Managing on a low income

Making every cent count

Getting by on a low income can be tough. Here are some places to start to make things a little easier.

Do you have a budget?

When there's not much coming in, you have to be completely aware about what you do have. Budgeting will show you exactly what you earn, and how you're spending it. Use our budget planner to track your spending. 

Budget planner

Case study: Susan starts saving

""Susan, 34, is a single mum and office worker. She manages well on a low income but is concerned about how she will cope if an emergency or unexpected bill crops up. By drawing up a budget, Susan could see where she was overspending.

"I was amazed at how much we were spending on small, unnecessary items that quickly added up. By restricting my budget and cutting back on things like takeaways and impulse shopping, I managed to build some savings. It was hard, but it's a relief to know I can manage if my car needs repairs or if one of my kids needs to see a specialist."

Maximise your entitlements

Depending on your circumstances you may be able to get financial support. Contact these government agencies to make sure you are getting all of your entitlements:

Find a bank account or loan that suits you

Shop around for bank accounts, credit cards and personal loans

The cost of financial products can really vary. Here are some tips on how to shop around for bank accounts, credit cards and personal loans.

Some financial institutions offer basic bank accounts with:

  • No account keeping fees
  • Free monthly statements
  • No minimum deposit amounts
  • No overdrawn fees

You can find which financial institutions offer these basic bank accounts on the Australian Bankers' Association's Affordable Banking website.

Consider a No or low interest loan

The No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS®) is designed for people on welfare benefits who need safe, fair and affordable access to credit. The scheme offers loans of up to $1200 to people on low incomes. There are no interest charges or fees. For more information see how no interest loans work.

Find out if you're eligible for a savings program

Some charitable organisations help low income earners with their saving goals. See programs for low income earners.

Smooth out your bills

Do you find that some months are more expensive than others due to big bills, birthdays or unexpected events? Here's how you can smooth out the ups and downs of your expenses.

Mark your calendar

Gather together as many of your bills and bank or credit card statements as you can. (This is also the first step in creating a budget.) Highlight the big bills that come less often, like electricity, home contents insurance or school expenses.

Then work out what day or month each bill is usually due. Mark each bill on your calendar or yearly planner, together with birthdays and periodic events.

Set aside some money

Add up how much your big bills cost in total for the year. If you wish, add an extra amount for gifts and celebrations. Work out how much this is per pay or benefit period (for example, per fortnight).

Put this amount aside each time you are paid (you may like to set up a separate high interest, low fee account for these savings). Then you will have the money ready to cover the next big bill or special event.

Ask about bill smoothing

Contact your utilities provider (gas, electricity, water) and ask about 'bill smoothing'. See if you can arrange to make fortnightly or monthly payments to them, instead of having to pay the whole bill in one go.

Centrepay

If you receive a Centrelink payment from the Department of Human Services, ask about Centrepay. This is a direct bill-paying service offered free to Department of Human Services customers. A small sum is taken out of your payment each fortnight to cover your bills. It's a way of managing your bills that can help make things less stressful.

Home Energy Saver Scheme

If you are on a low income, you can get help by calling the  Home Energy Saver Scheme (HESS) Helpline on 1800 007 001.  For more information about HESS and what rebates and vouchers are available to help you pay your bills, see problems paying your utility bills.

To compare energy offers visit the Australian Government's Energy Made Easy website.

Get help if you need it

Learning to manage your money can seem difficult when you don't have a lot to start with, but help is always available. Financial counsellors provide free assistance for people in financial difficulty. They can show you how to budget, manage your debts and help you deal with other money problems.

The Department of Human Services has a free Financial Information Service (FIS) that can provide general help with your finances such as budgeting or preparing for retirement. You don't need to be a customer of the Department of Human Services to access the service. Call 13 23 00 to talk to a FIS officer.

Emergency relief

If you're in a crisis and need emergency relief or emotional support, see our urgent money help webpage.

Living on a low income is challenging. But there are things you can do to help you feel a bit more financially secure.


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Last updated: 30 Jan 2014

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