Money Diaries

A Week In Darwin, NT, As A Research Co-Ordinator On $119,000

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Today, we meet a diarist living in the Northern Territory who goes camping two weekends in a row, spends $112 on new flowers for her verandah and starts playing hockey again for the first time in years.
Occupation: Research Coordinator
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 33
Location: Darwin, NT
Pronouns: She/Her
Salary: $119,000
Net Worth: $178,700 ($35,000 in a mortgage offset account, approx $10,000 split across various savings accounts, $17,700 in shares/ETFs, $123,000 in super).
Debt: $7,000 remaining on a personal loan that I obtained to pay for a new car last year. I'm paying off more than the mandatory repayments so hope to have this gone by the end of the year. I still haven't made my mind up whether it was the right call to get a loan and not just pay the whole thing but ultimately, I think the money serves me better elsewhere. $1100 HECS debt for a grad cert I started studying this year.
Paycheque Amount (Fortnightly): $3,340 (includes $600 salary sacrifice)

Monthly Expenses

Rent & Council Rates: $1,000, which is half of the mortgage/rates payments. My partner has a mortgage and I've just moved into his place so at the moment the bulk of my savings sits in a mortgage offset account to bring down the interest payments on that and I pay him "rent". Provided things remain stable between us, we will eventually formalise this a little more but for the moment I want that money to remain fairly accessible to me. I'm working on building up a savings account that has at least three months' worth of expenses before I tie up the bulk of my savings into a mortgage; at the same time trying to build wealth and invest in shares so it's taking some determination! We have a joint account (we use credit cards to get airline points) that is for shared expenses - groceries, eating out, and entertainment. This gets paid in full every fortnight. We keep everything else separate but will occasionally pool money for certain things (holidays together for example). This is a fairly new arrangement since I moved in and for the time being it works for us, especially since we earn fairly similar salaries.
Loan Payments: $900 monthly to my personal loan ($400 more than required payments). Credit card that I pay off in full every fortnight.
Electricity: $80 (my half)
Internet: $50 (my half)
Health Insurance: $84
Car Insurance: $105
Charitable Donations: $105
Gym: $90
Substack: $15
Spotify: $13
Phone: $10
Binge/Prime: $25 (my siblings and partner pay for other streaming services and we all share these amongst each other)
Holiday Savings: $1,000
Shares/ETFs: $1,000
Main Savings: $300 (aiming to increase once the personal loan has been paid off)
Car: $160 (covers rego, servicing etc. It's a fairly new car so not anticipating any major issues in the next couple of years)
Splurge/"buffer" Account: (To prevent me from touching my main savings) $600
House Savings Account: $100 (this is an account for both of us to contribute to, to save for bigger but still "fun" household expenses like artwork or new furniture)
Everyday expenses: (groceries, eating out, entertainment etc) roughly $2,000-$2,500/month which is split evenly with my partner

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

Yes. I have an undergraduate degree, a Masters degree and am now studying a graduate certificate. This has all been paid using HECS so I was very proud to pay this off last year (total approx $50,000). I'm also very fortunate that I'm in a profession deemed "essential" so I've been able to study in Commonwealth supported places so my degrees have been fairly subsidised.

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

Not really. Looking back, there were definitely financial hardships growing up but we were always sheltered from them and food was always on the table. We mostly went on holidays every summer (often to a beachside caravan park) and my parents were able to scrounge (along with some government assistance and remote allowances etc.) to send us to boarding school for three years each. *We grew up in a very small town with the local school only going up to Year 10 — boarding school sounds very posh and I acknowledge the privilege of being able to go rather than attending the closest high school 30 minutes away but in WA, it's a very normal thing for people in rural areas to send their kids to boarding school, it's nowhere near as fancy as it sounds!* So I would say we were firmly working class but I also acknowledge that we still had privilege not necessarily afforded to everyone. I vaguely remember some lessons about budgeting our money as children but I was always hopeless at it and couldn't grasp the concept of delayed gratification (and still couldn't until the age of about 28!). I don't think my parents were especially financially literate outside of budgeting; there was certainly never talk of investing money or growing wealth. They are getting better as they age but any financial literacy I now have has really been a product of teaching myself (thanks Barefoot!)

