Money Diaries

A Week In Berowra, Sydney, As A Solicitor On $95,000

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we tackle the ever-present taboo that is money. We ask real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we track every last dollar.
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Today: a solicitor who makes $95,000 a year and spends some of her money this week on a Star Wars mug (for only 75 cents!).
Editor's Note: This diary was written in January 2023.
Content warning: This article discusses domestic violence in a way that may be distressing to some readers. 
Occupation: Solicitor
Industry: Legal Aid
Age: 28
Location: Berowra, Sydney
Salary: $95,000
Net Worth: $152,465 ($160,000 in savings, $41,420 in my superannuation, $2,514 in my Raiz investment account, $81 in my Coinbase crypto account and $450 in my Spaceship investment account). When I first started investing in 2021, I would check my accounts daily (it was the second Covid lockdown and I had nothing better to do) but this proved to be disheartening, so I had to get out of the habit.
Debt: $52,000 in HECS debt.
Paycheque Amount (Monthly): $7,224. I also salary sacrifice 0.5% of my salary into my super.
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $1,000. Our rent is $3,000 a month, which I split three ways with two other housemates. We live in a pretty poky apartment but it's very peaceful and we all keep to ourselves, which I prefer.
Loans: No personal loans. I would never borrow money, unless it's for a mortgage. My mentality is: if you can't afford it, don't get it!
Virgin Active Gym Membership: $150
Internet: $30
Phone: $0. I'm on my family's mobile plan.
Binge: $16. I only got Binge for a month to watch The White Lotus. I'll be cancelling it before my next billing cycle.
Other Streaming: $0 for Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus — I mooch off my sister's friends who are incredibly generous.
Gas & Electricity: $50
Union Fees: $52
Oral Contraceptives: $8 (every four months).

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

I did a Bachelor of Arts and Laws. After finishing uni, I also had to do a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice to qualify as a lawyer. Everything was put on HECS. I have a lot of friends who are worrying about rising indexation rates being applied to their HECS debt and they're thinking about putting more money towards it to battle indexation. I tell them that their HECS debt is probably the best debt they'll ever get and that instead of putting more money towards it, they should put more into their super or save towards a home deposit.

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

It was not through conversations that I learnt about finances, but from the strict attitude my parents had. My parents had an 'every dollar counts' mindset and every cent was to be saved.
As a teenager, I remember being at the bus stop and a boy asking me for $2 to ride the bus. I told him I would ask my dad who was coming to pick me up, but when I asked him if we had any spare coins, Dad just drove off.
I think because my parents grew up in extreme poverty, they have a severe scarcity mentality. We never got Christmas presents or birthday gifts, which did not make me sad because I didn't know what I was missing. All our clothes were donated by family friends. We only ate home-brand food and only bought branded products when they were half-price. Whenever petrol is cheap, my dad still stocks up by filling up extra jerry cans.
Today, I have the same mentality of never wasting money and as an example, I have had the same handbag for the last ten years.

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

My first job was as a waitress at a Thai restaurant when I was 18. I wanted to earn my own money to pay for dinners or movies with friends. I wanted to start working at Red Rooster when I was 14, but my mum said I needed to focus on my studies.

Did you worry about money growing up?

Yes, I did. I saw how my parents barely spent any money if they could help it, so I was also afraid of asking them for money. When I was in school, I didn’t tell my parents about school camping trips because I didn't want to ask them to pay for them. My mum got upset when she learned that my school offered to provide me with saxophone lessons but I turned them down because I told them I could not afford lessons. She said we could have found a way to pay, but I know that I would've felt too guilty and indulgent during those lessons, knowing that my parents were spending what little money they had on something fun and frivolous for me.

Do you worry about money now?

