Sex and scientific trials: Extreme lengths Aussies will go to for the sake of a buck

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Australians are being forced to take extreme measures to cope with the worsening cost-of-living crisis, including turfing their parents out of their homes, new research shows.

An eye-opening study commissioned by customer-owned financial institution BCU Bank and conducted by YouGov found 39 per cent of people are struggling to cover their essential expenses and 28 per cent are “barely getting by”.

As a result, many are looking at ways to make some extra cash, with some extreme get-rich-quick schemes proving to be especially attractive.

Two-in-five Australians, or 39 per cent of the population, would consider taking part in a medical trial for extra income, the study found.

Fifteen per cent admitted to having a more secretive side hustle that might shock their parents or friends.

Charlotte* is among that cohort, having signed up to a ‘sugar baby’ service, linking young women with sugar daddies, two years ago to help make ends meet.

“I’ve definitely felt the cost-of-living challenges in the last two years,” the 22-year-old told

“Especially when I had to move out of home, it was quite challenging to navigate household expenses, bills, things I had never had to worry about. I suddenly found myself having to choose between fuel or food while I was studying to get a place in law school.”

After hearing about sugar babies, Charlotte joined a service and has since bagged an estimated $110,000, meaning she not only covered her expenses but has begun saving a house deposit.

“My mum eventually found out because she was wondering how I was affording all this expensive skincare and dresses,” she said.

“She was definitely worried and made sure I was OK and that the people I met weren’t putting me in danger or anything. I think being open with her made it better and it didn’t feel as shameful then. We’ve always been close.”

Reflecting on the past few years, Charlotte said she “wouldn’t know where I’d be without” her side hustle.

The cost-of-living crisis is also seeing companies that facilitate clinical trials inundated with interest for paid research opportunities.

Nucleus Network said its trials range in duration from two days to a whole month, with subjects reimbursed up to $600 per day.

CMAX Clinical Research specialises in trials that involve overnight stays, from brief trials lasting one to seven days all the way through to long stay experiments up to 30 days.

“All participants are paid for their time and contribution upon completion,” it said.

Those taking part earn on average $350-per-night, with current trial reimbursements ranging from $1200 to $10,000.

Other extremes Aussies would consider include marrying for money (eight per cent) or -putting their parents into an aged care home to fast-track a property inheritance (eight per cent).

BCU Bank general manager Mark Smyth said the number of households struggling financially was “staggering”.

“This staggering research confirms that the worsening cost-of-living crisis is driving Aussies to more unconventional measures, with almost three in 10 (28 per cent) revealing they are barely getting by,” Mr Smyth said.

“It’s our regional and remote communities that are feeling it the most and BCU takes this very seriously given our longstanding presence throughout regional Australia.”

The research, undertaken as part of BCU’s new campaign A Better Back-Up, probed participants on a range of different money making scenarios, from gig economy favourites to illegal activities.

Pressure on household budgets has millions of people wondering if they should take a second job, according to consumer research by comparison website

It found 32 per cent of people, the equivalent of 6.7 million Aussies – have looked into securing extra work to make ends meet, with twice as many women considering it than me.

Rebecca Pike, money expert at, said many people feel they have “no option” but to work more to keep their heads above water.

“The cost of living crisis means many are in financial strife and are finding it difficult to pay for rising insurance and energy bills,” Ms Pike said.

Young people are especially under pressure, she said. More than half of Generation Z respondents say they’re in the market for a second job.

Similarly, research by web services provider GoDaddy found 61 per cent of respondents are running some kind of side hustle alongside their day jobs. Half of those are raking in at least $500 per month, it said.

Mr Smyth urged people struggling financially to assess their options before resorting to risky schemes.

“Our goal is to support our existing customers, while also connecting with younger Australians who need a leg up when it comes to reaching their financial goals,” he said.

* Name changed at interviewee’s request