Money Diaries

A Week In Cairns, Queensland, As A Counsellor On A $51,000 Salary

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 counsellor and psychologist from Cairns, Queensland, who earns $50,900 a year and spends some of her money this week on a lamp for 'bathtime ambience'.
Occupation: Counsellor / Psychologist
Industry: Community Services (NGO)
Age: 29
Location: Cairns, Queensland
Salary: $50,900. I also do occasional casual contract work which is an extra $3,000 to $6,000 a year.
Net Worth: -$18,000 ($17,000 in super, $11,000 in investments, $1,500 in personal savings, and around $5,000 in joint savings that I split 50/50 with my partner. We consider this as our emergency fund, as well as the place for any big joint purchases, like holidays. We're in the process of bumping this up because I'd like more of a safety net. We keep our finances largely separate though. We just work it out so we're each contributing about the same. To make this a bit easier, we share a spending account so that common purchases (like groceries and petrol) don't always fall on the person who's running errands.)
Debt: $50,000 in HECS debt. I've only just started paying this off this year.
Paycheque Amount (Fortnightly): $1,799
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses

Rent: My rent is $440 per week, which I split 50/50 with my partner, so $880 a month for me. We live in a three-bedroom rental. We get cheaper rent as it's way out of town. The extra bedrooms feel like a luxury, but it gives us space for a guest room and a room for my partner's music equipment.
Electricity: $50
Gas: $20
Water: $25
Internet: $35
Life Insurance: $44
Union Membership: $38
Spotify Family Plan: $19. We trade Netflix and Stan with other family members.
Donation To Seed (Australia's first Indigenous youth climate network): $20
Therapy: $300. I go fortnightly.
Phone: $150/year.
Professional Memberships: $1,500/year. I like to pay as many expenses as possible as one-off yearly payments. It usually works out cheaper in the long run.
Savings Contributions: I put aside around $600 to $900 each payday, leaving myself about $300 a fortnight for day-to-day spending money. Some of the money put aside goes to a fund for personal spending (mainly used for one-off buys, such as festival tickets). Other cash goes to my bills account, my emergency fund, and long-term investments. But this all depends on how my fortnight pans out.

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

Yes. I've completed a three-year bachelor's degree, a fourth-year honours program, and a two-year master's degree. All of these have gone on my HECS debt. I was really lucky to get a Commonwealth Supported Place (CSP) for all of them, which kept the debt much lower than it would have been if the courses weren't subsidised!

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

Yes. My parents made sure I thought about my spending and what I really needed, adopting the phrase, "Look after your pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves". It really helped me to see the line between necessities and luxuries, helping me learn that you don't need to spend a lot to get what you need. Takeaway dinners were treasured because they were a treat, and I have really fond memories of picking out The Baby-Sitters Club books at my local Lifeline with my $1 budget. Over the last few years, my dad has educated me on investing, too. I think he wishes he'd invested more when he was younger, so he's encouraging my sister and me to build a long-term portfolio now.

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

My first job was as a pharmacy assistant. My mum was (and still is) a pharmacist, so I started with unpaid work experience, then switched to a paid position when I was 14 and 9 months old (aka, as soon as I could!).

Did you worry about money growing up?

Yeah. I always knew that money was a big factor in our family's decisions. My mum changed careers so she was a mature-age student, and my dad had limited work and income due to a disabling injury. I wouldn't say I worried, but I was definitely aware. Looking back now, my parents definitely shielded me from a lot.

Do you worry about money now?

I feel like I definitely inherited some money anxieties, but I've learned to manage them a lot better. I think I've hit a decent balance now, shifting between splurging (Treats!) and setting myself up for later in life (Savings! Good financial decisions!). I still try and buy as much as I can second-hand, which is great financially and environmentally. I'm really glad I don't feel like I need new and shiny things.

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

I moved out of home when I was 18, becoming financially responsible for myself then. When I moved out, I had around $10,000 to set myself up. It was my emergency buffer that I had built by saving. My parents also contributed some money to this, but I'm not sure how much it was as they didn't tell me. Currently, my financial safety net is my cash savings and investments.

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

No, just Centrelink payments I received while I was studying.

