Money Diaries

A Week In Carlton, Melbourne, On A $36,000 Income

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we tackle the ever-present taboo that is money. We ask real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we track every last dollar.

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Occupation: Disability Support Worker/Freelance Writer/Student
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 23
Location: Carlton, Melbourne
Annual Income: Roughly $36,000 (I work anywhere between 5 to 25 hours a week, with my hourly rate ranging from $30 - $80 per hour depending on what agency I'm going through. My freelance writing income is a whole other kettle of fish — it depends on my capacity to write, how much I’m hustling, and what projects I pick up! This makes keeping track of my money mildly difficult, and things like applying for rentals an absolute nightmare, but I’m grateful for the flexibility and high hourly wage these gigs have given me.)
Net Worth: $25,000 ($21,000 in savings plus the estimated value of a very, very old car. I’m sure I have super, but I’m not sure of what fund it’s with, how much I have, or how to access it.)
Debt: My university HECS debt. I have no idea of how to even access it, but I'm estimating it's around $36,000.
Paycheque Amount: This differs wildly each week, but it's roughly $700 each week. I get paid maybe ten times a month through one of my income sources. Freelancing and having multiple employers means that my income comes in different amounts and at different times each month.
Pronouns: She/Her
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Monthly Expenses

Rent: $826 for rent plus $70 for bills each month for a two-bedroom apartment. My partner and I live together and we split rent and bills down the middle, put any larger expenses on Tricount, and take turns with groceries and meals.
Internet: $34
Car Registration: $70
Car Insurance: $62
Spotify: $6
Phone: $25

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

Yes — a Bachelor's degree which I put on HECS. I have no idea how any of that even works. All I know is that I don’t have to pay upfront and that at some point in my life, my HECS payment will come out of my pay along with tax. Do I know how to access my HECS account? No. Do I care enough to try? Also no.

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

My parents were huge on saving. I was given pocket money in exchange for chores and was forced to put a chunk into my savings account every so often. I was only able to access these savings once I left school. My parents were always great about teaching me about saving, budgeting, investing, and making short-term sacrifices for long-term goals. I credit them for how well I manage my money now — I feel confident with it.

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

McDonald's! I was fourteen years and nine months old and my parents stopped giving me pocket money because they said I was old enough to work for my own money. When I was that age, I imagine I spent money on the usual stuff — movies, clothes, going down the street after school to buy ice cream. My parents obviously still paid for necessary things, but since that time, even my phone bill was my responsibility. By this stage, they were pretty well-off but wanted to instil a strong work ethic in my sister and me. Because we had that work ethic, they were extremely generous with birthday and Christmas gifts, giving us surprises here and there, and going on family holidays. I think it set me up super well for how I spend my money today — I’m pretty frugal and rarely buy *things*; instead choosing to spend my money on experiences, travel, or treating myself to material items once in a blue moon.
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Did you worry about money growing up? 

No. We were always comfortable. Mum and Dad were frugal and prioritised important things to spend money on. Because they never seemed to worry, I never worried either. However, it's only in recent years that my parents told my sister and me how broke they actually were when we were young. They really worked their asses off to send us to a private school.

Do you worry about money now? 

No — but it's only in the last year that I've stopped worrying. I used to work as a bartender to help with my study expenses, but I was constantly a little stressed about money as I wasn't earning a lot and couldn't save much. However, in the last year, I've started working as a freelance writer and my part-time work in disability pays far better than bartending. The shift in pay rate was incredible as it made me stress less about money.

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

I became fully financially responsible when I moved out of home at the age of 20. It was then that I started paying for things like rent, groceries and car stuff all by myself. Mum and Dad are still generous and help me out occasionally for things like medical appointments, or they'll shout me meals when we go out together. My savings are my main safety net, but Mum and Dad are definitely there if shit really hits the fan.
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Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain. 

I received a lump sum inheritance from a relative who passed away about two years ago. I split it with my sister (how generous of me!) and chucked my portion into my savings account, where it remains untouched. I was touched by this relative's generosity and felt super guilty for receiving the money for a long time. I'm grateful now to have such a large safety net in savings — you never know what's going to happen.

