Need a Dollar
Tacked to the wall above my deskis a note from my sister Charlotte:
“Don’t spend all your $$$! xox”.
Her warning is not a joke, or even an exaggeration. My ever-sensible sister has been my ready-cash rescuer and my financial conscience all too often.
We all have our wallet-opening weaknesses, right?
Perhaps you can’t resist the latest gadget, concert tickets, junk food, clothes, shoes, sports gear, bags, books, or – as in my case – anything that catches your whimsical fancy. More specifically (and unfortunately for my bank account), I have a tendency towards frivolity, a weakness for hardbacks, and an insatiable appetite for takeaway cappuccinos.
For most students, $172.51 per week is the maximum amount they’re able to borrow from StudyLink to cover their living expenses. According to StudyLink’s “reality budget check”, estimated basic weekly living costs are $367.70. The Department of Building and Housing indicates that the average rent for a five-bedroom flat in North Dunedin is $121.60 per room per week. Add to this the compulsory costs of furniture, electricity, internet, and groceries, and there’s little left in the pockets of most scarfies. Extra leisure or emergency expenses often further unravel our already tightly-strung purses.
Regardless of financial flippancies, how on earth
are scarfies getting by day-to-day despite this blatant discrepancy between income and living costs? OUSA President Logan Edgar put forward some suggestions.
MAKING ENDS MEETClearly $172 isn’t enough for students to actually “live” off, but how are we expected to compensate without making weekly SOS calls to Mum and Dad? Logan says it’s a “case-by-case” scenario. “You have some scarfies who like to live pretty rough, and keep it on the cheap. But for postgraduate students, who’ve had their allowance cut in the recent budget changes, although they might also have scholarships, it’s probably now very hard for them to cover expenses. I think, overall, $172 is probably the minimum, the absolute minimum, that you could get away with.”
Extra income is therefore a must for most students. Whether this is from family support, a scholarship, or part-time work, it’s almost essential for keeping on top of one’s finances. Logan agrees that, “if you want to keep [your accounts] topped up, you need to work. The good thing is that, yeah it’s working, but if you’re an accounting student, for example, and wanting to make it into one of the big firms like KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst and Young, Deloitte... well, they won’t hire graduates without work experience. If you’re working as well as studying and socialising, you’re balancing all this stuff. It shows a bit of consciousness around the burden of your finances, it shows some accountability. I think every student should look at working while they’re studying. Not just for financial gain, but for experience as well.”
Not only does casual employment benefit students, but it’s a way of contributing to the wider Dunedin community. If you’re looking for a job, Student Job Search should be your first stop. Logan says that most scarfies “probably have their own little money saving tips”. He suggests that students “spend wisely, but don’t compromise health. I’d really like to see more consideration around healthy living for students, and trying to raise living quality. It’s like those lads that flatted on Castle Street, who just ate two-minute noodles all year... and they got scurvy! It’s not the smartest thing to do.”
Politically, OUSA is working on revoking the changes to postgraduate allowances. Logan and his team are planning a public letter to the Government, “to promote and raise awareness about the issue. We’re hoping to get it from the national body, NZUSA, then get the other student associations to promote it.” The plan is to convince the politicians “that it’s a really unpopular move – like we saw when they tried to increase class size – and make them realise that it’s not worth losing our votes.”
KEEPING TRACKEven with supplementary work income as per Logan’s advice, I’m often living from paycheck to paycheck. I’m pretty sure I learnt in Physics191 that, by some natural law, whatever I earn will be spent. My parents and my dear sister never cease to wonder where my money goes. When I pause to consider, I’m left wondering too. Keeping track of income and expenditure is a simple and effective way to target potential opportunities to cut costs, even if you only do it for a short time.
For a week I trialled the “money diary” method, and
documented all of my transactions in pursuit of budget enlightenment. My goal was to discover where dollars were being wasted, so I didn’t include unavoidable and regular payments such as rent, electricity, internet, shared meals, and course fees.
NB: Unfortunately for my fiscal reputation, this diary coincided with “pay week”, which made it even more difficult to curb unnecessary spending. Food for thought, regardless.
DAY ONE:$2.50: Fundraiser chocolate bar. Poor start, I know, but at least I’m being honest.
DAY TWO:$6: Coffee and a chocolate chip cookie. Hmm, this appears to be doubling as a food diary. How embarrassing!