Day 1

8:18am — After an early wake-up, my partner and I are on the road, takeaway coffees in hand. We've made these with instant coffee from home. We're on our way to pick up a Facebook Marketplace purchase that I'm already slightly regretting, but I'm committed now! I found someone selling a bundle of three reusable cups, which will be good backups for the ones we have now. Plus, I need the lids as they always tend to break. I usually haggle a little bit on Marketplace, but this seller lives out of town and agreed to meet me on her next trip to Cairns, so I don't negotiate the price.
8:55am — I arrive at the shopping centre to meet the seller. I transfer the money to her account ($30), and juggle my new cups back to the car. As we head home, I try not to think about how much this cost us in petrol. $30
9:42am — On the way home, we stop at IGA and get some ingredients for a big brekkie fry-up. Some friends have been staying with us, but they're leaving today to continue on their road trip. I want to send them off with full bellies! We grab some sausages, bacon, hash browns, eggs, bread, tomatoes, mushrooms, soy milk, and juice. We pay from our joint spending account, with my share being $28.77.
10:06am — We arrive home, put on some music, and start cooking! I get as far as cutting up the mushrooms before I get distracted by being DJ. Before I know it, breakfast is now brunch. After we all eat, chat, and sit, I start cleaning up the kitchen as our friends start packing.
12:00pm — After some more chats and an extended search for a lost phone (it was under the couch, FYI), my partner and I wave off our friends as they embark on an eight-hour drive. We head back to our quiet house.
12:01pm — I can't decide what to do and I'm feeling pretty wired after all of the coffee I had with brekkie (whoops!). I do a bit more sprucing up around the house and head off for a walk around the neighbourhood before the rain comes. I come back with a bag full of foraged pine needles and put them in my herb drying rack as I want to put them in my bath soak mixes later. I make them myself because I just can't justify the prices for something single-use. I always have a couple of my own blends ready to go.
3:00pm — I sit down for a Zoom meeting with a volunteer group and immediately realise that 1) I don't have a Zoom link, and 2) I got the time wrong and it starts in 30 mins, not now. I send a quick email to request the link but I'm not hopeful they'll see it in time. I'm happy to skip it — it's optional, and I've remembered some other work I should start on. I get started on some of my casual project-based work. It's infrequent but it's a great little boost to my income. I make a cup of tea, pour some juice, put on a Studio Ghibli playlist, and sit down to work.
7:08pm — I get caught up in work, but still somehow don't get a whole lot done. My tummy tells me that it's food time, so I save my work, take my laptop to the kitchen, and throw on The Nanny. I use up the leftover sausage, bacon, tomato and mushrooms from this morning and throw together a quiche.
8:36pm — Quiche is ready! We eat while watching 30 Rock. Then, I do a little haircare and skincare, and paint my nails so I'll feel prepped for Monday tomorrow.
Daily Total: $58.77

Day 2

6:57am — I’m rushing to get to work this morning! While I get ready, I download some stuff on Netflix and Spotify. I'm on data rations this month so I'm trying to do whatever I can to preserve it. I prep a takeaway coffee, and I'm ready to go.
7:16am — I've left it too late and end up missing my bus. I scroll through social media and emails as I wait for the next one. I also take this chance to do my daily meditation practice and take notice of my surroundings — the trees, the wind, the birds, and the early morning colour of the sky.
7:46am — The bus arrives and I jump on. I buy a one-way adult to the city ($4). On the way in, I watch the final episode of Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey. $4
8:36am — I arrive at work a few minutes late because of my missed bus (oops!). I pop the kettle on in the staff kitchen for a cup of tea and get started for the day. 
11:44am — I’ve just finished a pretty intense session and am hit with hunger. I always get really hungry when I have a session that takes a lot of energy and focus. I've brought a fruit salad for morning tea today, so I whip that out and munch as I work through some admin. I love living in the tropics — the fresh fruit is so cheap, especially when you buy local and seasonal. I can even pick some passionfruit from Mum's yard here! I really want another cuppa but I run out of time — that'll be for later.
1:14pm — I head to the staff kitchen and pop my lunch in the microwave — leftover red lentil dahl. I eat quickly, chat with some co-workers, and decide I’d better make a coffee to give me a boost for the afternoon. 
1:42pm — I head back to my office. I'm tempted by a quick nap, but decide to head out for a walk instead to buy some bath soak supplies. I want to treat myself tonight, and I have a feeling I'll need it! I head to a nearby low-waste bulk store and pick up some Himalayan rock salt, Epsom salts, Dead Sea bath salts, and a little bit of nettle tea. I love shopping here, but I hate not having a clear price tag per packet. I find out how much it costs as the shop assistant rings it up: $19.07, minus a $1.16 loyalty discount, so $17.91 total. This is enough for two or three batches of bath soak mixes, so I'm happy! I head back to the office and get ready for my afternoon. $17.91
5:46pm — I end up staying late as I need to make some client resources and get through some admin. I log my hours, jot down some memos to myself, and leave for the day. I head for home via my mum's place as I want to borrow her car because mine's in the shop for repairs. I pay $3 for the bus and settle in with my book, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. $3
7:33pm — Home and hungry. There's a soft drink can on the counter, so I can tell that my partner ordered takeaway before heading to work. This means the responsibility of eating the leftovers is all mine! I heat up a small serving of dal palak and have it with a side of... mixed veggie soup? Whatever, it tastes decent and it's cheap, easy, and healthy.
10:30pm — I head to bed after a pretty uneventful night — exactly what I needed. I’m feeling pretty relaxed after a soak in a rose-milk bath mix, some Sanditon, and a meme swap with friends while trawling on TikTok.
Daily Total: $24.91

