money diaries logo

A Week In Blackburn, Melbourne As An Early Childhood Educator On $23,000

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.
Anyone can write a Money Diary! Want to see yours here? Here's how. If your diary is published, you'll receive $200.
Today: an early childhood educator on $23,000 spends some of her money skating with her son.
Occupation: Early Childhood Educator
Industry: Childcare
Age: 47
Location: Blackburn, Melbourne
Salary: $23,000
Net Worth: $1.15 million. My apartment is worth $550,000 and my investment property is worth $750,000. I have $135,000 in superannuation — half in a managed fund and half in an ASX index tracker fund, where the index fund consistently outperforms the managed fund. At the moment, I prefer the diversification but it also makes sense to have one super fund to avoid the fees. I have $15,000 in savings/emergency account, $4,000 in one particular share where the dividend gets reinvested and $8,000 in a travel fund. Debt: $310,000 loan on the investment property.
Paycheque Amount (Monthly): As I’m a casual, it fluctuates but based on my income of $23,000 last financial year, it was $1,640 per month.
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses

Mortgage: I own a two-bedroom apartment outright. I received a property settlement from my ex after our separation which helped me purchase the apartment outright. And I pay $2,255 monthly loan repayments on the investment property.
Body corporate fees: $700
Internet & mobile: $69.90
Bills (Electricity, Gas & Water): $200
Car Insurance: $75
Council tax: $180 
Guitar lessons for my son: $112
Amazon Music: $11.99 

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

I have an economics and finance degree funded by HECS (I paid it off long ago) and a Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care funded by my old banking employer as my part-time position was made redundant.(After my maternity leave of a year, I went back to work from a full-time basis to a part-time basis working two days a week.) I was offered a full-time position but decided to take the redundancy package as I didn’t want to have any regrets about missing out on spending precious time with my son whilst he was little. It was definitely the right decision for me.

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

My parents are refugees, so they have that scarcity mindset. During primary school, I didn’t tell them about excursions because I didn’t want to further burden them. My mum was homeless for a period of time in her home country due to the war (the family house got burnt down so they camped outside the makeshift hospital and her uncle saw them on the streets and offered his house to them) and because of this experience, buying a house was her main priority. A family friend married an Australian solicitor who helped them navigate buying a property here. When I was working in banking in London, I was able to buy a Maisonette in North London when I was 24 and sold it before returning back to Melbourne. I used the proceeds from the sale to buy my now-investment property.

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

I worked in my parents' cafe when I was a teenager without being paid (Vietnamese bread rolls were $2 back then).

Did you worry about money growing up?

I didn’t worry about money because I didn’t expect anything but knew you had to work hard for it.

Do you worry about money now?

I worry more about money now than I have at any other point in my life. This is mainly because my body corporate fees have doubled due to insurance increases, interest rate rises and inflation, and my income hasn’t increased, so I feel like I’m going backwards. I know I could work more but I love taking my son to school and picking him up after school at the set times, and spending school holidays with him. Once I offload the two properties and buy just one bigger property, my outgoings will decrease so it’ll take the pressure off.

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

After finishing university, I moved to the UK on a two-year working holiday visa and ended up staying for over 10 years. From my early twenties, I worked in banking over there and worked in banking when I returned until I was made redundant. I see myself as my own financial safety net.

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

I receive $2,300 per month in rent from my investment property. I also receive $170 per week in child support, although last year after my ex did his tax return, he owed me a further $10,000 for that year which I agreed to reduce it down to $3000. And I also receive $140 per fortnight in Family Assistance Payments, as I'm a low-income worker.

Day 1

7:30am: My son comes in to give me a cuddle. I wake up to make him pancakes with Manuka honey, and he has the whole batch with one mandarin and a cup of warm Milo. I make myself rooibos tea with a cheese and tomato toastie. I normally don’t like tomato but when they’re in season they’re like lollies.
10am: I message my friend K to see what time she’s coming over for dinner. She says her partner D has been incredibly sick and now she has a sore throat. We both decide it’s best they don’t come over.
12am: I head out to the local shopping centre for some lunch. My son loves sushi, so we get a salmon sushi pack to share and two avocado hand rolls ($20). We then pop into Coles and I try to stick to the items that are on special: broccoli, cauliflower, mandarins, Lebanese cucumber, sweet potatoes, carrots, bag of coleslaw, salmon from the deli, A2 milk for my son, Coles brand milk for myself, frozen stone-baked pepperoni pizza for my son and a Margherita one for me, a packet of cinnamon doughnuts and crumpets ($60.60). On the way out, I stop by an ATM to withdraw $50 for my nephew’s birthday present ($50).
3pm: We get home and I pack away the groceries. I make myself a rooibos tea to have with my cinnamon doughnut while my son has a glass of milk with his. Before he goes to relax on the couch, I ask him to write in his cousin’s birthday card. I give him the $50 to put into the card.
5pm: I preheat the oven to cook our pizzas and make a side of steamed veggies. My son ends up eating half of my pizza, so gives me half of his which I have with chilli flakes.
7pm: My son goes to bed for some reading time. He requests songs from Amazon Music and only gets 10 minutes of reading in before lights out.
8pm: I make myself another cup of rooibos tea and have another cinnamon doughnut. I clean up and get ready for bed.
10pm: I catch up with my friend in London via WhatsApp and then it's sleep time.
Daily Total: $130.60

