The most obvious reality in life is that you need money in order to survive. When you study full-time at uni you have four options—being completely financially dependent on your parents, going on Youth Allowance, working part-time and a combination of some or all of the above.
For me, it was a combination of some or all of the above. My parents paid most of my rent when I lived at student accommodation and in my fourth year of uni I started working as a freelance writer, however most of the money I had came from Youth Allowance.
My journey with Youth Allowance started a month before starting uni. I made the decision to apply for Youth Allowance as my parents suggested that I focus only on uni and not work for a while and as I was 19 at the time and about to become a full-time uni student, I was told I was eligible for it.
What I didn’t count on was Centrelink dragging their feet.
I filled out the online forms, provided them with the information they needed and they rejected my application three times. All three times it was on the grounds of not being provided specific information that they needed to know—which they neglected to inform me that they needed. I’m not proud of it but as I was literally running out of money and I was desperate, I got Centrelink going by threatening them with unfavourable media coverage about my experiences. It wasn’t a completely ridiculous threat as I was studying journalism. Two days later, I got a call from the manager of the department who told me what they needed to know, I provided it to them and miraculously my youth allowance application was successful and I received back pay from all those weeks of waiting.
When I first started receiving my youth allowance payments circa April 2010, at the time the payments were roughly $372+ dollars. Due to inflation, my payments increased over time. By the end of my first year it went up to $392+ dollars, then $407 and then $421 (thanks to the Carbon Tax). This money would be provided to me every fortnight.
Due to the fact that I’m not a drinker or a smoker, my parents paid the majority of my rent and I didn’t go out very often, most of my money was spent on groceries. Ocassionally I would go out with my friends to dinner, sometimes I would dread it, not because I didn’t want to go but because dinner wasn’t just dinner. Dinner was dinner, a drink or two and possibly cab fare to the restaurant and back home. It may seem like I was being a tightarse and I was—you can’t live off Youth Allowance and act like money grows on trees. Living on youth allowance actually isn’t living it is surviving.
It really isn’t hard to manage living off Youth Allowance, especially when the amount of money is so little, but if you need help either ask your parents or keep a log book on how much you’re spending. The good thing about living off Youth Allowance is that it forces you to budget and live within your means, which is a good practice run for when you get a job and have to pay your own bills. I went off Youth Allowance in September after getting a full-time job and I still have “Centrelink mentality”. I still buy the same things over and over, dread nights out (but still go out) and try to spend as little as possible and feel guilty for having little shopping sprees.
By the way, when I told Centrelink that I didn’t need Youth Allowance anymore, it took them all of two seconds to take me off it. By the way, if you have trouble getting through to Centrelink either via an online form or over the phone, I suggest Twitter as everything on the internet is in writing and they don’t want a story of bad customer service going viral.
I want to make clear that I was grateful for all of my Youth Allowance payments as I wouldn’t have survived without them and it taught me how to manage money on my own, however it doesn’t mean that I have to like how the system works, I’m sure many people, many of you will agree with me. But I’m very happy I don’t have to rely it on anymore.