Budgeting tips for students: studying and living on a low income

Budgeting tips for students: studying and living on a low income

Tips for Living on a Student Budget


1. Set a budget

You should know, at least roughly, how much money you earn every week. Work out how much you need to save each week, so you have something put away for emergencies. Deduct money you’re saving for fun stuff (holidays, new gadgets, etc). What you have left is your maximum weekly budget.

Next, work out how much money you spend each week. Don’t forget to factor monthly, quarterly and annual expenses like electricity and rates. If this is more than your weekly budget, you have a problem!

The following tips can help you reduce your expenses so that you can live within your income. Even if you’re living within your means, streamlining your finances can help you save more, quicker, so you can invest or afford the trips and toys you’ve always wanted.

If you’re having problems creating your budget, try the spending tracking app and budget planner on the MoneySmart website.

2. Plan for your bills

Plan your bill payments to make the most out of your student budgetDon’t let bills surprise you. We all know that rent, water, electricity, rates and body corporate come around at regular intervals. Mark them on your calendar and start saving a small amount regularly so you’ll have money to pay bills when they come due. An unexpected bill can be a big stress on a student budget.

Banks can help you out with extra accounts where you can save money so it can’t accidentally be spent. These accounts sometimes pay interest too, so your money will be working for you!

If you’re getting an allowance from Centrelink, there is a free service available to you called Centrepay. It will allow you to pay your bills as regular deductions from your Centrelink payments.

3. Move into cheaper accommodation

Housing in Australia is generally expensive – but prices vary significantly even within the same city, town or even suburb. If you own your home it’s probably not practical to move, but if you’re renting you’re much more mobile. Shared housing is usually cheaper than having your own place; or if you already own, consider renting out spare rooms. Living with your parents a little longer might not appeal, but if you get along and the space is free, then it’s a great way to save money on a student budget.

Finding cheaper housing might mean moving further away from the city centre, or into a less glamorous neighbourhood. In some cases the opposite might be true. If you have very high transport costs each week commuting between work, school and home, it can be more economical to move closer to those places, even if you’re paying more rent.

4. Cut down your food bill

Cooking for yourself can be effective to maximise your student budgetFood is a staple of life that we can’t do without. Supermarkets are usually the easiest place to get food – they’re open all week and stock everything in the one place. Takeaways take things a step further and do all the cooking for you too. Looking for cheaper alternatives can save you a lot of money each week – especially if you have a few mouths to feed.

You have to eat, but you can reduce the amount that you spend on food every week in a few simple steps:

Local markets

Look for local produce markets in your area. In many cases, farmers will sell you the same food they supply to supermarkets, for a lower price. If you’re really scrimping, wait until the end of the day for some super specials. Stallholders will try to get rid of whatever food is left, rather than transporting it home where it might spoil before they can sell it. As a bonus, visiting markets is often a nice relaxing activity to enjoy with family and friends.

Bulk butchers

Meat eaters, we haven’t forgotten you. Find discount butchers in your area who will sell bulk quantities of meat at discounted prices. Some cuts are half the price (or less) than you pay in major supermarket chains. You might have to buy and freeze large quantities of meat, but you’ll only have to do one trip every few weeks or even months. The butcher will often help you out by cutting the meat into easier portions if you ask.

No more takeaway food

Cut out any takeaway meals you eat during the week and save takeaway food for a special treat. When you buy takeaway, you’re not just paying for food – the store has to cover labour costs, rent and turn a profit, which is all added to the cost of the meal. You can produce the same meal at home for a fraction of the cost, especially if you shop around for the raw ingredients. If you do have a hankering for takeaway, a quick search online will often find deals or vouchers to cut down the cost.

Also get rid of drinks that you have to buy – soft drinks, juices, even bottled water. You’re thinking “It’s only $2!”, but if you pay $2 a day for a year, you’ve spent $730! I can think of better things to do with that money. Tap water is much, much cheaper!

5. Wear second hand clothes

Ok, so you should buy your underwear new! Other clothes can be bought from op shops for a fraction of their new price, so your student budget will stretch much, much further. You might not get the same range of styles and sizes you find at clothing stores, but you’ll be amazed at what you can find!

6. Cut out smoking and drinking

Not only is a smoking or drinking habit harmful to your health (particularly in excess), alcohol and tobacco are heavily taxed, making the products extremely expensive. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, cut down (or cut out) smoking and drinking to save yourself a lot of money each week. With the price of a pack of smokes over $20, a pack-a-day habit can easily cost more than $7000 a year. Even a few beers at the pub once or twice a week can blow out a student budget.

7. Minimise debts & contracts

Not all debts and contracts are bad: when used appropriately, debts can help you attain assets you may never have been able to afford on your own, like a home or education. Contracts for  phones and internet can be convenient and offer perks that actually save you money – especially if you’re a heavy user.

When you’re living on a low income, payments on debts and contracts can be a serious burden. You’re obliged to keep up with your payments even if your income drops and you can’t afford them anymore. Minimising your personal debt and contracts can reduce your financial stress significantly.

Students should be careful with getting loansLoans

Personal loans and car loans end up being incredibly expensive. You get charged huge amounts of interest on the money you borrow, and pay a fortune each week just keeping up with the minimum repayments. Avoid getting a personal loan and look for ways to pay yours off as soon as possible if you already have one. If you need credit, look for no-interest or low-interest loans for people living on low incomes.

Credit cards

Credit cards card are also hazardous to your finances. After all, you’re spending someone else’s money which makes it too easy spend more than you have.  If you need one, shop around for the best terms and conditions. Track your spending and keep your limit as low as possible so you don’t overspend and get caught out!


Mobile phones and internet plans that lock you into expensive monthly contracts are a hassle. Do you use all those minutes? All that data? All those texts? If you could easily live with a cheaper plan, see if you can downgrade your existing contract or cancel it when it runs out.

Prepaid plans can be much cheaper than contracts, because you only pay for what you use. Don’t forget that internet is available for free in many cafes, takeaways and even some public spaces. You can also get by with cheap internet access at your school, local library or internet cafe if you only need it occasionally.

8. Ditch (or downsize) your car

Cars are money pits. You have to pay for fuel, tyres, maintenance, repairs, registration and all the other little costs that pop up. Ask yourself if you truly need a car – can you use public transport, or starting walking and riding? If you need a car, see if you can switch to one that is cheaper to run. If you can do without a car, get rid of it.

9. Study courses connected to your work

Studying subjects directly relevant to your current work can open up a number of self-education tax deductions. You can claim things like course fees, some travel expenses, depreciation on some study equipment (eg computers), stationary, textbooks, student union fees, and more.

The course MUST be directly connected to your current work or employment. Your course must maintain or improve the specific skills or knowledge you require for your work OR result in (or likely result in) an increase in your income.

If you’re still struggling

Call the Australian GovernmentEven if you plan and budget well, sometimes things just go wrong. Your car burns out, your computer dies or you’re just unable to make ends meet. In that situation, there is help available to keep you on your feet.

The Australian Government offers a free financial services hotline plus credit and debt advice services in some states.

Centrelink offers a free financial information service for advice about finance and lifestyle issues.

Emergency relief

If you’re in urgent need of help with living expenses, charities can help you with:

  • Food, transport or chemist vouchers
  • Rent or accommodation
  • Part-payment of electricity, gas or water bills
  • Food parcels or clothing
  • Budgeting or referrals to other programs

Contact the groups like the Salvation Army or the St Vincent de Paul Society to get help.

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