As the cost of living continues to rise, people who live on the poverty line have developed their own tips for surviving

Many people see life as a financial juggling act, balancing bills with saving for a new home, holidays and experiences. But for 9.5 per cent of Brisbane’s population the daily struggle is centred around where their next meal is coming from or how they will pay their rent. They are people living on or below the poverty line.

According to the Australian Council of Social Service Poverty Report 2011 the poverty line is defined as $358 a week for a single person or $752 for a couple with two children. As the cost of electricity went up 15.9 per cent on 1 July and residential rates increased by $45 per household per year the cost of living is on the rise. So how can you live frugally and stretch the dollar a little bit further?

QANTM student Taylor Smith survives on $350 a fortnight from Centrelink. Although his parents pay his weekly $200 rent, Smith pays for his food, transport, utilities and other expenses from just $175 a week.

“My motto is ‘live by the can, man’,” says the 21-year-old Greenslopes student.

“I go to the grocery shop on the way home every day and I buy some cans of tuna or baked beans, this way I’m not buying anything I don’t need so none of my food ever goes to waste. A lot of students are in the same position as me; it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

“I usually only eat out at places I know have cheap meals, like $5 bowls of noodles and I only go to South Bank Cinemas where the student tickets are $6.50.”

To save money Smith and his friends hold movie nights at home, walk or use public transport, live in communal houses and turn all appliances and lights off unless they are absolutely necessary.

Nundah pensioner Denise Blackhouse, 67, spends a lot of time researching where to go for the best bargains. Blackhouse shops a year ahead when buying her clothes, purchasing her winter clothes during the summer clearance sales to save money.

“I shop a lot at Chemist Warehouse and I buy my cleaning supplies there. Often there are two-for-one specials and it’s a lot cheaper than shopping at the supermarkets,” she says. “I get my meat from the butchers and my fruit and vegetables from specialty shops; it takes a little more time to go to the separate stores but in the end it saves money. I do my shopping in one outing to save petrol.”

Single mother Candace Stone knows only too well what it’s like living on the poverty line. The mother to three boys aged 16, 15 and nine survives on less than $700 a week and often struggles to feed her family.

“I have a number of health issues so I have been unable to work and I am surviving solely on benefits. The rent I’ve been paying is $400 a week so that doesn’t leave much. It’s a constant worry; I lie in bed at night and cry about how I’m going to afford the basics,” says the 33-year-old Manly mum.

“Quite regularly we have to go without things like shampoo or toothpaste. Having three sons in the house it’s heartbreaking for me to say ‘no you’ve had enough’ when they are still hungry but the food we have has to last for three more days.”

Stone has developed a number of ways to cut corners and save cash while she studies for a Bachelor of Social Work.

“I buy soap and grate it into a bucket of hot water to wash our clothes in. It saves a lot of money not buying washing powder and you can get a packet of soap for less than $2 and it will last for weeks,” she says.

“I also make everything from scratch, cakes, muffins, yogurts and bread. It’s time-consuming but I can make a cake at home for a few dollars and it would cost three times that from a store.

“I’m also very careful with the power we use. I contacted our power company and they came to the house and showed me all the ways we can save. Things like changing the shower heads to newer models cuts the cost of hot water.

“I make sure I take advantage of power sources and internet connections when I’m out. I’ve located the free Wi Fi spots and I always take my charger with me to charge my phone when I’m at places like the library.”

Social welfare researcher and Head of Griffith’s Logan Campus, Professor Lesley Chenoweth says that in the cuts to parenting payments at the beginning of this year many sole parents lost access to around $100 a week.

“The reason this cut has had a catastrophic effect on families is that the cost of living has increased but their income has decreased. It has put a lot of families in dire circumstances,” she says.

“What we have to look at now is how we support these families on a broader scale. We need to be focusing on helping these families find pathways out of poverty and looking at their potential.”


Poverty: The Facts

  • Australians on the poverty line are twice as likely to suffer from a long term health condition
  • 15 per cent of Queenslanders live on or below the poverty line
  • Around 135 people were turned away from housing services each day in Australia (2009 to 2010)
  • Women face a significantly higher risk of poverty than men
  • More than a third of people over the age of 64 live below the poverty line
  • The largest group of people living below the poverty line are aged between 25 to 64