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

I worked at our local roadhouse for $7/hr cash in hand. It took me a long time to understand the value of money and that you had to work for it, even though my parents tried to teach us budgeting with small allowances as kids; for some reason it didn't translate into practice for me. So my parents basically forced me to get a job during the summer holidays at 16. They absolutely did the right thing and it made me less entitled and more willing to work for things; I guess I always just needed a bit of pushing as a child/teenager.

Did you worry about money growing up?

No. I think I was a little naïve about how much money we had, especially growing up in a small town where socioeconomic status felt fairly even. Even as I went away to boarding school, friends were given far more allowance money than me and my siblings were ever allowed but in my naivety, I just assumed my parents were being stingy rather than it being a scarcity issue.

Do you worry about money now?

I wouldn't say worry but it does consume a lot of my mental space. Having really cleaned up my financial act from about age 28/29, it's been exciting to watch my money grow, so I do find myself checking accounts and investments quite a lot, but more out of interest rather than worry. I still struggle trying to balance my tendency to immediately gratify myself with things, and I'm also an avid traveler so striking the balance between investing smartly and still enjoying myself is a constant battle. Since I left school, I've always had a fairly good work ethic and absolutely hustled and picked up extra shifts wherever I could throughout my 20s, but this was to fund overseas travel and I'd often come home completely broke and repeat that cycle.
I'm lucky to work in a profession that has relative job stability so I've never really had to worry about not working when I want to and I have been able to go in and out of employment with ease in my younger years. I am now enjoying the stability of a regular income and while I have less flexibility, I think I'm managing to strike the balance well enough for where I'm at and what I want out of life. I'm also at an age where children may enter the picture in the next few years so I'm trying to enjoy a childfree life as much as possible but also set myself up financially for that possibility. I'm also fortunate that my partner has done the initial leg work of purchasing a house that I can now live in; and provided we stay together, I will be able to contribute to that mortgage rather than getting my own in the next couple of years. Otherwise, who knows when I would've entered the housing market; people buying properties on single incomes — I salute you!

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

17/18, after I finished school. I moved to Perth to go to university and my parents helped me out for the first two years with paying rent (I had to pay $100/week and they covered the rest as well as bills) which I'm incredibly grateful for, but everything else was up to me to pay for. I know that my parents would do whatever they could to help me out of a seriously sticky financial situation, so I do have that privilege as a somewhat financial safety net, however there is definitely a limit to how much they'd actually be able to help and I'm very determined to never have to rely on that. I pay for income protection and various other insurances through my super so would hopefully be able to rely on that should anything drastic ever happen.

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

I received Study allowance from Centrelink during my undergrad degree and I receive a small amount of dividends from my shares but otherwise, no.

Day 1

5:15am: Up for the gym. Really don't want to go this morning but I've been a bit slack the past couple of days, and I skipped hockey training last night because I wasn't feeling well, so I manage to guilt myself into going. End up having a good session so predictably, I'm happy I've come.
6:30am: Back home and start getting ready for work. My partner J. gets up and makes me my morning coffee using our basic espresso machine (purchased to cut back on buying coffee but I'm sure all it's done is give me reason to drink an extra cup in the morning).
8am: Swan into work and get stuck into a project that has been consuming me for the last few weeks. I'm new in this role, having previously worked clinically in healthcare so the past six months has been a steep learning curve.
9:30am: Duck out for a second coffee ($5.50). I blame the early morning start. Eat some muesli, yoghurt and berries for breakfast at work with supplies I've brought from home/keep in the work fridge. Get stuck into some more work and have a 90-minute phone call/Teams meeting to go through the progress so far. $5.50
12:30pm: Make some lunch with supplies from home/work fridge then head out for my midday stroll and podcast listen. This helps me switch off from work for a minute and also perks me up for the rest of the day. I walk to Woolies to grab some supplies — my partner and I and some friends are driving out of town after work to go for a hike and a swim tomorrow since it's a public holiday ($21, $10.50 for my half). This also reminds me to book the campsite for tonight so I quickly do that when I head back to the office ($50 — when did campsites get so expensive?! $25 for my half). We're with friends so eventually we'll work out costs or they may pay for something else later. $35.50
4:30pm: Work on my project and some other little things that pop up for the afternoon then make my home. I quickly pack the car and wait for J. to get home so we can hit the road. J. stops for fuel on the way home from work ($124, $62 for my share). $62
6pm: Very lazily grab some Hungry Jack's for dinner on the road ($30, $15 for my share). We're usually much more organised than this but it's been a busy week and this was somewhat of a spontaneous trip. Also grab a six-pack of beers ($17, $8.50 for my share). $23.50
9:30pm: Finally arrive and quickly set up camp. Have a couple of drinks then settle in for bed around 11pm.
Daily Total: $126.50

