Money Diaries

A Week In Canberra As A Government Public Servant On $200,000

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.
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Today: a senior public servant working in government who makes $80,000 a year and spends some of her money this week on a paint-by-numbers kit.
Occupation: Senior Public Servant
Industry: Federal Government
Age: 41
Location: Canberra, ACT
My Salary: $153,000 usually, but I'm now working part-time (16 hours/week) so I make around $80,000.
Husband's Salary: $120,000
Net Worth: $412,434 (A house worth $700,000 and an investment property worth $500,000. We also like to have a small amount of savings ($10,000) available which we maintain by paying over the minimum loan repayment or making additional payments.)
Debt: $797,566 (A $286,275 mortgage on our house, a $509,291 mortgage on our investment property, and $2,000 in credit card debt.)
Paycheck Amount (Fortnightly): $2,000.
Pronouns: She/Her
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Monthly Expenses

Mortgage: $1,800. My husband and I live with our two children in a three-bedroom house plus studio in the suburbs. It's a super quiet leafy neighbourhood with friendly neighbours who we can count on to feed our cats when we are away.
Investment Property Mortgage: $2,000. This is covered by my rental income ($650/week).
Utilities: $200 (Electricity, gas and water)
Health Insurance: $110
House and Car Insurance: $100
Medical Costs: $250
Netflix: $15
Disney+: $12
Internet: $60
Kids Activities (Ice Skating and Ukulele): $200
Fortnightly Cleaner: $192
Savings For Travel: $150
Phone: $65
Dance Classes: $136
Personal Money: $700. I use this to pay for clothes, makeup and entertainment.

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

Yes. My parents always encouraged me to attend university. I enjoyed school and wanted to further my education. I obtained a Bachelor of Arts using HECS and paid off my debt by the time I was 25.

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

My parents were excellent savers. They took us on many holidays, including a three-month trip to Europe when I was a teenager. We didn't really talk much about money — there was always enough for us, but we also ate at home a lot and prioritised experiences like theatre or travel. When I was an older teen, Mum started explaining how to budget and what savings to look for in a supermarket.

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

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I started babysitting around age 14 and then took a Saturday job at the pharmacy. I loved having my own money to spend — I saved some of it, but also bought CDs, hair dye and makeup.

Did you worry about money growing up?

No, it was never a concern. My parents were always able to pay for excursions, holidays and gifts, so I knew we were okay. We didn’t have the newest cars, expensive clothes or fancy houses, but we had plenty of what we valued as a family.

Do you worry about money now?

Yes. I have recently moved to part-time hours which has meant there's been a decrease in my take-home pay. While we are managing at the moment, we also have plans to travel overseas in the next few years. I'm a little concerned about whether we can save up enough.

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

I was lucky to have my parents pay for my accommodation and food while I was in university. I took part-time jobs to have money for fun and travel. Once I had graduated at age 21, I got my first full-time job and was fully financially responsible.

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

Yes. My parents generously provided us with $30,000 to purchase our house. I also received $3,000 when my grandparents passed away — this went towards dentistry for our oldest daughter. My parents will also occasionally gift us some money for purchases and are putting money aside for our daughters.

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Day 1

7:30am — Alarm wakes me up. I stumble out to make breakfast for the kids, E. and J. I am heading into the office today — I work from home mostly, but try to go in one day a week to touch base with my colleagues. I get dressed and do my makeup, excited to try my new IL Makiage foundation. It is the perfect colour and I love the texture and feel of it on my skin. Then the whirlwind of getting the kids ready for school begins. I make their lunches and find their lost readers. We're finally out the door and I drop the girls at school before driving to work.
9:15am — I arrive at work and park in the multi-level car park, which costs $12 per day. $12
1:30pm — I recently moved to part-time hours to better manage my mental health and provide more support to my kids. My daughter, E., struggles with anxiety and I am recovering from a depressive episode from earlier this year after two years of overworking and extreme Covid anxiety left me really burnt out. I am grateful that my manager is very supportive of me working part-time and restructuring my work responsibilities. I am currently working four hours a day, four days a week. On Mondays, I like to grab lunch with a work friend. We chat and catch up over chicken schnitzel sandwiches at a local cafe ($18). I also grab a Coke No Sugar — definitely my vice! After lunch, I head home for some meditation before picking up the kids from school. $18
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5:30pm — I prep dinner — spaghetti and meatballs — before heading out to my dance class (included in my monthly expenses). I love my adult contemporary dance class. We all support each other and have a good laugh. Once the class is over, I head home to reheat my dinner and chat with my husband after the kids are asleep. We watch some TV, then head to bed at around 10:30pm.
Daily Total: $30.00