Yes, even though I save most of my fortnightly paycheque. The rising cost of living scares me and so I try to shop mostly at Aldi. I worry about money and try not to spend it on non-necessities, but I acknowledge that's no way to live, so I'll sometimes leave my soggy sandwich or salad in the fridge and go out to lunch with colleagues.
Despite my parents' austerity, I know they squirrel away money for security. If I was in trouble and needed their financial help, I know they would help me immediately.

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

When I moved out of home at 24, I began paying my own rent and for my groceries. I have a very solid financial safety net but I'm looking to buy a two-bedroom apartment in Sydney, so I anticipate my savings will be almost completely drained soon.

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

Yes, I've previously received Youth Allowance from Centrelink.

Day 1

8:30am — Gotta love a Monday public holiday for delaying my return to work. I keep seeing people posting bikini photos from the beach or gym selfies with the caption 'starting the new year right', so I decide that my partner L. and I should also start the new year right by going to morning yoga. We pop in to a cafe to get some coffees on the way. L. pays for them (one soy latte and one soy cap, both large) which adds up to $10.50 before we start our yoga session at 9am.
10:00am — After an intense yoga session, we do the Balls Head to Lavender Bay walk, which is around 7km. It's sunny, but I've brought lots of sunscreen for us to reapply. I return to the office tomorrow after a luxurious six-week break, so I want to soak in as much of scenic Sydney as I can before the only view I have becomes my computer in the office. You can tell I really am sulking about going back to work.
1:00pm — At the end of our stunning walk, we take the ferry ($6.43) from Milsons Point to Barangaroo. While waiting for our ferry, we laugh at the shrieks from children on the rollercoaster at Luna Park. $6.43 
1:30pm —  There are surprisingly a lot of cafes open on a public holiday, but we settle on Devon Cafe. I order the chicken katsu sando and L. orders the miso marinated king salmon with eel croquette and an onsen egg, along with another soy latte. When I go to pay, I am shocked at the amount and almost ask to double check the receipt, but then I realise there's a 15% public holiday surcharge. I stop being shocked and quickly tap my card because these lovely cafe staff gave up their public holiday to work and they deserve to be paid extra. The total cost comes to $60.40, including the surcharge — my shout. $60.40
3:30pm — We wander around TITLE Store, an artful book store in Barangaroo. I love browsing bookstores but rarely buy anything because I mostly read borrowed books from the library. I'm trying to change that and become more generous with supporting local artists by buying more books. The best book I purchased last year was Another Day in the Colony by Chelsea Watego. After having a delightful book browse, we walk to Wynyard and catch a train back to Waverton ($0.65) where L. has parked his car. Then he drives me back home. $0.65
6:00pm — I eat some leftover noodles for dinner and watch This Is Going To Hurt on Binge. I loved the book by Adam Kay and the TV show has me in stitches! I find the compassion fatigue and doctors' burnout plotline to be really relatable because in my experience with working with clients from really vulnerable backgrounds, it can just feel really draining sometimes and like there's nothing left in the tank to give.
8:00pm — I browse Domain which has become my pre-bedtime routine. I am on it almost every night, but I haven't found the perfect place to buy yet. Mortgage brokers are super impressed with how much savings I have for a deposit, but it's taken me a while to look for a good place because I want it to be absolutely perfect given that I am draining my savings for it. 
9:00pm — I get off Domain a bit disheartened because everything seems only fair enough. I relax as much as possible tonight knowing that tomorrow I go back to the daily grind...
Daily Total: $67.48