Day 2

7am: Up to the sound of the birds squawking this morning, feeling so refreshed and happy to be out in the wilderness. We pack up camp and snack on a cheese roll that I purchased yesterday.
8am: Start making our way to the National Park, stopping for coffees at a little cafe on the way ($20, $10 for my share). We arrive at the park and purchase ferry tickets for the way back, we will hike into the swimming spot then catch the ferry back through the gorge. Grab ferry tickets for all of us which costs $69 ($35 for my share). $45
9am: Start the hike in and it's absolutely lovely. Not too hot, it's beautiful and green after the rains of the wet season and we're in good company. The wet season is pretty brutal here and a lot of hikes/swimming holes are inaccessible so this is our first trip out since the weather started turning and becoming more pleasant. It feels so good and makes me so excited for the next few months!
10am: We arrive at the swimming hole and it's absolutely beautiful. Only a few others here so plenty of space. Spend the next couple of hours swimming, lazing on the rocks and reading.
12:30pm: Jump on the ferry back through the gorge which is so spectacular. So lucky to live in this little pocket of the world. We get back into the main town nearby and go to the only place open for lunch/beers on this public holiday. A friend who lives here comes and meets us for lunch so it's lovely getting to catch up with her. We have a couple of beers and some lunch (chicken parmi for me) which my friend covers since we've paid for a few other things.
3pm: Say a sad goodbye to my friend (although we've loosely planned lots of activities over the next few months so I'll be seeing her again soon) and hit the road to head back to Darwin.
5pm: Stop for fuel ($50, $25 for my share) and a servo soft drink ($6, $3 for my share) and continue on. $28
6pm: Back in town, we drop my friends back at their place and head home to quickly unpack and shower.
7:30pm: Head to our local pub for Thursday quiz night. We won last week so pressure is on to back it up. We have free beers from our win last week and our friend buys a jug so no cost to us. Still full from lunch so no dinner needed. Sadly we didn't come away with the win, in fact we came dead last so we left feeling pretty humbled.
10pm: Feeling pretty shattered after a big day so a quick pre-bed skincare routine and lights out at 10:30pm.
Daily Total: $73

