Bare necessities, those simple bare necessities!
It’s really all you need at the end of the day, right?
Society, life, cravings, and all that jazz make you want more and more, though. Nothing is ever enough. We always want more!
Well, 2016 was the year of saying NO to many of those pressures and nagging thoughts of getting more. It wasn’t the easiest, but it was SO WORTH IT. Garrett and I knew if we could knuckle down and save while working in Australia, we could save a pretty penny! And we did, we saved a lot!
Garrett and I split everything and kept track of all our expenses. The following is all for ONE person and shown in USD and AUD.
If you’re solo, this will still work out for you. Solo travelers can find cheaper places to rent, but we wanted some privacy and not several roommates. There were MUCH cheaper places to rent for solo people when we were apartment hunting in Australia.
The conversion at the time of writing is: 1 AUD = .72 USD / .69 Euro / .58 GBP
*Update* the conversion in May 2020 is: 1 AUD = .65 USD / .60 Euro / .53 GBP
Here’s a breakdown of life stuff and the cost associated with them. I broke down everything I could think of, tips you can use to do the same, and explained how we managed to keep everything under $750 USD ($1000 AUD) per person.
Australia Cost of Living – Food
Immediately find “your stores” in your area and get to know their specials.
I know Woolworths and Coles often put their bread on sale after 7 or 8 pm, and I always look out for the sales signs. Sometimes they put their veggies that will go bad within the next few days in “grab bags” for like $3 AUD. Inside is a few days worth of veggies for two people! I loved finding these deals!
Find out when your local grocer offers the best deals. Always “get to know” the stores around you. It will take some time and research, but it’s worth it.
The best thing to do is to go shopping at whatever is near you and see who sells the better/cheaper items. There are fantastic deals everywhere, but you have to know where to find them. Once you do, shopping will get cheaper and less time-consuming. Prepare to take longer shopping trips in the beginning so you can get to know the prices and sales.
Even cheaper than grocery stores!
We loved Saigon Market in Melbourne. A friend who lived close to us told us about this hidden gem.
This is food that is ALWAYS wicked cheap. We would get a large bag filled with fruits and vegetables that would last more than a week for about $19 USD ($25 AUD). Find your local market and shop there when you can for great prices on healthy options.
What’s in our fridge:
- Fruits and vegetables always. Whatever is on sale. Kale is $2 AUD for a large bunch? Done! Broccoli is $2.50 AUD for a kg? Those veggies will be on the dinner table. Spinach is pricey today? Oh well, no spinach for us then. Bananas were crazy expensive all the time and we literally went a year eating very few bananas despite us both loving them.
- Cheese (cheese gets pricey but we found a local brand that had a decent cheddar that was inexpensive).
- Nuts (not always the cheapest, but we made sure to eat healthier since we’re mostly veggos and need protein!)
- Canned items like tuna and beans
- Treat items (yep, treat yo ‘self… sometimes!): ice cream, chocolate, pasta, and pizza
- Eggs – every day for brekkie
- Oatmeal with fruit. Sometimes we could buy frozen fruits and use them for our brekkie – easy, healthy, and cheap!
Our staple brekkie:
Scrambled eggs with vegetables were always on the table, and we included either toast with a piece of fruit or oatmeal with fruit and nuts.
Our staple lunch:
We powered through the day with veggie sandwiches, leftovers, and more snack-like items such as cheese or tuna with crackers or fruits.
Our staple dinner:
Curries were always delicious every time we made them. The curry and coconut milk weren’t that cheap, but we often bought a few of them when they were on sale to save more. Add whatever vegetables are on sale and noodles (always cheap), and YUM! We often had leftovers too!
Sometimes we had pizza, maybe pasta with veggies, or veggies with potatoes/rice.
Just so you know, we didn’t have to cook or pay for every meal we had throughout the year. We both worked in the hospitality industry, which here in Australia, usually feeds you. So, we might have lunch or dinner at work for free, or we were able to bring something home.
- Don’t shop at grocery stores at major intersections. For example, the Melbourne Woolworths at Southern Cross Station, a major train station in the city, is more expensive than the Woolies near my house in Carlton.
- Shop more often. Food won’t go off as quickly, and you can wait for a deal rather than force yourself to buy everything on the day you shop. We usually went to the store twice each week, sometimes more.
- Don’t buy food so cheap that you’re eating unhealthy. We didn’t spend that much and we ate pretty decently! For instance, we would wait for the pricey jam to go on sale rather than buying the cheapest that’s mostly sugar, and we would buy the higher quality brand of peanut butter. Don’t be gross and unhealthy; it’s not worth it. Spending a few extra bucks on healthier items won’t break the bank.
