Money Diaries

A Week In Maroubra, Sydney As A Law Student & Retail Assistant On $37,000

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 law student and retail assistant who makes $37,000 a year and spends some of her money this week on a thick shake from Five Guys, mochi donuts, and $1,472 towards student accommodation for her university exchange.
Occupation: Student / Retail Assistant
Industry: Arts and Law / Retail
Age: 20
Location: Maroubra, Sydney
Salary: $37,000
Net Worth: $1,000 ($25,000 in savings, $8,500 in super, and $500 in my spending account). I expect all of this to plummet in a year.
Debt: $33,000 in HECS debt. I'm currently in my third year of a six-year undergraduate double degree. Last time I checked, my degree was ~$14,500 a year, so this will go to $87,000 at the end of my degree, not including indexation and a $7,000 loan that I am expecting to take out to support my year studying abroad.
Paycheque Amount (Fortnightly): $1,300 to $1,800. I'm a casual so this varies.
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses

Rent: I live at home with my parents and sister in South East Sydney. I don't currently pay my parents for board but I definitely will when I eventually finish studying (if I haven't moved out by then!). We live in a three-bedroom house, situated in a quiet suburb with good public transport options!
Savings Contributions: $1,500 to $2,000
Spotify: $5.99
Netflix: I use my family's Netflix.
Gym Membership: I don't have a gym membership as I much prefer fitness classes with someone telling me what to do! At the moment, my favourites are Barry's and Pilates. This is not exactly a monthly expense as I purchase another class pack when my current one runs out. Also, the company I work for gives me an extra amount of money each month to go towards fitness (which pays for most of it).

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

Yes, I'm currently in my third year of a six-year undergraduate degree. I'm so glad that I have HECS/HELP (less glad about the indexation!), so it's not something I'm worrying about too much as I don't earn enough right now to pay repayments. I do pay for the student amenities fee each term as it's the least I can do. I will also be going on a one-year-long exchange next term and am looking to take out the OS-HELP loan which will add around $7,000 to my rapidly growing HECS debt!

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

My parents have very different attitudes towards money which have definitely influenced my own. My mum is quite frugal and doesn't make too many unnecessary purchases. When grocery shopping, she often only buys things on sale. However, my dad is quite the opposite. He often makes irrational and impulse purchases which result in small arguments between my parents.
My mum is quite knowledgeable about finances and often tries to educate me, but I don't always listen (especially about investing, which just confuses me too much!). However, I have made personal contributions to my super, following my mum's instructions. I feel like I have inherited my mum's frugalness but I do make quite a few impulsive purchases, which you will see in this week's diary.

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

My first job was tutoring. I wanted to go on exchange to France at the end of Year 10 and the only way to convince my parents was if I paid for half of it. I definitely did not have enough money at the time, but slowly paid it off through tutoring and my first job after high school. I think I started tutoring at the beginning of Year 10 and got my students through posting a Gumtree ad. I tutored two primary students for an hour each at the library. My first proper job was at Kmart.

Did you worry about money growing up?

My parents migrated to Australia a few years before my sister and I were born and didn't come from backgrounds with much money. They have always worked extremely hard and as a result, my sister and I have always had what we needed. My sister and I were always quite small growing up so we were always given hand-me-downs (including school uniforms) from family friends and I remember my mum always complaining about the prices of uniforms. My mum never bought us brand-name clothing or shoes so it was always a treat to get given a bag full of secondhand clothes each year.
Growing up, I didn't worry too much about money but I remember often comparing myself to others. I went to primary school in an affluent area and towards the end of primary school, became more conscious of how wealthy some other families were (some had mansions). We were, however, also extremely fortunate and privileged to do many extracurriculars and go on an overseas holiday each year, which I am so grateful for.

Do you worry about money now?