Day 2

7:30am — Alarm again, but I'm not on breakfast duty today so I have a shower and get dressed before making myself some toast and tea. I am working from home today while my husband heads into his office. We saved up some money last year to renovate a double garage we were using as our work-from-home office — it's now fully insulated, with proper flooring, walls and a small bathroom. It's great being able to 'leave home' to go to work, but only have to take 15 steps to arrive at my desk.
1:00pm — I log off and have some leftovers for lunch.
3:00pm — I walk up to the school to pick up the kids, dropping into the local shops on the way to buy a new mascara and some chocolate. I love the Natio mascara as it's the only one that doesn't irritate my eyes ($15). I also grab some antihistamines for the upcoming pollen season ($18). Walk the kids home and make them some afternoon tea — J. loves milky tea in the afternoon. I discover that E. has misplaced her school hat, so I jump onto Best and Less to order another one. Also grab her some school pants, some summer shorts for J. (they're on sale) and some new pyjamas for me (also on sale). I am obsessed with having pockets in my PJ pants at the moment. I don't quite qualify for free shipping, so I add another pair of PJ pants to tip it over the limit ($103). $136
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4:30pm — Bundle the kids into the car to take E. to ukulele practice. While she is in her lesson, J. and I walk/scoot around the neighbourhood, stopping at a petrol station to buy a Coke and a Kinder Surprise ($5). Then we do some reading in the car until E. finishes.
7:00pm — Back home, I make halloumi and pea fritters for dinner — they are so delicious. Hubby goes on Xbox to play a game and chat with his friend while I watch TV on the iPad. It accidentally turns into a bit of a late night and I don't turn the lights off til 11pm. Whoops! $5
Daily Total: $141

Day 3

8:00am — Wellness Wednesday. As part of my recovery, I take Wednesdays off work and do specific activities to improve my wellbeing. This includes a small sleep-in! I offer the kids lunch orders today as I can't be bothered to make lunches. E. loves getting mac and cheese and J. wants pasta — done and done! ($12) The lunch order system is super easy to use and tops up from our joint account. Normal wrangling of kids til I get them out the door — we are walking this morning and it is chilly! Glad I have my puffer jacket on. After dropping the kids off, I pop on a podcast and listen to it on the walk home — I love Shameless and Sentimental Garbage. $12
10:30am — After some meditation and working on a self-care book at home, I head out for a walk. I drive to the edge of the city and walk for about 45 minutes along open paddocks, admiring the trees and mountains. Fresh, crisp air does the soul good. There is an arts community nearby with a small cafe — I love their sticky chai ($7) and enjoy it while reading a book. $7
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2:00pm — My latest paint-by-numbers has arrived! ($35) I bought some paint-by-numbers canvases in 2020 to pass time during lockdown — I love doing them. It's so soothing and rewarding to see the picture come to life. After a bit of investigating, I signed up for a bi-monthly subscription with Paint Plot. I get to choose the painting every two months and then it is delivered. My husband picks up the kids and takes them for a bike ride and I spend a blissful hour painting. $35
8:30pm — Settle onto the couch after getting the kids to bed. I scroll my emails and find out an online store I like is having a sale. I happily pick out two oversized cardigans — one bright pink with a cactus on it, and a navy one with rainbows. I also grab a dress and some pants — why not?! The total comes to $250 so I get free shipping. I love online shopping and definitely do too much of it. Hubby and I watch some of Alone Season 3 while I do some embroidery. $250
Daily Total: $304

Day 4

7:30am — Alarm, breakfast and kid wrangle. I drive the kids to school as E. has euphonium practice today, which is like a small tuba. Drop them off and decide to grab a takeaway chai from the local cafe ($4.50). Back to work at home today — I have several meetings this morning, so I make sure I do my eyebrows and have some bright lippy on. The laptop camera is so harsh but if I have eyebrows and lips, I think I look OK. Husband is also home today, so we swap stories about ridiculous things happening at work. $4.50
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1:00pm — I log off and have some lunch. There are no leftovers from last night's dinner, so I make a tuna and cheese toasted sandwich and have a Coke. My husband doesn't like the smell of tuna, so I wait til he goes back up to the garage before making it. I check our pantry and make note of the snacks we are getting low on. We also need some more fruit — it goes so quickly!
6:00pm — Dinner tonight is a family special — pasta with pumpkin, chorizo and feta. Everyone eats it, even E. who is vegetarian. She loves chorizo even though she knows it's meat. We watch The Simpsons after dinner and shock the kids with how much we can quote! After the kids are asleep, we chat about whether I will increase my hours at work. I am feeling much more stable, so I think I'll talk to my doctor about my hours at my next review. We agree that E. still needs quite a bit of support in the afternoons, so it's good that I can be there as needed to support her.
1000pm — Head to bed, but then I start reading a new book and get hooked — whoops. It's Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee — an exploration of how sexual abuse cases are treated by the judiciary in Australia. It is brilliant and despairing, but still hopeful.
Daily Total: $4.50