Day 3

8:15am — My partner and I are both going into town this morning, so as I get ready, he puts the kettle on for some takeaway coffees. He makes himself two so that he won't buy another when he arrives at work. I bought extra sachets the other day, and now I'm starting to think it was a smart purchase!
9:30am — I arrive at a meeting with a climate organisation I'm volunteering with. We start working on adapting a survey for distribution, and I learn how to work with their CRM (customer relationship management) software to schedule emails. We're evaluating transformational change within the community. I'm really passionate about the work. At some stage, someone puts the coffee pot on and I happily have another half cup (for free!).
11:30am — I arrive at mum's to pick her up and take her to my sister's as I still need the car. This prompts me to call the mechanic to see if I can get an update. I leave a voicemail — fingers crossed I hear back soon! I'm usually happy with the bus, but I'm missing having the car there for when I need it. Mum's still getting ready, so I help myself to some Weetbix while I wait.
11:59am — We stop to get some takeaway coffees. I don't need any more caffeine, so I opt out.
12:15pm — My sister's not well so we're here to drop off supplies. We arrive and have our socially distanced coffees outside. We've brought some TP so she doesn't need to go to the shops, and after a sit and a chat, I wander the garden, grabbing some lime leaves and aloe vera plants to take home. 
1:20pm — I get home and I'm ready for lunch but my cat immediately falls asleep on my lap. I let him snooze as I watch another episode of Sanditon. I decide to throw together some savoury French toast, which I have with the last of the juice from Sunday breakfast.
5:35pm — After some more Sanditon, I start browsing eBay for 35mm film. Deciding which one to get sends me down a research rabbit hole. I’m by no means a professional, or even really a hobbyist, but I want pretty pictures! I've been tempted to try the Kodak Portra 400, but the price puts me off. Instead, I've been comparing and contrasting budget film. I open approximately a million and one tabs, get overwhelmed, and decide to leave it for now.
5:42pm — I get a call from my partner that his band is getting together tonight to organise some gigs they've got coming up, so he'll head straight there after work. Seeing as it’s just me at home, I decide to skip cooking dinner — I’m still pretty full from my late lunch. I do a little pottering around the house instead.
7:56pm — I jump on my calendar and start looking at what I have coming up. Some of the gals at work are going to a concert that I'd love to go to, but I'm weighing up whether I want to go so badly that I'll pay $90 for it. It's at a venue my partner works at, so I shoot him a message asking what the chances are of getting me a ticket on the cheap. While I look at my calendar, I notice that we'll have Friday night off together. I add in a 'DATE NIGHT — DO NOT BOOK' calendar event for my partner to see, and start brainstorming date ideas.
9:04pm — I make some super buttery raisin toast for dinner, then tuck myself into bed, scroll through my phone for a while, and go to sleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day 4

