MelbourneMelbourne is high on the list of the world’s most expensive cities. In 2013, The Economist listed it at #5, tied with Oslo.  Melbournians (not Melbourne-ites, according to a hesitant consensus of the locals I asked; and properly pronounced, Melb- URN-ny’ns) seem to embrace it. They love their trendy and expensive café’s and restaurants. They love their expensive designer and vintage shops. They love their music scene, which is also as you may have guessed, expensive. Having said that it is a big tourist destination and there are a number of free activities on offer in the city at any given time, and some places that cater to the budget-conscious.

We all know at this point that it’s easy to live a very conservative financial lifestyle while on the road. There are all kinds of travel and life hacks for that. But what if you still want to do yoga at studios, explore, and eat organic, healthy foods? It is possible, and I’ll show you how to live for less than $240 a week- a mere $960 per month.

I arrived in Melbourne in mid-November and was hoping to find a good job very quickly. I had been making a killing working at a café in Newcastle, and expected to find something similar in my new home. I found a job fast, but it wasn’t permanent, and it didn’t pay well. For the remainder of my time in Melbourne I worked various temporary jobs. Never have I had so many positions in such a short period of time.  Before I left Ottawa, I worked at the same core job for 9 years.

Part of the reason behind this new ability to accept temporary work and move through jobs has been that I have a heightened awareness about what I want. I am less willing to settle for an unhealthy job, or one where I am undervalued. I’m also more willing to have short periods of unemployment.

As a result of these positive changes in my perspective, I’ve ended up having to be really careful about my spending, and have found a number of ways to live on the cheap. It can be hard to do that when certain healthy ‘extravagances’ such as a weekly bottle of fresh sauerkraut or kim-chi (a girl’s gotta have her probiotics) at about $10-18 a jar and yoga are non-negotiable at this point for me. I’m just not willing to compromise on my health anymore, and I know there are certain things I need to stay well.

Here are some of the ways I keep my expenses to a bare minimum, still eat clean, whole foods, continue learning, practicing yoga, socialising, and exploring the city.

Volunteering at Friends of The Earth:  When Robi and I first looked at the share house on Perry Street, the main factor that swayed our decision was the neighbourhood. I quickly spotted the Friends of the Earth Store a block away, as well as most of the other great businesses and organizations I note here within easy walking distance of the house.

Friends of the Earth is an international environmental organization that works towards social and environmental justice. In Melbourne, they operate a community co-op that sells locally grown, organic produce and has a wide selection of bulk food and cleaning items. They also have an incredible café that is run by volunteers.

I immediately decided to volunteer here, and asked about it that same first afternoon we went in. They said to come on by whenever I could, between 10-2 or 2-6. Great.

The sense of community, skill sharing and interesting conversations I participated in in the few shifts I did made it a wonderful experience. As an added bonus, in exchange for four hours of your time, they graciously feed you a delicious, healthy and filling vegetarian/vegan lunch. Even if you don’t want to volunteer I’d recommend stopping by for a great meal on the very real, gritty and ‘upcoming’ (read: in the process of being gentrified) Smith Street, just east of the more popular hipster hangout of Brunswick Street in Fitzroy.

As a volunteer, you also receive 15% off your grocery bill whenever you come in to shop.  They have pretty much everything you’d need.

Brahma Kumaris Centre: This small bookshop and meditation centre offers free, frequent courses on Raja meditation. You can also stop in to meditate in their meditation room at any time if you feel an urge. It was also only a few blocks away from me. Learning about this type of meditation was a really enjoyable and enlightening way to spend an evening, and I found it contributed to my positive thinking habits.

Cooking Bigger, Inexpensive Meals: Organic food can get expensive quickly if you’re not careful about it. One solution is to cook large portions of food, such as in stews, curries, or soups, and eat it for a few days.  This Noodle Salad is a great, inexpensive meal that you can make a lot of. In this way, I am still able to eat organic, as long as I make a point to get the less expensive vegetables and fruit, and only get as much as I need to reduce waste. I also make sure to check the foods on the Clean 15 List, and don’t worry so much about buying those non-organic.

