SRC GUIDE TO LIVING ON LITTLE MONEY
Money – places to get money
If you are a full time student at the University of Sydney, and an Australian resident, you may be eligible for a Centrelink payment. Students who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander may be eligible for Abstudy. The other two student payments are Youth Allowance (if you are under 25 when you apply) and Austudy (if you are 25 or older when you apply), with a maximum payment of $462.50 per fortnight. You may also get a Rent Assistance payment. Check the SRC leaflet Payments for Students for more details.
COVID-19 update: Centrelink recipients may be eligible for a “Coronavirus supplement” payment of $550 per fortnight in addition to the existing payment. There are also additional payments for jobseekers, and for those who have lost work (jobkeepers). Other rules, including, mutual obligation, and payment thresholds have also been adjusted during this period. Click here for more information.
University of Sydney Financial Support
The University offers scholarships, bursaries, and interest free loans.
There are many different scholarships available for students in very specific circumstances. Check the Uni’s Scholarships webpage for details. Bursaries are non-repayable grants for domestic students experiencing financial difficulty in meeting living and study expenses. There are specific advertised bursaries, as well as general ones. Check the Uni’s Financial Support webpage for more details. Please note that often scholarships and bursaries do not get many people applying, so take advantage of them whenever you can.
They also do 12 month interest free loans. If you have received a loan from them and cannot make a repayment you should contact them or an SRC caseworker to get an extension. Failure to pay may result in the University imposing student financial sanctions that will restrict your ability to use the library, see your grades, or even graduate.
COVID-19 update: University of Sydney Financial Support has been extended to include international students for bursaries and interest free loans.
The SRC offers emergency loans (generally same day) for undergraduate students, for up to $50, interest free, repayable within a month. The SRC also loans calculators, lab coats, and other equipment. Call 9660 5222 for details.
COVID-19 update: The SRC is not able to provide any loans at this time, but this service will resume as soon as our office reopens.
Some community organisations also offer scholarships, so search for anything that you might be able to apply for.
Money – things to consider
Joining your trade union is a great way to have a stable work life. Unions will protect your work rights individually and collectively. Your union fees are tax deductible, and also give you other member benefits. To join go to australianunions.org.au/join.
The SRC hosts Australian Tax Office volunteers in semester 2. They give free help to complete and lodge a “simple” tax return. Unfortunately this does not include self-employed people, e.g., ride share drivers, bicycle delivery people, tutors, or musical performers. Call the SRC office on 9660 5222 to book an appointment.
Take care with Pay Day Loans
You may have seen advertisements on television and social media showing how easy it is to get a short-term loan. What the ads do not show you is how expensive these loans really are. There are often establishment fees and monthly interest that end up having the loan cost an equivalent of 45% to 50% interest. The SRC strongly advises you against taking out one of these loans, and instead talk to a caseworker about viable alternatives.
Take care with Buy Now Pay Later
The opportunity to have something now, and pay for it later, is becoming more readily available, interest free periods on loans for larger ticket items, and partial payment schemes such as Afterpay, and Ezipay. These are great when you pay them off in time, but the penalties for late repayments can be very high. If you are going to use one of these services, calculate when you will be able to complete the payment, and how much this will actually cost you.
The SRC Legal Service may be able to help negotiate suitable repayments for debts. There are also telephone advice lines: Wesley Mission Credit Line, National Debt Help Line, and Gambling Help Line. If you are struggling with debt we also recommend you meet with a Financial Counsellor. They provide free and confidential assistance in managing and resolving debt. Go to fcan.com.au.
Making a budget will help you to control where you are spending your money. Some techniques include: making a table of how much you can spend on different things; giving yourself a set amount of spending money each week that you do not have to track, that you spend on fun things, while sticking to a rigid plan of paying bills; and paying a little each week towards larger bills, like electricity and internet bills. For more ideas go to ASIC’s MoneySmart page.
Free or cheap food can be found around campus throughout the year. The SRC and USU (including clubs and societies) offer food from time to time to promote various campaigns and events. They are advertised in Honi Soit and online through the USU.
There are a few free and affordable grocery providers. These include:
- The Food Pantry – a low cost, food rescue grocery shop; and
- The Staples Bag – very affordable grocery packs at lots of different locations
Preparing food for yourself is cheaper than buying take away. There are lots of easy cook recipes and snack ideas online, or find someone who will cook dinner for/with you. You could provide the entertainment, while they provide the dinner. Bring take away containers too for leftovers. The Uni has microwaves you can use. A student run food co-op is on level 4, Wentworth bldg. They have lots of snacks as well as weekly fresh fruit & veg boxes. Bring your own containers, and do some volunteer shifts for a discount.
