Money Diaries

A Week In The Eastern Suburbs, Sydney, On Centrelink

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 master's student on Centrelink spends some of her money this week on a Lindt chocolate Easter bunny.
Occupation: Master's student
Industry: Allied Health
Age: 24
Location: Eastern Suburbs, Sydney
My Salary: $9,620. My sole income is through Centrelink.
Assets: $15,000 ($12,000 in savings, $3,000 in cash).
Debt: $40,000 to $50,000 in HECS debt. I haven't started paying this off yet as I'm a student. My undergraduate degree was $22,000, and my postgrad will be between $22,000 and $28,000. I got lucky and received a government scholarship, otherwise this would have been $80,000 for two years of study!
My Paycheque Amount (Fortnight): $370
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $0. I live with my parents.
Gym: $60
Mobile Data Plan: $25
Spotify: $3

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

I completed my undergraduate degree in Sydney and I'm currently undertaking my Master's degree via distance learning. During my undergrad, I lived out of home for the two final years and was very self-sufficient through a bunch of part-time jobs. However, I moved back home after I graduated because I was warned that I was not going to be able to hold down a job whilst doing my master's due to insane placement hour requirements and the huge amount of information we need to learn in a very small timeframe. This has helped me save a lot of money.
I’ve put all my uni expenses on HECS, and imagine that I will start paying this back next year. There have been additional costs that I’ve had to incur because I study via distance, such as travelling up to campus three times a semester and paying for accommodation and food in another state.
Additionally, I’ve had to buy clothes for my placement and have spent a lot of money on transport costs alone. All of this comes from my savings and the money I receive from Centrelink, which is slowly dwindling, but it's kind of what I expected.

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

Growing up, my parents often suggested that I should get a job that would allow me to earn a decent amount. They didn’t want me to have to worry about money. So when I was considering different careers in year 11, they suggested that I research the average salary of jobs that I was interested in, along with other factors such as retention rate, the number of people who work part-time, etc. However, they both believe that passion is also very important, and have always encouraged me to pursue my passions. 
We did often have conversations about self-sufficiency and financial independence. From a young age, I received a weekly allowance and I was allowed to spend it, save it, do whatever with it. However, that weekly allowance was kind of it when it came to things such as movie tickets or wanting to buy clothes my mother didn’t like. At a certain age, I also began buying my own gifts for friends and family, which really made me value the things that other people bought me. By the time I was 18, I was primarily responsible for clothing myself, paying for my own transport and buying anything else that I thought I needed. 
Additionally, my parents talked to me a bit about the impact of your family history and personality on money. My mother and father grew up under very different economic circumstances, which still impacts their financial situations and views on money today. This made me understand that I was privileged to not to have to worry about money and also made me realise the amount of financial support I had in terms of financial literacy and people to go to if I ever desperately needed a loan. My spending habits are impacted by the way I grew up.
This has shifted my perspective somewhat — I now try and save whenever possible and recognise that the compulsion to spend comes from an irrational mindset. However, I try to balance this by recognising that hoarding money and living very frugally is not the path to maximal happiness; you can’t take money with you when you die.

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

My first job was at a very expensive local cafe and I was very bad at it. I got the job after graduating because there was so much time between starting uni and ending high school. Plus, I wanted to build up some cash before uni started. Prior to working at the cafe, I had done the odd babysitting/housesitting sort of gig, however, this was my first proper job. This job taught me that macarons are not worth the price and that handling them requires more expertise than you think (and you need special tongs too!).

Did you worry about money growing up?

I didn't worry about money growing up. We never talked about money concerns when I was a child, so I was never aware of it.

Do you worry about money now?

I worry about money now because I’m literally draining my savings to do this course. I’m aware that this was a choice of mine — I could have stayed in my last part-time job and done it in conjunction with uni. But I think that this would have been hellish and caused the sacrifice of either my ability to sleep, exercise or see other people. I was lucky enough to get JobKeeper from my last job, which is why my savings are as healthy as they are now. I’m aware that I probably should not have benefitted from JobKeeper — I’m a white, privileged young person who still lives at home and has no real financial responsibility. However, I was legally eligible and I rationalise that I will be giving back to the wider Australian community when I graduate at the end of the year and begin practising in allied health.
The main thing that I worry about is whether I’m spending my money correctly. I've been putting off sitting down and actually planning how to spend my savings. I figure that I probably have enough money left to see me through to the end of the year, so I don’t need to just yet.

