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
When there's not much coming in, you have to be completely aware
about what you do have. Budgeting and checking your bank
statements will show you exactly what you earn, and how you're
Work out where you money is going and make it stretch
Case study: Susan starts saving
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."
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
Shop around for bank accounts, credit cards and personal
The cost of financial products can really vary. Here are some
tips on how to shop around for bank accounts, credit cards and
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
Consider a No or low interest loan
The No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS®) is designed for people on
low incomes who need safe, fair and affordable access to credit.
The scheme offers loans of up to $1200 and 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
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
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.
See our tips on how to save on electricity and
water and negotiate with your
utility provider if you are behind on your bills.
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
To compare energy offers visit the Australian Government's Energy Made
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.
If you're in a crisis and need emergency relief or emotional
support, see our urgent money help
Living on a low income is challenging. But there
are things you can do to help you feel a bit more financially
Last updated: 30 Jan 2017