Day 2

7:30am — I manage to wake up at 7am, which feels like an incredible achievement because during my holiday break, I've gotten up at 10am most days. I think I've got a bit of an adrenaline rush which is helping me get up so early. After all, I haven't opened up my work inbox for so long and I'm about to see what's waiting for me after a six-week break — thrilling! I tap on from Berowra and tap off at Wynyard. $5.42
8:30am — I am reluctant to walk into work earlier than I have to, and put off returning to reality by browsing Woolies. I get two punnets of blueberries ($3.80) and a lovely mango ($2.50). I also pop into a Japanese convenience store and get four pieces of onigiri ($13) for lunch. Usually, I religiously bring my lunch to work every day, but I haven't been bothered to go to the shops to get stuff to meal prep this week. $19.30
8:45am — Argh, it's still not 9am yet, so I refuse to go into the office. I get a large latte ($4.56) to eat with my breakfast of blueberries. Then I face the music and start making my way to work (reluctantly). $4.56
9:00am — Day one back at work is mostly spent catching up on emails and everything I've missed, plus preparing for the week ahead. I kind of like how peaceful and quiet it is in the office because most people are either working from home or returning next week. 
2:00pm — I eat my onigiri for lunch. It’s a late lunch for me, but the two punnets of blueberries I had for breakfast were very filling. 
2:30pm — I go back to my desk and prepare for upcoming client appointments. I never like to wing things and always make sure I’m fully across a file before I speak to a client, usually who are experiencing domestic violence and need legal advice about getting apprehended domestic violence orders. Day to day, I also prepare lots of referrals to other legal and non-legal services because usually clients often present with lots of other problems and don’t know where to turn to. After every appointment, I need to follow up with a letter recapping all the advice I’ve provided, so I find myself drafting lots of letters.
4:45pm — I leave work a tad early to go to my laser appointment (Brazilian and armpits — I bought the ten-session deal when it was half price last month). As I catch the lift to leave, I am feeling glad I have ripped off the bandaid of returning to work.
5:10pm — I arrive at my laser appointment but they say because I'm ten minutes late, they can only see me at 5:45pm. I go to kill some more time at Woolies and buy two packets of chilli and garlic infused olives ($7). My parents buy the big jar of olives in normal brine from Aldi for much less, but I can't resist these artisanal olives as a little treat. Then I go into Coles to kill even more time. I know it seems like all I do to waste time in the CBD is go to grocery stores, but clothes and makeup stores don't interest me because I know I'm not going to walk out with anything. I end up buying five bottles of Campbell's V8 breakfast juice because it's half-price, as well as a punnet of strawberries and a Star Wars mug (for only 75 cents!) ($16.50). $23.50
6:00pm — I finish up at my (painful) laser appointment and catch the train from Wynyard back to Berowra ($5.42). When I get home, I eat leftover noodles again for dinner. I scroll on the AusFinance subreddit because I enjoy reading people’s commentary about the dire state of the property market. $5.42
8:00pm — As I wind down for the night, I read a book called Sad Mum Lady by Ashe Davenport, which is a memoir about motherhood. I love reading memoirs as long as they’re funny and not too dark, especially given how heavy my work day usually is. 
9:00pm — I browse Domain before going to bed. I send myself a list of possible apartments to inspect in Gladesville and Lane Cove. I am looking for a nice two-bedder with a decent-sized kitchen, ideally in the lower North Shore because I want my commute to the CBD to be quick. I know most people say to move further away from Sydney to get a freestanding house, but I can’t imagine having to travel longer than an hour to get to work, even if I did work from home for some of the week. I know I could probably get a one-bedder for a lot cheaper, but I am keen to have another room as a home office because luckily the WFH life isn’t going away anytime soon. I plan to buy a property with my $100,000 in savings and then borrowing $500,000 for the rest, which I already have pre-approved. After bookmarking, I get ready for bed and it's lights out.
Daily Total: $58.20