In a sense. I am extremely privileged to still live at home without having to contribute financially, so I'm not too worried about money in that aspect. However, I am a little worried about exchange and living out of home for a year. I'm paying for it myself (with the exception of the loan) which means paying for flights, accommodation and living expenses. Whilst I am a little worried about spending responsibly and living alone, I do know that if I do need any help, my parents will be willing to give me a little loan as well. I have been saving up for a while and am currently working five days a week in order to support myself for a year of not working!

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

I am nowhere near being financially responsible.

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


Day 1

7:00am — It's Monday. I wake up with the help of my alarm. The first thing I do is check my socials, of course.
7:30am — I pick up my book and start reading from where I left off last night. I'm currently reading Yellowface by R F Kuang and it is so gripping, despite making me feel extremely uncomfortable at times. I finished another book of hers, Babel, two weeks ago and loved it so definitely had to read this.
8:00am — I check the time and make the decision to keep reading instead of starting to get ready to leave the house for a 9am lecture. It's recorded anyway so I can always catch up on it later and watch it in 2x speed.
10:00am — After spending the past two hours swapping between Yellowface and scrolling on Tiktok, I get out of bed and head downstairs to have breakfast. I go in phases of eating/not eating breakfast but because it's a slow morning, I have the time today to do so. I have a bowl of granola with milk and eat it while reading.
10:30am — I get back into bed and open my laptop. Every Sunday or Monday, I set myself up for the week and update my Notion and Google Calendar. I get the feeling I'm forgetting something so I check the Moodle boards of all my subjects and note down all my assessment deadlines. Oh no! I had mentally prepared for a fairly calm uni week but instead, I notice I have an assignment due on Friday! At least I still have a few days to do it but I'm feeling bugged that I didn't know about it sooner. I normally organise all my due dates at the beginning of the term but because I've been working so much, I must have forgotten.
11:00am — I start watching a lecture from last week on 2x speed but stop 20 minutes in as I can't focus (it doesn't help that I'm lying in bed).
11:20am — I get out of bed (for the second time today) and head to the bathroom to get ready for uni. I jump in the shower, get dressed and do my skincare.
12:30pm — I'm driving to uni today as I'm going to my friend's house in the evening and don't want to deal with public transport late at night. Luckily, I only live 15 minutes away from uni by car.
1:00pm. — After finding parking 10 minutes away from campus, I walk into the library and find an empty cubicle. I open my laptop to my law readings and try and complete them before my class. I'm currently doing Criminal Law and we're learning about defences this week which is really interesting but sometimes the readings go on for far too long. Fortunately, I have less than 20 pages today! I also message my friend to check if we're still on for our Barry's class tomorrow. She replies that she can't make it anymore so I cancel as well. It's always more fun with a friend and I would love the extra time to prepare my pre-work for class tomorrow.
4:00pm — After finishing my readings and doing some modules, it's time for class. It's a two-hour class but fortunately it goes by quite quickly.
6:00pm — Class is finished! I leave the building and it's dark and windy outside. I generally try to avoid 4pm to 6pm classes but this term, this was the only option if I wanted to limit my days on campus. Otherwise, I would have uni four days a week which would mean less availability to work! I'm trying to work as much as possible before I leave for exchange. I head to a food court and order some dinner. Tonight, I want to try a new place that opened up a few weeks ago. I order one of the deals they have — a box of chicken and chips with a soft drink ($13.14). Okay, it's not great at all and I'm left hungry, wanting something more. I head back to the same store and want to give it another chance so I order a corn dog and mozzarella sticks ($14.97). They are better! But still expensive, so I'm not sure if I will go back again. $28.11
7:00pm — I walk to my car and drive to my friend's house to catch up. Just as I lock my car, I get a notification saying I just got paid for tutoring last week. I haven't seen my friend for ages and she recently started a pretty intense internship, so we catch up over snacks and hot chocolate. We also study for a little bit.
10:30pm — I say goodnight and head home. For the drive, I listen to the newest Scandal podcast episode by Shameless. I never thought I would be so interested about Sofia Vergara but wow, her story is engaging.
11:00pm — I realise it's nearly the end of the financial year and I haven't made a contribution to my super yet. My mum's been telling me to do it for weeks but I've kept putting it off. I transfer $1,000 (the maximum in order to receive a government co-contribution) to my super fund. I head to the bathroom and do my skincare and brush my teeth before falling asleep to a random YouTube video. $1,000
Daily Total: $1,028.11