Day One

7:00am — My partner and I wake up in a sopping wet tent. We're extremely grateful that the night is over and we don’t have to try to get back to sleep on paper-thin yoga mats for the 15th time. We’re on the last day of a three-day hike with a group of our friends, and we’re all sweaty, smelly, tired, blistered and burnt. We get up and make a pot of coffee and porridge on our camp stove. I am immensely proud of all of us for carrying all our supplies for three days on our back, being self-sufficient, and not turning back.

9:00am — We pack up all our belongings and sling our 15-kilo packs onto our bruised backs for the final 13-kilometre stretch back to our starting point.

10:00am — We all walk at different paces, but congregate at the beach on the way. The view is insane — we're the only ones there, and it feels like a postcard! We take some self-timer group photos and marvel at the view.

11:00am — We stop at the peak of the final mountain we’re traversing. I eat a few protein balls.

12:00pm — We stop for lunch. I’ve got two cans of tuna, and trade an apple for someone else’s cucumber. Others are cautiously picking out slimy, three-day-old roast veggies from a ziplock bag. We all discuss whether we’re going for the parma or the steak at the pub that night.

2:00pm — After the last two hours of scaling the perpetually rocky incline, singing Take Me Home, Country Roads, we stagger into the carpark, whooping and cheering. We pack into the car and head straight to the Airbnb we booked a few months ago to rest our sore muscles, celebrate, and drink a lot.

3:00pm — Our car gets hot chips on the way, and the other car grabs a case of beer. I pay for neither, but we’ll all put our weekend expenses into Splitwise in a few days. One of my feet doesn’t fit properly in my Crocs because it’s that swollen, so hobbling from the car to the fish and chip shop takes about three times as long as usual.

7:30pm — We walk down to the only pub in town. It’s a melting pot of locals, bougie tourists and schoolies teenagers. We all take turns to buy jugs, and I grab the first one ($25.40). Someone claims that you can’t taste the difference between Great Northern and Carlton Dry, so I do a blind taste test and get it right. There was no prize, only satisfaction! All of us opt for the steak ($42.00) except for one of our friends, who, having moved to Australia at the beginning of the spicy cough, has never eaten a parma. He’s super excited to lose his parma virginity. Fortunately for us, the steak is literally the best one we’ve all ever had in our lives. Incredibly surprising, given the averageness of the pub in general, but we agree it goes further than just being the first hot meal after three days of hiking — this steak is something else. Unfortunately for our mate that got the parma, it’s a huge letdown. Someone in the group buys us all a round of tequila shots. I buy half the table gin and tonics ($28.00). $95.40

10:30pm — We leave the pub with three newly acquired additions to our group as we exit: a trio of schoolies girls. One is in floods of tears and the other two are drunkenly explaining to us that it’s because of her boyfriend. Unfortunately, we’re all walking the same way back to our respective homes, so they stagger alongside us. They invite us back to their house and ask us what music we like and let us know that they have tonnes of UDLs. Luckily, it takes them a while to realise that we’ve turned down a completely different road from them two minutes into our walk. We hear their whooping and yelling grow fainter as we stride home and fall into bed.

Daily Total: $95.40
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Day Two

9:30am — We filter into the kitchen, making instant coffees and sitting on the balcony in the sun. Some of us go and get groceries for breakfast, while the rest of us sit around and learn how to smoke a can of tuna from someone in the group that used to be in the army.

10:30am — The boys have produced a Full English for us: bacon, eggs, beans, hashbrowns, sausages, roast tomatoes, roast mushrooms, and a side of OJ. We chow it all down and the rest of us are on washing-up duty.

12:00am — We pack our beach stuff and walk down to the foreshore. It’s sunny when we leave, but starts storming ten minutes later. The tide is so high that we can’t even find sand to sit on. Dejected, we start walking back and someone yells to L., one of our crew, that there's a bee on his shoulder! He stops in his tracks and yells, “WHAT DO I DOOOO?”. Everyone does a mix of panicking, laughing, and shrugging their shoulders. Someone suggests flicking it off, but the group vetoes the action. If we try and flick it off and it stings him, he’s a goner. Suddenly, we notice that we're actually standing in the middle of a growing swarm of bees. We all run away as fast as we can, leaving poor L. standing on his own, too scared to move, with a swarm of bees around his head and one on his throat. He does live to tell the tale.

