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 spending. The following is all for one person and shown in USD and AUD.
If you’re solo, this will definitely still work out for you. In fact, if you’re solo you could probably find places to rent for even cheaper, but we wanted a bit of our own privacy and not have 5 roomies. There were MUCH cheaper places for solo people when we were searching.
The conversion at the time of writing is: 1 AUD = .72 USD / .58 GPB / .69 Euro
Here’s a bit of a breakdown of life stuff and the cost associated with them. I broke down down everything I could of, the tips you can use to do the same, and explained how we lived to keep everything under $750 USD ($1000 AUD) per person.
An American Working in Australia and Living for under $750 USD ($1000 AUD) /month:
The cost of living in Australia – 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 veg that will go off in the next few day in “grab bags” for like $3 AUD. Inside is a few days worth of veg for two people! I loved finding these deals!
Find out when your local grocer offers up 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 what is cheaper for you / who sells the better or cheaper item. There are great deals everywhere you look, you just have to find them first. Once you do, shopping will get cheaper and cheaper and less time consuming. Prepare to take longer shopping in the beginning so you can get to know the prices and sales.
Are even cheaper…
We loved Saigon Market in Melbourne. A friend lived close and told us about this hidden gem.
This is food on the cheap cheap. Always. We would get a large bag full of vegetables and fruit that would last more than a week for about $19 USD ($25 AUD) bucks. Find your local market and shop there when you can!
What’s in our fridge:
- Fruits and vegetables always. Whatever is on sale. Kale is $2 AUD for a large bunch? Done! Broccoli $2.50 AUD a kg? Those veggies will be on the dinner table. Spinach is pricey today? Well no spinach for us then. Bananas were crazy expensive all the time and we literally went a year with eating very very few bananas despite both of us loving bananas!
- 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 we need protein!)
- Canned items like tuna and beans.
- Treat items (yep, treat yo ‘self… sometimes!): ice cream, chocolate, pasta, pizza
- Eggs – every day for brekkie.
- Oatmeal with fruit. Sometimes we could buy the frozen fruits and chucked them in here for our brekkie- easy, healthy and cheap!
Our staple brekkie:
Scrambled eggs with vegetables was always on the table and either toast and sometimes a piece of fruit or oatmeal with fruit and nuts.
Our staple lunch:
Veggie sandwiches, leftovers, more snack like items like cheese or tuna and crackers, fruits, or something random and small.
Our staple dinner:
Curries were always a huge hit every time we made them. It’s so good and so cheap. The curry and coconut milk aren’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 (alway cheap) and YUM! We often had leftovers too!
Sometimes it would be pizza, maybe pasta with veggies, veggies with potato/rice…
Just so you know… We didn’t have to cook every meal and we didn’t 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 our work for free, or we were even able to bring something home.
- Don’t shop at the grocery store 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 quick and you can wait for a deal to happen rather than force yourself to buy everything on the day you decide to go. We usually go twice a week or more.
- Don’t go so cheap you’re eating unhealthy. We didn’t spend that much and we ate pretty decent! A few examples are we would wait for the pricey jam to go on sale rather than buying the cheapest that’s mostly sugar, or the better brand of peanut butter…things like that. Don’t be gross and unhealthy! It’s not worth it, spend the extra few bucks, we did and we still didn’t spend that much!
- Know WHEN to go shopping. Like mentioned, food can go on sale later at night, or maybe there’s a special sale rack set up at a certain time. Don’t be shy to ask your local store if they have some special times when things go on sale.
Food Goals: (per person)
Meal at home – Less than $3.70 USD ($5 AUD) usually aimed at $1.85 USD ($2.50 AUD) and successful kept it at that number the majority of the time.
Meal out – Cheap dinner with a beer for around $15+ USD ($20+ AUD) (rare occasion)
The cost of living in Australia – Rent
How we found a place in Australia:
Gumtree and Facebook. This is how we ended up with both of our places.
Gumtree lead us to many places in Melbourne, and we thankfully had the ability to be picky because we were staying at a friend’s house. We waited two weeks to find the best spot and it was the very last place we saw.
Darwin was way easier. The first place we saw, we took. It was the right location, price range, and had everything we needed. We found it because I was in a Facebook group for Darwin and that was it!
There are other choices like Flatmates.com, but we didn’t have much luck and it’s not as easy to reach the other user unless you pay for upgrades and what not.
So what were our apartments like and how much were they?
The cost of living in Australia – Melbourne
(For reference, Australian’s often pay rent weekly. Just a heads up when you’re apartment searching, don’t think you found a sweet deal, it’s probably just the weekly price. ha! It got me a few times too…)
We had a studio apartment. A bit of a funky set up as the kitchen was outside of the actual apartment, but it wasn’t shared with anyone else. It came furnished, with wifi (that had it’s problems, but hey, it was included!), and even came with a kitchen set up. The location was PRIMO! We were in the hip Carlton/Fitzroy suburb and I literally could not have been happier here. I wanted to cry when I left.
