Bank Balance Confessions: The 21-Year-Old Student On A Centrelink Budget

Here at The Cusp, we believe that talking about money empowers us to make more informed choices – and that tracking your spending can be revelatory. Here’s the latest instalment in our series exploring the income and expenditure of young Australians. Want to get better with money? We can help you there, too.

Like most people on Centrelink, my monthly expenses and day-to-day spending operate on the same fortnightly cycle as my Youth Allowance payments. A whopping $575 drops into my account every second Tuesday and, to make my finances as straightforward as possible, I divide this money up and budget for around $288 each week between payments.

As it would be almost impossible to live independently as a student in any major Australian city on that weekly income alone, I also have a casual retail job and work as a freelance writer to keep cash coming in while I’m studying. In a normal month, this will earn me approximately $1,060. Add two fortnightly Centrelink payments and my total monthly income is $2,210.

The number of shifts and amount of freelance work I get each month varies, usually only slightly, but when you’re operating on a such a tight budget to begin with, it’s essential for me to look ahead and work out just how much money I’ll have each week and where that money needs to go. Centrelink is my only stable source of income and it’s also where the bulk of my money comes from.

My weekly budget is currently $550. All my work has been fairly consistent recently and, while I have around five different paydays each month – which is not only confusing but also requires a whole lot of organisation – I’m able to allocate my money with the knowledge of what is coming in and when to expect it.

This means my expenses are almost exactly the same each week:

  • $250 goes to a separate rent account
  • $50 goes to another account for utilities
  • $25 is deposited to the same account for my monthly phone bill
  • $20 is automatically put onto my public transport card. This is the only way I travel and, on concession fares, it’s super cheap for a week of commuting.

Another $50 goes into a separate savings account (with a different bank and a different card, for self-control purposes) each week, which has a current balance of $6,800. While I like to think my $50 a week has contributed substantially to this number, it’s almost wholly what I have left over from various Centrelink grants I’ve received over the last three years of my degree.

This money isn’t necessary ‘savings’ but acts more as an emergency fund for the things I haven’t budgeted for each week. There have been months I’ve been short on rent, times I’ve had to book flights home to visit family, and general life things that have been unforeseen expenditures.

After my usual expenses, I have $205 left over for the week.


$2.05 – Tram fare into the city to go to the local farmer’s market.

$40.30 – Groceries for the week. My boyfriend and I live together and split everything squarely down the middle, so this was my half of an $80 shop.

$3 – Coffee. This is unusually cheap for inner-city Melbourne, but I go to the café opposite my work and they give me a discount.

$2.05 – Tram fare home. You only need to touch on and pay once within a two-hour period with Myki and we were running 15 minutes behind schedule.

= $47.40


$8.90 – We had a quiet day at home but I discovered after dinner that we’d run out of ice-cream. We live alluringly close to a service station and couldn’t help ourselves. My boyfriend got them last time (this happens more than I like to admit) so it was my turn.

= $8.90


$5.99 – my Spotify Premium subscription is direct debited. I am eternally grateful for student discounts.

$4.50 – I’m on uni holidays and am working from home today, but I got a good grade back for a uni exam so I went out for a coffee to celebrate. I will find any excuse.

= $10.49


$10.50 – my Frankie Magazine subscription is direct debited. This is a luxury I probably can’t afford each month but nothing beats the joy of getting home to a fresh new mag.

$0 – I’m working from home again today. I cook my own lunch, avoid online shopping, and drink instant coffee to my heart’s content.

$6 – I went out for a night with friends. I don’t drink but I bought some fries to share.

= $16.50 


$19.80 – I meet a friend for lunch and get a coffee and a smashed avocado. This is definitely why I can’t afford a house. When will I learn!!??

$23.39 – I go to the supermarket on my way home and buy tortillas, lettuce, two tomatoes, a loaf of bread, washing powder, and restock the ice-cream stash. This was a last-minute decision to have wraps for dinner even though I have plenty of food at home.

$40.17 – I stop by the post office to send some photos to my dad in the UK. This seemed like a good idea when they cost me $6 to print last week, but it never ceases to surprise me how expensive it is to post things internationally.

$2.05 – I catch the tram the short distance home because it’s late and I’m tired of walking.

= $85.41


$2.05 – Tram fare to work.

$3 – Coffee. It’s from the café opposite my shop and therefore discounted, which is all the justification I need at 8am.

$3.50 – I buy a pastry for breakfast because we’re right next door to a bakery and I have absolutely no self-control.

$3 – Another coffee. Discounted. I’m running out of ways to excuse this habit.

$2.05 – Tram fare home.

= $13.60


$2.05 – Tram fare to work.

$8 – Soup and salad. I brought my own breakfast and coffee to work this morning but forgot the lunch I prepacked last night.

$3 – Afternoon coffee. No excuse.

$2.05 – Tram fare home.

= $15.10

Total Weekly Spend: $197.40

This was a pretty average week of spending for me. As a uni student, I’m used to having to meticulously budget my life, but I try to have enough left over to see friends and indulge my coffee addiction. I didn’t eat out as much as I usually would, largely due to being on uni holidays, working from home, and a lot of my friends going away this time of year, but the expensive trip to the post office probably made up for that.

Open a Westpac Choice account for students or youth online by 29 March. Deposit $250 within 45 days of opening the account to receive $50 from Westpac.

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