A cheapskate’s guide to being an international student in Canberra

Written by Asha Naznin

I know a guy who is really good at his job. His job—or maybe it’s more like his life’s mission—is to never pay for food.

He knows where all the freebies are being served up on the ANU campus any day of the week. He has got a pocket diary filled with a whole year’s worth of free, catered events, allowing him to divert his time, energy and money ordinarily spent on money, elsewhere.

This guy and I are now working in the same office and studying at the same research school. While I spend cumulative hours preparing my meals, he sits back and relaxes and usually has a better lunch than me! He has mastered the art—and science—of being a cheapskate. But you don’t have to go to such extremes to save money while living as a student in Canberra. Here are some of my tips:


You may have lived in a palace at home, but the same money in Canberra will probably only get you a tiny one-bedroom flat. But the good news is: it still costs much less than Sydney! If you want to live near to ANU campus, it is more expensive than the places which are away from the city or campus. However living on campus does save the cost of transport and time and it also helps you to meet a wide range of students. Your ethnic community could be a good place to start hunting for a place to stay, or investigate the wide range of community organisations at ANU.


All you need to do is act like a detective: keep your eyes peeled. Find clothes you like in the store, and then head back home to order it online, where it’s often cheaper. Or wait six to eight weeks for a sale and hurry to grab your size.


The most common question I hear across Asia about my life in Australia is, “Do you get to eat rice in Canberra?” When I say “Yes” the next question is “How much for a kilo?” Answering this question then seems to induce a heart attack. But then I tell them my secrets. If rice is your staple food, get ready for Christmas! During the first week of December or often just before the Christmas, rice is often on sale, reduced by 50 per cent.  The same goes for cooking oil. The best prices are in Asian grocery stores.


The best tip is get a bike to save money on buses, petrol and parking. If you live off-campus, make sure you rent a house close to bus routes and a shopping centre. Remember, a shopping centre is a student’s best neighbour—offering everything from amenities to food to employment.


Don’t worry about the affordability of books. In most cases, there is always an e-book or hardcopy available through the ANU library. If not, you can request the library order in a copy. Plus the campus library is open 24 hours a day!

The Canberra advantage

Location and opportunity go hand in hand. Remember, Canberra is the capital of Australia, not Sydney. This means all the headquarters of government agencies and scientific organisations are based in Canberra, offering you more opportunities for hands-on experience. Even if you can’t manage a job or internship, try volunteering with them and see where it leads.

Image credit.