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There are many upsides to being a student — mid-week sleep-ins and long summer holidays among them. But if you’re trying to manage a loaded class schedule, student income can be a major downside.
Tertiary study can be expensive, and it’s not only tuition costs you need to worry about. Textbooks and study materials can take a big bite out of your budget. While some humanities subjects may only require a photocopied reader that you can get for $30 at the campus bookshop, some health, science and technology textbooks can cost hundreds.
Students studying fine arts and other hands-on courses will also need specialised equipment and supplies. Some courses also offer overseas study tours, which are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but also a costly one.
Unless you’re living within walking distance, you’ll also have to pay for transport to and from campus, which may include public transport tickets, fuel and parking permits. If you’re moving out of home, you’ll also need to think about expenses such as rent, utilities and groceries, which can vary substantially, especially between states and territories (see Study destinations for details).
Income versus expenses
Living on a student income comes down to planning, preparation and willingness to cut back on some of the extras. The first step is to balance your income against your expenses.
Your income often depends on the following:
- study load (how many contact hours you have and whether you study on a full-time or part-time basis)
- parental support
- paid work options (including your wage and other entitlements, such as penalty rates)
- the availability of scholarships
- eligibility for government allowances, such as Youth Allowance or Austudy.
When considering your income and how best to manage it, you should consider your expenses and divide these into ‘essentials’ and ‘non-essentials’. For example, paying rent is an essential expense while blowing your income on Saturday afternoon shopping expeditions is not.
Expenses generally include:
- study-related costs such as tuition fees, textbooks, computers and course materials
- living costs such as accommodation, transport, food, clothing and entertainment
The study-related costs catch out many students who are simply not prepared when a new semester rolls around. When you receive your booklist, get in touch with the subject coordinator to see which materials (textbooks, especially) can safely be purchased second hand and whether there is a distinction between compulsory and recommended texts.
How to cope
Living on a student income isn’t hugely difficult — so long as you exercise a little self-restraint and learn to keep to a budget. Keep the following tips in mind and you’ll find the next few years a little easier to manage.
Track your expenses against your available finances
To make keeping to a budget easier, work out your major expenses in each calendar month (rent and bills, for example) and what portion of your monthly income is needed to cover these. Budgeting is particularly helpful if you have an unexpected expense, such as car repair, or if you have to factor in a number of expenses in a particular month.
Prepare meals at home
When you’re trying to save, try to remember that even the little things (like a daily latté) add up very quickly. Once you add lunch and a pre-lecture snack into the equation, you’ll find that you’re spending a good portion of your wages on non-essentials. If you commit to taking your own lunch to classes (whether you make a sandwich or snap up dinner leftovers), you could find yourself saving upwards of $40–50 each week. You can even pre-make and freeze meals to eat throughout the week, which will save you both time and money. When you do go out for lunch or dinner, look for cheaper options — splitting a pizza or dumpling dish with a friend are both good examples.
Take advantage of discounts
No matter what your budget, a little bit of smart shopping can go a long way. You can just start by scoping out some cheaper options in your area (you might find that the local veggie market has better prices than the supermarket). You’ll also find that one of the many upsides to being a student is the ability to whip out your student card and save a dollar or two, so look out for student discounts wherever you go — from clothing stores and cinemas to gyms, pools and hair salons. Pubs and restaurants, particularly those close to major university campuses, tend to run ‘uni nights’ throughout the week or offer discounted lunch and dinner specials if you present your student card.
See Student services for details of your financial assistance options that may be on offer at your institution.