Money Diaries

A Week In Newcastle, NSW, As A Project Manager On $63,000

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Today: a project manager who makes $63,000 a year and spends some of her money this week on an air fryer after her old one carks it.
Content warning: This article details instances of domestic abuse and may be distressing to some readers. 
Occupation: Project Manager (Part-Time)
Industry: Community Services
Age: 41
Location: Newcastle, NSW
Salary: $63,000
Net Worth: $492,000 (A townhouse purchased for $375,000 which is now apparently worth around $500,000, $5,000 in stocks, $7,000 in savings, $5,000 in car value).
Debt: $19,000 left on my mortgage and a HELP debt of $6,000.
Paycheque Amount (Fortnightly): $1,880 in wages and around $425 of family tax benefit. I also occasionally receive a bit of money for my writing.
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses

Mortgage: $1,364. I randomly throw in some extra money when I’m feeling flush in order to pay it off faster.
Council Rates: $133
Strata: $100
Utilities (Electricity, Gas And Water): $100 to $120. I receive some low-income discounts.
Phones for all family members: $60
Internet: $90
Car: $160 (Including rego, maintenance and petrol).
Home Contents Insurance: $60
Car Insurance: $70.83
Pet Insurance: $20 (I think this will almost double after my first year with this policy)
School Fees: $583
Groceries: $500
Netflix: $16.99 (which I share with my parents)
Stan: $16 (which I share with my boyfriend)
Disney Plus: $13.99 (which I share with my friend and brother)
Kindle Unlimited: $12.99
Paramount Plus: $0 (which my boyfriend shares with me)
Amazon Prime: $0 (which my brother shares with me)
YouTube Premium: $0 (which my friend shares with me)
Savings Contributions: I’m not a big earner but I’m also not a big spender (except for at-home entertainment). I estimate that I manage to save at least $750 a month.

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

Yes, paid for on HELP/HECS. My Honours degree cost me around $22,000 and there is around $6,000 left. I was lucky in that my parents were happy to support me living at home while I studied. This meant I didn’t have to stress about earning money while studying. It also allowed me to save quite a bit of money when I got a cushy holiday job at the uni. While they didn’t ask for any contributions (apart from lots and lots of free babysitting of a younger sibling), I bought them a fancy cruise holiday when I was in my 20s as a thank you.

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

I was born thrifty so my parents felt little need to be heavy-handed with the financial education — although my mum did give me some advice about growing wealth through high-interest term deposits. She also helped educate me on stocks and investments once I started earning some real coin.

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

My first job was at a bakery. I got it because I wanted to feel grown up and independent. I also wanted to save money, though not with any particular goal in mind as I was never a big spender. I remember getting my first ‘pay cheque’, which was literally coins in a paper bag. I felt like I ruled the world.

Did you worry about money growing up?

Both my parents were good with money, managing to achieve a mostly comfortable lifestyle despite migration and earning generally low to medium earnings. When I was in primary school and my brother was just born, we lost all our money in a bad business venture. My dad was also unemployed at the time and struggled to get new work. Thanks to the self-absorption of youth, the distraction of a cute little baby, and my parents’ skill in keeping brave faces, I was largely insulated from this stress — although there was talk about us having to move back to my parents’ country of origin. Oddly enough, I mostly remember this time fondly because my dad had to become a stay-at-home parent and we had fun hanging out together. I even helped him lick stamps and other weird (and probably inappropriate) tasks for the odd contract jobs he’d pick up.

Do you worry about money now?

I tend to be complacent and don't bother tracking my spending in any official way because I have faith in my ability to survive, no matter how little I earn. However, this diary exercise has toppled me off my high horse (I spend how much on streaming services?!). My judgemental teen has commented about how much of my non-essential spending involves television. Um, what about the Kindle Unlimited?! I read too!
Thankfully, the interest rate hikes haven’t affected me too badly, given the smallish amount remaining on my mortgage. Though I can really feel the pain when paying for groceries.
My money habits have definitely changed over time. I was in an abusive relationship for over a decade. From being threatened into supporting someone else’s drug habit to trying to hold down a job while constantly being harassed and on the verge of tears, not to mention the legal fees associated with trying to escape safely with two kids and build a new life. Let’s just say being a victim of family violence does not come cheap. Though on the upside, as I was not allowed to have any friends and therefore had no social life, I at least saved some money.
I now work in financial abuse prevention and I feel grateful that my situation wasn’t a lot worse. I had some financial means to escape and found a new job in our new city fairly easily. The number of women who not only lose everything but are also now facing crippling debt (usually incurred by their ex-partner), homelessness and unemployment is heartbreaking.

