Take charge of your money

By taking charge of your money, whether you have a little or a lot, you will ease money stress and feel more secure and in control.

Track your spending

Where is your cash going each day? Tracking your spending helps you understand your daily money habits. See spending for tips on how to do this.

Create a budget

How much money is coming in and going out each week, fortnight or month? See below for how you can use a budget to sort out your money priorities and take control of your spending and saving.

How to do a budget

Budgeting can change your life. Having a plan for your money will help you get what you want and leave you feeling less stressed and much happier.

In this section, we show you how to prepare and use a budget.

Why you need a budget

There are many reasons why you should prepare a budget. You might want to gain control of your money, pay off your debts, save for the next big bill or go on a dream holiday to South America.

Case study: Bec and Steve agree to budget

Bec and Steve often argued in the supermarket because Steve always wanted to buy extra things and Bec wanted to stick to their shopping list. To prevent any more arguments, they created a budget to work out how much they could afford to spend each week and they set aside $10 for extras. After this, trips to the supermarket became easier as they both knew how much they could spend.

To budget successfully, you need a reason to save. It will be easier to stick to your budget if you know it will help you fullfil your goal.

Preparing your budget

Use a budget planner (try ASIC’s budget planner) and plan how you want to spend your money over a certain time period. Budgets can be prepared for different time periods – a week, a month or a year.

It’s a good idea to plan for a whole year. Account for regular payments such as your rent or home loan and car. Include in your budget all the money that you receive or are paid over the time period. This could include your pay from your full-time job and any casual work, your pension, government benefits, and any money on investments.

Think about those things that are essential and those that are extras. Use your bank statement or receipts in your wallet to be more accurate.

Case study: Alex’s rate bill strategy

Alex knows she has to pay rates of about $300 every quarter. To plan for these payments, she sets aside $100 a month into a special bank account called ‘bills’. This way she is prepared when the bill is due and can use the money she has put aside.

Using your budget

Print your completed budget planner and keep it somewhere safe. Before you go to the supermarket or other shops, check your budget to see how much you can spend and then stick to it. You may even want to take a calculator with you, or use the one on your mobile phone. It might make shopping longer but you will know exactly how much you can spend.

If you are trying to save money, look at your budget and find ways to cut back on the extras. Try and budget a specific amount for fun, leisure and personal expenses but don’t make your budget too tight because you probably won’t stick to it. Use the savings plan to keep you focused on your goals.

You should redo your budget every 3 to 6 months to make sure it reflects your income, your spending and what you want to achieve. Once you are comfortable with using and sticking to a budget, you can update it less frequently, like once a year. It’s also a good idea to refresh your budget when there are significant changes to your income or expenses, like getting a new job, selling your car, expanding your family or buying a house.

If you have money left over (a surplus)

Smart tip

The best way to save is to put money into a separate savings account as soon as you’re paid and before you get the chance to spend it.

There are a lot of things you can do with any spare cash, including:

  • Opening a high interest savings account
  • Investing
  • Think about making super contributions

When you receive a pay rise, bonus, special payment or a tax refund put the money straight into your savings account or superannuation to give it a real boost. For more information see getting a windfall.

If you’re spending more than you earn (a deficit)

Don’t panic. Check your budget to make sure you’ve got all the amounts right and look at your expenses to see if there are any you could reduce. They are free and can help you take control of your money.

Getting help with your budget

If this is the first time you are doing a budget or if you have a very low income, sticking to a budget can be pretty tough. The first budget is the hardest but it will get easier each time. There are also people who can help you with budgeting such as financial counsellors.

Budget and monitoring services

Beware of budget plans sold by high-pressure selling. You could end up paying $5,000 or more for a ‘budget’ and a ‘monitoring service’ that the salespeople claim will help you pay off your loans faster. Unfortunately, these budgets can be totally unrealistic and involve all sorts of sacrifices that no-one could live with. The ‘monitoring service’ may also be a waste of money.

The best way to do a budget is to have a go yourself. If you can, get help from a trusted friend who is good with money.

Budgeting is a skill and the more practice you have, the better you will become at it. It will help get your money under control so you can save for your goals. Get started now by using a budget planner.


Track your spending

You may think that spending on big things is what gets you into trouble with money. But often it is the everyday little things that end up costing you more.

It’s good to keep track of where your money goes so you don’t live beyond your means. Here are a few things you can do to make sure your spending fits in with your money plan.

Match your budget with your bank statement

One way to keep an eye on your spending is to match your budget with your bank statement. Look at the money coming into your bank account and the money going out. Use both your transaction account and credit card statements to see if your budget truly reflects your spending.

If you haven’t done a budget yet, use our budget planner to plan where you want your money to go.

Do a spending diary

Another way to work out where your money is going is with a spending diary. Make a note of everything you spend for one pay or benefit period or at least a week. This will only take a few minutes a day.

Here’s what to do:

  • First, decide how long to track your spending (for example, for a week, a fortnight or a month). Choose a timeframe you know you can stick to. The important thing is to do it every day.
  • Get a small notebook to use as your spending diary. Take it with you wherever you go. Or, if you have a smartphone, download ASIC’s free spending tracker app TrackMySpend.
  • Record everything you spend (for example, groceries, bus tickets, magazines, clothes, bills). Do this straight away. Keep receipts if you buy a few things at once.
  • Don’t try to alter your spending habits during the tracking period. Just notice where your money goes.
  • At the end of the tracking period, add up everything you have spent. Now you have a good snapshot of your day-to-day spending.

