A Guide To Money For New University Students

In a couple of weeks the main round offers will be released for university placements for Year 12 leavers. Whilst this is both an exciting and nerve racking time, it is also important for young people to start considering the costs that their new life stage comes with.

It is a very different time, and most 17 and 18 year olds would have no clue about what needs to be paid for and how it is going to be paid for-I certainly had no idea.

whatever you do don’t get a credit card

I had to put this as the first point of this guide in the hopes that at least one person will avoid getting a credit card and getting into debt. This turning point of life comes with a lot more freedom and in most cases a lot more financial responsibilities. Unfortunately now days it also comes with people getting in over their heads in debt to fund their university life style. In many cases it is to cover things like food.

If you can’t afford to pay for things out of your own pocket you may need to re-evaluate your circumstances. You have to remember the banks are there to make money so giving you a credit card is not to help you, it is to help them!

If you don’t have a budget start one

Budget is not an ugly word

Yes budget-that disgusting word that falls out of your parent’s mouths when they are giving you a lecture on responsibility. However, if you want to be smart now is the time to formulate your budget making strategies. This will not only help with your immediate costs, but throughout your life as you take on more financial burdens.

Expenses vs income

If you don’t know how to make a budget get someone to help you. It doesn’t need to be too complicated at this time, you just need to list all your expenses and compare it to any income and see what the difference is. Things to think about are course fees, administration fees, textbooks, other learning materials, tools (for apprentices), transport costs, accommodation, food, phone bills and entertainment. Obviously if you are leaving home there are going to be other items such as rent, bonds, more money for food, household bills etc.

What’s the shortfall?

Setting out a budget will help you understand what kind of costs you are up for and whether there are any shortfalls of your income. Once you can see how much money you will need you can start to formulate ways to make cuts from your expenses, or alternatively ways to make some extra income.

What income do you have?

Are you going to work?

You will find that most students have to work on a part-time or casual basis to finance their expenditure. This in itself will provide good experience for your resume, but remember that minimum wages at 18 years old are extremely low so to even cover expenses you will have to work a lot. If you job is relevant to your degree you might be able to claim some expenses as tax deductions which may help.

Depending on what you aim to study there are other options such as apprenticeships, traineeships and even studying through the Defence Force all of which cover part or all of your tuition fees.

Can you claim any Government Support payments?

There are also Government assistance payments available to students such as Youth Allowance and Austudy. You can find out about these at www.humanservices.gov.au. Keep in mind that eligibility for such support payments is often very strict and hard to receive. Usually your payments will also be reduced dramatically if you also part take in work. Nevertheless if you are eligible it could be a good way to help you cover the small expenses without forfeiting your time on working rather than focusing on studying.

If you are living out of home you may also be able to claim rental assistance. Applying for these payments can be quite confusing, even just to work out your eligibility. It is a good idea to make an appointment with a customer service officer in your local Centrelink office so you can speak one-on-one with someone about your personal circumstances.

How to pay for your uni fees

Study now, pay later

For most people thankfully the largest expense of course fees will be covered through the Commonwealth Government Higher Education Loan Program (HELP). For more in-depth information on the different Government Loan schemes visit www.studyassist.gov.au.

Subsidised courses and HECS-HELP

Try and see whether your education provider offers Commonwealth Supported Places for the course you want to study. The fees on these places are heavily subsidised by the Government, thus reducing the amount you need to pay. The amount of the subsidy differs depending on the subject area you are studying. You can then apply for the HECS-HELP to cover the costs of the fees and student contributions.

Once you start earning over a certain threshold later on, the Government will make deductions from your income to repay your outstanding debt. If you are in a position to make upfront payments on part or the whole amounts you can save a lot of money in the long run through 10% discounts for payments of $500 or more.


Fee-Help is another loan scheme to help student pay for part or all of their fees. This one is for people who do not have a Commonwealth Supported Place. So for instance both my postgraduate courses were full fee paying and were covered under FEE-HELP, but my undergraduate was a CSP and covered under HECS-HELP. There is however limits on the amount you can borrow which differ slightly depending on what you study. These are life time limits so even if you make repayments it will not reset. Whilst it doesn’t count towards your limits, there is a loan fee of 25% for undergraduate courses.


This loan is for students studying higher level vocational education and training (VET) qualifications which are diploma levels and above. Many of the TAFE courses come under this category so be sure to check the website for approved courses. The amount that you borrow comes off your FEE-HELP limit and there is a 20% loan fee which is applied but not counted toward the limit. Check with your education provider whether they are approved to offer such loans.