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

I'm probably not even financially responsible for myself right now. I don’t contribute any money towards living with my parents (and they don’t want me to). I'm responsible for my own expenses, but it’s not like I’m paying for my own groceries to eat at home, or my own health insurance. So in this regard, I definitely have a financial safety net. I’m very lucky.

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

Just Centrelink.

Day 1

7:00am — I’m staying at my partner, P.’s place at the moment, hoping to focus on a very scary assignment that's due next week (please wish me luck!). If I fail it, I have to repeat the course next year. You’d think that maybe I wouldn’t write a Money Diary to procrastinate doing it... think again. Unfortunately, these types of assessments are common in my degree. Our cohort started out as 60 people in 2021. Now, we have 45. Yay!
P.’s alarm goes off as he has to get to work early. I get dressed with him and nip off to buy a coffee from the local coffee shop because I do not naturally wake up at this hour. $5
7:15am — I make myself a bowl of chopped-up bananas and defrosted frozen raspberries and eat it while scrolling on my phone. Yum. As P. is new to the workforce, I tend to buy my own food to have at his place or bring food from home. P. doesn’t live with anyone else, so he doesn’t mind. I try not to eat his food, just to be considerate.
8:00am — I begin my working day. This consists of going over my uni emails, uni required readings and checking to see if there are any new announcements or questions in the discussion forum. Once that’s done I start my assignment (ugh!).
12:00pm — I break for lunch and decide to eat a nutritious lunch of one granny smith apple and half a packet of Doritos. Please don’t judge me; it’s exam season and I crave weird things when I'm stressed. While having lunch, I get up to date on Sanditon. It’s so, so, so good. I’m a sucker for anything period-based and basically binged Bridgerton, so this is hitting the same sweet spot.
12:30pm — Back to uni work. 
3:30pm — Brief break to call a classmate. We bitch and complain about the requirements of the course, how hard it is, work-life balance, yadda yadda yadda. When it’s all out of my system, I sigh and tell her I need to get back to the assignment. 
5:30pm — Braindead. I call my dad and check in with him to hear about his day. One nice thing about living at home is that both my parents work from home so I get to see them all the time. I miss them when I stay at P.’s because the place feels so empty and lonely when he’s gone. 
6:00pm — P. is back from work and stressed! He suggests we get malatang and I agree. Something warm and hot sounds amazing. Malatang is $25, but he pays. We used to split everything 50/50 but now that he’s working and I’m not, that has changed. Next year we will go back to 50/50 though as we'll probably be earning similar amounts.
7:30pm — We stop by the bottleshop on the way back from malatang and P. gets some tonic water.
8:00pm — We get back to his, make G&Ts and watch Pen15. It’s really nice to watch something funny to end such a boring day. 
10:30pm — Lights out!
Daily Total: $5

