Friday, September 27, 2019

Living on a Budget

In a Facebook group for Filipino students in Australia (and those planning to come on student visa), a common question asked is how much money do I need per week? A variant usually goes like will I survive on the 20-hour work per week? I got tired of responding to the same questions, so I decided to write this brief. If you are among those asking how much you will need to budget to live in Australia on student visa, this is your starting point. Read and be informed.


The information I will be providing here is based on very conservative estimates. You be the judge if these will suit you. You can certainly make adjustments, but that will mean the costs may (and certainly will) go up.


Here are the assumptions I made to come up with the lowest budget (you'll eat three times a day, but don't self-pity, okay?)

First, you will already have your plates, spoon, fork, cup and other eating utensils. You will also already have your cooking utensils, such as a turner for frying egg, and a $20 investment on the cheapest rice cooker. You accommodation should also have a stove, usually shared accommodation would have them (otherwise it will be additional one-time expense). Generally, gas cooking is free, you get charged for electric cooking (mahal ang kuryente!)

Second, a typical breakfast (actually, following these estimates, that will be your DAILY breakfast) will consist of two fried eggs from the cheapest 700g one-dozen pack caged variety you can find, plus 100g of rice (that is the average rice consumption in the Philippines per person). To save on costs, you must buy the 10kg (or the 5kg) pack, the cheapest find you can get. (TIP: every week, grocery chains Woolworth and Coles will have items on 50% discount. In my almost 10 years in Australia, I have not bought rice full price. I always buy the 50% off at sufficient quantity to last until the next 50% off is on).

Third, since you will be out and about at lunch, and you will have not time to cook something, a sandwich will be your typical fare. For $5, you can have a sandwich from Woolworth. It can be cheaper if you get a $2 burger from Hungry Jacks. Whatever. Lunch is $5. You can buy instant noodles, instant rice meals, instant pasta, for that amount. You will need a microwave oven though if you plan to go that way. Otherwise, sandwich it is. 
Every week, grocery chains Coles and Woolworths have items on sale, usually 50% off shelf price. You can stock up on basic necessities so you don't have to pay for full price.

Fourth, dinner will be pasta. You can easily find a $3 pasta and a $3 pasta sauce which will last you two meals. Add a can of tuna for $2, you are set. Alternatively, you can visit a mall or shop just before closing, they will usually sell their take away food for $5. That will cover your dinner.

With the foregoing as your typical day, you can add accommodation costs. For a shared room, you can start from $150 per week. That's $600 per month. Let's hope that your $150 per week is all inclusive of electricity + water and if you are lucky, WiFi too. I did not factor them in here, so make the adjustments in case your accommodation is not as I described.

For a $150 accommodation, expect to spend on transportation. Walking might not be an option (although walking will be part of your daily commute). Spending $15 on train, tram, bus or ferry per day is not uncommon, so in a month your transportation costs will be $450.


With the assumptions above, you will need at least $1,350 per month. Prospective students and just the kibitzers will ask, can I survive on work while on student visa? Remember that you will have to consider the following:

First, while on student visa, you can only work 40 hours every two weeks, or 20 hours per week. At that rate, you can earn at most $1,600. That is assuming that you are able to work all the 20 hours per week, every week. In a month, you will have worked 80 hours, and at the rate of $20 per hour more or less, you will earn $20 x 80 = $1,600. The $20 per hour is just an estimate, you can find out the minimum wage, award rates and other rights (yes, even workers on international visa have rights, read about them and do not get exploited by dodgy business and persons) at the Fair Work Ombudsman website:

Click here for the Minimum Wage

Click here for your Rights as Working International Student

Second, while the first may sound optimistic (look, you have some extra cash $250 per month) and not to dampen your optimism, you have to be realistic. There is a very good chance that you cannot find work immediately upon arrival. If it is your first time abroad and away from the comforts of home, there will be some adjustment period and it can be tough. Even if you have full working rights, it would be prudent to assume that you will not be able to find work in the next 3 to 6 months. Some are lucky and can find work in the first week, but some could not find work even after 6 months. So keep that in mind and consider the possibilities. I guess what I am saying is that you should not rely solely on income from working while on student visa to support yourself fully. It can be done, but at a cost.

What about cash on hand?

Cash on hand is wage paid to you without going through the tax system. It is illegal. It is unlawful. DO NOT consider it. It will bring you trouble and could jeopardise your chances here. It can get you deported. It can put you on exclusion from Australia. Cash on hand will also be supporting dodgy businesses, cheaters who exploit people and the system.

So, can you survive as working student? Probably. It can be done, it has been done. But it will be very difficult.


One does not live on eggs and rice alone. (Well, my daughter used to, eggs and rice being comfort food). The example above is merely for purposes of illustration. You can of course vary the menu. Canned goods can be your friend. Corned beef and Spam will cost less than $5. As you get settled, you can get better at budgeting. Aside from pork and beef, lamb is popular in Australia. Sausages too. And salad. Veggies. Be creative. Make your own menu. You can estimate the costs by having a look at current prices. The following websites are popular grocery chains:

That will give you an idea of how much food costs.

Next, you may want to look up accommodation options. You may find help from Filipino groups on social media. Otherwise, checkout the following:

Flatmates (Shared Accommodation)
Booking (Temporary Stay - Use this link to get $25 back off your first booking)
AirBnB (Temporary Stay - Use this link to get up to $76 off your first booking)
Domain and RealEstate (Long-term Accommodation Rental)

Goodluck. Remember, bawal ang tamad. Do some research, make some tentative plans. Ask if you need help, but do not wait to be spoon-fed. People who help may get tired helping.