Back to basics, and battling

LIVING on a tight budget requires careful planning.

Grocery shopping required more thought than usual for Examiner journalist Emily Baker when she spent a week living on a budget equivalent to the Youth Allowance. Picture: PAUL SCAMBLER

Grocery shopping required more thought than usual for Examiner journalist Emily Baker when she spent a week living on a budget equivalent to the Youth Allowance. Picture: PAUL SCAMBLER

Unfortunately, life doesn't always play along.

Proposed changes to the welfare system will see people my age who struggle to find a job trying to subsist on $414.40 a fortnight.

The latest estimates have Australia's poverty line set at $1007.42 a fortnight - almost $600 more than what an unemployed person under 25 receives from the government (that is, once they've made it through six months without any help at all).

For a meagre five days I lived on the Youth Allowance.

Even with a meal plan and money set aside for rent, power and my phone, by day two my bank account was overdrawn thanks to the automatic withdrawal of my internet bill.

There is no way I could have seen a doctor or dentist, bought new clothes if I needed them or had prescriptions filled.

This was not even a week's experiment for me, and while it was uncomfortable, it was over quickly.

Living another week financially isolated and unable to make the most basic of choices about how I spent my time would have been very difficult.

I couldn't drive far because I couldn't afford the petrol. 

Job hunting would be an exercise in itself.

Beers? Forget it. Cigarettes? Out of the question.

Living on Youth Allowance would mean little to no savings.

 It's well and good for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to suggest people move out of Tasmania to find work, but moving requires significant money.

A friend who studies visual art in Hobart supplements her Youth Allowance by freelancing.

Stacie finds that people don't react well when they learn she receives government benefits.

``Some people really don't receive it well, and I think that's because they think that everyone who gets these kinds of payments are just bad at saving or spend it frivolously,'' Stacie said.

``I've had to explain to people that it's not as easy as just `finding a job' - I have social anxiety, so sometimes attending school is taxing enough, and my boyfriend took six months to find a job after we moved to Hobart, which wasn't from a lack of applying.

``I think mostly people should understand that most of us don't enjoy being on these payments, but we need them to eat and drive and pay our rent. 

``We shouldn't have to be `guilted' into thinking we're all bludgers who don't work hard or just sponge off the government.''

During my week of careful budgeting, I was surprised how limited I was in my choices.

I didn't realise how privileged I was in being able to buy coffee whenever I wanted, spend $5 on lunch or purchase items that weren't absolute necessities.

Grocery shopping required more thought than usual.

 Nutritionist Sandra Murray had some advice.

``As a vegetarian, the cheapest, most affordable protein alternatives for you will be dried beans, chickpeas, lentils purchased in bulk for a week or fortnight, which won't need refrigeration so can be much more affordable than meat,'' she said.

``You will probably need to buy in bulk and buy what is in season only. 

``Even if the cupboard is bare but you have some dried beans left over, herbs from the garden and potatoes then you have a meal.''

She emphasised that planning was essential, suggesting a fortnightly shop. 

She encouraged meat eaters to buy wholesale meat in bulk and said people should check their fridge and pantry before going shopping.

Sage advice, which I neglected on that last point -  I was wandering around the supermarket with dried ginger in my hand, unsure whether I could afford an extra $1.20 on something I could already have at home.

It's these things we take for granted.

Perhaps our federal members could try a similar challenge?

I'll even let them try Newstart.


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