When you go to university there are not just course fees that need to be paid for. You will also be hit up for student services and amenities fees which are usually around the $250 mark per annum. This fee covers things like sporting and recreation, employment and career advice, child care, food services and the like. You can defer the payment of this fee by using a SA-HELP loan, which will add the amount onto your accumulated HELP debt. You provider should provide you with the appropriate forms you need to fill in before the deadline but you only need to apply once per course per provider.

Try out for scholarships

It is worth checking out whether your education provider has any scholarships that you can apply for. These will usually cover part or your entire course fees but there are in some cases other scholarships to help cover other university expenses. Some of the larger corporations may also offer to cover your university costs and work placements at the end so it is worth investigating whether there is any such program in your chosen field.

Student Loans

Some of the universities may also offer student loans which are used to help pay for university related expenses such as textbooks. There may be restrictions on the amounts you can borrow and there may be more stringent terms and conditions before a loan will be approved. Be sure to check out the features of the loan including interest rates to see what the costs will be to you.

Concession Fees

If you are studying at TAFE and are receiving an eligible Government payment such as Youth Allowance you might be entitled to just pay $100 per course enrolment rather than the full TAFE Fee. Spouses and dependants may in some cases also be eligible for concession fees. Check with your campus whether you are eligible.

Simple ways to reduce your expenses

The following might not seem like much but they could help you reduce your costs dramatically.

Save money on textbooks

Textbooks can usually range anything from $20 (ha! Unlikely) to upwards of $200 and over. Yes it is ridiculous especially when you have 4 subjects every semester, each requiring one or more books. Aside from your course fees this is one of the biggest expenses you will likely incur.
Go to the first couple of lectures to determine whether you need the textbook at all. Some of my subjects never even referred to the textbook so they were a waste of money.

If you do need it make sure you check out the second hand bookstore, or also scour the notice boards around campus where students list their old textbooks for cheap prices. You can also hop onto eBay, Amazon or even just search in google for second hand textbooks.

If you live in Sydney I used to always go to T’s Book Café in Randwick to purchase textbooks in both school and uni at massively discounted prices.

For the bookworms who may savour in purchasing new books and like to keep them pristine be realistic. I am one of you but the costs of buying the textbooks new is just not worth it. Also you are likely to end up highlighting half of it anyway! If you are going to buy new at least make sure you join up to the co-op or bookstore which gives you discounts.

Save money on transport

In terms of transport make sure you apply for the transport concession stickers. This is usually done on your first day of enrolment when you get your student card. Some universities will do it automatically and some you will have to fill out a separate form. If you are unsure if you are eligible make sure to ask. The concession will give you discounts on public transport such as trains and buses.

If you are going to drive try and find some mates to car-pool with. My friends and I used to take turn driving as our University at the time had no train line so it was easier to drive. It also makes parking easier!

You could also think about going green and getting a bicycle. Probably only good for those who live nearby their campus but it’s cheap and is good exercise.

Save money on food

Food is another area you can save loads. Try and take your lunch with you rather than buy it on campus. Even with the student discounts, eating at the cafeteria each day adds up. You should also carry around a water bottle and re-fill it rather than buying multiple drinks throughout the day.

If you have moved out of home look at easy recipes which are cheap to make and can be portioned up and frozen. Try and avoid ordering too many take-always which are just way more expensive (and more unhealthy) than home cooked meals.

Save money on entertainment

In terms of entertainment you may find you have to reign in a bit. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your good time it just means thinking about your expenses and knowing how much you have to spend on yourself.

Do check out the business around your university. I know the shopping centre that was next to mine had discounts on many food outlets, clothing and even at the cinemas for students from that university. Don’t forget that the cinemas have student discounts anyway so always have your ID card on you.

Also check out what’s on at campus. There are always events going on whether it’s live performances, themed parties, cheap drink nights, comedy nights and more. Even if these are paid events they are usually extremely cheap to attend and are a good way to meet people!

Save money on accommodation

If you have the option of staying in the parentals home do it. You are less likely to go into debt than if you moved out on your own.

If this is not an option or you purely want the experience there are ways to reduce your accommodation expenses. Check out the university accommodation which is much cheaper because it is subsidised. Food usually can also be added so you eat all your meals on campus-again this is heavily subsidised.

If you opt for off campus accommodation you can reduce your costs by house/flat sharing with friends. Think about location though and whether transport costs are going to go through the roof because you move further away from uni or work. Also make sure you have clear guidelines on how household items such as food, gas and electricity are going to be split.

You might also be eligible to receive Rent Assistance from the Government so be sure to investigate.

Have Fun

University is a time to have fun and can be a great experience for anyone. If you want to be financially savvy though and start preparing for life it is a good idea to think about finances. For the first time you may be required to pay for things you never had before which can be hard for young people to manage. Make sure you understand your ingoings and outgoings, but also know what your entitlements are and where you can make some changes.

It will make your whole after school experience a fun and stress free one.

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