- Know WHEN to go shopping. Food can go on sale in the evenings or a special rack sale might go up at certain times. Don’t be shy to ask your local store if they have special times when things go on sale.
Food Goals: (per person)
Meal at home – Less than $3.70 USD ($5 AUD), but usually aimed for $1.85 USD ($2.50 AUD). We successfully kept it at that number the majority of the time.
Meal out – Cheap dinner with a beer for around $15+ USD ($20+ AUD) (rare occasions).
Australia Cost of Living – Rent
How We Found a Place in Australia
Gumtree and Facebook are how we ended up with both of our places.
Gumtree led us to many places in Melbourne, and we, thankfully, could be picky because we were staying at a friend’s house. We spent two weeks searching for the best spot and we chose the very last place we saw.
Darwin was much easier since we took the first place we saw. It was the right location, within our price range, and it had everything we needed. We found it because I was in a Facebook group for Darwin!
There are other places to search for apartments like Flatmates.com, but we didn’t have much luck. It’s not easy to contact the other user unless you pay for upgrades.
Our Apartments and Their Cost
For reference – Australians usually pay rent weekly. When you’re apartment searching, don’t assume you found a sweet deal. You likely only found the weekly price of the apartment (it actually got me a few times, ha!).
Cost of Living in Melbourne:
The layout was funky as the kitchen was outside the actual apartment, but we didn’t share it with anyone else. It came furnished, had a kitchen set up, and included WiFi (that had problems, but hey, no extra cost).
The location was PRIMO! We lived in the hip Carlton/Fitzroy suburb, and I literally could not have been happier there. I wanted to cry when we left.
COST: $125 USD ($170 AUD) per week – $500 USD per month for my portion.
Water, electricity, and WiFi all included!
Cost of Living in Darwin:
We found a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment and had a roomie living in the smaller bedroom. Everything was in her name since she was on the lease before we got there. We found her ad in a Facebook group looking for a couple to move into the extra room and took it right away.
It had a huge living area and the room was spacious as well. The apartment was fully furnished, came with a balcony, included WiFi, and was close to the city. Also, we were really lucky because she ended up being an awesome roomie!
COST: $110 USD ($150 AUD) per week – $440 USD per month for my portion.
Water, electricity, and WiFi all included!
Australia Cost of Living – Transportation
We didn’t have our own transport because it was unnecessary. The infrastructure in Melbourne is top-notch, and the trams are super-efficient and convenient. I LOVED it.
I paid for a $75 ticket once, and it was worth using the transport multiple times per day and not paying for anything else for six months. Times for certain routes were extended on weekends, which was good for me since I worked later on the weekends. If anything, a taxi was $10 from Federation Square to Carlton, totally affordable.
Garrett was so close to work, it was only a 15-minute walk. My job was a 15-minute tram ride away. I lived 3 stops outside of the free tram zone, so I risked it every day by not paying for a Myki (the tram card). I was literally 5 minutes away, so it was a risk I was willing to take.
COST: Around $73 USD for six months ($100 AUD)
The cost included my $75 ticket and topping up my Myki card for longer trips where I actually paid.
We needed transportation here because public transport is really shitty. The buses stop early, the routes were not as good, the bus was full of crazies and creepos, and it was hot AF. Walking and waiting at the bus stop was a form of torture. Yeah…no thanks!
Overall – NOT worth the cost ($3 per ride and endless time wasted by waiting around).
Our answer – Motorcycles and motorbikes. Garrett bought a Kawasaki Ninja for $3,000 AUD, and I bought a little red Jolie scooter for $950 AUD. It was the best decision!
Fuel was dirt cheap for me. I paid $5 to fill up and everything is close by in Darwin. I only needed to fill up every few weeks or so. When we left, I sold it for $750 (during low season!), so I got to use it for 6 months for a measly $200 bucks.
COST: $220 USD for six months of use ($300 AUD)
I tallied the cost after selling the motorbike and included gas and two trips to the shop for a cheap fix.
Australia Cost of Living – Alcohol
We always had alcohol in the house and made sure to buy the good stuff. Garrett loves his craft beer and nice wines. I’ve always loved wine, but now I have a love for good beer too. Even though there always something in the house, we never drank in excess. Maybe one or two glasses of wine or one to two beers a night, and that’s it – if that.