Day 2

7am: My son comes in for a cuddle then asks if he can watch TV and I say yes. I stay in bed until 8am then get up to make him breakfast — two crumpets, one with strawberry jam and another with butter and Vegemite, one mandarin and a cup of warm Milo. I make myself a rooibos tea and have two cinnamon doughnuts (I hate waste!). My son checks the bag and is shocked to discover that there is only one doughnut left, which he claims for himself.
1:45: We go to my brother’s house for my nephew’s birthday. There is a lamb spit going, homemade pizzas (getting the base right for a homemade pizza is very tricky!), salads etc. We eat on and off until 5pm. My son doesn’t want lamb for dinner so we head home.
5:30pm: I make my son some pasta and a pumpkin purée with mozzarella and shredded cheese on top. I’m still full, so I skip dinner and have a cup of peppermint tea and water. After dinner, my son needs to do the usual to get ready for bed before he is allowed to have some gaming time on the iPad. I put a load of washing on as our clothes smell from the spit.
7:30pm: My son gets into bed to read but he listens to music until lights out.
8pm: I hang out the clothes to dry, clean up and get ready for bed. Then I catch up on Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles on 9Now.
10pm: I scroll through the news (I used to have a subscription to The Washington Post because I believe we need to support journalism. I feel guilty that I don’t subscribe to more!)
Daily Total: $0.00

Day 3

7:30am: As usual, my son comes in for a cuddle. We have a play date with three of his friends today at Bounce, so we need to leave the apartment at 10am. He has the usual breakfast of crumpets with one mandarin and a cup of warm Milo. I have rooibos tea and make myself a cheese and tomato toastie. I have a punnet of tomatoes to use up.
10am: We leave for our play date. I drive around looking for parking but at least I don’t have to pay for it. The session starts at 10:30am and goes for two hours. I pay for my son and his friend. — $56.
11:30am: They stop bouncing and ask for a slushy. I pay for my son and one of his friends. My son says thank you. The other mum gets it for the other two friends. There are also chocolate slices to share from his friend. — $7.49
12:30pm: The session is over and we head back to the apartment for some lunch with one of his friends. I heat up meat pies for them and put a bag of popcorn in the microwave. I end up eating most of the popcorn with a leftover chocolate slice and a cup of rooibos tea. After lunch, I make a batch of potato croquettes with lots of peas in them for dinner.
3:30pm: I take my son's friend home. We stop by Coles to get a packet of croissants for breakfast — it’s gone up to $2.85 from the usual $2.50 and I make a mental note to get croissants from Aldi next time. — $2.85
5:00pm: I start making dinner, cook some rice in the rice cooker, start prepping the salmon, spray olive oil on potato croquettes and put them in the air fryer, and cook the salmon with ready-made teriyaki sauce. I have coleslaw with my teriyaki salmon. My son has all the potato croquettes with his teriyaki salmon, and he has some yoghurt for a healthy gut. After dinner, my son does his usual routine to get ready for bed (he is all sweaty from Bounce!). No iPad time before bed tonight.
7:00pm: I managed to get him to do some reading before lights out at 8pm. I clean up and have another cup of rooibos tea. I receive a text from the mum thanking me for hosting her son today and tell her he's a lovely boy. I get ready for bed and sleep.
Daily Total: $66.34