Eating out wisely:

A view of Smith Street, Collingwood from Gluttony's Patio

A view of Smith Street, Collingwood from Gluttony's Patio

Lentil as Anything There are a few locations of this yummy, simple restaurant where you pay-what-you-feel, based on how much you enjoyed the experience and your financial situation. I have visited both the St. Kilda and Abbotsford locations, and would highly recommend the spot in Abbotsford. It is housed in an old convent with lots of trees, outdoor café’s and little walks. It’s great if you want a night out with healthy food but can’t really afford one of the more expensive restaurant choices that abound in Melbourne. They also run a volunteer program, which I’m sure involves a meal similar to Friends Of The Earth. 

 Gluttony-It’s A Sin This is a sort of boring-looking place on Smith Street, but it’s always busy. I tried it one day because I saw they had fresh juices and I was craving some veggie juice.  They have a decent vegan lunch selection, and don’t serve any soft drinks, which I love. The best part, though, is that you can get three breakfast ‘sides’ for $6. It ends up being a decent size plate, and is so tasty. My favourites are the tomato, spinach, greens, avocado, hash brown potatoes and big onion rings. They aren’t deep-fried, just cooked on a hot plate until they’re deliciously soft and caramelised at the edges. I can tell you, it’s hard to choose three of these-I often got 6 veggie items, still a steal at $12- but I always enjoyed whatever I got. This is the type of place to bring a book and hang out for three hours on a Sunday.

Lentil As Anything's Airy Front Patio

Lentil As Anything's Airy Front Patio
Yoga: As soon as I got here, I was itching to get to a yoga class. I had been going to hot power yoga and yin yoga a lot at the YogaBodyWorks Studio in Newcastle and wanted to keep it up. That first week, I practiced at the Airbnb rental we stayed at a couple of times, and went to the free Lululemon class on a Sunday morning in Camberwell. From that class, I also got a free pass to try the studio owned by that day’s instructor.
 
After we found a more ‘permanent’ place in Collingwood, I scouted out the area for yoga studios. There are lots, and more opening all the time and almost all of them have introductory offers. Many have $20 for ten-day specials, and unlimited month specials for around $100, which is a great price to practice at a yoga studio. Try them out and see which one you like. Lululemon locations also offer free classes and workshops. 

My favourite studio ended up being the PLAY yoga studio in Fitzroy, and they run a Karma Yoga program. In exchange for a couple of hours of cleaning the studio you can attend two yoga classes at any time. This is a really great way to meet other yogis, spend less (nothing!) on yoga and also learn a bit about the inner workings of a yoga studio if you’re interested in that type of thing. Many studios offer this type of program, and need help in various areas including reception, cleaning, event planning and more. Contact your favourite studio to find out more.

Gokula House: A meditation centre that has Kirtan sessions most nights of the week. Get your chanting on with some other relaxed yogis. On Sunday, they have a vegetarian dinner with the chanting and some discussion about living a yogic lifestyle. Check out their video if you’re curious.

House Sharing: Robi and I have a room in a share house that we pay rent for, splitting a total cost of $260 per week. By sharing you’ll save yourself lots of money and will pay less than you would staying at a hostel. Rooms in share houses run about $150 per week and up. Some require bonds, but not all. Many can be rented for a couple of weeks or a month and don’t require much notice when you want to leave. It’s fairly easy to get cheap, flexible housing here. Not necessary nice, cheap and flexible, but not terrible either.

CERES Environment Park: Pack a picnic, explore the community gardens, and take a stroll along the Merri creek in East Brunswick. CERES (Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies) is a non-profit organization and thriving eco community and urban garden that aims to educate the public about sustainability issues. There is a lot to do here including workshops, a delicious organic café, Sunday markets, a community bike repair co-op and a soon-to-be opened book exchange. Some of this costs money, but is worth it if you can afford it. It’s easy to spend a good chunk of your day here.