12:30pm — Half the group tries their luck at a different beach, and the other half gets a Foosball lesson from the best player in the group. I’m particularly bad at it but I feel more capable of winning after our two-hour lesson. We then play a round of a complicated board game — it's kind of like the maths version of Scrabble. We finish off the educational afternoon by doing online newspaper quizzes.

3:30pm — It’s that time of the day where the unbearable knowledge that my partner and I are in the middle of the world’s longest break-up hits me like a freight train, so I have a shower and sob for a bit. Our plans for next year are totally incompatible — I’m moving cities for a new job and he’s moving overseas a few months later. We both agreed that we’re too young to commit to indefinite long distance. So we agreed on ending it a few weeks ago, but thought we’d still spend the summer together. However, I spend all my waking hours awash in this feeling of impending doom, so the actual split may be more imminent than we had agreed on. I ponder this as I cry on the tiled floor of the shower.

4:00pm — My tears have dried, and it’s cheese platter o’clock. Beach gang has come back with cheese, watermelon, cocktail ingredients, pasta ingredients, and more beers. I owe them through Splitwise — $83.00.

7:00pm — Dinner time! A. has made a pasta with artichoke, peas, goats cheese and dill. We all drink swanky pet nat while L. makes a speech about how everything is changing next year and that he's so proud of us. I start crying, but his girlfriend does too, so my tears seem less conspicuous. L. asks us all to go around the table and talk about our goals for next year. I am swimming in private grief.

8:00pm — We light a fire in the pit out the back, and sing White Flag by Dido at the top of our lungs as we dance around the fire. I’m crying again, but luckily no one can see this time. Firelight and shower crying have a lot in common.

1:00am(ish) — As we toddle off to bed, someone shouts through the house to set our alarms for 8am — "We've got cleaning to do!".

Daily Total: $83.00
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Day Three

8:00am — My alarm goes off. I lie in bed and try not to vomit for 30 minutes and by the time I come out, most of the cleaning has been done. I utilise the rest of the packing time by complaining about how hungry I am to anyone within earshot.

10:00am — We stop off at a beachside cafe for breakfast, and I'm ravenous. My partner and I usually just take it in turns for paying when we’re out — we figure that everything will work out in the wash. I think it’s my turn, so I grab our breakfast — two breakfast burgers, two hash browns and two OJs ($52). I’m not sure whether their kitchen layout is not conducive to making ten of the same thing at once, or they’re hit by a covid-induced staff shortage, but the food takes one hour (!!!) to arrive. We distract ourselves with Uno for the first forty minutes, but then I start whinging. I’m immediately told to stop whinging, so I suffer in silence until the breakfast comes out. They forgot my hashbrown. It’s karma for me whinging. $52

11:00am — We all hug goodbye and hop in our cars to head home.

12:00pm — Our hangovers aren’t cured and we’re hungry again. We stop off at Maccas and my partner and I order three McChicken patties with Big Mac sauce — the cheaper, more innovative version of nuggets. He gets a strawberry thick shake and I get another OJ. There's something about a Maccas OJ — it bears almost no resemblance to an actual orange, but it hits different when you’re hungover. I must be feeling generous because I pay for this, too. $14.35

4:00pm — After arriving home, I make a snack of GF pasta with capers, basil, and parmesan. I’m ashamed of the trash I’ve chucked into my body these past three days. To defend myself: I’m usually more conservative with money, meat intake, and negative vibes. Come Monday morning, I’ll be human again.

4:30pm — Being without my phone for three days has made it excruciatingly obvious how shit my mindset is when I mindlessly scroll Instagram. I decide to disable my account.

5:00pm — I have a shower and do some tidying. My partner goes to play soccer and brings back some takeaway burgers from our favourite burger joint. We watch The Office as we eat like absolute couch potatoes.

9:00pm — We head to bed. I float the idea in my brain of bringing up the fact we need to split up (like, yesterday). But we’re hungover and exhausted, plus we have a rule that we can’t fight in bed, so I decide to leave it.