Lots of restaurants have discount lunch options, and most food courts will provide discounts near closing time. Be careful of food kept out of the fridge or heating for too long. Fresh food markets will discount boxes of food at closing time. You may also find pieces of fruit and vegetables that have fallen on the ground (“gleaning”). Dumpster diving is the name given to collecting food out of bins near food shops or restaurants. You won’t know how long food has been out of the fridge, etc., and you are at high risk of food poisoning and other nasty bugs. Even more worrying, there is often bleach or other chemicals on top of the food – yes, some people do this on purpose to stop dumpster diving.
COVID-19 update: Click here for an amended list of services available during the pandemic.
Cheap housing in Sydney is as rare as unicorns. There are many scams around that trick people out of their money. If you find a deal that seems too good to be true, it’s likely to be a scam. Before paying a deposit or bond make sure you inspect the property, checking for things like water pressure, cleanliness, signs of mould, and noise. Carefully read any contract before signing it, paying particular attention to fees for moving out early. Get receipts for all money paid, and keep them until you move out.
Finding a home
To find a share house there are many online services that charge a fee, or use Facebook to join sharehouse groups in local areas; using “housemates” in the search. “The Share Housing Survival Guide” might give you some ideas on how to approach sharehousing.
The University provides a range of accommodation, most of which are quite expensive. However, you might be eligible for a place in their affordable accommodation, or a scholarship for the Queen Mary and Regiment Buildings. STUCCO is a student run housing co-operative that offers rooms to full time, domestic students for around $100 per week, but requires residents to contribute a few hours each week to contribute to the smooth running of the accommodation and attend meetings. Demand is very high, so apply as early as possible.
As with any rent or bills, when you pay bond, make sure you get a receipt. Keep it until you have moved out or take a clear photo of it. This simple act may save you hundreds of dollars in the future. As soon as you move into your home take photos of any damage to the carpet, walls, furniture, etc., and email those photos to yourself. This will timestamp them and enable you to prove the condition of your home when you moved in. Similarly when you move out take photos of all of the walls and floors to show that you left everything clean and tidy. Again email these photos to yourself. These photos will help avoid paying for damage to the property that you did not cause. Your landlord may be required to complete a condition report when you move in & move out. Be sure to note any issues with the property’s condition report before signing.
Rentstart is a government loan scheme to help you stay in the private rental market. Of course, many conditions apply, but you may be able to get help paying your bond or rental arrears.
Emergency or temporary housing options are usually quite limited (and not always available), but SRC Caseworkers may be able to provide assistance to you. To talk about your options, contact an SRC caseworker.
Cheap furniture, kitchen things, and clothes can be bought cheaply at op shops run by charities. The Bower in Marrickville also has secondhand furniture and small appliances. There are many groups on Facebook, including FreeCycle, Pay It Forward, Rough Trade, and Buy Swap Sell, that offers all sorts of things. You could also go to wealthier areas just before council clean up days to see what they are putting out for disposal.
Pre-paid accounts allow you to monitor your usage and keep track of your weekly spending. Use the University’s internet to make phone calls and send messages through online apps like Facebook and Whatsapp; thus reducing your mobile phone needs. Factor in the quality of coverage and the length of contract when choosing a provider.
Being locked into a contract can reduce the monthly price for internet, but might end up costing more in the long term if you have to move house. There are wi-fi providers, e.g., University, local council, and cafes and shops, that are free, but be aware that they will use your private information for their own purposes. Yes, the Uni tracks you when you use their wi-fi!
The Energy Accounts Payments Assistance (EAPA) Scheme provides $50 vouchers to people who have difficulties paying their energy bills. Contact an EAPA provider to see if you qualify – http://bit.ly/2GUV37w.
Need an extension on paying bills?
If you are struggling to pay a bill on time, contact the provider and ask to speak to the hardship team. They will try to assist you with realistic repayment options.
Cost – definitions
‘Bulk billing’ is where a domestic student’s medical bill is completely paid for under Medicare, without the student having to pay first. ‘Direct billing’ is the equivalent for international students. Where bulk or direct billing is not possible, you may still be able to get a rebate for the amount that you pay for a service. A ‘gap payment’ is the extra amount you pay, on top of the amount you receive back.
Doctors / General Practitioners (GP)
The University Health Service in Darlington campus provides bulk billing for domestic students and direct billing for Allianz OSHC. There is usually no additional ‘gap fee’ for other insurance holders. Many other doctors’ surgeries will not charge a gap fee, especially for full time students, but check when making a booking.