Case Study: Donna’s discovery

Donna kept a spending diary for a week and found she was spending more than she realised on small things like takeaway coffee and lunches. So she decided to make two simple changes. She started making her coffee at work – saving her $70 a month. And she began bringing her lunch from home three days a week – saving $90 a month. After 2 months Donna had saved $320, which she put towards her credit card debt.

Check for spending leaks

What would you do if you had $840? Use it for a holiday? Put it in a savings account? Pay off your credit card? Or buy a cup of coffee? That’s right, just one $3.50 cup of coffee every morning will cost you $840 over a year.

Spending leaks are those small regular purchases, like a morning cup of coffee, that add up over a period of time. If you’re trying to save some extra cash, think about your spending leaks.

Because spending leaks are often the fun things like drinks or entertainment, don’t cut them out completely. Instead, choose just one or two things to cut back on. Or think of ways to spend smarter:

  • Instead of spending $3.95 on a magazine every week, or $205 over the year, take out a subscription, which will cost $148 for the year
  • A gym membership can cost $60 a month, or $720 a year, but going for a walk or a run is free
  • Going to the movies once a week costs $20, or about $1000 a year, but hiring a DVD instead can more than halve this cost

Use ASIC’s free TrackMySpend app to check for your spending leaks.

Simple ways to save money

Saving made easy

Making small changes in your life can fatten your savings and help you budget better. Follow these tips to save more money.

Save on groceries

Here are some tips for saving money next time you’re at the supermarket:

  • Take a list so you don’t forget anything. Only buy what’s on the list. This makes it easier to stick to your budget.
  • Put your grocery money in an envelope. Don’t take any other cash or cards with you so you can only spend what you have.
  • Buy in bulk and only go grocery shopping once a fortnight. Use all the food in your pantry before you buy more.
  • Eat a meal or snack before you go to the supermarket. When you are not hungry, you tend to buy less food.

Case study: Nadia’s chocolate choice

Nadia loves chocolate but knows it is bad for her. She decides to stop eating chocolate for 30 days as a health challenge. A month later, she not only feels much healthier but has also saved over $100.

Save money

Saving electricity:

  • Turn off your electrical appliances at the powerpoint
  • Turn off the TV and computer when no-one is using it
  • Switch off your air conditioner/heater and lights in rooms you’re not using
  • Use a fan rather than an air conditioner
  • Use energy efficient light bulbs
  • Keep your curtains or blinds drawn in summer to keep the sun out and leave them open in winter to let the sun in
  • Use a door snake under the door to keep the heat in during winter and out during summer
  • Turn off the heater and put on jumper

Saving water:

  • Have 2 minute showers
  • Use grey water from your washing machine or shower to water your plants
  • Turn on the washing machine and the dishwasher only when they are full
  • Install a water efficient shower head
  • Wash clothes with cold water

Save money with a friend

It can be harder to save money when the people around you are keen to spend. Try and find a friend who also wants to save money. You can share tips, enjoy cheap nights out and borrow from each other rather than buy new things. You could even have a competition to see who saves the most money over a set time.

Save on clothes and other items

With fashion changing every season, you don’t really need to buy new clothes all the time:

  • If you’re buying clothes, check if you can wash them to avoid dry cleaning bills
  • If you buy something, make sure it goes with at least two other things in your wardrobe so you can get a few different outfits out of one item
  • Check op-shops and local markets for bargains
  • Ask your neighbours, friends or family if you can borrow tools or gardening equipment, rather than buy new items

Change one habit and save

Small changes can make a big difference to your bank balance. Change one thing you do regularly and you could save money. Some examples are:

  • Give up drinking coffee or cut down on alcohol – it may sound scary but it will save you money and can have health benefits
  • Cancel your gym membership and walk to work instead
  • Make your lunch at home
  • Have people over for dinner rather than going out and ask everyone to bring a plate of food
  • Borrow books and DVDs from the library
  • Lock up your credit card for a month and only pay for things with cash
  • Set a limit for birthday and Christmas presents or give homemade gifts

It’s easy to save money by cutting out or reducing some things you buy. Try one or two of these money-saving tips and watch your savings grow.

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 budget?

When there’s not much coming in, you have to be completely aware about what you do have. Budgeting will show you exactly what you earn, and how you’re spending it.

Case Study: Susan starts saving

Susan, 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.”

Maximise your entitlements

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 suits you

Shop around for bank accounts, credit cards and personal loans

The cost of financial products can really vary. Here are some tips on how to shop around for bank accounts, credit cards and personal loans.

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 school expenses.

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 fortnight).

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.

If you receive a 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 less stressful.

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 or low-cost 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.

Emergency relief

If you urgently need help with living expenses there are charities that can help you with:

  • Food, transport or chemist vouchers
  • Rent or accommodation
  • Part-payment of electricity, gas or water bills
  • Food parcels or clothing
  • Budgeting or referrals to other programs

See the directories on the  Salvation Army website or call their national number on 13 72 58, or see the St Vincent de Paul website or call their Canberra office on (02) 6282 2722.

Living on a low income is challenging. But there are things you can do to help you feel a bit more financially secure.


Problems with Debt

If you or someone you care about is having trouble paying debts, there are services available to help you take control of your finances and get back on track.


Making Your Money Work

Once you have been able to generate some savings, the next step is to get your money to work for you. This includes having clear goals, using money wisely, and managing your loans, insurance and retirement savings.



Whatever your circumstances, by working out your goals and starting a regular savings plan, you can begin to make your dreams become a reality.




Head to our Referral Program to find an advisor who is free from remuneration-based conflicts of interest.



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