Daily Total: $66.35
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Day Four

4:15am — The cats wake me up by being noisy little dickheads, and I lie there unable to fall back asleep for two hours, until my alarm goes off.

6:15am — I roll out of bed, make a coffee, and do some yoga. You shouldn't think I have it together or that I'm inspirational for doing yoga before 7am — I'm just so incapable of functioning as soon as I wake up that I have to roll around on the yoga mat before I'm anywhere near being able to open my eyes properly.

7:00am — This morning I'm driving to the town I'm moving to, as I have a job orientation. Before I head off, I make porridge in a container for the road. I hate sweet breakfasts, but it’s left over from camping and the house has no (edible) groceries.

7:15am — I begin the drive. I cry three times on the way, which is shit —my foundation is going to be cooked and I need to take my ID photo for work today. I’m so anxious and filled with grief that I only manage a few mouthfuls of the porridge.

8:30am — I find free parking and walk fifteen minutes to my new workplace.

11:00am — Orientation is finished, but I have to kill three hours before I get my ID photo taken. I go for a big walk, sob as I look out onto the foreshore, and grab some ramen – $24.50.

2:00pm — I get the photo taken and I don’t look half bad. It’s for the swipe card that allows me access to all kinds of grown-up graduate stuff. It’s pretty exciting.

4:00pm — As soon as I get home, I tell my partner that I’m moving out the next day. It is as awful as you'd imagine. After a big chat, we take an exhausted nap on the couch together.

7:00pm — We head out to dinner — he buys the first round. I grab us pizzas and the second round ($77), and he grabs the last. We argue about something mundane. We manage not to cry in public. $77

9:00pm — We get home and head to bed. We sob together for a really, really long time. We agree on the rules of engagement from here on out. Again, it's every part as awful as you'd imagine.

Daily Total: $101.50
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Day Five

8:30am — We wake up and drink two instant coffees in bed. Raiz (an auto-investing app) has taken $18.29 from my account. In all honesty, while I set up Raiz years ago and have not seen any rhyme or reason to their sporadic withdrawals, occasionally I’ll check the app and I’ll have accumulated about $300. I’ll eventually withdraw that lump sum and pop it into my emergency fund. $18.29

10:30am — We make breakfast together — our usual eggs and goat's cheese on toast with herbs and sriracha. We watch some of The Office. I potter around and pack my essentials. I put in a really upbeat podcast so I don’t sob as I do so. I clean the whole kitchen to procrastinate on saying goodbye.

1:00pm — We say goodbye. Oh my god, there are so many tears. I feel like my heart is being pulled out of my chest. We stand and hold each other for what feels like twenty minutes. Oh my god, it is SO AWFUL. I’ll spare you the final sacred moments — but then I jump in my car and drive straight to my old sharehouse, where four of my girlfriends still live.

2:30pm — My best friend and I drive to a Vietnamese restaurant. She shouts me a takeaway vermicelli bowl.

3:00pm — I lie on my friends' couch for the next two hours, staring at the ceiling.

6:00pm — I head to my parents’, getting some groceries on the way — fruit, Tabasco, lettuce, tuna, bread, tomatoes, protein balls, goat's cheese, and a box of those baked cracker things in chicken drumstick flavour. $43.70

6:30pm — Dinner is chicken curry, made by dad. I promise to curb the meat intake… at a later date.

7:30pm — I get to work at my disability support worker job. It may seem like I barely work, and that is completely correct. I’m slowly dropping off shifts for all of my jobs until Christmas. After that, I’ll take six weeks off before what is going to be a very intense grad year and my first full-time job. I’ve been saving and squirrelling so that I have enough for spending money. This shift, I’m training a new worker to take over my job.

10:00pm — I get home from work and collapse into bed. I cry, and cry, and cry, and cry myself to sleep.

Daily Total: $61.99
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Day Six

7:30am — My alarm goes off because I had planned to exercise before work, but instead of snoozing, I accidentally turn it off.

9:00am — I actually wake up. Curse myself, do my usual coffee/yoga/shower routine.