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

Probably when I left home in my early 20s. Before that point, I would have easily been able to support myself but my parents encouraged me to stay home for as long as I wanted (which is typical for families of our culture).

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


Day 1

9:00am — Wake up, eat my morning banana (not a euphemism) and spend the morning half-working and half-watching free-to-air TV. Yep, access to a million streaming services and I choose to binge watch House Hunters and Friends. There’s an animal welfare ad that makes me teary, so I donate $25 online. $25
1:00pm — Feel a bit restless and decide to have a rummage at the local op shop for shiny new (old) stuff. But decide to quickly take a small nap first after the morning's vigorous activities. I accidentally oversleep and before I know it, it’s 5:30pm and I’ve missed the shops. And also lunch.
5:30pm — As a consolation prize, I take a sneak peek at the new supermarket catalogues which are released every Monday evening in preparation for Wednesday morning. Who says my life is not exciting? Damn, there are no interesting specials this week. I don’t get out of bed for less than 50% off.
7:00pm — We eat leftovers for dinner — Thai red curry.
11:00pm — I make my usual midnight(ish) snack of air-fried french fries. My teen, who between dinner and now has managed to have a second and third dinner of two-minute noodles and cheese toasties, asks if he can have some. Then it's off to bed.
Daily Total: $25

Day 2

9:00am — Wake up in the nick of time to attend a work Zoom meeting. I turn off my video, ostensibly due to bandwidth issues but it's actually because I look like a drunk hedgehog.
11:00am — Another meeting. So hungry…
11:45am — Meeting ends slightly early. The convenor congratulates herself for giving us all “an extra fifteen minutes back in our days”. I’m starving at this point so I throw some hash browns into the air fryer.
12:00pm — I smell a weird burning smell, so I go back downstairs to find that the air fryer has kicked the bucket! I take out the still-frozen hash browns and panic a little. We’re very reliant on our air fryer as our oven blew up a few years ago and I never bothered to replace it. Plus, we make at least half our meals (and 100% of my midnight snacks) in this thing. I always feel really uneasy spending large chunks of money even if it’s for something important, so I decide to put any hasty purchasing decisions on hold. I make some tinned tomato soup and get back to work.
6:30pm — We make some spag bol for dinner. I eat a surprisingly moderate amount given I’ve only eaten tomato soup today.
10:00pm — I should’ve predicted that my light eating throughout the day would hit me with a vengeance. I’m absolutely ravenous and all I really want is some type of baked potato product, as per my usual routine. Alas, no air fryer. I desperately search the kitchen for something that would satisfy my craving but all I can come up with is more tomato soup and spag bol, which I veto as I’ve already had my weekly fix of tomato-based food. Ooh, what’s this I spy at the back of the freezer? Prawn dumplings! I see that they expired in January 2022. Do I dare…? I hop onto Google and the consensus from my kind internet friends is mixed, but I decide to go for it. Living on the edge and all that. My son wanders in looking for his trillionth dinner and asks if he can have some. I say no as I love him way too much, but I may consider giving him the remaining dumplings tomorrow should I survive the night. The ultimate mother’s sacrifice. I eat the dumplings and wait for death. Then I go to bed.
Daily Total: $0

