Money Diaries

A Week In Calwell, Canberra, As A Communications Account Manager On A $356,000 Joint Income

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Today: a communications account manager who makes $121,000 a year and spends some of her money this week on a pumpkin-shaped cat bed.
Occupation: Communications Account Manager
Industry: Government
Age: 37
Location: Calwell, Canberra
My Salary: $121,000
My Husband's Salary: $235,000
Net Worth: An estimated joint value of $2.4 million, consisting of two properties ($2.7 million value), super ($569,000), savings ($179,000) and shares ($461,000). We have a joint account and separate savings accounts so we’re free to spend our own money.
Debt: $1.4 million, consisting of outstanding loan amounts in two investment properties and investment shares. We have a low-fee credit card that costs $0 if we spend above a monthly amount, which we easily do since we use it for joint expenses. It’s paid off in full through automatic deduction from our joint account every month. My husband and I have paid off our HECS debts.
My Paycheque Amount (Fortnightly):$3,374
My Husband's Paycheque Amount (Fortnightly): $6,510
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses

Mortgage: We have paid off our house. We live in a house with great views of Canberra, along with our three-year-old daughter and my husband's mum who looks after her while we work. We have mortgages on two investment properties that are mostly offset by the rent repayments.
Utilities (Rates, Water, Electricity, Gas): $825
Streaming (Netflix, Spotify, Disney+): $20.50. We share these accounts with multiple family members and distribute the costs. I’m currently on a free 14-day Binge trial so my husband can watch House of the Dragon, but I’ll cancel it before I’m charged.
Amazon Prime: $5
Google One Drive: $2
Internet: $59.95
Phone: $12.50
Petrol: $200. Unfortunately, our car guzzles premium fuel.
Health Insurance: $143
Home Insurance: $183
Swimming Lessons: $95
Playschool (x1 day/week): $200
Savings and Expenses: I’ve set up my bank account to automatically transfer $1,200 every month to our joint account. Since my husband earns more, he covers a larger portion of our expenses. The rest of my pay goes into savings (around $4,300 per month).

Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?

I did a Bachelor of Law and Media in 2003 under a HECS loan. Once I finished it after five years, I decided to do an Honours in Media for an extra year. I didn’t make any voluntary HECS payments since I fully intended to find a decent full-time job straight after uni and pay the loan off through my salary. It worked out as planned and I finally paid the loan off this way about four years ago.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?

Growing up, we weren’t rich and we weren’t poor — comfortably in the middle. My parents were born in Malaysia and met in London as student nurses before migrating to Australia in the 70s. They must’ve saved up the pounds because they were able to buy a new house outright in Sydney’s western suburbs. My parents were never frivolous with money though, with my dad being the most careful. I get my financial sense from him, such as never spending more than what I earn, and not relying on credit.

What was your first job and why did you get it?

My first work experience was getting exploited by a fast food chain franchisee who made me work unpaid “trial” shifts before reneging and not offering me a job. I saw in the local paper they eventually got fined for this practice, so I feel vindicated! Eventually, I landed a casual job with the ATO for data entry. I was able to live at home and save up for what eventually became a deposit on a one-bedroom apartment, which I bought in Canberra when I moved there to take up a graduate program role.

Did you worry about money growing up?

I never worried about money as a kid. My sister and I didn’t get allowances, but if we wanted something we’d usually get it (within reason). I also knew about savings through the Dollarmite program, which my mum would sometimes give me $20 to contribute to via my school. When I did have spending money from birthdays or Chinese New Year, I’d squirrel it away in my money box and use it for books and comics. I was a real nerd.

Do you worry about money now?

I’m in a comfortable financial place with a secure job and savings, so I feel fortunate that I don’t need to worry about the basics of life. I’m a naturally frugal person and hate paying full price with a passion, plus I enjoy cooking, so I’d much rather eat a homemade lunch, dinner or snack. Since having a kid, there also haven’t been any outgoings on big overseas holidays, which has helped bolster our savings accounts. I miss Japan though!