Spend time at the Library: The Library is one of my favourite things when I’m in an English-speaking country. I love to read and learn so I always get a library pass quickly if I’m going to be staying somewhere for a couple of weeks or more. Most libraries do require proof of your address, so bring a rental agreement or mail with your name and address on it if you want to borrow books, but it’s always free and fun just to go hang out and browse to your heart’s content.

Open Table: Open table is a free community lunch in Collingwood that happens on the fourth Sunday of each month. Get together with other people in your community and enjoy a home-cooked meal made of surplus food. There are also events in other neighbourhoods. Check the website or their Facebook page for details.

Free events: Because Melbourne is such a big city, there’s always a lot going on, and much of it is free. I haven’t had nearly as much time as I’d like to try to explore all the free options available, but a friend of mine took me sailing for the day as part of the Midsumma festival. It was incredible to be out on the water, spending a day relaxing and doing something different.

Federation Square, a large public space on the Yarra River in Melbourne’s CBD also hosts many events each day. I have heard of everything from Fair Trade festivals to yoga classes being held here. Check their website for upcoming events.

I haven’t done all of these things all at once, as I’ve learned about each of them over time.  If you did have to severely cut costs though, it would be easy to keep your weekly expenses below $240 if you decided to do all of these at the same time. 

Here’s the cost breakdown:

 Rent: $130

Yoga: $0

Transportation: $14
For two return trips on transit in Zone 1

Activities: $ 11 (included in food prices) 
Lunch at Lentil as Anything and Breakfast at Gluttony, plus picnics, meditation courses, and any other free activities.

Extras: $21 
For toiletries, other incidentals

Food: 

  • Breakfast total:  $25
    3 days of quinoa and fruit
    4 days of smoothies

  •  Lunch total: $15
    5 days at Friends of The Earth a week of volunteering
    1 day green salad and $2.50 handroll from grocery store
    1 Brunch at Gluttony with a fresh juice $10

  •  Dinner total: $35
    3 days coconut curry
    2 days quinoa salad
    1 day smoothie
    1 day dinner at Lentil as Anything

Food total: $75

Total: $240 per week

Keep in mind that these are costs associated with living in Melbourne, not just travelling through, as some require a minimal commitment.  Also, as I mentioned earlier, I live in a neighbourhood where everything I need and more is no more than a half-hours walk away. If you don’t have an easy, cheap way to get around to the places you need you’ll need to budget for transportation costs as well. A weekly Zone 1 Pass is $38.50. Sounds like a good deal, and it is if you’re working, but on a budget of  $240 a week it comes to a bit over 16% of your expenses. That’s a lot. It’s really important to choose your neighbourhood carefully. Know what goods and services you want available to you and live somewhere where they’re easily accessible.

If your visit is a short one, there are even more opportunities to curtail your financial output like Couchsurfing and other sharing networks, WWOOFING and similar types of volunteering for room and board, and house sitting.

You could potentially live like this for a long time if you had just under $13,000.00 per year saved or coming in from a passive income source. Though of course this doesn’t count for extra expenses like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, etc, which can quickly add up. You’d also be able to vary your meals a bit. There are lots of cheap options out there, but you would have to always be quite vigilant about your spending. It would also entail a pretty major lifestyle change as you’d have to have friends who were interested in doing free/cheap fun things like playing board games, having picnics or doing yoga together. It would also mean a huge, if not total reduction in alcohol consumption. As a bonus, this can improve your health as well, so it’s worth a go!

In the end, as always, it’s about what your priorities are. If you want to travel and don’t want to let price get in the way of a visit to Melbourne or another expensive world city, just know that there are many ways to get around the high costs, stay healthy and see the city. 

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