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Budget Planning for Students: The University Student Budgeting Guide

June 5th, 2019

For a student in Australia, the estimated annual cost of living, including accommodation, food, bills and clothing, is approximately $18,610 Australian dollars. This cost of living is quite high when you consider students’ low income, making it difficult for them to manage their finances.

This amount will vary depending on whether you’re a domestic or international student, as international students will also have to budget for phone calls to their country of origin and flight costs for going home to visit family. Australia is actually the most expensive country in the world for overseas students, with their average costs for university fees and living expenses totalling in excess of $38,000 per year.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do as a student to limit your expenditure and ensure you can manage your finances effectively. This will reduce your chances of having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet (or rely on the bank of Mum and Dad!).

Read on to find out how to budget effectively for food and textbooks, and take advantage of all the student discounts available to you.

Purchasing your textbooks on a budget

University textbooks in Australia are extremely expensive. If you’re studying maths, science or economics, you can expect to spend $300 to $800 per semester on your textbooks. Nursing students can spend up to $2000 each semester, and law students can spend up to $165 on a single textbook.

Universities Australia released data estimating that the average full-time student spends around $602 a year on textbooks, making it a massive cost associated with attending university that’s beyond the actual fees for each semester.

But why are textbooks in Australia so expensive? Booksellers are unable to import overseas copies of textbooks if they’ve already been published in Australia, meaning that local publishers are basically free to set the price at whatever they want it to be.

So, with all this in mind, where can cheap (or at least, cheaper) textbooks be found?

Buy your textbooks second-hand

One option is to buy your textbooks second-hand. However, keep in mind that this doesn’t always work, especially if a new edition of a textbook has been specifically assigned for the course. If you buy an outdated textbook, then you may be learning old information and will have difficulty trying to find the right pages from your course material.

Keep an eye out for people selling textbooks that are assigned to your courses for the next semester, as people will often try to sell them as the semester draws to a close. Your university may have a Facebook group for swapping textbooks, or a campus noticeboard dedicated to it. Your university library may even host secondhand textbook selling days or have a stand at certain times of the year.

Shop around and do your research

Sometimes you can find a cheaper version of the textbook you need with a little bit of research and shopping around. Use websites like Booko to compare the prices of textbooks from Australian and overseas online bookstores. Although it can be more convenient to buy everything at your campus bookstore, online shopping may be significantly cheaper.

Rent your textbooks

Textbook rental is also a great option for managing the cost of your university material. Sites like Zookal, The Campus Bookstore and Jekkle all allow you to split the cost of textbooks with other students over time, however you need to remember to not take notes on the books, and you must keep them in the best possible condition.

Finding student meals on a budget

When you’re on a budget, it’s the little savings here and there that really make a difference in the long run. For example, with food it’s easy to spend upwards of $50 a week on coffee, snacks, bottled drinks, etc. But with a little bit of planning and preparation, you can eat in a way that’s great for your wallet (and your waistline!).

Cooking cheap recipes at home

The best way to eat cheaply is to cook at home. Do a little bit of research online and you’ll come across hundreds of websites with fantastic ideas for delicious recipes that will keep you full and keep cash in your wallet (or bank account).

Save money when buying your ingredients

There are many ways that you can save money when doing your weekly grocery shop. Some of these include:

  • Signing up to supermarket rewards programs
  • Planning your weekly meal plan around ingredients that are in season and/or on sale
  • Make a list of ingredients you’re going to buy and then stick to it
  • Don’t shop when hungry or with a friend, to help limit impulse buys
  • Avoid recipes that need special or expensive ingredients
  • Look for cheaper produce and meats
  • Go vegetarian or vegan for a few meals a week.

Make a strict food budget

Making a food budget and sticking to it is a great way to keep yourself accountable and keep track of your spending. It may take a few weeks of trial and error, but see how cheaply you can do your weekly shop and then set this as your benchmark for every week.

For example, you might experiment with different recipes or cooking big batches of food that allow you to keep your food budget to $70 per week. You should also obviously try to limit takeaways or eating out if you want to stick to your budget, as those Chinese noodles can really add up.

Taking advantage of student discounts

First of all, do you classify as a student?

Before you start trying to take advantage of the many student and concession rates that are available to full-time students, it pays (literally) to be aware of where and when you may (or may not) be considered a student.