Day 3

7:30am — I manage to once again get out of bed at 7am. I get ready and take the train to work. $5.42
8:30am — Even though it wasn't that bad going back to work yesterday, I still feel reluctant to be at my desk earlier than 9am. You'd think I'd be a super refreshed and recharged keen bean after such a long break away from work, but I'm sorta just not feeling it so early in the year — if I can delay starting work earlier than I have to, then I will. We are having a picnic at work today, so I pop into a store and buy some discounted Cheetos puffs ($1.50) and coconut water ($2.75). Then I head to a cafe and buy myself a large latte ($4.56). $8.81
1:00pm — We have a picnic for lunch to catch up about our holidays. Everyone buys some sushi to eat, so I also get two sushi rolls — one salmon, one tuna. It costs $8.70, which is wild. I remember buying a sushi roll last year and being absolutely shocked that a single roll was $4.50. Even ten years ago, a sushi roll would be $2, but now it's very commonplace for one to be over $4. That's inflation for you, unfortunately. $8.70
2:30pm — Back to my desk. I listen to Brooklyn Baby by Lana Del Rey which I’ve been listening to non-stop this week. It's melancholic and the perfect soundtrack for my back-to-work blues.
5:00pm — I walk to Wynyard station. My New Year's resolution is to leave work at 5pm every day, because last year I would stay back until 7pm doing unimportant admin crap. When people think of lawyers, they imagine someone doing super cerebral, intellectually challenging work, but the truth is, it's lots of paper pushing. I tap on and see that I've been automatically topped up for $20, and pay $5.42 for my train. $5.42
6:00pm — I get off the station and go to Aldi to get lunch items — Turkish bread rolls, bocconcini, beetroot and two punnets of blueberries ($12.65). I can't get enough of blueberries, obviously. Tonight I'm making L. dinner so I stop at Miracle to get shallots, Chinese cabbage, ginger and lup cheong (Chinese sausage) for $12.62. I plan to make a simple stir fry. $25.27
7:00pm — We eat dinner and watch The White Lotus — I feel like everyone at work is talking about it, so I'm glad I can be part of the zeitgeist. L. and I are obsessed with 'eat the rich' themed content at the moment, so we're keen for The Menu to drop on Disney Plus. We also loved Parasite. A colleague has also recommended The Triangle of Sadness, which I have put on my list. 
8:00pm — I do my skincare. At the moment, I am using the Innisfree Green Tea set. I am very, very lazy with my skincare and up until recently, just washed my face with water. But now that I’m on my way to my thirties, I figure it's time for me to develop a good routine. 
9:00pm — I told myself that I would stop reading true crime this year (I think it’s unhealthy), but I can’t stop reading about the Idaho murders. It is so horrific and heartbreaking, especially given that the victims were in their early twenties and life had not yet even started for them. I need to stop this habit of deep diving into the darkness of humanity — especially because my job is beyond grim already. I stop reading about the Idaho murders and go back to browsing Domain (again) before falling asleep.
Daily Total: $53.62

Day 4

8:30am — I am bloody exhausted and so glad today's a work from home day. I have back-to-back client appointments today. I relished the nine-month lockdown we had, as I got to roll out of bed really late. I know some people found isolation hard, but I loved not having to talk to anyone or wash my hair. Because L. stayed over last night, he goes out to get us coffees (a large soy cap for him and a large latte for me) — his shout.
3:30pm — It's been a really busy, draining day for me. I have lunch very late and need to scoff it down in ten minutes before my next appointment. I quickly make a toasted Turkish bread sandwich with beetroot, fried haloumi and lettuce. When I was working from home every day for nine months, I did not buy a single lunch — I made all my lunches at home. I remember seeing a hilarious tweet about the best part of working from home is being able to fry an egg for lunch in your own kitchen! Very relatable. I miss my no-spend days! I quickly scull my V8 breakfast juice before my next appointment.
4:00pm — I find it tough working in the social justice sector as a lawyer because quite often, I become an accidental counsellor to clients as I'm the first person who has genuinely listened to them. They often feel safe with me, so they tell me about all the heartbreaking events they've experienced in their lives. I've gotten good at containing these lines of conversations and steering the conversation back to legal advice but it still gets tiring. 
4:45pm — I am absolutely KNACKERED after client appointments all day, so I log off early. I feel hollow and absolutely drained. When L. asks me about my day, I can barely form full sentences. We meet up and take the train ($5.74) to Wynyard to go to our first ever reformer Pilates athletics class. It's the first time we’ve done the athletics version of reformer Pilates and it’s super intense, but I feel a lot further away from my full-on work day, which is always a good thing. $5.74
5:45pm — L. and I catch the train back to mine. $5.74
6:45pm — We eat some leftover stir-fry from last night for dinner. After we finish eating, I put on Brooklyn Baby by Lana Del Rey and load the dishwasher. We then have a very relaxing evening watch Knives Out. L. and I ended up watching Knives Out: Glass Onion first because everyone was talking about it, but I actually think the first movie was way better and with a much more charming cast! 
9:00pm — Shockingly, for the second night in a row, I do my skincare routine! Then I'm (quite predictably) browsing Domain again. Sometimes I like to go absolutely buckwild and set the location to regional Queensland and toggle my search to five bedrooms. I enjoy getting quite dismayed over being able to afford a full house with a kitchen island for much less than what's on offer in Sydney.
Daily Total: $11.48

