To many people, this would seem to be a silly question. Utility bills are going through the roof, healthcare costs are rising, health insurance premiums rise by a ridiculous amount every year, petrol costs three times what it used to, rent is higher than ever.... of course the cost of living is rising.
To the economists who disagree though, the cost of living is stable or even falling. Food is cheaper, clothing, books, toys and music are cheaper, and wages are higher.
My Twitter feed is full of snark about Cashed Up Bogans driving their SUVs to their huge McMansions and whinging about the high cost of gas and water while Brianna and Tyson have every toy and gadget in the world.
Or middle class whingers who complain about petrol and utility bills while unable to appreciate how cheaply they get their clothing.
According to this school of thought, which includes many economists, the middle class has no right to complain about the cost of living when most things they buy are cheaper than ever.
Wrapped up in these arguments are political and moral beliefs too, about the carbon tax, house size, sustainable living, consumption, public vs private school, cars vs public transport, and value judgments about what people spend money on. There is also annoyance or embarrassment at the tendency of Australians to forget we live in a prosperous country whose economy has survived the GFC and the Great Recession lightly compared to most other places. There is also anger from those who are locked out of the housing market and forced into ever-higher rentals, at those who are paying off mortgages daring to complain.
In short, there is more than a touch of judgement from some (who forget they are also, mostly, middle class) at the middle-class who can't see what they are spending every week while complaining about the cost of living.
Most people I know are middle class. I can pretend it is otherwise, and I can pretend to be something I'm not, with my history of low-paid work, my husband who works in hospitality and our 8-year-old car. But we're middle class, as are the majority of people running the commentary on Twitter, on radio and in the newspapers.
I won't pretend to be without privilege. But we don't have savings, our kids go to the local public school, and we live with low-level financial stress on a monthly basis. Like other families we know, we juggle bills: I mean really juggle them, paying the meanest ones first and letting the more lenient ones slide, always playing catch-up and always behind. It depresses me that we don't have more, that at our age we are still living, basically, paycheck to paycheck.
While I don't accept that raising kids is a "lifestyle choice" (it's actually biology), I do accept that we have chosen our way of life. We've chosen to buy a house and spend most of our money paying it off and we know that raising kids is expensive. It's why we have two kids instead of three. (Well, it's most of the reason why).
I know full well that we buy clothes, toys, books, music and stuff pretty cheaply. I know I spend more than I need to by driving to work, and buying my lunch on work days. I know my kids have far too many toys. I know we negated the savings we should have made when we cut out pay TV six years ago, by buying a million DVD kids' movies since then.
But I also know that utility bills, health insurance and the cost of filling my car have increased by 50% or more in the last few years. And our income has dropped - a lot. My salary is 60% of what I earned before 2008. Looking back now, it seems like I was on a pretty good salary back then. I was, but it was not high for the work I did, in my field, back then. I was always trying to earn more, constantly aware that I was "behind" others who earned more. I may have worked for a big American stockbroker, but I was no fat cat. It was also pre- credit crunch, so I was carrying a lot of debt, and spending way more than I do now.
I'm happier now, and I was very happy to be made redundant and apply a circuit breaker to my life. And I know I was very lucky. I got my redundancy, took a few months off work, and got to start a new job with people who knew me, working fewer hours and doing work I really enjoy. All that is amazing, and I know it.
But even for us lucky ones, the cost of living is higher than it was, and it is harder to manage the budget. The fact we are lucky doesn't make that less true.
Knowing my own experience and our much-reduced income since 2008, I often think of the thousands of others who have been laid off since then, or whose businesses have failed. Try telling them the rising cost of living is all in their heads.
I think while many costs have fallen over the years (things we buy), and we are certainly taxed lower than in the past, bills are higher, and costs in general are more diffuse now. Thirty years ago you earned less and you might have paid 40% income tax, and you didn't buy as much stuff, but your rent/mortgage payments were lower, utilities were much cheaper, and there were fewer bills to grapple with. You didn't have to compare costs for insurance, let alone "choose" your utility providers, and you had fewer bills and expenses. Bills might be electricity OR gas, water and telephone (no internet, mobile phone, pay TV, and there were fewer types of insurance to cover), and your weekly expenses might be travel/petrol, groceries and an amount set aside to cover clothing and other bits and pieces. I'm not saying things were better. And I have no desire to go backwards. But there were simpler bills, fewer things to buy and less money to spend, and budgeting was once much, much easier than it is now.