How many times have we complained to our friends and family “I am SO broke!”?
My bet is more than any of us could count!
As a third year uni student I’ve faced my fair share of money troubles, but why is it that students seem to be struggling so much? Surely as young people aspiring to a career in a variety of work places we should have the basic funds for shelter, food, tuition and social time.
So why do we always find ourselves digging into our savings and struggling to make ends meet?
Join me as I explore the woes of the poor student from a personal perspective.
Let’s start at the beginning. Where do our funds come from? For a lot of students, working casual or part time jobs is something we’re all expected to fit in. But with a full course load at uni, unless we work ourselves to the point of exhaustion, we just can’t seem to earn enough to cover living expenses such as rent, food, uni supplies and transport.
Some of us are lucky to get help from Centrelink and can apply for Youth Allowance and/or Rental Assistance. For myself, Youth Allowance was a saving grace when I had to move out of home to study. But this is not the case for many students.
Centrelink has an income threshold that young people’s parents have to meet so their child can qualify for Youth Allowance. The idea of this is to prove that a person really is in need of assistance, and aren’t already benefiting from their parents’ wealth.
The downside to this is that not everyone is being helped out by their parents.
My own housemate had parents who earned just over the threshold, and this made it extremely difficult for her to get Centrelink assistance despite the fact her parents weren’t giving her a cent and everything she owned (car, phone, personal belongings) she had worked for in a casual waitressing position since she was 15.
It took her a long time to prove her independence from her parents and eventually receive Youth Allowance.
In the mean time she had to rely on her savings and driving back home to Ballarat from Geelong each weekend for work.
The next question is, where is our money going? Are we just bad at budgeting or has the cost of living become higher?
When I moved to Geelong at 19 to start university I had the benefit of already receiving Youth Allowance and successfully applied for Rent Assistance, so my rent was covered.
But I was paying $280 a fortnight for a tiny two-bedroom unit that had a dodgy paint job, no backyard to speak of and an ancient gas hot water service that liked to turn off every time we showered.
We also had a weird neighbour who liked to potter around the small patch of grass at the front of the house when they thought we weren’t home but that’s another story.
On top of this we had food expenses of about $50 a week (lots of chicken and salad. Lots of chicken and salad) as well as things like shampoo, makeup and cleaning products.
We also both drove back to Ballarat on weekends to work, which used about half a tank of petrol, and drove to uni each week. We also had our house, car and phone bills to pay.
By the end of a week I was looking at a cost of around $300+, and my income was about the same.
Some people like to jump on the bandwagon here and say “ah, Christie, but you’re a young person, how much of your income goes on alcohol and partying?” But I am here to tell you the answer is pretty much none! Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that, while our fellow youngins are out on a Saturday night, I am at home fast asleep.
I survived living out of home by not always buying the essentials and living at my parents’ house on weekends.
By the end of my first year at uni, I realised it would be more efficient for me to live at home in Ballarat and do the hour and a half commute a few times a week. But that also meant I lost my independence and the skills you need to live away from home, something extremely important to me as living out of home had greatly decreased the anxiety I had suffered from for years previously.
So is housing the reason young people are struggling? The SGS Economics’ Rental Affordability Index considers people spending over 30% of their income on rent are in housing stress, a bracket I and I’m sure many are well and truly in.
Before moving into a private rental in Geelong, I considered living on student residence. The cheapest accommodation Deakin supplies is $221 per week.
That is $81 more expensive than my $140 per week private rental, which I already thought was expensive. It also means the annual board for a student would come to $11,492.
The Index found in its recent rental affordability report that the average annual income of a student is $25,100. So any student on residence is automatically in housing stress. Housing for me, and seemingly for many other students, appears to be one of the key factor in money struggles.
From personal experience, there is no easy way to being a student living away from home. Having access to cheaper accommodation would certainly take off the huge burden of simple living expenses, but this doesn’t look like it will come from universities or the government anytime soon.
So hang in there my buddies! It looks like we’ll be doing it tough for a while yet!