Day 2

7:00am — As usual, the day begins with P.’s alarm. I buy myself another coffee ($5), thinking fondly of the coffee machine I have at home. I really should just buy an AeroPress to keep at his because it would save me so much money in the long run. But I’m planning on moving into his place soon (he suggested it), so the need isn’t so urgent. $5
7:30am — I have the same breakfast as yesterday and begin work with a bang. I want to make real progress today because I’m aware that I won’t have three days to work on my assignment next week due to all the uni activities that have been scheduled. This also means I'll spend more time travelling between Sydney and the ACT. I make sure I do my skincare this morning as I forgot to do it yesterday — CeraVe moisturiser and cleanser, Go-To Face Hero oil, and a MECCA toner. 
9:30am — Call the same uni friend as yesterday, H. She tells me she is treating herself to cake and coffee from a local cafe today. I want to treat myself. I rationalise that if she’s doing it, I should too! There’s a face powder that I want to get as the one that I have been using for over three years is too dark for me. I've been wearing it out of frugality and furiously blending it down my neck! This pressed powder from Natio has lasted me so long that I think buying a new powder will be worth it if I think in terms of cost per use. I decide to go to MECCA during my lunch break.
12:00pm — I finish my morning work — I’m making really good progress! Although at the same time, I feel as though everything I write is stupid and that I’m going to fail. I’ve realised over the years that there is no correlation between my sense of achievement and my actual success. So I accept that I might fail, I might pass and all I’ve got to do is submit the bloody thing. 
12:25pm — Lunch is reheated ravioli. P. doesn’t eat his old dinner scraps because he gets bored of food quickly. He won’t mind if I eat it, and it means no food waste, so I eat this happily. Then I put on some sunscreen and catch the bus into the city ($3). $3
1:00pm — I arrive at MECCA Town Hall. Is this totally irrational to do when under a tight time frame? Yes. Should I have ordered online? Yes. I don’t care though, it’s nice to be outside and walk around after being stuck inside for so long. I buy the BareMinerals pressed powder, as this matches my skin tone. I also grab the mini NARS Orgasm blush, on impulse. I know I will use both of these quite regularly as I don’t have much makeup, so I don’t feel that much guilt. $75
1:45pm — Bus back to P.’s ($3) and get back to my work. I feel happier and less stressed. This is probably less to do with the purchase and more because I’m outside and exercising. I make a mental note to go to the gym tomorrow, which means going home. I don’t think I could take another day of solitude anyway. $3
5:30pm — I switch off the assignment and decide to do some less urgent, but still important work — catching up on uni lectures before my big week in the ACT next week. I put the lectures on 1.5x speed and actually get quite a lot done.
6:30pm — I’m braindead, so I’m done for the day. P. texts and says that he's going to grab a beer after work with friends. I’m a bit sad about it because I want to see him but I understand that his work is busy and de-stressing with others helps. His work is a lot more emotionally taxing than mine. I’m not really responsible for people’s lives in the same way he is. I decide to do my evening skincare and realise that I’m now getting stress acne (or potentially delayed Easter acne?). I’m not happy about it. After skincare, I debate doing some yoga but decide to read instead.
7:50pm — Still no P. Hmm. The ravioli was quite filling but I’m starting to get hungry and wondering where he is. I text P. about what he wants for dinner and if I should cook. He wants to do takeaway. I’m hesitant to do it two nights in a row but he’s working on the weekend and he points out that he’s going to earn a lot because of that. 
8:00pm — P.’s back! I missed him so much. He’s very happy and this makes me less angsty. We walk down to the local shopping centre and get burritos — he pays.
8:30pm — We curl up on the couch and watch Pen15 and a bit of This Is Going To Hurt. He suggests G&Ts and I have an eternal debate in my head about the short-term joys of alcohol versus the long-term health risks. My dad is very anti-alcohol and this has affected my perception of drinking. P. knows what I’m thinking and points out that a) I don’t have a problem, b) I drink less than the average recommended guidelines, and c) everything will kill you eventually. I have the G&T.
11:00pm — We collapse.
Daily Total: $86

