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A cheapskate’s guide to Sydney life

Tansy Gardam on the essentials

While it’s all well and good attributing negative gearing and the changing nature of the workforce to Gen Y, there’s a basic truth that most students face – being broke. It sucks. As a generation mostly raised in the comforts of a standard of living we can no longer afford, it sucks even more to look at small things we once took for granted and now romanticise – hair cuts, new shoes, bubble baths. Luckily, I’ve been a cheapskate my whole life, and spending as little money as possible is a craft I’ve honed over the past 4 years of tertiary education. This is my list of cheapskate shortcuts for Sydney University life – it’s by no means exhaustive, but it might help you out.


Take a walk down past Broadway to the Australiasian College of Hair and Beauty – then ring them instead, because they don’t actually take walk-ins and you’ll look like a bit of a dick just strolling in without an appointment. Getting your hair cut by students might sound risky, but there’s good supervision and, in cases of more complex procedures like full head bleaches, they are usually already working professionally finishing off their last couple of assessments. There’s a bit of a wait for an appointment – usually around 2-3 weeks – and the session itself will take a little longer than usual, but at the end you can walk out with a cut, wash and blow-dry for free. Free.


Clearit on King St is a personal favourite, because it has a wide variety of labels in one location, and it only seems to get more and more stuffed full of stock over time. If you’re looking for some vintage, avoid Vinnies Newtown – they’ve become drunk on reputation and their prices show it – and walk past the station to the Red Cross store. Their stuff tends to be in better condition and all the good stuff doesn’t go as quickly. And to be honest, Kmart’s clothes are dirt cheap and better than you’d think, particularly for staples like t-shirts and exercise gear¹.


On-campus coffee is complicated – I only took it up last year, but Parma is probably cheapest overall at $2.80 for a standard coffee with the ACCESS discount. However, it isn’t part of the network of USU spots where scanning your access tallies a free coffee after every 5 – Parma loyalty cards only give you every 10th coffee free, and you need to ask for one and remember it each time. I did General Maths back in 2011, so my numbers might be rusty, but provided you get your card at Parma, it does equal out as slightly cheaper over time ($151.20 vs $157.50 for 60 coffees)². Or just don’t drink coffee, since losing two a day will save you either $151.20 or $157.50 every month.


If you have a car, congratulations – you can drive to the Wittner factory outlet on Botany Rd. If not, it’s a little less than 15 minutes to walk from Redfern Station. The range is broad, the quality is high and the cost is negligible compared to buying new boots in a store. Botany Rd also has a bunch of other outlets, including some good sports stores if you need a new pair of runners (although those are actually closer to Green Square Station).


The best tip for saving money on eating out is probably don’t, but I’m not here to judge. Behind the Great Southern Hotel, stacked next to a number of other restaurants, you can find Chinese Noodle House – order the special braised eggplant and any of the dumplings and noodle dishes. The Burger Project in World Square is run by the Rockpool group and for less than most pub burgers you get something bordering on a religious experience – triple ground beef, in-house icecream, chipotle spiced chips. If you need breakfast on Saturday morning, hit up Eveleigh Markets at Carriageworks – everything is expensive, yes, but everything also hands out free samples. And if you feel like forking out $8 for a pork bun, you can get one made by Kylie Kwong. If you’re sensible and you’re eating in with mates, descend to the depths of the Broadway car park to Harris Farm – their weekly cheese specials will impress the most judgmental of friends³.


If you’re someone with a compulsive book-buying problem, Basement Books beneath Railway Square is perfect. While they’ve got a good range of classics, their stock is almost entirely remaindered, so don’t expect to find the latest Elena Ferrante – but you can always get more recent or popular books from the university libraries. Basement Books is for when you just feel the need to spend money on dead trees.


The ACCESS desk in Wentworth Building sells movie tickets at a discounted rate – you can get an IMAX ticket for $15. If not, this next tip is a bit more effort – become a film reviewer. Join up with a reputable site or magazine that has an established relationship with distributors. Preview screenings for reviewers are free, they usually have popcorn and you can almost always bring a friend.

Getting Fit

Gym membership fees are insane. There are, however, literally hundreds of free apps designed to get you into shape – C25K is my favourite, which takes you from wheezing after running for the bus to doing 5ks in two months. MyFitnessPal and common sense will get you further than crash dieting, and Plant Nanny is a fun way to make sure you’re drinking enough water. If you’re seriously dedicated to this health thing, get a bottle blender from Kmart for $15 and you can start making green smoothies – you break even on the investment after literally 3 drinks.

Again, this is not a comprehensive list of ways to avoid spending money in Sydney – there’s no bars on this list, for example, because when I’m drinking most cheapskate instincts go out the window and my spending spins out like the $15 cocktail wheel at Knox St Bar.


¹Just don’t buy the shorts with fake pockets. Because fuck fake pockets.

²Maybe don’t trust my math.

³Note: this will not work if your most judgmental of friends is vegan.