7:42am — I get up and start my morning routine — get dressed and make a takeaway coffee.
8:06am — I pull out of the driveway and think about how nice it is to have a sleep-in on the days I drive to work.
8:24am — I go to pull into my usual car park, but it's closed. I find some day-long free street parking and do an awkward reverse-parallel — I don't want to miss my chance! I see a co-worker arriving at the same time, so we walk and chat together on our way to the office. When we arrive, I'm still sipping my coffee from home, so I skip the kettle in the kitchen and get straight into work mode.
1:02pm — I've brought an oat-chia pudding with banana, passionfruit, and mango compote that was supposed to be for morning tea, but I haven't had the chance to eat it. I need something savoury for lunch, so I head to the sushi shop down the street and grab a ready-made pack. $8
1:33pm — I call my partner to have a chat and see how he's liking his day off. He tells me that he’s at work because he picked up an extra shift today. We have a quick chat in his break about some date ideas. We've both been wanting to see Everything Everywhere All At Once, but it's not in cinemas anymore. We're thinking that maybe we'll visit the art galleries during the day, then have a movie night at home. We'll probably decide on Friday.
6:12pm — I've stayed late again, and I still have more admin to go! I'm feeling like I'm catching up though, and I've dealt with everything that's time-sensitive. I head out, leaving my morning tea in the fridge for tomorrow, grabbing a biscuit from the jar to have on my way to the car. I munch on the biscuit, wishing I'd grabbed a second, and look at the sky as I walk. It's a bit further than normal, but it's nice to stretch my legs!
8:11pm — Between my trip home from work and my professional development webinar that's just finished, I’m feeling totally wiped. I open UberEats and try to find something for dinner. Each restaurant is closing as I browse the menu, but I find one with 10-minutes left and message my partner to see what they want. "Just grab me something I'd like, I don't mind". Okay. I order greasy burgers and chips for both of us, plus drinks and a few panic buys; dim sims, fish bites, and pineapple fritters. I get sad that I forgot about dessert, but check the menu again and see that it's not an option. Oh well. I add a 5% tip ($82.41). It's way more than I wanted to spend, but I'm out of time to compare with other restaurants, so I bite the bullet. $82.41 
8:58pm — Food's here! I eat my cheeseburger (with a hashbrown on the side) — it's perfect. The only problem is that I'm now full and there's still a giant bag of deep-fried goodness to get through. I always overorder — hopefully, my partner's hungry! I watch another episode of Sanditon and am asleep not long after.
Daily Total: $90.41

Day 5

8:22am — It’s been a good run into town this morning. I listen to an episode of The Dollop and pack my usual coffee from home. When I get to town, the usual car park is still closed, so I find some free street parking again (maybe this should be my new normal?). When I get to the office, I make a cup of tea to help me out with preparing for the day.
11:03am — I grab my oat-chia-fruit mix out of the fridge and eat that as I chat with a coworker for an informal peer consult (we've both had cancellations). She's really experienced and gives me some great thoughts and resources around some of the client presentations I'm working with at the moment. Then it’s head back to admin catch-up for me!
1:14pm — I get a text from my partner who's working nearby, inviting me to come down when I'm on my break. I head out to meet him at the gallery in town. I have a look at the open exhibitions and see him working on one that'll be opening later that day. After a quick visit, I leave to walk back to work.
1:42pm — I spot a bath and body shop that I've heard of but never been to, which is part of the council's post-Covid plan to promote local artisans in shopfronts around town. The lady in the shop tells me that she makes all the bath products in-store, and all of the home and decor items are from local artists. I file this away as good for future gifts, and limit myself to buying some bougie eco-friendly cotton buds, which I'm out of at home. $7.50
3:47pm — My last client of the day hasn't arrives for their appointment, so I put the kettle on and grab some biscuits. My morning tea can only carry me so far! I buckle down on my admin backlog for the week and put in a request for a few office supplies that'd help me organise my paperwork. I reckon I might be leaving on time today! Once I’ve caught up on admin, I have a little weekend hype chat with the team (I always love hearing everyone’s plans!) and leave a couple of minutes early. 
6:27pm — I'm exhausted, so I’m not too upset when I find out that my Zoom meeting for tonight has been postponed by a week. I close my laptop, close my eyes and have a little nap until my partner gets home.
7:15pm — My partner's home, and he's brought dinner supplies. We don't often buy food instead of making it (despite how it looks this week!), but he's bought some ready-made pies to pop in the oven. He gets started on a salad and pops yesterday's UberEats chips into the air fryer. It's the #1 way to reheat fries — no sogginess! After dinner, he reveals some chocolate he’d bought for dessert. The best.
Daily Total: $7.50