COST: $125 USD ($170 AUD) per week – $500 USD per month for my portion.
All inclusive of water, electric and wifi.
RELATED: Here’s what it’s like living and working in Melbourne.
The cost of living in Australia – Darwin
This apartment was a 2 bedroom one bathroom. We had a roomie in the smaller bedroom and we had the bigger one. Everything was in her name as she was on the lease prior to us getting there. We found her ad in a Facebook group looking for a couple to move in the extra room. We took it right away. It had a big living space and the room was big as well. Balcony, fully furnished, wifi, and a close proximity 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.
All inclusive of water, electric and wifi.
RELATED: Here’s what it’s like living and working in Darwin.
The cost of living in Australia – Transportation
We didn’t have our own transport because it was unnecessary. The infrastructure is Melbourne is top notch. The trams literally couldn’t be any more efficient and convenient. I LOVED it. Garrett was so close to work, it was only a 15-minute walk. My work was a 15-minute tram ride. I lived only 3 stops outside of the free tram zone so I risked it everyday and didn’t pay for a Myki (the tram card used). I was literally 5 minutes away, so it was a risk I was willing to take.
I got a $75 ticket once. Worth it for not paying anything else for six months and using it multiple times a day sometimes. Times are extended on the weekends for certain routes which was good for me since I was working later on the weekends. If anything, a taxi was $10 from Federation Square to Carlton, totally affordable.
COST: Around $73 USD for six months ($100 AUD)
(including my $75 ticket and topping up my Myki card for longer trips where I actually paid)
We needed transportation here because the public transport is really shit. The buses stop early, the routes were not as good, the bus was full of crazies and creepos, it was hot AF so walking and waiting at the bus stop was a form of torture and yeah…no thanks!
Overall – NOT worth the cost ($3 per ride and endless time wasted 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 really close in Darwin so I only needed a fill up every few weeks or so. 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)
Total cost after selling the motorbike, and including gas and two trips to the shop for a cheap fix.
We always had alcohol in the house. Good stuff too. Garrett loves his craft beer and nice wines. I’ve always loved wine, now I have a love for good beer too. So we made sure to always have something in the house, we just never drank in excess. Maybe one to two glasses of a 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 all together for the two of us.
RELATED: Here’s how you can live and work in Australia!
What fun? OK, I kid, we did do a few things, but pretty much everything was free. Here’s what we did in Melbourne because we were broke AF and for nDarwin – well, there’s not much to do. We went to Berry Springs, East Point, Mindle 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 so we kept it to a minimum. Which is NOT easy since there are so many amazing things 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 a bit to the extreme, but this info is still useful if you want to live cheaper. Just spend a bit more on fun but not TOO much.
Instead of living on only $1000 per month maybe allot another $500 on fun? $1500 AUD a month on living still isn’t’ that bad, right? It all depends on your way of life, what works for you. I know this won’t work for everyone.
Another thing that totally sucked – We didn’t really get to see much of Australia. I KNOW! This is a huge thing for me. Let me tell you why real quick:
We wanted to live and work in Australia and save for a big trip around the country. A road trip living and traveling in a van all over, specifically. This was the dream! After living and working in Australia and seeing how expensive things were, we decided against it. We would have spent our savings in a few months on that trip! We decided to put Australia on hold a bit longer and explore it when we have even more money to do it properly. The money we saved will be put to better use in cheaper countries that are also on our list to explore. Australia will 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 saving so we can have money to play later.
Side note: American’s only get a one-year Australian working holiday visa, so that’s another reason we decided to just work. We can play tourist ANYTIME. The working holiday visa was a one-time thing and we JUST made it by applying when we did.
UPDATE: American’s now get TWO YEARS. Of course. Just 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 $17,000 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 a monthly spending of $750 USD each and every month without fail, when you’re foreigners, like to travel, and are a human being which means “life” happens and you need to shell out extra cash.
There were a few months where we spent somewhere between $850-$1000 USD ($1100-$1400 AUD). One of those months was June. Why? Becuase we moved from Melbourne to Darwin. We did it on a major budget, it was only $1 a day for the rental! But 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, we did have 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 it to a minimum so we could save the maximum. Have a budget, but don’t live miserably in order to follow it. Be comfortable, but don’t spend frivolously.
So! Being an American working in Australia was a pretty sweet experience and I’d recommend everyone who has the opportunity to go, GO! I loved my year there. It was really easy living and working here, and while the cost of living in Australia 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?
Australia bound soon? Is this way of life something you could do?
How I saved over $17,000 USD in less than ten months!
Here’s how to get a working holiday visa for Australia.
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