Day 3

6:30am: Up and time to get ready for work. All the smart people have taken today off for a four-day weekend but my annual leave is so precious and I need to save it for some more trips we have planned this year. Hopefully will be a fairly chill Friday. Get my coffee made for me by my in-house barista.
8am: Get into the office and start on a couple of things before having a meeting with my boss at 9am for some strategy planning. It goes well. I feel like I'm constantly switching between optimism about the opportunity I have to create something really important for my organisation over the next couple of years, and complete imposter syndrome and anxiety about how overwhelming it all feels. Hopefully the next six months or so is a little kinder and I settle in more and feel like I know what I'm doing.
9:30am: Chow down my breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and berries. I'm a real creature of habit when it comes to breakfast, I swear I've eaten this almost every morning for the past five years but I look forward to it every morning! This is all food that I have in the work fridge/brought from home.
11:30am: I've packed my gym stuff to either go at lunch or after work and I've had a sudden wave of motivation so I capitalise on it and head to the gym. I got into strength training a couple of years ago and I cannot stress enough the positive influence it's had on my life. I have discipline that I've never had before and have managed to remain very consistent with it for the past three years. It's also been so fun watching my body composition change and see how strong I can get without killing myself with horrendous HIIT workouts. It can feel overwhelming to begin with so I highly recommend a coach. I worked with one for 18 months and it was the best decision I've ever made/money I've ever spent. It completely changed my mindset around nutrition and exercise after years of some pretty unhealthy habits and trying every "12-week challenge" and restrictive diet under the sun, and I am now armed with the knowledge to carry on without a coach.
1pm: Get back from the gym and quickly make some lunch using things I have in the work fridge: a chicken, avo & cheese bagel. I've taken a bit of a longer lunch so I'll just stay back later today. Having come from a clinical background where you're lucky to get a lunch break or if you do get one, it's a strict and set time because it affects everybody else in the team, these little flexibilities of being able to take a longer lunch or head home earlier by not taking a break for lunch have been such a luxury to me!
5pm: Tap away at the computer for the afternoon. The office has been eerily quiet so I've managed to get a bit of work done. Make the five minute journey home, another Darwin perk! J. gets home about 10 minutes after me and we go for a walk around the local neighbourhood. I start making dinner when we get home using stuff we already had in the fridge — steak and veggies.
7pm: Eat dinner with a glass of red wine. I read my book on the couch with the footy on in the background.
10:30pm: Struggling to stay awake so I take myself off to bed and am out like a light.
Daily Total: $0

Day 4

8:00am: Wake up after a bit of a sleep in. J. pops to the local cafe and corner store to grab some things for breakfast while I continue lounging in bed. He grabs sourdough ($9.65, we are indeed millennials!), butter and eggs ($7). He makes some eggs on toast and I make us some coffees which we sit and enjoy on the balcony while doing the Saturday quiz. $16.65
10am: J. goes fishing with a friend and I meet some friends at the local market. I grab another coffee as well as another bag of ground beans for our machine ($65, $32.50 for my half). $32.50
11:30am: Say goodbye to my friends and pop to Bunnings. I can’t believe how much I enjoy a trip to Bunnings the older I get! I grab some cute little flowers that I will plant together in some planter boxes, as well as some bigger plants. We only have balcony space so I’m doing my best to be creative with it. I also don’t have a great track record with plants so I’m hoping this is the new me. Grab some other bits and bobs and end up spending way more than anticipated so I guess that’s more reason to keep the plants alive ($224, $112 for my half). $112
1pm: Get home and get stuck into repotting the plants and planting the little flower planters. I love the end result so let’s hope I can keep it this way. Snack on some more sourdough for lunch then finally get stuck into a uni assignment I was meant to start hours ago.
6:30pm: J. and his friend T. make it back from boating and have brought the goods. Two enormous mudcrabs and a couple of fish. We quickly hatch a plan to go to T. and his wife’s place for dinner so we can all enjoy the crabs. T’s wife is heavily pregnant and I didn’t want any pressure on her to cook so we quickly cleaned and cracked the crabs, I made a chili sauce using things we already had and then we headed over to their place.
11pm: Say goodbye and good luck to our friends — there’s a very high possibility that next time we see them they will have a baby! Do a bit of a kitchen clean up at home and head to bed.
Daily Total: $161.15

Day 5

8:00am: Awake after a bit of an average sleep annoyingly. J. is off fishing again today with another friend so he gets up and starts getting himself organised. I make some muesli/yoghurt/berries for breakfast and we again eat breakfast on the balcony with a coffee and the Sydney Morning Herald quiz this time (we are big quiz people!). Loving the spark of joy my planters and new plants are giving me. I do a quick whip around with a vacuum and mop and finish tidying up the kitchen.
11am Get back into my assignment for a couple of hours. This is my final assignment for the trimester and it's been very difficult to find the motivation to finish it. I will have to do some final edits and touch ups tomorrow before I submit it but I also don't want to spend my entire Sunday doing it so I stop once I'm relatively happy with it.
1:30pm: Eat a couple slices of sourdough for lunch. I put a movie on and catch up on some life admin and do a couple of crafting projects while the movie plays in the background. Notice J. has spent $30 on fuel for the boat. $30
4:30pm: Pop to Woolies to grab a couple of things for dinner. I have hockey later and I want carbs but also can't be bothered cooking anything too involved so settle on some basic spaghetti bolognese ($13, $6.50 for my half). It's such an awkward time to cook and eat dinner but I'll be hopeless in the game if I don't have anything to eat beforehand. $6.50
6pm: Set off for the game which is about 20 minutes from my place. The game starts at 7pm, and we end up drawing 1-1 which is a disappointing result for us but I'm not too fazed. I haven't played in almost 10 years and am just getting back into it this year so I'm more focused on not dying in the games rather than us actually winning.
9pm: Arrive home and catch up with J. about our days. He's brought home two decent fish so that'll feed us for the next night or so. I shower and try to wind down but I do always find it quite difficult after late exercise. Read my book for a bit and will myself to sleep.
Daily Total: $36.50