Day 6

10:30am — It’s a grey, rainy, stay-curled-up-in-bed morning! As my partner and I start planning our date day, we decide that our first stop should be food and coffee. I'm in dire need of both.
11:42am — We arrive at a strip of cafés and wander down to see which catches our eye. I take a look at one that does good cheap no-frills meals, which is usually my jam, but I’m not feeling their menu today. Further down the street is our usual go-to café, so we go there and order coffees to start — a cold brew for me and a double espresso for him. Then, we order some mixed plates to share — focaccia with kombu butter, dukkah, and anchovies; roast eggplant; and salmon ceviche. He also has a glass of wine with our food. I pay as the gas and internet direct debits came out of his account yesterday. Plus, I already owe him from a few times he's covered me. $73
1:15pm — We head back to the car via another cafe where my partner gets a second takeaway coffee. Then we head down to another art gallery to see the current exhibition. It's amazing (and free!).
2:36pm — We're running pretty low on groceries at home, so we head into town to go to the weekend markets. We find a free park, and start walking, stopping on the way to check out a local art studio and shop. A second-hand cropped jacket catches my eye, but I decide I don't need it, so we move on. I find a fee-free ATM, and get out $40 for the markets. We buy some potatoes, garlic, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, green beans, pak choi, capsicum, Piel de Sapo melon, mandarins, and kiwi fruit. $34.70
3:10pm — I spot an ad for mochi ice cream in the window of an Asian supermarket, deciding that I want some as a treat for later. I pick out some mango mochi ice cream and a second box of brown sugar boba ice cream (because I can't decide!). They ring it up, and I pay $25.83 without thinking. Then I realise that that seems very expensive for two small boxes of ice cream, so I ask for a breakdown of the cost. Turns out that yes, they were almost $13 a box. I decide to put them back until I have another treat yo' self day, and they refund me the cash. I remind myself that I had a ton of chocolate last night, so no dessert tonight will probably be a good thing!
3:45pm — On the drive home, we realise we'd forgotten to get a clothes drying rack in town. It's been so rainy lately that we haven't been able to use the clothesline outside like we usually do, and my Facebook Marketplace watching hasn't had any luck so far. There's a Kmart not too far ahead, so we stop in and grab one ($69), as well as a few lamps I've been wanting for bathtime ambience ($25 a pop). I also get a wall plug for them ($10). $129
4:19pm — We get home, unpack, and I call the mechanic again. He says that he's had trouble getting the parts he needs, but has them now and will try to get the car back to us by the end of next week. I forget to ask how much it'll come to… fingers crossed this means that we're still at the original quote. 
5:29pm — Before getting too settled at home, I decide to run down to IGA to get some movie night supplies. I pick up some popcorn, icing sugar (for sweet popcorn), a bottle of Pepsi, a bottle of sparkling water, some udon for dinner, and some jars of pasta sauce that are half-price and good to have on hand. $15.40
5:55pm — Home (again). Unpack (again). I hang up the laundry, pot up the aloe vera, and water the plants before drawing a bath (featuring my new pine-nettle leaf mix), starting to relax from the day. 
6:47pm — We settle in to watch some movies and snack on popcorn (some sweet, some savoury) and the last of the UberEats chips. Filling up on snacks is a rookie mistake and we skip dinner. Everything Everywhere All at Once is great!
Daily Total: $252.10

Day 7

12:00pm — I enjoy a slow, lazy morning around home while my partner is at work. When he gets back, we decide on egg and bacon brekkie rolls with coffee and sparkling water. After we eat, it's time to spruce up the house. We do a few odd jobs that have been on the list, including potting up some seeds that I've been saving. As we clean the bathroom, I decide I want some suction cup hooks for the shower so there's something to hang the flannels and loofahs from. I jump on eBay and buy them straight away ($5.95) so I don't have to think about it again. My partner fires up the clippers and gives himself a haircut, and I tidy up the back of his head. He's always cut his hair himself as long as we've been together, but I'm also getting better at cutting it. We laugh at today's attempt as I'm definitely not confident enough to attempt a fade! $5.95
3:09pm — I drop off my partner at a friend's place to pick up his motorbike that he left three last week. He rides it to his next shift, and I head over to visit dad.
3:31pm — Dad's out of milk and is planning on walking down to the servo to pick some up (it's "not a bad deal", apparently! Two for $5!). I offer to drive. While he buys his milk, I top up the car ($65.63 for half a tank!) and fill the air in the tyres. $65.63
6:46pm — It was supposed to be a quick visit with Dad, but we end up working on a semi-abandoned project of mine — upcycling an op shop find into a plant trellis. It's been sanded and stained, so now we need to add a base. We measure and cut and sand and file until eventually, I call it a day. I'm running out of social battery and am starting to get hungry. I've only had a chai latte and some gingernut biscuits for afternoon tea — it can only carry me so far! After packing up and a having bit more of a chat, I leave with a full bag of homegrown passionfruit and sugar bananas, Dad's leather conditioning kit that I'm borrowing for a handbag, the rest of the packet of gingernut biscuits, and some bricks and Besser blocks for some home projects we're working on.
8:56pm — I've come home pretty wiped, so I start thinking about what I can do for dinner that's quick, easy, and has at least some veggies. I keep a 'CBF' menu on the fridge to help me with throw-together meals. It’s a lifesaver. I reckon Mi Goreng is the go for tonight, so I make the usual noodles and fry it up with some mushrooms, pak choi, a handful of the frozen veg, and an egg.
Daily Total: $71.58

Anything else you'd like to add or flag?

This was definitely a splurge week for me! I'm usually cautious about paying for convenience on something I can do myself (hello, UberEats!). It's a good reminder of just how much of a difference those purchases make financially. But that being said, that cheeseburger was sooo worth it!
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