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?

I moved out of home at 24 to relocate to Canberra for my first full-time job. I’ve built a decent buffer of savings over the years which took occasional hits from big-ticket purchases such as a car, a grand piano and a wedding, but I know if anything unexpected were to happen, I’d be okay for a while.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

The only help I received was from my parents when I needed a guarantor for my first property. The bank kept the deed for their house for a few years until I was financially stable enough not to need them as a safety net.

Day 1

6:40am — I wake up of my own accord (no alarms in my house, since Miss A. is the only alarm my husband and I need) and laze in bed until 7am, which is when Miss A. starts yelling through her baby monitor. I tune her out until she barges into the bedroom sans her pyjamas and nappy — ignore that, mum! Mr A. and I alternate days to get Miss A. dressed and fed and it’s my turn today. 
7:30am — I scoop some homemade ice cream (blended frozen bananas, Greek yoghurt, cacao powder, vanilla paste and honey) for Miss A. and add some Cheerios and a diced strawberry. I grab a bowl of peanut butter and banana overnight oats from the fridge for myself and brew a cup of green tea — I’m a sucker for Madame Flavour’s jasmine and pear. Miss A. wants eggs as a second course so I scramble two, courtesy of our backyard chooks.
9:00am — I get dressed while my mother-in-law takes over looking after Miss A. She has been living in our guest room since I returned to work full-time. I’m super grateful we’ve had her help for this long, which has saved us a massive amount in childcare fees. 
9:30am — I leave for work, which is only a short 10-minute drive. I pay for all-day parking in the staff carpark through an app ($3) and get settled at my desk with a cup of hot water. $3
11:00am — I spend a quiet morning meeting with some colleagues and getting debriefed on an expo one of my staff attended yesterday. Things have really died down after I landed a massive communication campaign last month, but I’m not complaining. 
1:15pm — Lunch time! I eat leftovers (soy chicken, veggies and rice) at my desk while scrolling through the news, Facebook and Reddit.
1:30pm — It’s stopped raining so I head to the shops across the road to see what’s reduced by 50% or more. I hate seeing perfectly good food in supermarkets go to waste just because of an arbitrary use-by date, so I feel like I’m doing my bit for landfill. I snap up a reduced 3L carton of full cream milk ($3.27, down from $5.95). I also grab a couple of boxes of tissues since we’re running low due to rampant hay fever ($6.80), then head back to the office. $10.07
2:30pm — For the rest of the afternoon, I keep sipping hot water, jump into my only meeting of the day and plan a workshop invite.
5:00pm — Time to dash back home. Mr A. and Miss A. take my car to her swim class while I prep dinner. Tonight it’s salmon parcels with broccoli, asparagus and carrot. Miss A. inhales a chunk of my salmon after taking a fancy to it and I’m still hungry, so I polish off the last waffle from a batch I made earlier in the week with a couple of strawberries and chocolate hummus.
7:30pm — Mr A. puts on the Casper movie for Miss A. to satisfy her Halloween craving while she eats a banana as her after-dinner snack. I bust Mr A. in our pantry sneaking some Thins, so of course, I need to have some too! 
9:00pm — The movie’s over (ahhh, Devon Sawa) and Miss A. is tucked into bed. Mr A. chills with some House of the Dragon while I faff around on my phone and do my night routine (CeraVe face moisturiser, Laneige lip sleeping mask and L’occitane ultra-rich body cream).
Daily Total: $13.07