Psychologist appointments are often very expensive, so getting a subsidy can be very helpful. If you are a domestic student ask your GP for a mental health plan to get ten subsidised treatments. If you are an international student check with your OSHC provider. There are a few services that will bulk bill or charge no or a small gap fee, for example, Uplift Psychological Services, or HeadSpace. You could also contact psychologists in your local area and ask what their fee is for full time students. The University has a free Counselling and Psychological Service that provides a limited service for students, but rarely provides documentation necessary for Special Consideration. There is a Psychology Clinic linked to the School of Psychology, who can provide counselling and may also do testing for conditions including ADHD, which may involve a fee for service. Ask them for details.
Teeth are important, but very expensive to fix. There are very limited options for free dental treatments through Medicare, and they involve waiting lists that are many years long. International students should check their health insurance provider to see what services are included. Domestic students could consider the benefit of getting dental insurance too. Not surprisingly, the cheapest way to have ongoing dental treatment is to have regular check ups and cleaning to avoid costly fillings.
Hopefully this is a service you will never use. However, if you do need an ambulance, whether you call them or someone else does, you will be liable for the cost which could range from a few hundred, to over a thousand dollars in fees. Health Care Card Holders are given free ambulance cover, and private health insurance provides ambulance cover from $45 per year.
Other allied health services
For cheaper fees you could be treated by final year students (who need to practice on clients) under the strict supervision of qualified teachers. These services include: osteopathy, physiotherapy, psychology, acupuncture, hairdressing, chiropody, massage, etc. Contact the faculty or TAFE offering these courses and ask them for clinic hours and fees.
COVID-19 update: Some health practitioners have had to change the way they provide service, including telephone and online appointments. Call you practitioner to see if they provide a contact free service.
Health Care Card
Health Care Cards are available to most students on a Centrelink payment, or Australian Residents or citizens who earn an average of less than $564 per week (at 21 January, 2020 for a single person with no dependents). It entitles the holder to:
- Reduced pharmaceuticals (about $6 or more per script)
- Free ambulance cover
- Access to free dental care (though the waiting lists are a few years long)
- Free prescription lenses and frames (limited choices)
- Discounts to most alternative medical practices (as negotiated with the provider).
Have as much consensual, fun sex as you would like. Have a look here for more information about consent, or this video. The SRC will provide you with free condoms and lube. Check out how to use condoms correctly. If you are a sex worker contact the Sex Worker Outreach Project for safer sex supplies, information and support.
Alcohol and other drugs
It’s always cheaper to have some drinks at home than to go to a pub or club. It’s a good idea to think about the health and social implications of what you are doing. For information about alcohol and other drugs go to NSW Health. For free needles and a safe point of disposal go to Redfern Health Centre, 103 Redfern Street, Redfern or check for services in your local area. If you are accused of possession of illegal drugs, say nothing to the police until you speak to your solicitor. Call 9660 5222 to make an appointment with an SRC solicitor.
Types of transport
Walking is a great way of exercising and de-stressing, as well as saving money. Similarly, riding a bike is cheap and increasingly popular, as more and more of the dockless hire bikes come onto the market. If you own a bike it is a good idea to know how to reduce the risk of theft – http://bit.ly/36AUQAS. The City of Sydney offers information and courses on how to ride safely, and how to maintain your bike. You will also need to know the road rules.
Public transport can be expensive if you are not eligible for a transport concession (part time and international students). However, it is significantly less expensive than running your own car.
When traveling from place to place, always consider your safety. Sometimes it is good to splash out and take a taxi home.
Renting cars may be a better option than buying a car, if you do need one occasionally. There are a number of car share companies as well as hire companies to consider. There are many restrictions to those under 25 years old. As always, read your contracts very carefully – this may save you thousands of dollars.
You can receive Fares Allowance if you receive Youth Allowance or Austudy, and you have to live away from your permanent home for study. Centrelink will pay for the cheapest form of practicable public transport to and from your home, each semester, regardless of how you actually travel. You usually claim Fares Allowance after you have made the journey, so long as you submit your claim by 1st April together with your receipts. For more information go to http://bit.ly/2HtQArE.
The Union (USU) offers a large range of social activities that you can attend, many of which are free. Their Access Rewards Membership is $45 p.a. Calculate how much you would save on discounts to see if it is worth getting one. The Union also sells reduced cinema tickets. University Clubs and Societies can bring lots of benefits for small joining fees.
Trivia nights at various pubs in Sydney are also free to enter, and can have some great prizes. Festivals are a great part of Sydney life, with many offering free events. Contact your local newspaper or radio station to see if they will give you a free ticket to a band, or film, or a copy of a book, if you write a review.
Information updated on 12.05.20 (LIT)
Important Notice and Disclaimer: This information does not constitute legal advice. Seek qualified professional advice before making decisions about educational, financial, migration or legal matters. This information can change from time to time. Check for the most up to date information.