Day 3

7:00am — I wake up to P.’s alarm, pack my bag and head out the door with him at 7:20am. I want to have ample time at home before class starts. I catch the train home ($3). $3
8:40am — I’m home! The family dogs are very excited to see me and leap all over me. Neither of my parents has started working yet so I get to sit down and have brekkie with them. I make a raspberry and banana smoothie (noticing a theme?) and then a (free!) coffee using my AeroPress. I buy coffee beans from a local cafe instead of Woolies, which is a bit more expensive but definitely worth it in terms of taste. 
9:20am — I catch up on emails, my uni WhatsApp group chat and discussion forum posts. I’m working in my bedroom today as my dad is occupying the dining room table.  
9:30am — Class starts. This class involves a lot of sharing personal experiences and I think it's supposed to counter our heavy academic work. However I always feel as though it’s a waste of time and do other work in the background.
11:30am — Class is over and I decide to go for a walk around the block to stretch my legs. When I get back, I return to the assignment and do some of the mindless work on it — references! APA is the bane of my existence.
1:30pm — Lunch break. I make myself a toasted sandwich with cheese, tomato, capsicum relish, avo and salt. Yum. I decide to go to the gym for an endorphin kick. The benefit of being a student is that I can just fit in the gym around uni, which means I can often go when no one else is in... like 2pm on a Friday. It's a 15-minute walk there, so I put on sunscreen and leave the house.
3:30pm — Back from the gym and I feel so much better! Who knew? The answer is, of course, literally everyone. I come home and realise that the stress acne has gotten worse (yay) and that my hair is disgusting and greasy. I take a quick shower and apply a face mask before it’s back to uni work.
6:30pm — I’m pretty ecstatic. I’ve finished the first draft of this stupid assignment. My parents are leaving for a weekend away so I spend the next hour with them, chatting as they pack. They leave and it’s just me and my younger sister.
7:30pm — I make rice paper rolls for me and my sister. We spend the evening watching episodes of Gilmore Girls, talking about friendship drama and discussing where we should go out when she turns 18 in October.
11:30pm — We watch one too many episodes of Gilmore Girls. I can tell that this has happened because I’m starting to wonder whether I would look good in low-rise jeans. We both call it a night and lock up the house.
Daily Total: $3

Day 4

9:30am — I sleep in! This feels amazing. For breakfast, I have my go-to smoothie and a coffee from the AeroPress. I know it might sound like a smoothie for breakfast isn't much, but trust me, it has a whole banana in it, several spoons of yoghurt and a good amount of berries. It's so filling! As I eat, I browse Depop, saving things that I know I probably don’t need and shouldn’t buy. I'm trying not to buy new clothes this year and have been successful so far. It’s economical and good for the planet. 
10:00am — I head to the gym. It’s empty, as per usual and I watch Matilda on Video YouTube videos as I work out. She’s really re-instigated my love of makeup, plus it’s nice to see an Aussie YouTuber doing well. 
11:30am — Back from the gym. On the walk back, I listen to the Six: The Musical soundtrack and it provides some much-needed serotonin. I make myself another coffee and get to work. Today I’m working on editing what I have and making sure I’m sticking to the marking criteria.
1:30pm — Lunchtime — I have a leftover rice roll and some crackers with Vegemite and cheese. I sit in the garden and scroll on my phone. The dogs come over and sun themselves. It’s so nice. I’m going to miss this when I move out.
2:00pm — I watch some more uni lectures. This time, it's on the role of my allied health discipline in the treatment of cancer. It is quite depressing and makes me think that I don’t want to work in a hospital when I graduate. My dad had cancer growing up so I find the subject brings up memories that I don’t want to re-live.
3:00pm — I finish the lecture and go for a walk and listen to one of my favourite podcasts. 
4:00pm — I get back home and snack on some Easter chocolate as I get ready for tonight. I’m getting drinks with two friends who I’ve known since primary school. They want to see a movie after drinks but I’m not sure if it’s worth it or if I can afford it. 
5:00pm — I head out and meet the girls at The Little Guy in Glebe. The bus trip costs $4.50. Criminal! When I arrive, I order a glass of pulverised apple and rum — it’s the bar's special. It's very yummy and only costs $10! $10
7:30pm — I order another drink — a G&T ($12). We talk about our life. They both work full time, live out of home and wear the most fabulous clothes. When they ask about my life, I don’t go into too much detail because I feel like it’s so much more boring and depressing than what they do. I love my field, but I just don’t love being a broke uni student. $12
8:30pm — I head back home when they head to the movie. When I get home, I make myself some tuna on toast, do my skincare routine and check to see what’s good on Netflix. I end up re-watching Derry Girls, which is never not good. I feel better about my decision not to go to the movies as I calculate how much I’ve spent so far this week.
10:00pm — I wait up for my sister to get back from a party. When she’s home, I turn off Netflix and call it a night.
Daily Total: $22