Day 2

8:00am — Mr A. gets Miss A. ready while I indulge in a mini sleep-in. I finally drag myself out of bed and eat my overnight oats with a cup of green tea. My go-to toppings are currently strawberries, blueberries, bananas, Greek yoghurt and walnuts. It’s yum, and this combo keeps me feel full until lunch.
8:30am — Feeling energised, I head downstairs to the studio under our house, which has our gym set up with weights and a treadmill. I smash out a 30-minute run. After losing 15 kilos earlier in the year, I’m determined to keep up the momentum. It’s a relief to fit into my wardrobe again!
9:30am — I arrive at work and pay for all-day parking ($3). I settle in for a daily scrum with my team followed by a change assessment workshop, while sipping cups of hot water. $3
12:30pm — I’ve run out of oyster sauce, so I walk across the road to the Asian grocer. They’re pretty flaky with putting price tags on products, so you can imagine my consternation when I’m charged $14.90 for one bottle! I’m too chicken to cancel the sale and slink off to the shops, where I drown my sorrows by bagging a reduced pavlova ($7.54, down from $13), a small box of mixed fruits from the independent grocer ($2.50) and a sparkly Elsa headband for Miss A. ($5). $29.94 
1:00pm — While I eat lunch at my desk (leftover Sichuan noodles with chicken, cucumber and tomato), I compare oyster sauce brands and prices on Google. I find a much better brand on Amazon for half the price and die inside. I try to comfort myself with a slice of pavlova and some corn thins from my snack drawer.
4:00pm — Screw it! I walk back to the Asian grocer to return their rip-off sauce. They accept it without a fuss — whew. Afterwards, I message Mr A. to order me two bottles using his Amazon Prime membership. He pays as a gift to me and to placate my outrage, which he’s kindly tolerated all afternoon. +$14.90 
5:00pm — Clock off time! I head back to the shops to get a witch hat and treat bag for Miss A., since we’re taking her to a Halloween event tomorrow ($5). Back home, we pile into the car (mother-in-law sits this one out) and head to the city. I rarely cook on Fridays and since it’s late-night shopping, we like to take Miss A. out for a change of scenery. We eat noodles at our favourite restaurant ($29) and share a side of dumplings ($13.80) with Miss A. $49.05   
8:30pm — Miss A. has brought her treat bag, so we take her to the chocolate shop where she can pick her favourite assortment ($12.90). The sales assistant also gives us all free chocolates to taste. Miss A. demolishes hers then looks at mine longingly, and I cave after one bite. That’s mum life for you. We pay for parking ($3), then head back home for Miss A.’s shower and bedtime. $15.90
11:30pm — Mr A. continues House of the Dragon. I chuck on my Oodie aka a wearable blanket (it’s still freezing in Canberra!) and chill on my phone until it’s lights out.
Daily Total: $82.99

Day 3

6:00am — You’ve got to be kidding... Miss A. is wide awake and demanding attention at an ungodly hour on a Saturday. I manage to convince her to lie quietly in our bed until she starts kicking me in the kidneys too many times. This is the stuff they don’t cover in parenting books.
7:15am — Miss A. has scrambled eggs and homemade ice cream, strawberries and Cheerios while I eat oats and sip green tea. We’re both creatures of habit, what can I say?
8:30am — I hang out with Miss A. while Mr A. vacuums the house and sweeps the driveway. I play her some songs on my piano while she accompanies on her toy drum set. I really want to try and foster an interest in piano so she can take lessons in a few years, plus who else is going to inherit my piano when I’m six feet under? Mr A. has the musicality of a rock.
10:30am — We take Miss A. to a Halloween scavenger hunt at a shopping centre. It turns out to be mostly store hopping but Miss A. still enjoys herself and the hoard of lollies and chocolate she manages to collect. We pop into Coles to pick up a Halloween decoration and an assortment of chocolates for trick-or-treaters ($16.50). Spare ribs are on special so I also get a tray and some shallots, which I’ve run out of ($13.80). $30.30 
12:30pm — For lunch, we head north for what we reckon is the best value fish and chips in town (controversial!). Three enormous fillets and chips sets us back $31.50. I brought some extra tartare sauce from home, but I didn’t need it — another plus! The fish and chip shop also sells seafood so we get two sashimi-grade salmon fillets for dinner ($27.64). By this point, Miss A. needs to go potty and the staff at the supermarket next door kindly let her use their staff loo, so I might as well browse the shelves while I wait. I pick an avocado then score some bargains from the reduced shelf — pumpkin and spinach bites, chopped spinach and strawberries ($8.99). $68.13 
3:00pm — Finally home, but no time to rest. I marinade the salmon and avocado for tonight’s poke bowls and defrost edamame. Since four racks of pork ribs have finished defrosting in the fridge, I decide to prep those and the spare ribs to make Thit Kho (braised Vietnamese pork with eggs) and Asian BBQ ribs for dinner this week.
5:00pm — The rice is still cooking, so what the heck — I bake banana bread with a mix of healthy flour and no sugar chocolate chips. Mr A. is taking Miss A. to the zoo tomorrow and they’ll be sorted for morning tea provided they don’t get mugged by the resident peacock.
8:00pm — Mr A. and Miss A. chill in front of the TV while I hop on the treadmill downstairs to offset today’s food choices. 40 minutes later, I’m done. Upstairs, I sneak an end piece of the banana bread. It’s bolstered with protein so I feel justified. 
11:30pm — Despite his morning’s rude awakening, Mr A. and I turn in at the same time. Bring on the sleep debt!
Daily Total: $98.43   

