Student Guide to Living on Little Money

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If you are a full-time student, and an Australian resident, you may be eligible for a Centrelink payment. The amount you are paid depends on how old you are, where you live, and what your other incomes are. If you live away from your family home you may also get a Rent Assistance payment. Check the SRC Centrelink Payments information for more details. If you are a part-time student because of illness, disability, or uni requirements, you might also be eligible for a payment. If you have any questions, ask an SRC caseworker.

Scholarships and Bursaries

The University offers financial support through many different scholarships and bursaries. Usually these are only available to students who have not failed any subjects and fulfil other criteria. Check for the details, and if there is any chance you might be successful, you should apply. The Uni also provides 12 month interest free loans. It is a good idea to only take a loan if you are going to be able to repay it, as failure to do so will result in financial sanctions that will restrict your ability to use the library, see your grades, or even graduate. There are a few other community scholarships available through different charity and community organisations. The details of these change regularly, so search for more information before the beginning of each semester.


Joining your trade union will help you to have a stable work life. Unions will protect your work rights individually and collectively, and their fees are tax deductible. To join go to

Pay Day Loans

You may have seen advertisements on television 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, with fees that cost an equivalent of 45% to 50% interest. Some consolidation loans will put in a position of paying off the interest each month, without reducing the loan amount. The SRC strongly advises you against taking out one of these loans, and instead talk to a caseworker about viable alternatives.

Buy Now Pay Later

It is great to have interest free periods on loans, and partial payment schemes such as Afterpay, and Ezipay, 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.

Electricity and Gas Bills

If you are struggling to pay your energy bills, call your energy provider as soon as possible. They can offer a range of assistance, including payment extensions, payment plans, and hardship programs, as well as information about concessions, rebates, and other support. You may also be eligible for an Energy Accounts Payment Assistance voucher for a once off payment towards your bill. You can also reduce your “bill shock” by paying a small amount each week towards you bills.

Phone & internet

Pre-paid accounts allow you to monitor your usage and keep track of your weekly spending. Being locked into a contract can reduce the monthly price but might end up costing more in the long term if need to move house, or if a better deal becomes available. Free alternatives include using the University’s internet to make phone calls and send messages through apps like Facebook messenger, Wechat, and Whatsapp. Keep in mind that some free Wi-Fi providers, e.g., the Uni, cafes, and local councils, will use your private information for their own purposes or sell it on to third parties. Yes, the Uni tracks you when you use their Wi-Fi!


The SRC Legal Service may be able to help negotiate suitable repayments for debts. There are also telephone advice lines including the National Debt Help Line and the Gambling Help Line. If you are struggling with debt, we also recommend you meet with a Financial Counsellor to provide confidential assistance in managing and resolving debt. Be very cautious to use the services of a debt consolidation agency. Often the interest rates mean that you will never repay your debts and can lead to bankruptcy.


There are many different ideas on how to budget: make a spreadsheet to know how much to spend on each thing; give yourself pocket money; or pay a little bit on each bill each week. Whatever works for you is the best one for you to consider. For more ideas go to ASIC’s MoneySmart page.


  • There are a few free and affordable meal providers listed on the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre website (under Meals and Food Services), or go to AskIzzy to find out what is available in your area.
  • 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 (board game), while they provide the dinner. Bring take away containers for leftovers.
  • The Uni has microwaves you can use, which will save you from the expense of buying food on campus.
  • 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”).


Finding a home

Cheap housing in Sydney is extremely rare to find. There are many scams around that 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, and carefully read the contract before signing it, paying particular attention to fees for moving out early. If you are not sure about the contract, ask an SRC Caseworker to read it for you before you sign. Get receipts for all money paid, even if it is an electronic transfer, and email a photo of them to yourself, so that you have timestamped evidence whenever you need it. The SRC has an Accommodation Guide with more hints and tips about accommodation, including getting help with your bond, and taking precautions when dealing with your landlord. Furniture 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 their council clean up days to see what they are putting out for disposal.

Doctors / General Practitioners (GP)

The University Health Service (Wentworth Building) provides bulk billing for domestic students and direct billing for Allianz OSHC. There is usually no additional ‘gap fee’ for other insurance holders. Some other doctors’ surgeries will not charge a gap fee, especially for full time students, so always check when making a booking.


The University has a free Counselling Service that provides a limited number of appointments to help you with strategies to support your wellbeing. Longer term mental health care can be through private psychologists. Often appointments are very expensive, so find out about the subsidy available through a mental health plan (domestic students), or your OSHC provider (international students). There are a few services that will bulk bill or charge no or a small gap fee, for example, Uplift Psychological Services, or eHeadSpace. You could also contact psychologists in your local area and ask if they can discount their fee. There is a Psychology Clinic linked to the School of Psychology, who can provide counselling and may also do testing for conditions including ADHD, for a fee. Ask them for details.


There are very limited options for free dental treatments through Medicare. 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. The cheapest way to have good oral health is to take as many preventative measures as possible, including regular professional cleaning and check ups as well as a daily brushing and flossing routine.


Whether you or someone else calls an ambulance when you are sick or injured, you may be liable for the cost, starting at around $750. Health Care Card Holders are given free ambulance cover in NSW, and private health insurance provides ambulance cover from $45 per year.

Other allied health services

For cheap or free services, 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, and massage. Contact the faculty or TAFE offering these courses and ask them for clinic hours and fees.

Health Care Card

Anyone who is on JobSeeker or a pension from Centrelink is eligible to get a Health Care Card. Health Care Cards are available to most students on a Centrelink payment, or Australian citizens (or PR) who earn an average of less than $680 per week (single person with no dependents, as at 1st July 2022). 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 some alternative medical practices (as negotiated with the provider).


Sexual Health

Have as much consensual, safe sex as you would like. The SRC can provide you with free condoms and lube, as can various sexual health providers and family planning clinics. Take the time to learn 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. NSW Health offers comprehensive information on many different types of alcohol and other drugs. For free needles and a safe point of disposal check the NSW Needle and Syringe Program. If you are accused of possession of illegal drugs, say nothing to the Police until you speak to a solicitor.


Riding a bike is cheap but reduce the risk of theft by getting an effective bike lock and learning how to attach it properly. The City of Sydney offers information and courses on how to ride safely, and how to maintain your bike. Public transport can be expensive if you are not eligible for a transport concession, 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 or ride share home. Renting a car may be a better option than buying a car, if you do need one occasionally. There are car share companies as well as hire companies to consider. Read their contracts very carefully, as their excess fees and other costs can be exorbitant.

Fares Allowance

You may be eligible for Fares Allowance if you receive a Centrelink payment, 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.


The Union (USU) offers a large range of social activities that you can attend, that are either cheap or free. They also have an Access Rewards Membership for a small cost, that will give you a range of discounts and benefits. 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. Some pubs also have raffles or membership “badge” competitions free to people in the pub at a particular time.

Contact a Caseworker

If you need more advice about your specific situation, contact an SRC Caseworker by completing the contact form (below)



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.

Information updated on 02/03/23

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