Day 2

6:30am — I wake up before my alarm and as usual, check Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. I think about booking the Barry's class that I cancelled yesterday but am really feeling too tired to run this morning.
8:00am — I head downstairs for breakfast (same thing as yesterday) and eat whilst watching YouTube.
9:00am — I head to my desk and do my readings for class. Today, they are case studies on different international companies. Two of my classes this term have class participation marks so I really try to prepare and contribute as this is the easiest way to get marks!
9:45am — I get changed and do my skincare before catching the bus to uni. I'm working after uni today so it's more convenient to get public transport.
11:35am — Ahhhh! My bus is running late so I walk into class five minutes late. I try to be punctual, but sometimes public transport is unpredictable.
1:00pm — Class goes by so quickly and I still have two hours before I get to work so I head to a new cafe that opened recently. The food is pretty affordable so there are always long lines around peak times. I get a veggie bagel ($5). $5
1:15pm — I go to the light rail stop and top up my Opal card ($10). I don't want to use my card as I know I have a big payment coming out of my account this week and don't want to have to transfer from savings, so I use cash. I also notice that a few payments have come out of my account from using my card to tap off ($15.55). I misplaced my Opal card for a few days last week so had to use my debit card instead, which means I didn't get concession fares). $25.55
2:00pm — I go into Chemist Warehouse as I know that La Roche Posay Cicaplast is currently on sale ($16.99). I've been wanting it for ages but have either been not bothered or waiting for it to go on sale before buying it. $16.99
2:10pm — I walk over to Hyde Park as I still have about 50 minutes before my shift starts. I sit on the grass and start reading Magnolia Parks.
2:50pm — 40 minutes goes by so fast, but I head over to work as my shift is starting soon.
8:00pm — Work is over. It was only a short shift but am so glad to head home now. I log into Zoom as I have a Q&A session run by my exchange uni talking about course registration and other administrative details. I listen to it on the bus home.
9:00pm — I get home, quickly eat dinner that my mum left out for me and message my group chat if they are ready to FaceTime. Three out of five of us are currently on exchange, so we make an effort to call every few weeks. We all catch up and even plan dates for all of us to meet up in Europe at the end of the year!
11:30pm — We end our call as it's getting late here but I'm not tired yet, so I work a little on my assignment that's due Friday. I get most of my research and scaffolding done!
1:00am — I do my nighttime routine and head to bed.
Daily Total: $47.54