Day 4

7:30am — Miss A. wakes at a socially acceptable hour and shares a smoothie with Mr A., followed by a peanut butter sandwich. After oats and green tea, I put the Thit Kho on the stove to slowly braise through the morning. Even uncooked, it smells amazing!
10:00am — I pack a bento full of goodies for Mr A. and Miss A.’s zoo trip and send them on their way. I’ve now got a number of glorious hours all to myself, but chores come first. I hang out the washing, clean the chicken coop and do the dishes while getting updates on the zoo trip through WhatsApp. Mr A. is meeting with a couple of our dad friends and their kids, and so far everyone seems more captivated with the playground and their snacks than the animals. My banana bread is a big hit with the kids at least!
11:00am — In lieu of the treadmill, I opt for a walk to the local shops, taking the long route and slogging it up all the hills to get my steps up. I’ve run out of garlic and bread (what’s with this running trend lately?) and we’re low on eggs because Miss A.’s demand outstrips my chickens’ ability to lay faster. I also get another avocado and a box of tissues as my nose is a miserable mess thanks to pollen ambushing me during the walk. $14.46
12:00pm — The walk made me peckish and all the talk of banana bread makes me want a slice. It doesn’t hit the spot so I polish off the rest of the poke for an early lunch.  
1:00pm — I take advantage of solo time to belt out some tunes on my piano. My sister and I studied piano seriously growing up but while she’s now a music teacher, I just play for fun. Not having Miss A. around to demand endless repeats of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star means I can run through my favourite pieces without interruption. Hope the neighbours liked the free concert! 
3:00pm — Time to start the ribs (the Thit Kho is for a future dinner since the flavours will intensify over time). Wrapped in foil, they go into the oven to slow cook for a few hours before basting under high heat. Afterwards, I have a slice of pavlova with black tea while thumbing through a few pages of Graceling by Kirsten Cashore (I’ve read it before, but it’s still a goodie).
3:15pm — Miss A. comes back home sweaty and all zoo’d out, but hyper — probably on the Callipo she just ate. Nonetheless, I wrangle a change of clothes and put her to bed to rest. Mr A. still has energy despite surviving on nothing but snacks all day and goes to run some errands. 
6:30pm — Dinner is Asian ribs with sides of corn cobs, steamed veggies and rice. Lots of messy hands and faces all around, but there’s something about ribs that really hits the spot.
8:30pm — Miss A. is out like a light after a weekend of fun. Mr A. informs me my front tyres are nearly bald (!) so he books in a tyre change next week. Luckily, my tax return is due any day now. I spend the rest of the night going down a rabbit hole of music videos on YouTube while Mr A. finishes House of the Dragon.
Daily Total: $14.46