Day 5

8:00am — I am feeling fatigued, despite only having been back at work for three days. I feel really depressed and anxious, so I message my boss to say that I am unwell and need to take personal leave. At work, we're encouraged to take mental health days for our wellbeing, but I feel like no one really does it. 
11:00am — I sleep most of the morning away but then L. picks me up to go to Macquarie Centre. We window shop and I don't buy anything. L. goes to get some lunch from Fishbowl but I've got some sandwich ingredients at home that I can use for lunch later. I end up buying four puff pastries from Pafu and cannot resist the banoffee flavoured one ($20.19). I duck into Aldi and get an avocado for my sandwich, as well as a packet of three croissants and some cherry tomatoes ($6.67). $26.86
1:30pm — I get home and make myself a sandwich with beetroot, haloumi, lettuce and avo — avocados really elevate sandwiches! During lockdown, avo on toast with sriracha sauce and lemon was what I made for most of my lunches. I would make a joke here about avocados/affording property, but it feels a bit too cliche to do that.
2:00pm — I feel bad that I've been searching for a property for so long and haven't made much headway, so I email my mortgage broker. I've ghosted them for a few months after my pre-approval expired. I email her apologising for the delayed response and explain that things have been busy. She's very responsive and calls me immediately. She explains the new annual property tax that you can pay instead of stamp duty and says I can still probably borrow $500,000 — all I need to do is resend her a bunch of documents so she can renew it. She talks to me about rising interest rates but I accidentally tune out — I know I should be more worried about interest rate hikes, especially with all the media coverage on how millennials are struggling with mortgage repayments, but I think I'm just in denial. I am better at taking in information when I read about it — if it’s verbal, it all goes out of my head. Oops. Luckily, the mortgage broker says she will send me an email to recap everything.
6:00pm — I eat a very lazy dinner of Uncle Ben’s sriracha flavoured rice with a can of chilli-flavoured tuna. 
9:00pm — I do the obligatory search on Domain and send some suitable apartment listings to my family group chat. No one replies. I feel like no one opens up my apartment listings anymore because I spam the family group chat too much. I get so excited when I see a reasonably priced two-bedder in Balmain/Rozelle, but then I see there’s no space for a dishwasher or an internal laundry. Sad. I have an early night because I plan to go to yoga early tomorrow.
Daily Total: $26.86

