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Copyright@ Australian Catholic University 1998-2024 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G

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10 ways to manage your money at uni

Going to university will add to your life in so many ways. It’ll expand your knowledge and your horizons, increase your friendship and career networks, and grow your job prospects – not to mention your overall net worth. 

A report commissioned by Universities Australia in 2020 shows university graduates are more likely to out-earn their non-tertiary educated peers by $142,000 after tax long-term. They also have much better chances of finding a skilled job and keeping it for longer, according to a 2021 OECD report – a major bonus in an increasingly insecure job market. 

That said, a degree is a commitment in the short term – and you’ll need to cover tuition costs as well as other expenses such as textbooks, materials and equipment, and living costs.

So how best to manage the costs of your studies? We look at ways to get a financial leg up, manage your cash and make smart decisions before you start your career.  

Check what financial support is available

Your student income often depends on your study load, how much support you’ll receive from your family, your paid work options, availability of scholarships, and your eligibility for government allowances such as Youth Allowance, Austudy or Abstudy. To find out if you’re eligible for assistance from the Australian Government or your home government, visit StudyAssist’s support while you study and financing your studies on the ACU website. 

Student looking at her phone

Apply for scholarships

Receiving a full or partial scholarship to uni can be a huge financial help. At ACU, we offer more than 700 scholarship opportunities to help students from a range of backgrounds – from those who are active in their communities, to those with big plans to change the world, to those experiencing financial disadvantage or financial hardship who want to overcome the odds. We have scholarships that cover your tuition fees as well as others that help pay for things such as your accommodation, course materials and even relocation costs if you’re moving from a regional or remote area or interstate to study with us. 

Search our scholarship browser to find those that you’re eligible for and meet your needs – and apply for all of them.

Create a budget

Budgets get a bad rap but, boring or not, they’re essential for planning and managing your expenses. And according to ACU’s National Manager, Student Accommodation Simone Gallo, you don’t need to be a financial whiz to get started. 

“Creating a budget helps you prioritise spending on your essentials and gives you a clear picture of how much money you have for fun activities each month,” Gallo said. “Many apps can be helpful to plan your spending, but you can use a basic table to get started. Work out exactly how much money you have coming in and then start to list out your expected expenses, such as fees, accommodation, study supplies, food and transportation. Whatever is left over at the end becomes your fun money.” 

If you’ve never drawn up a budget, check out the unbiased advice on how to do a budget at Moneysmart. It can help to track your spending first so your budget has realistic figures. If you’re an overseas student, review the average education and living costs in Australia or use the cost-of-living calculator at Insider Guides

Once you have a budget, make it easier to stick to by automating where your money goes. Create separate bank accounts for day-to-day spending, saving, paying back any debt and splurging, for example, then set up automatic transfers between each to ensure you cover essential expenses first. The Barefoot Investor has practical, unbiased advice. Here’s an explainer of his ‘bucket’ system.  

Get a casual or part-time job

Working while you’re at university is a rite of passage. Whether it’s serving coffees, pulling pints or working as a junior in your field of study, landing a casual or part-time job can be a great way to supplement your funds. As a uni student, you’ll want to find employment that’s flexible enough for you to attend classes and manage your study load. While it can be tempting to ask for as many shifts as possible when you see your bank balance grow, remember that your degree is an investment in your future. You don’t want to be too tired to learn what you need to know for your future career.

Workers at a cafe

ACU’s Student Jobs on Campus program is a great way for current ACU students to earn from $35.93 an hour on campus while gaining professional experience. Jobs include stacking shelves at the ACU library, instructing at the gym, assisting with academic research and more. 

To help you find casual or part-time work, ACU’s Careers and Employability team offers a range of resources, from how to write a winning resume to how to prepare for an interview. You can even do a series of mock interviews online so you can learn and practise your interview skills.

Consider where you live

Will you be moving out of home or relocating to study? Accommodation can be pricey, period, so it pays to factor in all the costs involved – from rent to utility bills to transport costs to time spent commuting – to work out which option is best for you. 

“When looking for student-friendly accommodation, you should understand that the closer to campus and the more support offered, the higher the price might be per week,” said Gallo. “But the additional cost of staying in ACU student accommodation, for example, could be offset by all the inclusions offered plus saving in transport costs. It’s especially worth considering in your first year until you find your feet in a new city.”

If you’re renting privately, look to have housemates where possible and, if a landlord wants to increase your rent, seek to negotiate. Contact the ACU Rental Advisory Service if you need help finding safe, private rental accommodation to best suit your needs. Student accommodation scholarships are also available to assist with the cost of living away from home.

Take advantage of discounts

Every dollar you can save helps as a university student – so shop smartly. Start by finding cheaper options for your everyday staples, such as shopping at the local produce market instead of the supermarket. Your student card is also your ticket to discounts everywhere from clothing stores to cinemas to hairdressers to gyms, so find out where you can use it to save a few bucks. ACU’s free online student discount program, ACUXtra, offers hundreds of discounts to help you stretch your budget and save on everyday items. And many pubs and restaurants run ‘uni nights’ or offer discounted meal specials if you flash your student card. 

Cook at home

Eating out is expensive and an easy way to cut costs is to cook most meals at home. Cooking from scratch with in-season fruit and vegetables, lentils, beans and cheap cuts of meat won’t just save you money, it’s often better for your health than eating out. Instead of cooking one meal at a time, try cooking in bulk and taking leftovers to uni for lunch the next day or freezing individual portions to reheat at times when you’re too busy to cook. 

Students cooking a sharehouse

Shop second-hand goods

Buying your clothes and household goods from second-hand stores or online marketplaces is good for your pocket and the planet. Yes, you can buy what you need through a cheap retailer instead, but the quality tends to match the price. Buying preloved items may take a bit of sifting through the racks, but you’ll find better quality for your buck – and you will also contribute to the circular economy, preventing perfectly good items from going to landfill.

Don’t go it alone in an emergency

If you do experience unexpected financial hardship once you start uni, you are not alone. Seek the assistance of a free financial counsellor. They’ll help you work through the situation and help you negotiate with your landlord, utility companies and other creditors around debt relief. There are organisations and government agencies that can help you in an emergency with food, housing and bills, as well as emotional support. For more, read urgent help with money at Moneysmart. 

Stay in touch with your lecturers and course coordinators and communicate clearly with them if your money worries are affecting your studies. ACU also has a range of student services to support you through your degree, and you may want to speak with a counsellor if financial stress starts to affect your mental health.

Get financially literate before you graduate

Following the steps above will help you strengthen your money-savvy muscle while you’re at uni. And if you want to develop your financial literacy further, ACU’s Careers and Employability team has resources to help you understand the financial basics you’ll need to know when you start graduate employment, such as superannuation, tax and workplace conditions. You can also browse independent, unbiased resources at Moneysmart, listen to podcasts such as ACU alumna Victoria Devine’s She’s On The Money, or check out books like independent financial counsellor Scott Pape’s The Barefoot Investor.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is general in nature and does not constitute professional advice. Consider seeking independent financial advice for your personal circumstances.

Dreaming of uni life? Find out more about studying at ACU.

Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright@ Australian Catholic University 1998-2024 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G