Chanel Mowatt is an English and Anthropology/Sociology student at Lafayette College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at University of Sydney in 2016. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-to-Study Program.
I’ve been known as Queen of the Deal, The Steal Queen and as the person among my friends and roommates that you go to when you want to find the best deal for your purchase. My friend Sammy has challenged herself to attempt to find better deals than me when she finds something good, but sadly she has not found a better deal than me so far. With careful consideration of transportation, planning ahead and food, here is my guide to living in Sydney on a college student budget (aka very, very little).
Sydney is a pretty large city, and there is always something to do or see. Thankfully it is very possible to get around the city if you need to get from Redfern to Manly for cheap. I often keep it green and make an attempt to walk around the city whenever I get a chance. When walking, I refer to Google Maps or take a picture of my route before I leave, since it’s often impossible to find signs with street names on them when you’re walking in Sydney. Missing one turn can have you lost for 20 minutes. You also have to stay alert when crossing the street since many crosswalks take an eternity to change. I’m not entirely sure about Australia’s laws on jaywalking, but sometimes you actually have to in order to get from point A to point B.
Personally I can’t drive, and if I could, I would not be completely comfortable driving a rental car on the opposite side of the road. We often carpool in a taxi or an Uber and end up spending less than $5 each. Also note that car services are pretty strict regarding the maximum four people in a car. If you do choose to travel this way, consider how many people are in your group.
Growing up in New York, I was accustomed to having a public transportation system that covers every inch of the city through buses and trains. However, I would argue that Sydney’s OPAL card can definitely rival the Metro Card. For starters you can use the OPAL card to get on trains, buses, railways and ferries. You also don’t “swipe on” to transportation, you just tap on and off (DO NOT FORGET TO TAP OFF). OPAL cards work on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ system and feature the following rewards for frequent travel:
- The Daily Travel Cap allows for adults to pay no more than $15 a day.
- The Weekly Travel Cap limits payment to $60 a week.
- All Sunday Travel is capped at $2.50 and is the perfect day to plan your day trips that are a little farther outside of the city. There are also discounts on public holidays and during off-peak hours.
- There is also an option to pay for only eight journeys per week and have the rest of your travel for the week free.
- There is a Concession OPAL card, but sadly as Study Abroad students we do not qualify for it and you’ll pay more in fines if you’re caught with one than you would save with one.
- Make sure you register your OPAL card so you can top up online and keep track of your card even if you lose it.
Although living on the edge is great, I think that having a plan in place, even if it’s only a rough draft, can help you save as much money as possible when studying abroad. Walking is your best option if you’re looking for affordable things to do in the city since it gives you a chance to walk past great deals in restaurant and store windows. I’m a big fan of stopping and taking photos of flyers with advertisements for future reference. I also follow Instagram accounts that post about current happenings in Sydney and take screenshots of events that I may plan on attending later. I recommend following TimeOutSydney, Xplore_Sydney and Broadsheet_Syd since they all regularly post about affordable opportunities in Sydney.
In a previous post I talked about University of Sydney’s O-Week, but I’ll mention it again since it’s still saving me money. During O-Week not only can you save on membership fees for student clubs, but you also have the chance to get discounts at stores, learn about student nights where you’ll receive further discounts and get to bask in all of the giveaways and freebies being thrown your way. I personally took advantage of the discounts being offered by clothing stores and the non-perishable foods given away. A month later I have just finally run out of food and saved 20% on a skirt that I have been eyeing at General Pants Company. O-Week saves students so much that students from other schools show up to rake in the deals! You don’t want to miss it, and while you’re there, pick up an Access Card because the amount you save on- and off-campus really adds up.
I’ve been keeping a journal to not only keep track of my memories, but to remind myself of all of my favorite places and the best times to visit during the week if I want a good deal. I also keep track of things that my friends recommend, and next year I hope to pass it down to my friend when she goes abroad.
The best part about living in Sydney has to be the fact that there are so many different food options on every street corner. Although most places are reasonably priced, they can still be a bit costly. However, most places offer lunch specials or happy hour deals that bring the cost of meals down and allow for you to maybe eat out twice a week instead of once a week. Not to mention rewards programs that you can sign up for and receive free meals from down the line. I would avoid always eating out, but when you do, I suggest shopping for two big meals each day (either breakfast, lunch or dinner) and saving one meal as your designated meal for eating out.
Living in an Urbanest apartment allows me to cook for myself instead of always eating out. Since we only have one fridge in our apartment, I grocery shop for one week at a time only. This leaves space in the fridge for everyone else and makes sure that food does not go to waste. The grocery store that you shop at also makes a difference. Woolworth’s is the closest to our Urbanest, but is the most expensive. ALDI has the best deals and is a little further of a walk than Woolworth’s. Cole’s is located in the same building as ALDI and is a bit more expensive, but takes certain international cards that the others do not.
In the end, remember that although Sydney happens to be one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, it can also be very affordable if you keep an eye out for deals that help stretch your money!