Money Diaries

A Week In Lyneham, Canberra, As An Economist On $78,000

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Today: an economist who makes $78,000 and spends some of her money this week on prawns as a "special occasion treat".
Occupation: Economist
Industry: Federal Government
Age: 22
Location: Lyneham, Canberra
Salary: $78,000
Net Worth: $24,000 ($30,000 in savings in my dad’s redraw facility, $15,000 in super, and a car worth about $5,000. Don’t own any shares, properties etc).
Debt: $26,000 in HECS
Paycheque Amount (Fortnightly): $2,194
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $922 for a room in a three-bedroom apartment. I have two roommates, one of whom I share a bathroom with.
HECS Debt: $295
Internet: $13
Electricity: $35
Car: $135 ($150 to rent an underground parking spot, plus rego which works out to about $85 a month. I don’t have insurance — a risky move, but it’s so expensive when you’re under 25!).
Phone: $10
Social Netball: $40
Savings Contributions: I save about $2,800 a month (roughly 60% of my income) which I lend to my dad to offset his mortgage.

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

I finished my Bachelor of Arts in 2021, paid on HECS. I was lucky to have started uni the year before the government changed course fees, otherwise, my HECS would have more than doubled. I’m the first in my family to go to uni. My dad was the first to finish high school so he was really supportive of my education. He didn’t initially approve of the arts degree though, instead wishing I had gone for something with a better job guarantee, but I’m glad I proved him wrong!

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

I was raised by a single dad who spent his childhood living below the poverty line. We lived in social housing for nine years. My dad tried to never stress about money in front of me, but watching him think twice about getting a medium drink instead of small and walking everywhere to save a few dollars definitely influenced my spending (or rather, saving) habits as well.

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

I got a job at my local burger place the moment I turned 14 and 9 months. I liked the freedom of not asking my dad to buy me stuff.

Did you worry about money growing up?

Not until halfway through high school. I always knew money was tight — no school camps, no pocket money, no recess snacks, but I didn't think it was an issue. The wake-up call was when we moved out of social housing to our own unit. I had eagerly invited some friends over, but when they came, they couldn’t wrap their heads around how it wasn’t a standalone house and that my bedroom was the size of my friends’ walk-in wardrobes. One girl called it a “Soviet prison”. My dad had always shielded me from financial worries, so that comment was a punch in the face.

Do you worry about money now?

Yes, but in a different way. I'm lucky now to have a stable job, sustainable income and a comfy savings buffer. It’s hard to shake off frugal habits though. I still buy homebrand, use free Spotify, cut my own hair, and I'd never get an Uber unless I'm actually stranded in the middle of nowhere. My biggest worry is losing my safety net, or suddenly being hit with a big expense that wipes out all my savings. I’ve thought about taking time off work to travel or study postgrad, but the thought of leaving my safety net behind is scary.

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

Last year when I turned 21, when I moved to Canberra for my first full-time job after graduating. I worked throughout high school and uni, but lived at home rent-free.

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


Day 1

6:30am — One of my alarms goes off, which I quickly snooze.
7:30am — I get up for real after my alarm goes off for the sixth time. I have three alarms that I scatter around the corners of my room to force myself out of bed. For the record, I love my job, but I just love my bed more. After getting dressed, I put on my runners, grab my bag which I packed last night, and head for work. It’s an hour’s walk which really gets my steps in!
8:45am — Get to my desk, say hi to my manager who’s already in, and change into my work heels. I start the day with emails. Turns out I'm not as busy as the rest of my team today. I’m still new to the role, which is both a blessing and a curse. While I'm usually not as swamped, it's hard to try to be useful when the rest of the team is bogged down with stuff above my pay grade.
10:30am — Pour myself a bowl of cereal at my desk. I am a serial snacker, and a late breakfast is the only way to stop myself from finishing an entire pack of Tim Tams before lunch.
1:00pm — Lunch break! I have leftovers from last night (lamb and leek stir-fry) and eat lunch with two fellow ex-grads. The grad program made moving to Canberra a lot easier as there were so many people moving to a new city knowing no one, so we were all in the same boat. Even though we’re no longer grads, many of us still grab lunch together and make plans together after work.
6:00pm — Log off for the day, change back to my comfy runners, and make my way back to the city to meet a friend for dinner at one of Canberra’s best pasta restaurants. I order a pumpkin ravioli ($26) and some garlic bread to share ($9). $35
9:00pm — Gym time! Yes, I know. Terrible hour. But I could never drag myself to the gym in the morning. I have a solid system going on where I use the gym in a friend’s apartment for free, and in exchange, I drive her to Costco once a week.
11:00pm — Curl up on my bed in my corgi Oodie and my laptop to watch some true crime videos. I binge through three of them before falling asleep.
Daily Total: $35