Day 6

6:30am: Up after a horrible nights' sleep. Absolutely not feeling work today but I know even if I take a personal day, I will feel stressed about a deadline I have coming up. Alas, I drag myself out of bed and get ready for work. J. makes me my much-needed coffee and I make my way into work at 8am.
8am: Get started on some mundane tasks that don't require huge amounts of brainpower before getting stuck into my main task for the day.
9am: Have my breakfast as per usual, feeling slightly more awake as a result. Luckily remember I have a meeting that I'd entirely forgotten about. Quickly make a cup of tea and log into the meeting.
10:30am: My hayfever has been wreaking havoc this morning so I quickly go down to Chemist Warehouse and grab my trusty nose spray that I ran out of this past weekend ($37). This has just been made over-the-counter and is about half the price it used to be so I celebrate the small win. $37
12:30pm: Eat leftover spaghetti for lunch. Go for a walk to get outside and move my body. Also drop off some clothes that need altering. The clothes have been in my car for over a week so I'm glad to finally remember and tick this task off. I'll pay when I pick them up.
4:30pm: Work away at this project for the afternoon. I haven't been all that efficient today so maybe a personal day would've been beneficial after all. Hopefully I'm a little more productive tomorrow. Make my way home and make the final edits on my assignment before submitting. Very happy to now have a month off from my grad cert.
6:30pm: J. gets home and gets to work in the kitchen. I bought him The Whole Fish cookbook for his birthday so he's having a go at one of the recipes in there with the fish he caught yesterday. It's a roaring success! Tidy up the kitchen then we catch up on the latest episode of Alone Australia that we missed last week. As usual, J. spends the episode detailing how he'd survive and what he'd do differently to the contestants.
9:30pm: Make my way to bed and read for a bit before lights out at 10:15pm.
Daily Total: $37

Day 7:

5:15am: Ip for the gym. Feeling a bit stiff from my hockey game on the weekend so it feels good to stretch out a bit and move my muscles.
6:40am: Back home, have a protein shake and water the plants on the balcony. Have a shower and get organised for work.
8am: Get into work and immediately get back into the same project I was working on yesterday. Feeling a bit guilty about how little I achieved with this major project yesterday so hoping to make up for it today.
9:30am: Stop for breakfast, you know the drill — museli, yoghurt and berries.
12:30pm: Leftover spaghetti again for lunch. Go for a stroll to give my brain a rest. Remember that I have to book a campsite for this weekend — it's a long weekend and we'll be heading away again for the whole time. When I get back to the office, I book it. $12, all up, $6 for my share (a much more respectable camping fee!) $6
5pm: Work away for the rest of the afternoon, think I've made up for yesterday now. Pop to Woolies to grab some things for dinner. Chicken, and greens ($13, $6.50 for my half). We have everything else at home. $6.50
5:45pm: I get home and get started on dinner. I marinate the chicken, make some mash and cook the broccoli and green beans — a pretty basic weeknight meal for us. J. gets home literally as I'm plating up dinner.
7pm: Quickly scoff dinner then take myself off to hockey training. Still feeling a bit stiff from the weekend so it's a bit of a slog tonight.
9pm: I get home, shower and get myself ready for bed. Ambitiously hoping to get up for a swim in the morning, so read for a bit then lights out at 10:30pm.
Daily Total: $12.50
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