COST: We probably spent around $30 USD ($40 AUD) a week. Some weeks more, some less.
This is together for the two of us.
Australia Cost of Living – Fun
What fun? I’m joking, we did do a few things, but nearly everything was free.
Here’s what we did in Melbourne because we were broke AF and for Darwin – well, there’s not much to do. We went to Berry Springs, East Point, Mindil Beach, and that’s about it. Most people come here to take epic road trips on the East Coast, but we will have to enjoy doing that another day.
Luckily, we’re totally lame and are like grandpa and grandma because we aren’t a fan of drinking a lot and don’t really fancy bar and club hopping. Our idea of fun is traveling (which we put on hold to save money for it later), and watching TV and movies together with a beer in hand. We LOVE going out and trying new food and drinks, but it gets pricey and we kept it to a minimum.
It was NOT easy since there are so many amazing things in Australia. But again, our focus was MONEY!
An American Working in Australia?
More like some asshat just barely surviving if you ask me…
I KNOW some people are thinking, “Wow, OK, so you spent $1000 AUD “living” in Australia, but you really didn’t live. You just survived. This is the lamest thing I’ve ever read and you totally suck.”
OUCH! OK dude, I actually don’t disagree with you. This way of living isn’t for everyone. We did take it somewhat to the extreme, but this info is still useful if you want to live cheaper. Just spend a little more on fun but not TOO much.
Instead of living on only $1000 per month, maybe allot another $500 for fun? Living in Australia for $1500 AUD a month still isn’t’ that bad, right? It all depends on your way of life and what works for you. I know what Garrett and I did won’t work for everyone.
Another thing that totally sucked – We didn’t get to see much of Australia. I KNOW! This is a huge thing for me, but let me tell you why:
We wanted to live and work in Australia to save money for a big trip around the country. A road trip to live and travel in a van all over, specifically. That was our dream!
After living and working in Australia, and seeing how expensive things were, we decided against it. We would have spent our savings in just a few months on that trip! We decided to put Australia on hold a bit longer and explore the country when we have even more money to do it properly. The money we saved was put to better use in cheaper countries that were also on our list to explore. Australia will still be there waiting for us.
So yeah, this is why we spent our year in Australia, JUST working!
It proved to be well worth it and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Because we lived like this, we ended up saving SO MUCH money.
So, what are your priorities? Saving or having fun? We decided to save so we can have money to play later.
Side note: Americans only get a one-year Australian working holiday visa, so that’s another reason why we decided to just work. We can play tourist ANYTIME, but the working holiday visa was a one-time thing and we BARELY made it by applying when we did.
UPDATE: Americans now get TWO YEARS. Of course, this changed after I missed the cut off date. Uhhh!!!!
Are you curious how much we saved living this way? We kept things on a tiny budget and it was all for good reason. Our savings accounts got a MAJOR boost and every hour worked was one step closer to the goal.
I saved over $20,000 USD living and working in Australia! Yeah, you’ll want to click that and read it after this… I’m almost done here.
Did we ever go over budget during our year? HELL YES WE DID! It’s going to be impossible to keep your monthly spending of $750 USD every month without fail. Not to mention when you’re foreigners, like to travel, and are a human being having to shell out extra cash when “life” happens.
There were a few months where we spent somewhere between $850-$1000 USD ($1100-$1400 AUD). One of those months was June. Why? Because we moved from Melbourne to Darwin. We did it on a major budget, even though it was only $1 a day for the rental! However, we still had other expenses on that one-week road trip.
Another two months – April and October – We spent an extra few hundred bucks because we went to the Philippines and Indonesia for a quick jaunt.
We weren’t Nazis about our budget and we allowed for SOME flexibility (even a bit of fun!), especially since we were bringing in the cash to justify it. But our main goal was to keep the spending to a minimum so we could save the maximum. Have a budget, but don’t live miserably to follow it. Be comfortable, but don’t spend frivolously.
So, being an American working in Australia was a pretty sweet experience and I would recommend everyone who has the opportunity to go. I loved my year there. It was really easy living and working in Australia, and while the cost of living isn’t cheap, it doesn’t have to be THAT expensive. There are ways to cut back, and best of all, ways to save money!
Have you lived in Australia? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below!
>>> EVEN MORE ABOUT TRAVELING AND WORKING IN AUSTRALIA <<<
Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad since 2011 and blogging on Where in the World is Nina? for nearly as long. Nina helps people like you move around the world while making money. She loves talking about how to work abroad and online to travel longer!