Day 4

7:00am-ish: My son comes in, I get up just before 8am to make him a cheese and tomato croissant and he also has a plain one. He has this with a mandarin and cup of warm Milo. I have a cup of rooibos tea and Bircher muesli with milk.
10am: I check out the session times at the cinema for Transformers but there isn’t one that suits as we’re going to my mum’s for our weekly dinner at 5pm.
12pm: He requests another cheese and tomato croissant for lunch, which he has with a cup of water.
1:30pm: My son has to go for a run around the oval to earn some gaming time, so we head out. The oval is very muddy so we end up going for a long walk instead. Once home, he jumps online with his friend and since I adore this girl he’s playing with, I let him play longer than the allocated one hour. After a couple of hours, he gets off to play his guitar and then we head to my mum’s. No guitar lessons during school holidays.
5:00pm: My mum has made a huge stir fry with noodles and I make sure to fish out the broccoli to give to my son with his noodles. He would avoid fruit and vegetables if he could. My mum has made a chocolate mousse birthday cake for my nephew. We sing Happy Birthday (my son says he should’ve brought his guitar!). There are huge strawberries on top of the cake (winning, as strawberries are expensive at the moment and my son has to eat the strawberry on his slice!), and we take some home as we love our cakes!
7:00pm: My son says thanks to his grandma and we say our goodbyes. As soon as we get home, he gets ready for bed and it's lights out at 8pm.
8:00pm: I have a cup of rooibos tea. I have batch-cooked bolognese sauce for nights like this, so I take one portion out of the freezer and put it into the fridge to defrost for tomorrow’s dinner. I clean and get ready for bed.
Daily Total: $0.00

Day 5

7:30am: My son comes in and I wake up to make him the usual two crumpets that he has with one mandarin and a cup of Milo. I have rooibos tea with a slice of chocolate cake and leave my strawberry for him. I advise him that there’s a slice for him in the fridge.
9am: I book two tickets for Transformers in the 1:45pm session. — $32.10
12pm: We go to a cinema where I don’t have to pay for parking and we have lunch there. Again, we get a salmon sushi pack to share and two avocado hand rolls ($20). After lunch, we make our way to the cinema; no treats for us as he has a slice of chocolate cake waiting for him, besides, as I tell my son, the treats at the cinema are a rip-off. We both enjoyed the action-packed movie and luckily it wasn’t all blood and guts, as they’re mainly robots. During the movie, my friend in Sydney texts to let me know they managed to get Taylor Swift concert tickets and will be in Melbourne in February (they were unable to get any tickets for Sydney). We can’t wait to see them again. She was my manager in London — a fellow Australian taking care of another Aussie! When she interviewed me, she told me not to sell myself short and I've never forgotten that.
5:30pm: I just have to cook some spaghetti and reheat the bolognese sauce. I grate some Parmesan cheese. I reluctantly let my son have the slice of chocolate cake, and he eats most of it with the strawberries but is too full to finish it.
Daily Total: $52.10

Day 6

7am-ish: My son wakes me up and there are no more crumpets, so he has toast with avocado, one mandarin and a cup of warm Milo. I also have two pieces of toast with avocado and a cup of — you guessed it — rooibos tea. We decide to go skating instead of Twisted Science. The session at 2pm allows me to skate for $10 instead of $22, so I opt for that one. I get a reminder from the library that the books are nearly due, so I get him to do an hour of reading instead of an hour of gaming time. I get him to read aloud to me for a bit to make sure he's actually reading.
12pm: There’s a frozen Margherita pizza in the freezer — I add more slices of cherry tomatoes and sprinkle more mozzarella cheese on top and pop it into the preheated oven. We’re planning to have hot chips at the rink as a treat.
1:15pm: We head out to the rink and arrive early, so we wait in the queue. For entry and skate hire, the total comes to $42. We win a competition so we each get a coupon for the café. My son gets a packet of chicken chips and I get a giant cookie, so I don’t buy any hot chips as we have treats already. A Taylor Swift song comes on and I think of my friend in Sydney. After skating for over an hour, we’re tired, so we decide to head home before peak hour traffic.
5pm: I make a pasta bake with random veggies thrown in, a jar of Mutti tomato sauce and lots of shredded mozzarella on top. He has yoghurt for a healthy gut.
8pm: I have a cup of rooibos tea with my giant cookie that I saved.
Daily Total: $42

Day 7

7am-ish: My son wakes me up and I make him toast with leftover avocado, which he has with a mandarin and a cup of warm Milo. I have a big bowl of Bircher muesli with milk and a cup of rooibos tea as I have a shift today. I cut up some cucumber for my snack. My son goes to his dad’s today and we have a handover at 10am, before my shift.
9:30am: His dad is already waiting for us, so we do the handover and organise to go out to dinner together as a family on Tuesday night to a Japanese buffet. I recommend Twisted Science for something to do as my brother has highly recommended it and said his kids loved it.
10am: I start my shift and I give it my all. I get a 15-minute break where I drink water and have my snack.
3pm: I finish work and head to the shops to buy something for dinner. I walk around and end up with organic chicken wings to have with my leftover coleslaw and rice. I don’t mind paying more for organic. I also get a packet of mandarins. — $7.84
Daily Total: $7.84
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!

More from Work & Money