Day 5

7:30am — It’s a soggy start to the week and the temptation to work from home is high, but I have an important presentation today and can’t risk Miss A. barging in like she usually does. Banana ice cream, Cheerios, scrambled eggs, oats… you know the drill now. 
9:45am — I pay for all-day parking ($3) and slosh through the car park. There’s a hole somewhere in the sole of my boot and I can feel my foot getting damp. Getting new shoes for summer has been on my to-do list for ages, but having size five feet means it’s hard getting motivated to go shopping. I wish I could fit in the cheapies from Kmart and Target. $3
10:30am — I have a weekly check-in with my team where we chat about our weekends and upcoming work. I peer review some videos for a teammate, then get started reviewing some products that need updating with new content for a major product launch in the next few weeks.
1:00pm — Presentation time! I speak about evaluation highlights for the big communication campaign I’ve led for the past year. My national manager and senior executives from other government departments make up the audience, so it’s more top-heavy than what I’m used to. I’ve gotten better at presenting over the years and this was online so I didn’t have to show my face, but my hands are still shaking by the end of it. I scoff my lunch (leftover ribs, rice and veggies) while I listen to the rest of the presenters.
2:00pm — It’s pelting down but I need to get up and stretch my legs, so I brave the wind and horizontal rain to walk to the shops. I pick up one more bag of chocolates for trick-or-treaters, two reduced high-protein meals, beans and heaps of oranges that are on clearance — Miss A. loves freshly squeezed juice. $14 
4:00pm — I’m struggling, and sneak one of the fun-size Flakes I just bought for an energy boost. A message from myGov also lets me know my tax return has arrived — woohoo!
6:30pm — Mr A. has prepared dinner with the last salmon fillet. Tonight, it’s blow-torched salmon nigari with teriyaki sauce, a.k.a. Miss A.’s GOAT. We pair it with some tuna, mayo and avocado rolls.
7:00pm — The rain has let up a bit, and the first trick-or-treaters of the evening arrive. We take Miss A. out to knock on a few of the neighbours’ doors, then hop in the car to visit a few friends who are also taking part. 
8:30pm — Miss A. has amassed another huge haul! Since we’re in the area, we stop at the local shops to let Miss A. burn off some of the sugar high. I get her favourite gold Kiwis and there’s a special buy doormat reduced to clear, which we add to the trolley since the one at our back door has disintegrated in the rain. Mr A. gets six boxes of the pricier tissues, and we score one for free after they scan at a higher price — never pass up a chance to enforce the scanning policy! $22.49
9:30pm — Miss A. is in bed and it’s time to relax for a few hours. I listen to Taylor Swift’s new album while scrolling through my phone in bed, then turn in for the night at my usual time.
Daily Total: $39.49

Day 6

7:30am — Ugh. I didn’t sleep very well since the wind and rain were atrocious last night. So much for spring! I’m not so tired that I can’t go for a run, so I hop on the treadmill for half an hour. It does the trick of waking me up, and I refuel with oats and tea.
9:20am — Since it’s too rainy for Mr A. to ride to work, I drop him off (we’re employed by the same agency) and reach my own building a little earlier than usual. $3 for all-day parking again. $3 
9:30am — I catch up with some of the work mums on how they spent their Halloween. We all share photos of our kids in costume and coo over the cuteness. 
12:00pm — I chair a meeting, and the action items generate a fair bit of future work for my team — just great! I foresee a long-ish shopping expedition ahead of me, so I eat my lunch (leftover sushi) before I walk across the road.
2:00pm — Groceries first: blueberries, bananas, mangos and a yoghurt pouch for Miss A.’s school lunch tomorrow ($10.47). Then I scour the shops for Halloween bargains. I score two full costumes, a witch cape and cat ears for Miss A. ($17.25). Plus, a random skeleton doing yoga? Why not! ($2) I pass on some heavily reduced, but creepy animatronics. No one needs an evil clown in their house. $29.72
5:30pm — After another quiet afternoon, I pick up Mr A. and we head home. Miss A. loves her new cat ears and she happily crawls around on all fours while I heat up the Thit Kho for dinner. It’s moreish and fragrant — the ultimate in comfort food for the current weather. We gobble it up with rice and steamed broccoli and beans on the side.
8:00pm — I make another batch of frozen banana ice cream and soak some oats for breakfast before chilling out with Miss A. in front of the TV with kiwi fruit and the last of the pavlova. The Simpsons/Death Note crossover episode was just released yesterday and I stream it from YouTube. Absolutely amazing! Miss A. is less impressed and plays Peppa Pig on her iPad.
9:30pm — Downtime for the parents. Before turning in, I window shop the latest Zimmermann and Country Road listings on eBay but nothing catches my eye. 
Daily Total: $32.72