Day 2

8:30am — Tuesday is my WFH day. After taking my sweet time rolling out of bed, I set up my monitor at my desk. Since I only work from home once a week, I like to keep my monitor packed away and only take it out on Tuesday mornings. That way, my desk is less cluttered.
12:30pm — My roommate got us a pancake maker last week and I’ve been itching to use it. So I thought, screw it, forget the healthy veggies in the fridge, we’re doing pancakes for lunch. For toppings, I have smoked salmon with a poached egg. I wasn’t kidding when I said I don’t hold back when it comes to food.
3:00pm — My manager calls me to say we are in for a long night. Yikes! Thank goodness it’s on my WFH day so at least I can work from my bed. I put on runners and go for a quick jog to mentally prepare myself for the long night ahead.
6:30pm — Still nowhere close to logging off, and I don’t have time to make dinner. Luckily, I have a lazy hack for a delicious, cheap, and low-effort fried rice — just chuck some rice, frozen veggies, Chinese sausage, and stock into a rice cooker with whatever seasoning you prefer (my go-to is sesame oil and cumin), and voila — dinner!
9:00pm — I send off what I was working on to my manager, shut my laptop, and bolt downstairs for a walk. I’ve been sitting down for WAY too long and my legs are starting to shut off. Mid-walk, I get a notification from my manager: “Can we have a chat?”. Ah, those dreaded words that make the bravest of junior staff tremble in fear. I quickly run home and log back on. Luckily, my manager mostly called to say that most of my work will be sent up unchanged, save for a few minor amendments. I send off the document and quickly log off.
Daily Total: $0

Day 3

7:30am — I drag myself out of bed again to the blasting symphony of three alarms. I definitely have bags under my eyes, so I quickly slap on some concealer to hide my panda look.
8:45am — Back at my desk to relive the humdrum repetition of office life. It’s looking like another busy day.
10:30am — Work can wait, coffee catch-ups can’t. I’m catching up with my buddy who is a new grad in the department for coffee ($5.50) and a stroll. He’s actually five years older than me and has a master’s degree, so being the one giving him advice feels strange and unnatural. If there’s one advice I can give to my fellow early-career professionals though, it’s to never reveal your age at work. My team all thinks I’m in my mid-20s, and I plan to keep it that way. $5.50
3:00pm — I head up a floor to visit my friend in a different division. Her manager’s not around so I stay to chat for a slightly more extended amount of time than usual.
6:45pm — Home time! I’m keen to get home quickly as I still need to do a grocery shop run, so I take the bus instead ($2.55). Peak-time bus fares ended at 6pm, so it's not that expensive. Still, I miss the good old student days when I'd get a concession fare. $2.55
9:00pm — After a delicious dinner of garlic prawn pasta, I head to the shops. On my list are veggies, mushrooms, cheese, and a whole barramundi. I also buy some condensed milk and a block of white baking chocolate — it’s a co-worker’s birthday tomorrow and I’m planning to bake some caramel slices. $43.60
11:00pm — Time to bake! Caramel slice is a pretty safe option for any occasion. I always use white chocolate for the top instead of milk chocolate because my philosophy for life is the sweeter the better.
1:00am — Caramel slices are in the fridge and I’m in bed, falling asleep to a true crime podcast.
Daily Total: $51.65

Day 4

7:30am — After getting ready, I take the caramel slices out of the fridge and cut them up. I’m a bit worried about them bouncing around my bag while I walk to work, so I take the bus instead ($3.22). No non-peak-hour discount today, unfortunately. $3.22
11:00am — Time for birthday morning tea. The senior economist in my team is turning 30 and he brought in a graveyard-themed brownie cake to mark the “death of his youth”. I take out my caramel slices and our manager also brought in a cheeseboard. After such a busy week, a break feels much needed. The caramel slices are a hit, though the chocolate topping has melted a bit more than expected.
5:15pm — Hallelujah for my earliest home time this week! I meet up with my netball friend who works in a nearby department, and we walk to the sports centre together. I play wing attack on my team, though due to some unexpected absences today, I have to fill in for centre. I'm proud to announce that we didn't lose too horrifically.
10:00pm — I call my dad and we chat for an hour. We started calling each other daily since I moved out since I can imagine he’s been pretty lonely since I left home.
12:00am — I really should go to sleep, but my lack of self-control overtakes logic and before you know it, I was watching a two-hour video essay on High School Musical. That’s alright, tomorrow will be a chill day.
Daily Total: $3.22