Day 3

9:30am — I’m still alive! How to celebrate? By throwing my morning banana down my throat, then heading to the shops. I arrive at the supermarket and suddenly remember that I have my monthly 10% off a shop (through our pet insurance) which is due to expire soon. I panic a bit as I’m used to doing frequent little spontaneous shops rather than the one big shop that would take proper advantage of this sort of promotion. I trudge somewhat resentfully through every aisle, throwing into my trolley anything I might need in the next decade. I finally reach my favourite aisle — the one with the almost-expired specials — and spot lamb cutlets reduced to below half price. Score! They’re not even that close to their Best Before date yet. Double score! The whole shop comes to $132.43.
11:30am — I head to the op shop with the intention of picking up maybe a book or something. Come back with two dresses ($4 and $7), a DVD of a show that is somehow not on any of the streaming services I have ($1), a book ($1), wall art of a gorilla wearing headphones ($13), earrings ($2), walking sticks that also help you put on your underwear without needing to bend over ($1 — and don’t ask) and lemons that the lady at the till forces upon me (free). As I walk out, I realise that I’d meant to look for CDs for my daughter. Apparently they’re cool now? I don’t get it. Vinyl makes sense, but CDs? Anyway, I go back into the shop to have a look at the CD collection. I can’t remember if just any CD would do or if it had to be an artist she likes. Given they’re only 50 cents a pop, I grab a whole bunch indiscriminately ($2.50). Teenagers like Nana Mouskouri and Perry Como, don’t they? There’s also Hit Machine 3 in there (DIBS!). $31.50
6:00pm — I start cooking the cutlets when I suddenly smell something reminiscent of a dirty nappy bonfire. Oh no... please no. I take a closer sniff at the cutlets and start dry-retching. Wow. I buy a lot of almost-expired food and am willing to put up with a bit of whiff, but this stuff is completely inedible. I throw the steaming rotten meat into a bag and race to the shops. The shop assistant will only refund me the price of the cutlets. I ask them if their policy has recently changed because in a previous incident relating to dodgy chicken, I not only received a refund, but I was also given a fresh replacement. It seemed fair given it completely ruined dinner. As I don’t want to harass a teenager who’s just doing his job, I leave with just my refund and call up the complaints line once I get home. The operator backs up what the staff member did, but offers to send me a $10 voucher as a gesture of goodwill. Victory!
7:30pm — In all that excitement, I almost forgot that we haven’t eaten yet (apart from my son, who’s obviously already had a few meals by now). Thankfully, there’s leftover spag bol.
10:30pm — It’s approaching snack time. I desperately need hot chips and will get indigestion if I don’t get any (medically I know this makes no sense but I swear it really happens to me). All the local takeaways are shut so I race over to Domino’s as it’s the nearest thing still open. Chiiiiiippps. $5
Daily Total: $158.93

Day 4

9:00am — Banana, green tea and work.
1:00pm — Cheese toastie for lunch.
7:00pm — Trivia night with the boyfriend. He treats me to a glass of wine and hot chips. He usually pays when we go out in order to thank me for letting him use my garage for storage. He wants to buy me a more proper dinner but I talk him out of it because firstly, chips and wine are the only food groups I need, and secondly, what if we win tonight and can score a free meal? Normally this optimistic thinking would jinx us out of winning but alas, we manage to come second (not bad for a team of two) and receive a $30 voucher, which we decide to conserve for next week.
10:00pm — Buoyed by the trivia victory and still slightly drunk, I decide to purchase an air fryer online — and not even the cheapest one. $100
Daily Total: $100

Day 5

10:30am — Have a relaxing morning banana and green tea as today is my day off. I binge read a whole bunch of interchangeable domestic thrillers. You know the ones: “Kate has it all. The perfect husband, gorgeous children and the house of her dreams. But she’s hiding a SECRET.”
12:30pm — I harbour fantasies that the air fryer will arrive today despite having only ordered it last night and chosen the free, non-express shipping. Then reality sets in that I won’t be making any chips today, and I microwave some frozen curry for lunch.
2:30pm — Nap before my night out. Yep. I’m not 18 anymore.
4:30pm — Catch train into town. $2.50
5.30pm — I meet my bestie and we go to a quiet pub and share a plate. My shout. $30
7:00pm — She shouts me a drink. Then I shout her one. Then she shouts me one ($24). The rest of the night is a blur. We meet a group of Irish men and I think one of them is sweet on my friend. There’s also some other random guy who is flirting with her. Somehow, I end up with a few free drinks courtesy of my friend’s wooers. This brings me to an important (yet horribly unfeminist) life tip: the best way to score free drinks is to go out with a hot friend. 8/10 times, her pursuers will end up buying drinks for both of you. They get to impress your hot friend by looking generous, and you get a free drink with minimal obligations and requirements for small talk. Obligatory disclaimer: Make sure you see the drink being made, never leave it alone, you and your friend are not objects that can be bought, etc. $24
11:30pm — Get a scary call from my daughter reminding me that she was at a party and I was meant to pick her up at around 11pm. I realise there’s no way I will be able to do that, so I promise to pay for her Didi ($22). I get home somehow — train ($2.50) and a DiDi ($9). I accidentally sit on my earphones on the train and it now sounds all funny. $33.50
Daily Total: $90

