For the first few years I lived out of home, I remember quite clearly my grocery budget – $35 a week. That number is burned into my brain. $35 after rent, bills, a weekly train ticket and whatever uni required that week. And that’s if nothing else came up. When you only have $35 to live on, essentials tend to fall by the wayside. In fact, they have to. This was my experience. I’d have a coffee once a week, and my aunt paid. I only went to bulk-billing doctors in my area, all of whom were overworked and uninspired. I barely exercised, except to rush between the places I needed to go. I didn’t buy shoes. I didn’t go to the dentist for 6 years. Eventually I dropped out of uni and went and worked fulltime in a cafe.

And if you think I was frittering away my money on trivial things, you’re wrong. I never ate in restaurants. Me and my housemate drank two beers a week together, and that’s only because our pub had a thing called ‘free beer Wednesday’, so that cost us all of $3.80 each. My Friday ‘treat’ was a $4.50 toasted sandwich at the uni tuckshop. For my 20th birthday, I treated myself to a new top, $15 at Myer.

What’s crazy is that I didn’t know that I was living in poverty.

I don’t remember those times as miserable, in fact, I remember them as a lot of fun. But when I look back on it now I’m amazed at my resourcefulness, I’m amazed at anyone’s resourcefulness at surviving on so little for so long. I’m also very thankful for the family and friends who kept me from going under- I don’t know where I would be without their help. Many people out there don’t have such support network, I have no idea how they struggle through each day.

This is not a hard luck story, but it is an example of what it’s like to live in poverty. And what’s worse it’s not uncommon. Approximately 2.2 million Australians live in poverty. That’s 11.1% of us without access to basic necessities like healthy food, dental care, transport, affordable housing and education. In a country of relative wealth, in stable economic times, I think we can all agree that is a disgrace.

But this is not about despair, it’s about action. It’s time to act to raise awareness rather than hiding our heads in the sand. That’s what we’re aiming to do with The $35 Challenge; experience poverty, raise awareness and raise money for a worthy charity, Ozharvest, who do so much for Australians in poverty.

I hope you will join us in the inaugural $35 Challenge, as we do our bit to raise awareness and funds in the fight against poverty. Every little bit helps.

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11 Responses to Living in Poverty – My Story

  1. Gaby says:

    Most of the time we really don’t value what we have. Good on you to take the $35 challenge… I feel tempted but sharing meals with housemates makes it a bit more difficult.
    Gaby recently posted…Birthday day

    • Lau says:

      Cheers! Yeah, I’m not sure whether I’ll have to go it alone or if Senhor R willl join me. It’s tricky when you share meals.

  2. I think I used to live on $35 for food each week in my uni days, and often less. Things were cheaper back then, though… prices have gone up quite a bit over the years so to eat on that same amount would be much tougher today. It will certainly be an excellent challenge!
    leaf (the indolent cook) recently posted…giveaway! will write for food, dianne jacob

    • Lau says:

      Yeah, things definitely are way more expensive now, but then again that $35 I had included everything – toiletries, cleaning products, uni stuff… in the Challenge it just includes food and drink.

      That said I remember mushrooms being $6/kilo, potatos at $1/kilo and tins of tomatos for 60 cents each! And a beer was less than $4! So there was way more bang for buck.

      I think this is gonna be a difficult week…

  3. I remember during my student days in Sydney, beer was cheaper than milk! Good on you to take the challenge!

  4. That is a great story. I think it reflects what it means to be young in Sydney too. When I was sixteen I moved to Sydney and lived off a fulltime wage of $136 per week.

    My rent was $100 per week, my train ticket to work was $10, and I put aside $5 for bills and I had $16 for food, The remaining $5 was my evening meal for the week. All I could afford was $1.00 of hot chips for five nights of the week. It was the cheapest way to eat an evening meal.

    It obviously wasn’t sustainable but it taught me to budget and the value of money.

    Thankfully when you are young you are pretty resilient, and I knew it wouldn’t be for ever.

    I think you are doing a wonderful thing in highlighting the poor situations that Australians live in for various reasons.

    I will head over to the challenge page and have a look.
    GourmetGetaways recently posted…Smurfy White Chocolate Panna Cotta

  5. Great post Lau. It’s a situation that is probably closer to most of us than we thought. Thanks for doing the challenge and for drawing our attention to it :)
    Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella recently posted…Rat Plague Brownie Bites!

  6. It’s good to know you did it for real
    Beverley Smith recently posted…Pomodoro

    • Lau says:

      Yeah, that’s what insired the challenge. But if I hadn’t been there, I still think it would have been ok to come up with the $35 Challenge.

  7. […] The $35 Challenge is based on my own experience, I’d always assumed, without realising it, that it was for people ‘just like me’, whatever […]

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