I am as Australian as spending January 26 in the sunshine with the Triple J Hot 100 blasting (The States has fireworks on July 4. The French have military parades on July 14. I’m still convinced the Triple J countdown is how to spend a national holiday), but Australia seriously lets you down on the budget front. It is expensive. Any Australian who has ever been overseas – particularly to Asia – knows that sinking, wincing feeling that descends on you as you walk back onto the Motherland’s soil and take stock of the prices. $7 for a McDonalds hamburger? No problems, I’ll take an $8 beer with that, thanks. Then I’ll cry into purse and chop my debit card in half.
Luckily, as a native Australian and impassioned saving expert, I’m here to share my top tips for saving money in Australia.
1. Couchsurf. Australians are a fairly friendly bunch, and particularly outside of the biggest capital cities (I’m looking at you, Sydney), there will likely be plenty of people willing to host you on their couches for free. Plus – you get a free tour guide and drinking buddy! Try www.couchsurfing.org.
2. WWOOFing. Honestly, I have never done this. Funny thing about growing up in the country is, working on a farm doesn’t seem that fun to me. It just sounds like hard work. But, if you are willing to work hard, or have some desire to work on a farm, this is another good option! Try http://www.wwoof.com.au/
3. For longer term stays, try Gumtree. Gumtree is like Craiglist, but sans the homicidal maniacs (so far). There are plenty of university students who will happily share their homes with you at a reasonable cost, if you are planning on staying long term (e.g. 1 month + at minimum). For example, in Adelaide, you’re probably looking at about $120 a week; a lot better than paying $30 a night for a dodgy hostel! www.gumtree.com.au
4. Check www.lastminute.com.au. For last minute deals, www.lastminute.com.au is a good bet. In particular, they do “secret deals” which allow you to stay at a 4 or 5 star hotel at a reduced price; e.g. the Adelaide Hilton for about $129.
5. Join the rideshare forums on couchsurfing. Splitting a tank of petrol between 4 or 5 is by far the cheapest option for most long-distance hauls. You can also find ride share opportunities on Gumtree, but I personally prefer Couchsurfing as you can check out the references (and apparent hygiene standard) of the people you’re travelling with.
6. Look out for Jetstar bargains on Fridays. Jetstar (Qantas’ low cost arm) usually releases cheap seats for their popular legs, e.g. Melbourne > Sydney on Friday afternoons. You should sign up for their newsletter and check – it’s called the “Friday Fare Frenzy”. Just watch their ridiculous booking costs. You can avoid all of these fees by booking using a debit Mastercard on the Jetstar iPhone app. It will save you about $17 per person.
7. Consider buying a car. If you’re travelling in a group, it may well be cheaper for you to buy or rent a car than fly or ride a bus. Keep in mind that Australia is not well connected by public transport like many other countries, and so even relatively close destinations can be quite hard to get to without a vehicle.
8. Sign up to Scoopon. Scoopon, Groupon and LivingSocial are a daily email digest of fantastic deals for every capital city in Australia. With discounts of between 50% and 90%, it is a great way to save money. You can also pre-purchase them to avoid budget blowouts – just keep an eye on the Ts & Cs and prepare yourself for a barrage of bright, annoying emails. The deals are worth it though. More info: http://www.scoopon.com.au/ | http://www.groupon.com.au/ | https://www.livingsocial.com/
9. The cheapest food is from food courts. If you are really low on the budget, try eating at foodcourts such as the malls, or at the ChinaTowns in most capital cities. You are probably looking at good size meal from between $5 – $10.
10. Go on pub special nights. If you keep an eye out, you can find awesome specials, usually pubs. For example, the Aussie Icon that is “Schnitty Night”, allowing you to eat the delicacy that is Chicken Schnitzel for prices that are usually around $10 – $12. Just check out the pub’s facebook page for the best deals.
11. Don’t feel bad about going el cheapo, most of the time. Take it from me, Australian food is nothing to write home about, and that which is (CHICKEN SCHNITZEL!) is just blatantly thieved from other countries anyway (What do you mean we didn’t invent fried rice? Lies.) You’re not missing out, usually, by taking the el cheapo route.
9. Steel yourself for The Prices. It’s not easy to get around Australia’s horrendous alcohol prices. I secretly believe that the way Australia made it through the GFC unscathed was due to our undying commitment to drinking beer no matter how expensive it gets and how many taxes the Government puts on it. Please, if you go out, bring cash and leave your card at home. You would not be the first person to wake up, look at your ATM receipts, and cry.
10. Sign up for membership. Even if you’re only going to be there a night, if someone offers you a membership card, say yes. It often involves free entry or at least a free drink.
11. Get there early. Most pubs/clubs are free or at least cheaper to enter before 10pm on a Saturday.
12. Pre-drink. Your budget’s best friend will likely be pre-drinks. If you’re dirt poor, you can always try the specialty that is Goon, aka cask wine. Seriously, they tried to increase the tarrifs on box wine in Adelaide and our usually apathetic youth ORGANISED to bring down the tax! Also, ask a local Aussie about the infamous ‘Goon of Fortune’. But seriously, the hangovers for wine that costs $14 for 4 litres are painful. You could always just split a bottle of vodka.
13. Is it your birthday? If so, a lot of clubs and pubs will give you a free drink card if you’re a member. Just sign up for the membership, get the free card, drink it, leave. Seriously, some of us have this down to an art form.
14. Ask for a list. If you know in advance that you’re going to a certain venue, send a request to the pub/club for a ‘door list’. You’ll need names. Usually, all the people on your door list will get free/cheap entry and maybe even a free drink. I don’t know if they do this in Sydney, but it’s big in Adelaide.
15. Scoopon, Groupon, etc also do activities. One more reason to scroll through their aesthetically offensive newsletters.
16. Look into package deals. I don’t know, I’ve never tried one, but Nomadic Matt swears it’s a cheaper way to do Australia. I trust that guy.
17. Staying in one capital city for a long time? Consider buying an entertainment book: they cost $60 but give you stacks of buy one get one free type deals on everything from shopping to eating to jumping out planes. More info: http://www.entertainmentbook.com.au/
18. If you can, bring it from home. Usually I’m a huge fan of packing light and buying things on the road, but it’s not such a great idea in Australia. Our prices are way more expensive than nearly every country I’ve been to (unless you’re Norwegian. If you’re Norwegian, ignore everything I just said, and welcome to budget paradise). Particularly on big items such as cameras and laptops, you’re way better off bringing them from home.
19. Do not smoke. Seriously, it’s like – $3 for the cigarette pack, $18 of taxes. You will go broke in Australia if you are a smoker. Seriously, you can stay in a hostel for a night for less. Craziness.
20. Don’t let your budget ruin your trip. There are some experiences that are worth the cost. If you have always dreamed of diving the great barrier reef, don’t let budget concerns ruin that experience for you. You can always replenish your bank account, but Australia is so far away from, uh, everything, that you might not get back for a long time – so cherish it while you can!