Day 3

7:00am — I wake up to my alarm and continue reading Magnolia Parks. At least I'm not scrolling on TikTok.
7:45am — I have a meeting at 9, so I start to get ready for the day.
8:15am — Oops. I take too long and accidentally miss my bus, meaning that I will be late for the meeting. Maybe I shouldn't have read for that long. I get notifications from the chat that others will be late too so I should be fine, phew!
9:20am — I get to uni and head to my meeting. We go over each of our actionables but don't get too much progress done as Taylor Swift tickets are about to release! There are a few diehard Swifties among the group so instead, we give up on our work and instead start waiting in the Ticketek queue whilst listening to Taylor out loud. I'm not buying any tickets as I'll be on exchange at the time of the concerts, but it's still so exciting seeing everyone so stressed about getting tickets.
11:00am — Ahh, none of my friends got through but hope is not lost as there is still Friday for the general sale! I meet up with another friend as we have a group project to work on. However, we barely get anything done as we're both so tired.
12:00pm — I have work in an hour so I leave my friend and head to the same cafe as yesterday for a quick lunch. I generally pack lunch but I guess I spent too long reading this morning so didn't prepare anything. I get the same bagel as yesterday ($5) and a matcha latte ($4.50). After ordering, I get the light rail to work. I drink my matcha on the light rail and eat my bagel when I get to work. The bagel is great but the matcha is so so average. I'll stick to my usual spots on uni for matcha! $9.50
3:00pm — I'm halfway through my shift but the lack of sleep is catching up to me. My work friend is heading to Woolies to get something to eat for her break and asks if I need anything. I request some lollies as I am really feeling like I need a sugar hit. She comes back with sour worms and I pay her back ($5). $5
6:00pm — I finish work! I'm not heading home just yet as I have a dinner later tonight. I have a few hours before the dinner starts, so I head to Mecca to pick up my Beauty Loop box. I'm currently a Level 3 but will definitely drop down later this year as I haven't bought much recently. I am often the organiser/purchaser of group presents so the points add up! I get an eye cream and a hydrogel eye mask in my box! Then I go to Myer as I have a gift card to spend. I try on a few pairs of Levi's but realise I actually left my gift card at home, so I take a photo of the label to remember the style and size for next time.
6:45pm — I meet up with my friends who have also just finished work. We're going to Korean Barbecue tonight but two of my friends don't eat meat so they want to get something to eat before. We head to Five Guys and I get a thick shake and some chips to share ($14.90). I've never gotten a shake from here so I go ham with the toppings. I get Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Bacon, Oreo Cookies and Whipped Cream which makes for a strangely delicious combination. $14.90
8:00pm — We head over to the KBBQ restaurant and meet up with other friends. I'm so full from my shake (not the wisest decision) so let the others do the ordering. Bad mistake. Do not let the guys order as they will order way too much. The food keeps coming and we all laugh at how packed our table is.
10:15pm — We eat until we finally admit defeat. The bill comes to $51 each, which is not terrible considering how much we ordered, but it's definitely more than I expected to spend. Oh well, it was fun and it feels like I will be full for days. $51
11:00pm — I get home and I go to bed as I'm so tired from today.
Daily Total: $80.40

Day 4

6:00am — I wake up still full from last night. I'm working this morning before heading to uni so I wake up early to do my readings for class.
7:15am — I start getting ready and once again, I don't have time to make lunch for today. Okay, I'm definitely making excuses but I must say, I'm not usually like this!
7:45am — I miss my bus so instead drive to the station and get the train. I read Magnolia Parks on the way to work.
8:30am — I arrive at work and fortunately am feeling energised despite the early wake-up.
1:30pm — I finish work but I have a class starting in half an hour so I quickly catch the light rail to uni.
2:00pm — Fortunately, my class is online so I can leave my camera off. I find a quiet spot on campus to log onto Zoom.
2:30pm — My friend has just finished class so she texts me to find out where I am. I kindly ask her to buy me some food as I didn't have time to before.
2:45pm — She comes bringing some pasta from Soul Origin ($10). I transfer her back and she also transfers me for a friend's present that I bought last week. The online class that I'm currently still in falls into background noise as we chat and catch up. $10
4:00pm — It's time for my next class so I say goodbye to my friend and leave the slightly abandoned Zoom class. I'm so tempted to skip this next class but it's the last one before our assessment is due and we also have a minimum attendance rule so I decide against it. Our tutor gives us chocolate so it's not too bad!
6:00pm — My uni classes are over for the week! I'm so keen to go home but I also have to finish the assignment due tomorrow. I remember that I left my car at the station so I get the bus there, then drive back home.
7:00pm — A large payment that I've been expecting to come out of my account finally gets debited. It's a deposit for my student accommodation for exchange, as well as a membership fee. It's 889 Euros which comes out to $1,472.10 AUD. It hurts a little, but I should start to get used to paying for things myself! I changed over to Up Bank a few months ago which means there's no conversion fee. I also receive a confirmation letter from my accommodation which means I can finally apply for my visa. It's been stressing me out for weeks as I couldn't do anything without having my accommodation! $1,472.10
7:30pm — I have dinner with my family. We have minestrone soup and bread tonight. I chat with my mum about her travel plans. She's travelling to Europe with her friends a month after I arrive, so we organise the dates that we'll be free to potentially go to Belgium together.
8:00pm — I head back upstairs to my room and work on my assignment. I want to finish a draft by tonight.
12:00am — Draft is complete but I can't look at my laptop screen any longer so I head to bed. I remember that I have a Pilates class booked for 7am but I really don't think I'll be up for it tomorrow, so I cancel it. I'm unfortunately outside of the cancellation period which means that I'll lose the class, but it's okay as I know that I would be miserable going to Pilates in the cold tomorrow morning. I fall asleep whilst reading Magnolia Parks.
Daily Total: $1,482.10