Day 5

9:00am — No early rise for me today! When you work in government, you’re blessed with this thing called 'flex'. Essentially, if you’re below management level, then you can accumulate overtime to take off later. I decide to use two hours today for a nice sleep-in before heading into the office.
1:00pm — I get lunch with my manager and assistant manager at a Japanese restaurant ($18) in the city and chat about the busy past few days and what could’ve gone better. I like it when work chats happen over lunch, especially retrospective ones. The chill atmosphere means people are more likely to be upfront about what’s on their mind, instead of trying to remain professional and polite. $18
4:30pm — I’m hosting a dinner for three friends tonight so it’s time to head home and prep. On the menu are two mains: cheesy stuffed mushrooms and beef curry. For dessert, I’m trying out a TikTok recipe for a Nutella bread pudding for the first time. In hindsight, I really should’ve trialled the recipe in advance.
7:30pm — The bread pudding turns out phenomenally!
11:00pm — I drop my friends off at their apartments in the city, then go to 7-Eleven to fuel up. I’ve got the app locked on a price of 12 cents per litre cheaper, so I may as well get a full tank. $67.20
11:30pm — Time for another true crime binge that may last at least two hours. Who needs a healthy sleep schedule anyway?
Daily Total: $85.20

Day 6

12:30pm — Please don’t judge me, but I really do get out of bed past noon if it’s not a work day. It’s too late for breakfast so I head to the kitchen to make lunch. Today we’re making a Chinese steamed barramundi topped with sliced ginger, garlic, and spring onions. I only steamed half the fish — I’ll save the other half for tomorrow.
2:00pm — I'm a massive fan of escape rooms and, along with two other friends, we're trying to work our way through all of Canberra's escape rooms by the end of the year. Today's escape room is a haunted hotel ($45). After sailing through the first half with apparent ease, we soon hit a roadblock and have to resort to asking for clues. Turns out, we did some of the puzzles out of order, which messed us up. In hindsight, I definitely prefer escape rooms where you can work on multiple puzzles at once, as opposed to linear ones! $45
6:30pm — Forget Money Diary, I’m turning this into my cooking diary. For tonight's dinner, I’m making a GYG-inspired Mexican bowl. The recipe is from TikTok, of course (my entire TikTok FYP is just recipe ideas).
12:00am — The thing about Canberra is that you’re bound to live within walking distance of at least someone you know. In my case, it’s a friend who lives in my apartment, two floors up. She’s not asleep either and is wondering whether I’m down for some chaotic midnight baking, which I simply cannot say no to. I head upstairs with a cake tin and a realisation that I am yet to have a single normal bedtime over this Money Diary period.
Daily Total: $45

Day 7

12:30pm — Last day of the week, so I make the most of a nice sleep-in! I finally roll out of bed after remembering I still have some dishes from last night in the sink that I should probably get to before my roommates get home. They’re both out on Sunday mornings, thank goodness.
1:00pm — Sunday is my life admin day, and today I’m starting with vacuuming. Geez, this Money Diary sure is riveting, isn’t it? I remember when I moved out, my best friend from back home gave me a handheld vacuum cleaner as a joke about us adulting, but now it’s unironically a staple part of my weekly schedule.
3:30pm — Time to head to Costco, picking up my friend along the way to hold up my end of the deal for using her gym. I'm feeling extra bougie today, so aside from my usual groceries ($42.40), I also get some tiger prawns ($16). While I'm still yet to shed most of my frugal habits from growing up, one thing I now splash out on way too much is food. Seafood had always been a special occasion treat as a kid, and I love the freedom of being able to afford it regularly now. $58.40
7:00pm — One of my roommates and I both decide that we don’t feel like cooking tonight, so we go and check out a new burger store that just opened up across the street. I’m usually pretty basic when it comes to burgers and generally settle on the first burger on the menu that doesn’t contain pickles. Tonight, that’ll be the beef brisket burger. $15.50
10:00pm — I cook a pot of rice as meal prep for the coming week and crawl into bed with my Oodie wrapped tightly around me.
Daily Total: $58.40

The Breakdown

Food & Drink 176
Entertainment 45
Home & Health 0
Transport 72.97
Clothes & Beauty 0
Other 0
Weekly Total 293.97

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. You should always obtain your own independent advice before making any financial decisions.
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