I spent a lot of time defending the cost of living in Australia when I was overseas, never having lived anywhere else and having a sudden amnesia as to how much I opened my wallet on a day-to-day basis for the first 26 years of my life. I would often tell people that it was all relative, that the cost of living was on par with earnings; which it is unfortunately, according to the powers that be, indeed accurate. I read an article on the calculation of the cost of living vs. earning and it actually made sense. I can’t however, justify it when I draw comparison from my life here to my life in the UK.
Now sure, I live in a city here and I lived in a village in England but that village was in an extremely popular tourist area. And yes we had a studio apartment in Bowness and we have a 1 bedroom apartment here, but the difference in weekly rent between a studio and 1 bedder here was minimal. We earned a lot less in the UK, in fact, on minimum wage here and there, our combined income in the UK was almost the equivalent to Mike’s sole wage here. SO you think we should be laughing right? We also worked in Hospitality so we spent a minimal amount on food as we mostly ate at work. That meant that apart from our rent and bills, most of our disposable income was spent on entertainment and dining out. We frequently went to the pub – 2-3 times a week at least but would average a £30 spend between the two of us. This was on pints and shots and (I suppose I should be embarrassed to say) were quite often pleasantly pissed as we stumbled home. We paid £350 a month in rent. We could go to Booths on our days off and buy a meal deal for £10 that included a meat portion, side portion, dessert and a bottle of wine – for 2 and generous portion sizing. We frequently caught cabs (3 or 4 times a week) as well as attending the local cinema, which granted was nowhere near the standards of Hoyts or Village however only cost us a couple of quid less than then their equivalent in the UK at £6. I bought my underwear from Primark and it set me back a measly £3 for a bra and underwear set that despite being washed sans bag and dried in the dryer for the last 2 years are still as good as the day I bought them. I know some of you may have objections to that last one, especially due to Primark’s presence in the media of late but I ask you – where do you think most of our clothes come from? The difference is how much the retailer wants to charge.
Since coming home, we have found that our comfortable, fun lifestyle of the UK is now unobtainable. We finally found a flat, after 2 months of applying (with impeccable references) and we currently fork out $1387 a month for the pleasure of renting it. That ladies and gentleman, is almost half our current income. Now yes, if I was a little less pregnant and a little more able to work than our situation would be different. We would be earning twice as much as we were in the UK. So if I factor in that we could afford then to pay twice as much in rent here than we should be paying roughly $1000 a month, not $1347. We go to the movies and it sets us back $42 (with my concessional discount, as a non income earner) instead of $18, which is the equivalent to the UK. Doubled, to account for our apparent cost of living vs. earning situation that we apparently have, it comes to $36 – for 2 full price adults. Shopping….. now don’t get me started there.
But do, cause despite my ramblings for the last two paragraphs there was actually a point to this post. How do you save money if you’re backpacking in Melbourne? I’m glad you asked. Firstly, sack off the big two (that is Coles & Woolworths). They have a monopoly on the Australian market, their prices are outrageous and their goods are shit. Unfortunately, we don’t have the population to create a demand enough to change this so lets just make peace with it for now. If you must visit them, only buy items that are on sale or reduced, never full priced. Adapt what you eat to suit this. And try both, one will usually have on sale what the other does not. Most importantly however, get yourself down to the markets on the weekends, cause this is where you’ll hit the motherload.
You want to hit Prahran Market on Sat & South Melbourne Market on Sun, both from 3pm. What you’ll get here is fruit and veg bags going for $1, half price on entire stalls at South Melbourne and cheap bread & cheese. You’ll also get $5 trays from the butchery and fish mongers and can even snap some delicatessen delights depending on what’s on offer. You will get different things every week, some weeks will be better than others but you’ll be able to get a decent stock of fruit and veg, eat healthier and spend less on food for the week. Plus, you’re buying from the market which is better than buying the tasteless, plastic fruit and veg from the big 2.
This is what I do every week and it’s a great alternative to HJ, Macca’s and KFC, who’s new lower priced menus would undoubtedly be appealing to someone living on a shoestring.
Oh and if you think eating out is off-limits? It can be affordable, just download a little app called The Happiest Hour and it will tell you where all the deals are, of both the liquid and solid varieties. Would I ever pay $30 for a steak and chips when I could get it for $15, with a glass or wine or a pint? No, I wouldn’t! The great news about this is that it’s generally Mon-Thurs as well which would suit the average backpacker, picking up work in Hospitality cause that’s when you’re off!
I hope this helps a little so that you’re memories of Melbourne are a little more than maggie 2 minute noodles and passionpop. It can be done cheap, if you know where to look. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put away my hoard for the week!