Students that are studying full-time at universities in another state sometimes have to pay full adult price fares when catching public transport – for example, in NSW. This is because, under NSW Transport Guidelines, a student that is studying full-time at a university in New South Wales is eligible for discounted travel, however they must reside in New South Wales to receive these benefits.

This same rule also applies in nearly every other state and territory (besides the Northern Territory), meaning that students can only receive discounted public transport rates if they live in that state. This can make it tricky for students who have their residential address in a state other than the one they study in, so be sure to take this into account when budgeting.

Some awesome student discounts you might not know about

Student discounts for clothes

  • The Iconic  – Great clothes from a plethora of different brands. The clothes are already priced fairly cheaply, however The Iconic has frequent student discounts available.
  • ASOS – Similar to The Iconic, ASOS also has a fantastic student discount section.
  • Missguided – This one is for the ladies! If you register online with Missguided, they’ll often roll out 40 to 50 percent student discounts. They also have really affordable shipping and delivery options.

Student discounts for travel

  • Student Flights – This company is expert at finding affordable travel for students. With a knack for finding low airfares and booking students on the cheapest and best holiday tours around the globe, you should definitely have a browse of their website the next time you’re thinking of heading overseas and want to save some big bucks.
  • Expedia, Webjet and Skyscanner – These websites don’t necessarily offer student discounts, but they’re one of the best for quickly and easily trawling the internet for the cheapest flights, especially if you’re wanting to book a quick uni break at short notice!
  • Intrepid and Contiki – These classic tour companies are geared towards helping young people have the times of their lives on affordably-priced tours. Offering many sales throughout the year, their travel packages are already at discounted prices. So, whether you’re sailing around the Greek Islands or partying it up in Portugal, you might be able to do it cheaper than it’s ever been done before!

Student discounts for technology

  • Apple – Whether it’s time for a Macbook upgrade or a new iPhone, Apple sometimes has great deals on their products. However, they usually won’t offer them on their website. Instead, you’ll need to do a little bit of Google research to find a reliable third-party retailers.
  • Microsoft – If you’re more in the Microsoft party, Microsoft sometimes have great discounts on their products for students (usually sitting around the 10% mark – but hey, every little bit counts!).
  • JB Hi-Fi – This store is usually already pretty affordable, meaning you can pick up games, DVDs and laptops that are lighter on the wallet. Keep an eye on their website for student deals, although these only surface every so often.
  • Spotify – The Spotify student discount is a serious advantage for when you need those late-night classical music study tunes to get you through the night ahead. You can say goodbye to the ads (and using loads of data downloading music) with Spotify Premium’s student discount fee.

Making the most of the web for student discounts

A great way to easily organise and access a whole bunch of student discounts (because we know it can get overwhelming sometimes) is to use the websites that consolidate them all in one place.

  • Student Edge is great for discounts on products and services like Woolworths, UberEats, Spotify and Fitness First. They also offer 40% off Lenovo products, so if you’re in the market for a brand new laptop or tablet, this is the place to be!
  • UniDays is especially great for clothing. If your wardrobe needs a little bit of an overhaul (or we’re coming into a new season and you’ve realised all your jeans have holes in them… and not in the cool way) then sign up to UniDays and start using your membership when shopping online. UniDays also offers some great student discounts for booking travel packages.
  • Although it’s not especially aimed towards students, Groupon is a great way to save some serious bucks when it comes to doing fun stuff on weekends (often at discounts of up to 70% off). As well as their famous travel packages, Groupon offer deals on massages, eating out, entertainment and activities, as well as goods like linen and beauty products. You can search in your area with the map function or have cheap goods delivered to your door. Easy as!

Living on a student budget doesn’t have to be hard

Although it may not be particularly fun, life as a student is a lot easier when you have control of your finances. By controlling any impulse purchasing, planning your meals, shopping around for the best deals on technology and getting a little thrifty when it comes to sourcing your textbooks, you can remain financially sound throughout your time at university.

Because between having a part-time job, studying, assignments, exams, lectures, tutorials and hanging out with friends, who has the time to worry about money? Take a little time to plan and set a budget at the beginning of the semester and you’ll be putting yourself in good stead to not have to break the bank throughout the year.

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