10:00am — I make my usual breakfast, glad to be back in this ritual. I eat a variation of the same thing every single morning. Even when I start work at 6.30am, I’m makin’ this breakfast. Sourdough toast, topped with some form of cheese (usually goat's), then a fried egg, then some chopped tomato, salt and pepper, a bunch of herbs, and sriracha.

10:30am — I apply for some more houses in the new city and work on some freelancing projects.

11:30am — I run some errands before work. I head to a bookshop to buy a few new releases I’ve been keen to read — both are sold out. My sister also told me she wants a candle for her birthday which makes her the easiest person to buy for, ever, but the whole shopping strip of the suburb I’m in doesn't have a single place that sells a candle. I grab a halloumi and spinach pide from a bakery to eat for lunch on the way to work — $5.00.

12:30pm — I drop by one of my friend’s houses to pick up my favourite book that I lent her about six months ago. I want to re-read it as a comfort crutch. The beginning of the book is a travel memoir and details the death of the author’s mum from cancer. When I lent it to my friend, I had completely forgotten that her mum currently had cancer. She didn’t read past the first chapter. I felt like the hugest asshole at the time. We laugh about it now.

1:00pm — Work with a client.

5:30pm — I get home, try and read a bit of Eat, Pray, Love (it's one of my faves, but on the second read a few years later, the white privilege and cultural insensitivity are glaringly obvious, unfortunately), but end up chatting to mum instead. She makes me dinner — steak and salad. Sorry, cows.

6:30pm — I catch the train to salsa dancing and pop $10 on my Myki card. I pay for four weeks of salsa dancing, as it’s the start of a new term — $59. $69

8:30pm — Salsa ends. I chuck on some deodorant, put my normal shoes back on, and catch the tram to Fitzroy to meet my friend, S. I don’t touch on my Myki, because I am just like that.

9:00pm — We drink wine on her rooftop with her roommate, and I update them on my love life. I don’t cry, which is awesome.

10:00pm — We head to a bar and I buy the first round of pints – $36.36.

11:30pm — We head to a second bar and I meet their wider group of friends. The girls buy their rounds of beers for us, then I grab a wine — $8.12. I’m drunk, but not crying, and I'm enjoying talking to new people. $8.12

2:00am — The vibe turns seedy, so we head home. S. pours us another glass of wine, and between all the previous crying of the day, being drunk, and it being the latest I’ve stayed up in months, I can barely keep my eyes open. Her roommate cooks us a vegan pasta. Another friend of ours rocks up and I'm annoyed with myself because my eyes keep closing of their own volition which means I can't catch up with him properly. Still not drunkenly crying, though!

4:00am — I collapse into bed.

Daily Total: $118.48
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Day Seven

11:00am — I wake up in S.’s bed and realise I have work in two hours. This particular job is immensely slow at the moment, and they offer their staff the option to take leave without pay each morning, so I reply to my manager’s group message and take her up on the offer. S. cannot be stirred, and I need to decompress alone, so I take an Uber home — $18.24.

11:30am — I make my usual breakfast, then sit on the couch. I try and read Eat, Pray, Love again, then watch a bit of The Office, and have tears leaking out of my eyes the whole time.

2:00pm — I have a shower and head to my old sharehouse again. I cry to one of my girlfriends for a while, and regret not taking up the distraction of a work shift. She makes me a coffee and 2-minute noodles and leaves me with Netflix while she goes to work.

6:00pm — I drag myself home to my parents', stopping to grab that candle for my sister. I find a beautiful one at a bougie pharmacy for $50, and buy two rapid antigen COVID tests at the counter for $30 — they actually seem kind of fun, and I've never used one before. I also have a house party on the weekend and am due for my booster soon, so am lowkey concerned about getting COVID in the meantime. $80

7:00pm — I head to my sister's place for a drink for her birthday. I finish off my old box of chicken drumstick crackers on the way and have a glass of champagne and a slice of cheesecake at hers. Now THAT's a heartbreak dinner!

8:30pm — I drive home and hop straight into bed, falling asleep in what's only the second of many crying-induced comas in my parent's guest bedroom — at least until I find a room in the new city. Such is life!

Daily Total: $98.24
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Money Diaries are meant to reflect an individual's experience and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behaviour.
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