DAY THREE:$24.50: Course reader.
$34.44: Supermarket (toothpaste, body wash, laundry powder, moisturiser, four-pack chewing gum).
$22: Dessert and drinks.
DAY FOUR:(’Tis with trepidation that I check my account this evening... Brekkie in town developed into window shopping which inevitably led to shopping of the money-spending kind. No major damage ensued, but some would no doubt shun my indulgence):
$10: Coffee and a muffin.
$20: Birthday present (happy birthday Tristan).
DAY FIVE:$8: Confectionary.
DAY SIX:$8.50: Coffees.
DAY SEVEN:$4.00: Coffee.
WEEKS TOTAL EXPENDITURE $218
Truthfully, after reading the final figure, this entire section was pulled from this article. After contemplating the required word quota it was reluctantly reinserted. Retrospectively, this was a bad week of spending. No doubt I’ll regret it as I survive on limited post-payday funds for one more week.
Let’s briefly examine my shameful spending, and pinpoint some areas of repeated weakness.
01 | Coffee. In one week, I spent $25.50 on coffee. Perhaps this isn’t too much of a problem, because “coffee” as a social activity is much cheaper than alternatives, like movies, meals, and alcoholic drinks. However, many cups were purchased solitarily, and it’s probably a good idea to cut back on the caffeine as well as its associated costs.
02 | Miscellaneous “snacks” including (most prominently) confectionary.
03 | General unnecessariness?
Thankfully, various part-time jobs allow me to live (relatively) comfortably, and I won’t pretend that my parents aren’t there to cover for me when I mess it all up on occasion(s). But what if I wasn’t so lucky? What if my expenses were unavoidably steeper? Where should one go for help?
OUSA: STUDENT SUPPORTThe majority of students are living off limited and often seasonal incomes, without savings, and accumulating thousands of dollars of debt every year. For these reasons, and for personal peace of mind, budgeting is important. It’s important to learn money management skills now to ensure financial stability while we’re studying and beyond.
Here’s where OUSA can help out. They have trained, student-friendly budget advisors available at the Student Support Centre (behind Clubs and Socs on Ethyl Benjamin Place). Check out their website for tips such as a “$50 Shopping List” and a week’s worth of inexpensive recipes for hungry students. Simple, cheap, and full of carbs… perfect for the stereotypical culinarily-challenged scarfie.
If you get to the point where even everyday expenses are too much – if you’re struggling to find money to buy food, for example – then don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There are plenty of financial escape routes out there, and many students are already making the most of initiatives such as the food bank, $3 lunches, and even the StudyLink Special Needs Grant (http://www.studylink.govt.nz/financing-study/extra-help/extra-help-with-emergencies.html).
Matt Tucker, manager of OUSA Student Support, says that many students at Otago, particularly those without parental financial support, are really struggling to keep up with living costs. “When I look at student allowances, the amount of money [available through StudyLink] is getting less and less in ‘real’ terms.” Despite this, he says few students come seeking budgeting advice, “but they’ll come for a food parcel, for whatever reason. Most students are already doing the things that they need to do to save money... shared cooking, shared buying, shared renting. Multiple dwellings and dividing costs bring down living expenses.” He encourages students to spend smartly, not just frugally. “Go to the Farmers’ Market to buy fresh vegetables, go to Jeff’s on Campus each day and buy fresh fruit. Plus we’re here, and students are welcome to come and chat to us about budgeting advice if they’re having trouble. There are things they can access at StudyLink, or even with us, there may be services which could assist them.”
So, what’s the catch with the free food situation? According to Matt, there isn’t any. “You know, we don’t question students when they come for food parcels. Our food packs aren’t so valuable that students would be likely to take advantage of the system. I think that if you’re going to offer a personal service like this, people are less likely to be fraudulent. However, if you keep using our service, we’ll want you to have budgeting advice. But we don’t have a lot of people who are repeat users, which kind of suggests that it’s a one-off thing and then students are fine afterwards.”
With the flat hunting season well underway, many students will be wondering how to make ends meet with ever-increasing rent prices. Matt is sympathetic, but urges students to realise that with supply exceeding demand,we’re in a position of power. “I honestly don’t think that accommodation supplements, government allowances, or StudyLink living expenses are going to keep up with student living for much longer. All I can say is that there are more flats than there are students in Dunedin, and it’s up to students to put the pressure on the landlords.”