Livin’ Large on a Budget

You might be a student, but you don’t have to eat like one.

Whether you’re a student or a recent graduate, or you’re just down on your luck, having to live off cheap unhealthy food sucks.

Me? I’m a recent graduate still struggling to find my real job. I’ve been lucky enough to snag three casual jobs to hold me over with the occasional freelance gig in between, but it’s not enough to live well.

Digging into my coin jar for enough change to buy some bread and milk is a normal activity, but I’ve been reduced to that a lot less lately. Why? Rather than being stingy with my dollars, I’m trying to be more creative. I’ve weaseled my way into more than my fair share of cheap and discounted meals, so take notes because when it’s time for rent, some of these tricks keep me well fed.

Utilize loyalty cards.

If you open up my wallet, you’ll be met with a waterfall of loyalty cards from places you’ve never heard of. You know the ones, ‘Buy 5 get the 6th free’. Yeah, those ones. I take one every time I visit someplace that has them because eventually, I’ll get that free drink or meal. The key? Save that free meal for when your bank account has dwindled. Subway is a good example. I can easily get two meals out of a footlong.

Do your research.

Lots of restaurants will have timely deals. For example: Subway (again) has a cheap deal for a drink and a footlong after a certain time. I only buy my meals when they’re on the cheap, and I rack up those loyalty punches in my card.

Many places will also do sneaky promos. Visit your local bargain websites to find them around you. Mine is (I live in Australia)

You’ll be blown away with how many places will have free giveaways or drastically reduced meals for a short time. Spend an hour combing through it and fill your planner with the details. The other day my mates and I ended up each getting 3 burgers and a large fries for $4 each. Before that, we got free (huge) bowls of beef noodles by showing up at the right place at the right time for a free giveaway.

These websites are good for more than just food too. Need new pillows? I found a deal and got two new pillows for $7 not long ago. Goodbye, 5-year-old yellow, gross, unfluffy pillows. #Win

Keep an eye out for the places that do this deal: “Sign up for our newsletter and get X free!” Sign up. Get the meal. You can always unsubscribe later. If you’re a cheese, like me, you’ll sign up with multiple emails and go on different days to cash in. I should probably feel bad, but I don’t. Oh well.

Utilize the available apps.

Believe it or not, the app store is full of cheap opportunities. I’ve got a handful of apps that I keep my eye on for free and discounted food. Don’t worry, I’ll give you a couple of promo codes to you get you started. It’s worth it.

Maccas App
Yes, download the McDonalds app and check their rewards section daily. At the moment they have a promo for a large fries for $1. It may not be super healthy but it’s a good snack to get you through the day. One of the last deals I cashed in on was a $3 Big Mac. Those are huge, I can get two snacks out of that.

7/11 App
The 7/11 app is for more than just filling up with gas. They’ve got an offers section that always has a handful of decent deals. The deals I look out for however are the free ones. Currently, 7/11 is doing a freebie every day for the rest of the month. 
Here’s a list (for Australia).

13/1/19 — 23.3g Tic Tac Gum Spearmint
14/1/19 — Large Slurpee
15/1/19 — 7-Eleven Snack Sausage Roll
16/1/19 — 7-Eleven Fruit — Red Apple, Green Apple, Green Pear, Banana or Mandarin
17/1/19 — 500mL 7-Eleven Chocolate Milk (VIC, NSW & QLD) & 7-Eleven Iced Coffee (WA)
18/1/19 — 7-Eleven Banana Bread
19/1/19 — 500ml Rockstar Xdurance
20/1/19 — 7-Eleven Iced Coffee
21/1/19 — Large Slurpee
22/1/19 — 500ml Dare Caramel Latte
23/1/19 — 23.3g Tic Tac Gum Watermelon
24/1/19 — 7-Eleven Muesli Slice
25/1/19 — 7-Eleven Regular Coffee
26/1/19 — 7-Eleven Jam & Crème Lamington
27/1/19 — Slurpee Spider and Large Slurpee
28/1/19 — 250ml Remedy Kombucha Ginger


EatClub is a relatively new app. What it does is, based on your location, give you a map showing you all of the food outlets around you that currently have deals. You redeem the deal through the app, show up at the establishment and claim it. These deals can range, so check them all out.

Sometimes it’ll be ‘get 15% off, other times it’ll be ‘get 50% off.

This is a screenshot of my EatClub based on my location. All the red dots are deals currently available, the grey ones will be on later today. Bear in mind there are limits on all the deals. The restaurants will only put up X many to be claimed. I go through and ‘favourite’ my ideal places so I get a notification as soon as they let the deal go live.

This is one of my favourites. Liven is technically a new cryptocurrency as well, but here’s how it works. 
You sign up to the app, enter your details, including payment details, and visit the food outlets associated with them. When you go to pay, rather than paying with cash or your card, pay via the app. What happens is you earn a percentage of your meal back as Liven dollars. For example, if I go to the dumpling place by me and spend $20 on food, I’ll get $5 dollars back in my Liven balance, because that particular restaurant does a 25% cash back via the app.

What I do is let the dollars accumulate in my account, and treat myself to something nice, or something practical that I can stretch out. It depends, you know it goes.