Day 5

6:45am — I wake up and am instantly so glad that I cancelled Pilates this morning. It's freezing!
7:15am — I get out of bed and start getting ready for work. I'm so not in the mood for this.
7:45am — I get the bus to work and read Magnolia Parks on the way there. I'm nearly finished. It's not great but for some reason, I can't stop reading it. I also top up my Opal card ($40) as it's started to make the low balance warning sounds every time I tap off. $40
8:30am — I get to work 30 minutes early. I didn't have breakfast this morning and I don't want to spend any money, so I use my Macca's points to get a sausage and egg McMuffin and a hashbrown ($1). Healthy, I know. But they just taste so so good. $1
9:00am — I start work. Fortunately, it's a quiet morning and I don't have to talk to too many people.
12:30pm — It's time for my break. Although I didn't want to spend money earlier, I'm actually really hungry right now. I go to Sushi Hub, get two hand rolls ($7.50) and inhale them within five minutes. $7.50
2:00pm — I finish work and want to go home but I'm meeting up with a friend in Chatswood today. We have a few things to do for an event that we're planning in a few weeks. We go to Starbucks and I order a matcha latte ($6.40). $6.40
5:30pm — We get a little sidetracked at times, talking about various topics from Taylor Swift and idolisation to red flags and career trajectories, but we get most of the planning done. We say goodbye and I head to the station but on the way, I pass a store selling mochi donuts. I can't stop myself so I purchase two — one melon flavoured and one Biscoff flavoured ($8). What did I say about being impulsive? I don't regret it as they are delicious! $8
6:30pm — I get home and I'm not feeling too hungry so I eat some apples with peanut butter — my favourite snack! I edit my assignment and finish the referencing before submitting it.
8:30pm — I get a notification telling me that I've just been paid! It's a little lower than I expected so I check my payslip online. I realise that we didn't receive one of our usual benefits this pay, as it's our third pay this month.
8:45pm — I'm glad my assignment is submitted so I spend the rest of the evening relaxing. I finish Magnolia Parks and log it on Storygraph. I leave a review (2.75/5) before opening up Youtube.
10:30pm — I'm working early tomorrow so I get ready for bed.
Daily Total: $62.90

Day 6

6:30am — I wake up and spend about 20 minutes on TikTok. Hey, it's the weekend so it doesn't matter!
6:50am — I really don't want to get out of bed but I have to get ready for work. It's literally a battle I have to fight every day! I do my morning skincare and get dressed.
7:15am — I get the bus to work, reading Yellowface on the way there.
8:00am — I clock into work. Today is such a fun and chill shift, and I barely have to talk to anyone — my favourite!
1:00pm — It's time for my break so I head to a nearby cafe. I get a kid's fish and chips ($8.12) as I'm not hungry enough for a full meal. I contemplate getting a smoothie too but remember how much money I've already spent this week :((. $8.12
1:40pm — My break is over so I head back to work. I only have a little bit more than an hour left and it goes by so so quickly.
3:00pm — My shift is over and work is done for this week! On my way home, I stop by a climbing shop. Bouldering is one of my hobbies and I have a gift card, so I want to see if anything catches my eye. Unfortunately, I haven't bouldered in a while as my friends and I have been quite busy. I can't remember how much I have left on the gift card so I ask one of the staff to check for me. They say that they can't check and that I'll have to call customer service, so I take photos of some things that I want but ultimately, leave empty-handed. There's no point buying something with my own money when I have a gift card!
3:30pm — I get the bus home and continue reading Yellowface.
4:00pm — I'm exhausted when I get home so I take a quick nap as I'm meeting some friends later tonight.
5:30pm — I have to start getting ready for dinner so I reluctantly get out of bed and get dressed. We're having dinner at a pub that is less than a 10 minute drive away so I can leave quite late.
6:00pm — I meet up with some friends from my old work and we catch up about what we've all been up to. A few still work there, so we ask about our managers and if anything has changed for the better or worse. We order some drinks (lemon, lime bitters for me as I drove) and food (pizza, nachos, chips, wings and wedges) to share. $16.16
10:00pm — I start to get tired and a bit cold as we're sitting outside so I say goodbye to everyone. I'm so glad I drove as I get home in 10 minutes.
10:30pm — I get ready for bed and fall asleep to TikTok.
Daily Total: $24.28