Day 5

10:00am — Another sleep in! I wake up to a text from P., asking me if I want to come over. I tell him that I have a free house and that he should come to mine.
10:30am — P. arrives with coffee, which is sweet. I decide to take the day off and we spend the morning reading together.
12:30pm — I whip up some minestrone soup for P. and I. After lunch, I do some chores around the house — laundry, cleaning the bathroom, and watering the plants.
2:30pm — The uni Whatsapp group is going off about the assignment, but I switch off my notifications. Out of sight, slightly out of mind (but not quite).
3:30pm — I decide that I need to declutter my wardrobe and so I begin what will probably be a time-consuming and pointless process. I find it very hard to throw things away. P. tries to offer his opinion about what clothes I should keep and not keep but learns quickly that his opinion is slightly irrelevant. 
5:30pm — My parents are back! I’m very happy to see them. They have brought a pie back with them, so we all eat that for dinner as we catch up about their weekend.
9:30pm — P. leaves as he has work tomorrow and everyone decides to go to bed. I fall asleep pretty quickly; it must be all that decluttering. 
Daily Total: $0

Day 6

9:00am — I wake up and immediately have the idea to buy some Easter chocolate that's on sale. Something about bunny-shaped chocolate just makes me happy. I have my smoothie and a coffee and walk to the closest supermarket.
9:30am — I spend 10 minutes deciding what chocolate to get. In the end, I get two Lindt chocolate bunnies — one for me and one for P. ($10). I chalk this up as a win. $10
10:00am — I arrive home, eat some chocolate and head off to the gym. Life is about balance, yeah?
11:30am — Back from the gym and back to work. My uni friend wants to talk about the assignment but I think at this stage, talking to someone else who is freaked out is only going to freak me out more. Instead of working on the big scary assignment, I begin work on another assignment, which is less scary but also a lot of work. 
1:30pm — Lunch is a handful of grapes, cut-up carrot and cucumber with a tzatziki dip and a handful of cherry tomatoes. I think this is to compensate for the chocolate, which I’ve been nibbling on all morning. Then it's back to work.
5:30pm — I clock off for the day and cook a Malaysian curry for my parents and sister. It takes an hour, but they all love it. I feel better about being completely reliant upon my parents for shelter and food when I can do small things like this for them. 
8:00pm — I clean up after dinner and call P. to debrief about his day. He’s working with complex cancer patients and is finding it hard to deal with what happens when things go wrong. He brings up our plan to move in together and says he misses it when I’m not around. I miss him too and am excited to take our relationship to the next step, but I will really miss living with my family. 
9:30pm — An early bedtime.
Daily Total: $10

Day 7

8:30am — I wake up, have my smoothie and start work immediately. I think I can potentially finish my assignment today! If this happens, I will be thrilled.
10:30am — I take a quick break from work to buy my bus tickets for my trip to the ACT this weekend ($88). It’s expensive, but a uni requirement. I text P. about how expensive it is and he asks me if I want him to pay. I absolutely do not. $88
12:30pm — Lunch is eaten at my desk, even though the dogs look like they need a walk. I have leftover curry from last night.
6:30pm — I SUBMIT MY ASSIGNMENT! I also don’t feel terrible about it... I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ve done enough work not to fail and needing to repeat the course. I text my uni friends and then feel guilty because they’re all still plugging away at it. Do I need to do more work? The prospect makes me ill. I text P. and he tells me to take the night off, so I do.
7:00pm — A friend is playing a gig in a bar close to where my parents live, so I put on something cute (including my new makeup!), scoff down some crumpets for dinner, and walk down to see her play. It’s $10 at the door, but I feel good knowing that this money will support her. I meet up with some of her friends at the bar and we catch up over some drinks. I buy a G&T (10$). $20 
11:30pm — The gig is over and I catch up with my friend. She’s very happy with the turnout. She asks me if I want to come back for some more drinks at her house, but it’s such a trek from where I live. I’m feeling quite exhausted so I call it a night. I walk home and collapse as soon as I get inside. 
Daily Total: $108

Anything else you'd like to add or flag?

I'm very aware that I spend more than I earn, but I figure that this is the best solution for me to have a good work/life balance. Based on my very basic calculations, I think I should be okay until the end of the year.
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