Also, they have a huge variety of deals. Every day I get emails and messages from within the app with a coupon credit. Sometimes it’s free food via a credit. “Get a $15 credit on us at X restaurant on X day when you pay with Liven.” Insert the promo code, go there, get the best meal deal you can for the credit. Even when you pay with a free credit, you’ll still earn cash back. So even though you got a free meal, you earned money back to put towards another meal at some point.

The dollars you accumulate will stay there until you decide to use them.

Now, to get an automatic $5 credit to use at any food outlet you wish via Liven, use this code:


When I first started, I took my code and got a huge order of dumplings. It cost me $3 out of pocket and I got two meals out of it.

The the app’s inbox on a regular basis for deals as well as your email. Keep track of all the potential offers you might want in your planner, because you never know where you might be or when. Best to be prepared.

Pancake Parlour
This is an Austrlaian establishment (I think) but it’s one I keep my eye on. They routinely have deals like $5 short stacks, (normally around $12) and 2-for-1 deals on different drinks (that are huge). They’re Bonus offers within the app also have good deals for reduced meals (that have huge portions)

Guzman Y Gomez
This is an app I keep not because of the vast amount of deals they always have (they do, but not as frequently as others) but whenever I do go to cash in on their deals I only pay via their app, because you earn points which turn into Guzman dollars for a free meal down the line. Worth it. Mad Mex works the same way.

Now, I’m sure there are many more apps that do similar things to the ones above, but these are the ones I keep my eyes on most of the time.

Other Tips.

I’ve spent the first couple of weeks of this year trying to get the most bang for my buck on basic utilities we have no choice but to have, like phone and internet.

Now, I hate contracts and tend to avoid them, but sometimes it’s worth signing on.

My Phone.

Typically I’m a pre-paid kind of person. I like to only use what I’ve paid for and not have any surprise charges. I’ll scrimp and save and buy my phone outright then go for a pre-pay sim. Here’s the thing. My normal plan, that I’ve been on for years was this (and I thought it was pretty good) for $40 a month, I get 4GB of data, 364 minutes to use domestically and to certain countries (I used it mostly to call my grandma back in the US) and $40 of credit to use when I use up my allowances.

Here’s the thing. That wasn’t enough. For my level of emails and online work and correspondences with clients, that 4GB flew away within a couple of weeks. 3 if I could stretch it, and that credit would fly up as well. The minutes weren’t enough to get me through either. I might be able to speak to other Optus members for free, no minutes, but most of my calls are overseas. They get used up fast.

“Well just buy more.”

Well, my budget really doesn’t allow for more than $40 a month on a phone bill, so I’d end up going weeks or more without a working phone unless I managed to hijack someone’s wifi. Or I’d break down and pay for more, which cuts into my other bill budgets.

This is not good. It’s not good for me, it’s bad for my freelance business and my casual jobs, which rely on constant communication, and it’s bad for my wallet.

So do your research. I was in the middle of my second week with no working phone and couldn't’ stand it. I couldn’t leave the house else I might miss a message from one of my bosses or clients. 1 hour of research online and I found this: for $41.25 a month I could get 80GB a month and Unlimited texts and calls both domestic and international. It required I sign onto a 12 month plan, but I was spending that much every month anyway and have been for years. The kicker? It was with the same company I was prepaying with for years.

Do your research. Look into all of your options, even if you’re not on the market for a new plan. Stay informed for something better. Now I don’t have to worry about any of the above, and I can stream Netflix and Stan without using that 80GB of data. #FrivolousWin

My Internet.

Now, I live in a student apartment building. We have WiFi built throughout the entire building and we get X amount of GB included in our rent. (It’s not enough for someone like me). Now, the downside was when we move in we’re all warned about how the building is ‘locked down’ and we can’t get outside internet wired through. It sucks, big time, but those big companies have to make their money, don’t they, and they do it off the backs of us students.

So I only got X amount, and it was slow and dodgy. The other day I was in the middle of uploading 3GB worth of photos to a drive for work and it took 6 hours. Not only that, but I got cut from the internet multiple times in the middle of it all. Even worse, is that my internet access is so important for my work and my startup company, I’ve been forking out an extra $70 out of pocket every three weeks to top up with enough internet to keep me going. I work in game design and graphic design, and I’m in the middle of a startup company. I need internet access, and ample data and solid connection.

When I was uploading that 3gb of data, that was it, I got online and found a solution.

So, my building says I can’t get my own internet connection, huh? They’ve rigged the building so you can’t get your own line put through? Fine. I found a wireless broadband deal for $80 a month. It’s not unlimited, it’s 500GB, but that’s about how much I need.

So here’s a solid f*ck you to my building and it’s bullsh*t deal with my old internet company. I’ll log in and use your sh*tty data to download some movies once a month, but you’re not getting another penny of my money.

My download and upload speed are now far superior. Ha. I can even have some downtime streaming games now. #FrivolousWin

If you look at these for the long term, they’re going to save me money and give me optimal productivity potential. That’s what you need to look for and sign on to. Don’t let anybody tell you No.

JLRose is an American fantasy writer, 3D artist and game designer living in Melbourne, Australia. She’s spent the past three years working on the first full-length book of The Galean Universe.