Day 7

7:00am — I wake up and check the socials. I'm feeling rejuvenated and energised which is a good thing as I have Barry's this morning.
7:50am — I get out of bed and start getting ready for the day. I pack my bag with a change of clothes and some toiletries as I don't want to spend my day in sweaty workout clothes.
8:25am — I leave the house and drive to Barry's. On the way, I listen to the rest of a podcast episode from Emma Chamberlain and start the past Thursday episode from Shameless. I also eat a muesli bar to keep me energised for the workout.
8:55am — Our Barry's class starts. My friends and I have been going to this same class every week for the past few months and it's become our routine. We love the instructor that takes this class but I swear it gets harder every week. Today it's only one round of a couple of runs, followed by strength work, which sounds so much easier than it actually is!
9:45am — The class is finished and I am left so sweaty and tired. I head to the changerooms to shower and get changed before my friends and I head to a nearby cafe for brunch.
10:00am — We go to Paramount Coffee Co. I've been here a few times and I love it! I order a Pork Katsu Sando and a Maple Iced Latte. They're both delicious.
12:00pm — The waitress subtly tries to tell us that our time on our table is up so we pay and head out. My friend pays and I transfer her. There's a Sunday surcharge so I pay her $32. We say our goodbyes and I head to the library to tutor. $32
1:00pm — I tutor my first student. I've tutored her ever since I started tutoring and it has been so fun to teach her every week. We focus on Pythagoras today.
2:00pm — Time for my second student. I only started tutoring her this year but I've loved seeing her get more confident in maths and also come out of her shell a little bit. We work on fractions today.
3:00pm — I don't want to go home just yet as I know that I'll have to do some uni work. I've overstayed the free parking limit so I have to pay ($7). I decide to drive to the beach and read. I read whilst watching the sunset — literally one of my favourite things to do. $7
5:15pm — Uni work is calling my name and the sun has almost set so I drive home.
5:30pm — I sit at my desk and set up my Notion and Google Calendar for the next week. I have the next week of uni off but a big assignment is due in less than two weeks, so I start with catching up with some of the lectures that I've missed. I remind myself that I only have four more weeks of uni classes before exchange so this seems to motivate me!
7:00pm — My mum could not be bothered to cook tonight so my dad went to pick up some KFC for dinner. I haven't had too many meals at home this week so I'm glad to catch up with everyone. We chat about Oceangate, Mount Everest and travelling plans.
7:45pm — After dinner, I head back to my room and continue doing my uni work.
9:30pm — I have an early morning tomorrow as I've promised my friend that I will run around the harbour with her at 7am tomorrow. I get ready for bed and set an extra early alarm for tomorrow morning.
10:00pm — In bed, I read Yellowface until I fall asleep.
Daily Total: $39

Anything else you'd like to add or flag?

This was so fun! I normally track everything I spend anyway, but I loved writing it in a diary form. I love reading Money Diaries so it was very interesting to do my own — hopefully you enjoy it! This was definitely a more boring week with greater spending than usual. I was super tired this week so didn't worry too much about buying food out. I would love some feedback too but please be nice!
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