Day 7

7:30am — It’s f-f-f-freezing. Am I living in Canberra or Melbourne?! We’ve had our fair share of four seasons and everything in between this week. Miss A. doesn’t seem to care about the cold and does a nudie streak through the house before I get her settled with breakfast.
9:15am — Today is Miss A.’s playschool day, so I drop her off and return to work from home. Working in trackies is the best! It’s a full morning of meetings right until lunch, and the house is blissfully quiet without Miss A. yelling up a storm.
12:30pm — I walk to the shops as my lunchtime exercise. My favourite Greek yoghurt is on special and I find reduced greens for our stir fry dinner tonight ($8.80). There’s also more Halloween reductions! I snag a treat bucket and Mickey Mouse door decoration for just $2.60. We’re going to be soooo organised next year! $11.40
1:25pm — I’m late, I’m late! I rush back home and hop in the car to pick up Miss A. There’s sand in her shoes and paint all over her clothes, but she had another fun-filled day. I wish playschool offered more than one day a week, so Mr A. and I are looking at other options for enrichment. We’re on the wait list for the local Montessori, but unfortunately, so is half the population of Canberra.
2:00pm — Miss A. has cauliflower fritters and dinosaur nuggets for lunch, while I heat up one of the protein meals I bought earlier in the week. Instant regret! Does anyone actually taste-test these things? The flavour is absolutely hideous and the meal is filled with olives, which is a totally unnecessary side for chicken breast — yes, I’ll die on this hill. I sneak a Twirl from Miss A.’s treat stash to get the taste out of my mouth, then spend the rest of the afternoon carefully reviewing a communication plan for an initiative that has implications for the account I manage.
5:30pm — There’s Hokkien noodles in the fridge I want to use up, and I really want to try out the fancy oyster sauce that finally came in the mail, so I start prepping beef, fish tofu, garlic and prawns. The pre-chopped greens I bought at lunch save me some precious chopping time. I make a huge amount and pack the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
7:30pm — Wednesday is when the supermarkets switch specials, so we head out to see what’s on sale. We get Miss A.’s favourite yoghurt, chips ($8.50) and super cheap clearance items — Miso cauliflower and an enormous 1.2kg pumpkin and ricotta lasagne only come to $8.81! I also spot reduced walnuts and almonds for $4.80, which can go on my oats. At the next stop, I get reduced milk and we stock up on half-price kid toothpaste ($8.21). $30.32 

8:30pm — We visit Kmart to see if there’s a decent gift for a birthday party Miss A. is going to on Saturday, but nothing stands out. Mr A. makes a weird purchase of a $5 cat bed in the shape of a pumpkin (Halloween leftovers again) with the promise of making something out of it next year when we decorate the house. I’ll believe it when I see it. $5 

11:30 — After listening to an upbeat Spotify playlist while web browsing, I head to bed. Night all!
Daily Total: $46.72

Anything else you'd like to add or flag?

This week was a little higher in spend due to getting in the Halloween spirit. I usually don’t stock up on so much junk food and of course, buying things like decorations and costumes is very much a once-off! Apart from that, our overall weekly spend was fairly typical. My main outgoing is groceries. Eating out is something we only reserve for Friday night and the weekend. I don’t wear makeup or get fancy nails and hair treatments, and I have all the clothes I need, so it’s rare for me to buy something for myself — I'd rather spend on clothes and fun stuff for Miss A. She’s my main priority now!
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