economist Bruce Hockman said.
Yet figures showed inequality in net wealth was higher than income inequality.
However, the St Vincent De Pauls Society said over the past three years, more and more low-income families had come to them needing help.
"They are seeing mounting bills and have to make choices every week as to what they can pay and can't pay, and always have that sense of dread about the next bill," the charity's Victorian CEO Sue Cattermole said.
"So they may ask us for food but in fact it may be something else that is a stress for them."
While Mr Gagliardi struggles to make ends meet, he remains confident he can clear his mounting debt and get his family back on track.
"I have worked out a 10-years plan, just give me another five years," he said.