Day 5

7:30am — Alarm goes off and I jump in the shower and get dressed. Husband is doing kid's breakfasts and lunches today, so I only have to worry about myself. I choose a brightly coloured dress and jewellery as I need a boost this morning. Husband is working in the office today so I kiss him goodbye and then drop J. at school. E. has a psychologist appointment this morning. We drive down to the clinic and have the session. My husband and I take turns to take E. to these appointments — they are helping us all. I pay $160. We don't get anything back from Medicare as she sees a provisional psychologist — once she is fully registered, the cost will increase but then we'll also get a rebate from Medicare. After the appointment, I buy E. a bread roll ($5) from the bakery to eat in the car on the way back to school. Drop her off and then I log on to work at home. $165
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1:30pm — I'm feeling unsettled from this morning's session. It's hard to hear about your child being upset. I finish work and log off and make some lunch. I check out a few online stores and see my favourite jewellery store has released a new flamingo brooch. I buy it ($45). Do some meditation and then some more painting til it's time to pick up the kids. $45
6:30pm — We invite some friends over for a takeaway dinner. Turkish for the adults and pizza for the kids ($100). We rotate around each other's houses and try to do this semi-regularly. It's nice to catch up and the kids all get along. I am avoiding wine at the moment, so I enjoy a Coke No Sugar. A friend has brought brownies and I add some ice cream with them for dessert. The kids take over the lounge room to watch a movie while we play games at the dining table.
9:00pm — Our friends leave and we get the kids to bed soon after. I read my book for a bit while my husband plays a video game. $100
Daily Total: $310

Day 6

8:00am — My friend P. and I meet up for a coffee. We first started meeting up on Saturday mornings during the 2020 lockdowns to go for a walk and grab takeaway coffees. It's a great start to the weekend and I love catching up and getting some exercise. I bring J. along as my husband has taken E. to ice-skating lessons. J. loves coming as she gets to walk P.'s dog and feels special spending time with us. It's my treat this weekend, so I grab a flat white for P., a milk tea for me, and plain milk for J. $12
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10:00am — After a good walk and chat, J. and I head to my ballet class. I did ballet until I was 15 years old. It's super tough going back, but I really enjoy it. We do some barre work and then centre exercises. After the class, I join some of the other dancers for tea at the cafe. J. is bored so we don't stay long, even after I try and bribe her with a muffin! $8
2:00pm — After lunch at home, I head out to do the grocery shopping. My husband and I take turns doing the shopping — we prepare a weekly menu and shop for meals to keep our spending down. On the menu for next week is homemade pizza, chicken and tofu curry, lentil lasagne, sausages and lamb steaks, and ravioli. I also pick up three litres of milk, heaps of fruit, bread and wraps and snacks for the kids. I also grab some dates so I can make bliss balls. The total today is $275. After I get home and unpack the groceries, I remind my husband to buy cat food. He orders it online so we can get the best prices. E. and I go for a ride — we've found that it's important to get her some exercise every day. It probably helps me too! $275
5:00pm — I chat to my Mum over the phone and we agree on a plan for school holidays. My husband and I have four weeks of annual leave per year, but the school holidays are for 12 weeks. We've tried school holiday programs, but with E.'s anxiety, they don't really work out. Thankfully, my parents are able to — and want to — care for the kids. They live on the south coast so it's fun for the kids too. We agree that I'll drive the kids halfway on the first Sunday and then Mum and Dad will meet us and take them the rest of the way. Then, my husband and I will come down on Friday night. As it's a long weekend then, we also decide to do a tour of a local island, including whale watching. I book online and it costs $600 for all of us. $600
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Daily Total: $895.00

Day 7

9:30am — Big sleep-in today. The kids get their own breakfast. Why can't they do this every day?! I make eggs on toast for my husband and I. We get everyone ready and pack the bikes into our car. We drive to a local lake and do a nice bike ride, stopping at a small cafe for coffee, tea, and hot chocolates ($16). It's sunny and not too cold today. Canberra is beautiful when it's like this. We spend some time chatting, people-watching, and dog-watching. There are so many dogs out and about! $16
2:00pm — A few friends come over for a crafternoon. We all love creating and regularly catch up at each other's homes to paint, draw and craft together. I'm hosting, so I make some scones (the lemonade version — so easy!) and set out some teapots. J. joins us for a while, then heads out on a walk with E. and my husband. I work on my paint by numbers while marvelling at my friend's talents — they are doing beautiful watercolours. We chat and workshop issues at work and home.
5:30pm — E. helps me iron the school shirts. I only do them every few weeks and she's keen to learn how to do it. J. also wants to help, so I get her to sort out the laundry and put it away. We play a few games of Sleeping Queens while my husband makes dinner — baked sausages, mashed potato and vegetables.
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7:30pm — We watch some more of The Simpsons, then it's off to bed for the kids. Husband and I go over what's planned for the week ahead — our cleaner comes tomorrow, so we make sure all the stuff is off the floor to make it easier to clean. We finish watching Alone and head to bed around 10pm.
Daily Total: $16
If you or anyone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety, please contact Lifeline (131 114) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636). Support is available 24/7.
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