Day 6

10:30am — Ugh. By some miracle, the air fryer has arrived. As I have no energy to do anything but crawl back into bed, so I bribe my hungriest child (guess which one?) to set it up, search for all potato products in our freezer and cook them. Chips cure all.
11:15am — Feeling surprisingly chipper (no pun intended), I bravely decide to head to a local event. There are lots of freebies including fairy floss and rides. I pick up some fairy floss on principle, even though the sickly sweet taste is not doing great things for my currently tender constitution. As for the rides, again on principle, I talk myself into going on at least one. However, the thought of sitting on a whirly teacup without a kid makes me feel like a weirdo. Plus, the whirly teacup is probably not the best idea in my mildly hungover state. I console myself by buying some homemade earrings for $15.
1:00pm — Head to the supermarket. Life Tip #2: You know how you shouldn’t shop on an empty stomach? A variation of this is that you should shop on a thirsty stomach. I’m parched from a combination of last night’s drinking and having been out in the sun with fairy floss as my only company. As a result, I throw in copious amounts of fruit and vegetables. And practically no junk food. It costs $17, but I use my $10 voucher to take some cash off. $7
3:00pm — Get another scary call from my daughter. She and her friend are at an animal shelter and now she wants another cat. I tell her no. She casually reminds me she has disposable income now and can buy a cat just like that. I panic-hiss a bunch of threats down the line, hang up and hope for the best.
5:00pm — No longer ragingly thirsty, the haul of fruit and veg from this afternoon’s shopping now has limited appeal. Given the lack of substantial food items purchased (so much for thirsty shopping), a cheese toastie is my best option. Son makes himself two-minute noodles.
6:30pm — Daughter returns home and I’m both relieved and disappointed that there is no new cat.
8:00pm — I decide to look at my bank account and upon seeing last night’s expenditure, I suddenly feel even more hungover. Made worse by also seeing my daughter’s expenditure (for safety reasons, she still uses my account for her pay and spending) which includes an item called “Pleasure Piercing”. Ugh, the sooner we separate our accounts, the better. I’m frightened by the ease with which she throws her money around as soon as she’s earnt it. Have my years of frugality taught her nothing?? Maybe I went too far and now she’s rebelling?
Daily Total: $22

Day 7

8:30am — My lovely work colleague and I spontaneously decide to meet up and discuss our project. Both of us are single parents with random availabilities, so we often seize any moments when we are free and energetic. It’s a 1.5-hour drive to her place and when I arrive, I’m greeted by a beautiful five-course homemade lunch. We talk about work for about two hours and about non-work for the other three hours. Good enough to earn me a morning off next week, methinks.
4:45pm — I take my daughter and her colleague to their work shift. Before this, I hurriedly tidy the car as this is the first time in a while someone other than me and the kids has been in it. In the process, I find a grand total of $2.35 in fallen coins.
5:00pm — I go to the supermarket just because it’s next to their workplace. There are heaps of vegetarian foods on special (including some for 10 cents) and I grab a whole bunch ($4.50). On the way back to the car park, I find a $5 note. No one is around, so someone must’ve dropped it a while ago. As per my policy, any money I find that isn’t mine goes straight to a charity or someone who lives on the street. I make a slight detour to give the money to the usual busker who at that stage is playing Wonderwall. I feel like a hero because I really really dislike this song. $4.50
6:30pm — I make some veggie burgers for dinner and they are delicious. Even the teenage trash compacter thinks so.
Daily Total: $4.50

Anything else you'd like to add or flag?

This was a fairly atypical week as I went out more than usual (twice!) and cooked less than usual. Then there was the air fryer situation. Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with my expenditure (neglected streaming services included).
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service. 
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