Day 6

8:00am — It's finally the weekend. L. and I go to an hour-long yoga flow class. I get our coffees — a large soy cap and a large latte. $10.71
12:00pm — We eat lunch at home — an acai bowl with berries. 
3:00pm — L. gives me a lift to Kmart. It's my friend's farewell tonight as he's moving to Brisbane. I print off two photos of us laughing ($0.20) and buy two photo frames ($4.50) and a card ($0.75). It's a super cute and thoughtful gift because in my card, I say that I hope he looks at these two photos of us from over the years and remembers all the many laughs we had. I am good at giving sentimental gifts that don’t break the budget. $5.45
5:30pm — I get ready in a big rush and take the train to Wynyard ($3.29). The Facebook event says 7pm, but my friend has since told me the dinner is booked for 6pm. I usually turn up on time for things, so it's good someone kept me in the loop! $3.29
6:00pm — I arrive at Balcon by Tapavino. Even though I thought I was going to be late, I'm the first one there. We order lots of meat tapas and olives and split it between the four of us ($46.50) — we all refuse to make S. pay because it's his farewell dinner. We head to a fancy cocktail bar afterwards but I just drink the free water because the prices are eye-wateringly high and I refuse to pay more than $25 for a single drink! $46.50
10:00pm — The train ride home is only $1.64. I give myself a break from looking at Domain when I get home and go straight to bed after brushing my teeth. $1.64
Daily Total: $65.95

Day 7

10:00am — It’s still the weekend and I don’t want to leave my bed. I sleep in until 10am. I want to delay my day of chores and meal prep. 
11:00am — I eat blueberries for breakfast and drink a cup of lady grey tea. On the weekends, I try not to drink coffee and instead opt for tea. 
12:00pm — I slowly go about my chores. I put a load of laundry on and then hang the laundry on the balcony. I take out the rubbish. I stack the dishwasher — all while blasting Brooklyn Baby.
1:00pm — I make a salad of spinach, tomatoes and bocconcini with generous glugs of olive oil on top for lunch. 
2:00pm — I have a case of the Sunday blues and feel sad that I’m spending the last remaining hours of my weekend doing boring chores. I wipe down the kitchen bench and clean the bathroom. 
4:00pm — I start to meal prep vegetarian Japanese curry for dinner. It takes a very long time to cut and peel the potatoes and carrots, but it’s very gratifying to see all my tupperware boxes full of meal prep. I am ready for the week ahead — I believe Gen Z calls it the 'Sunday reset' on TikTok. It's been two months since I deleted TikTok, but I'm tempted to hop back on as a quick and easy way to unwind. I am old-fashioned and only have a Facebook account — no Instagram or BeReal here. I take a break from all the cooking and cleaning by scrolling on Facebook for a little bit, but all I see are girls brandishing their perfectly manicured hands and showing off their big diamond rings. This doesn’t make me particularly jealous — I feel more envious when I see people posting photos of their property purchases with the typical thumbs-up pose in front of a ‘Sold’ sign.
6:00pm — While eating my Japanese curry for dinner, I scroll on Twitter and Reddit. 
9:00pm — I have an early night after doing chores and cooking all day. I’m not looking forward to it being Monday tomorrow, but at least all my lunches are sorted! 
Daily Total: $0

Anything else you'd like to add or flag?

Since writing this diary, I still find myself scrolling Domain most nights but I haven’t yet spotted the right home worth draining all my hard-earned savings on. I started this year utterly determined to find my forever home, but I’m not so sure about this anymore. I think it’s probably a good thing that I haven’t yet locked myself into a mortgage given all the doom and gloom about the skyrocketing interest rates… it makes me sad when I read articles about people skipping meals just so they can afford their mortgage repayments. I saw one hilarious but apt comment on Reddit’s Ausfinance group about how we’ve gone from Covid bingeing to inflation fasting. 
It makes me anxious and angry to read about the rising interest rates pushing up mortgage repayments, because I’m not getting a property for 'capital growth' or as an investment property for passive income. All I want is stability because I’ve been booted out twice in the past three years by landlords who want to live in their apartments again.
Even though I’m less set on getting a property now, I still have low or no-spend days. I am not a materialistic person at all and barely shop online — I don’t feel like I’m missing out by not buying clothes or fancy things.
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. 
If you or anyone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety, please contact Lifeline (131 114) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636). Support is available 24/7. 
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