Money Diaries

A Week In Parramatta, Sydney, On A $39,000 Income

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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Occupation: Student and Casual Paralegal
Industry: Legal
Age: 22
Location: Parramatta, NSW
My Salary: $39,000 (approx.)
Net Worth: $63,292 ($57,392 in savings, $5,900 in super)
Debt: $53,317 (This will increase a bit more as I still have half a year left of university to go)
Paycheque Amount (monthly): $2,000 approx from my paralegal job that I work two days a week (at $37 per hour), plus $400 of youth allowance.
Pronouns: She/Her
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Monthly Expenses

Rent: $0 as I live with my parents. 
Netflix: $16
ClassPass Membership: $49
Muay Thai Studio Membership: $100
iCloud Storage: $1.49

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

Yes, I go to university and study a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts. My fees are on HECS, which I will start slowly repaying once I begin working full-time.

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

Growing up, our family spoke about money a lot, probably because it was always tight. My parents are immigrants who came to Australia in their mid-twenties with no English language skills or much education at all. We got taught to live very frugally and to save as much money as we could — never turn on the air-conditioner to save power, fill up the car when the petrol prices were low, shop only when things are on sale, wear hand-me-down school uniforms, and never eat out. We were also taught to value education very highly as it was seen as the key to financial freedom. However, we weren't taught anything about investing or growing wealth.

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

I got my first job the day I turned 18. It was at a cafe at a big shopping centre and I ended up working there for about a month. I got it because I really, really wanted to start earning my own money so I could afford to shop for clothes, shoes, makeup etc. and eat out with my friends. I also wanted to start getting some work experience and pick up new skills.
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Did you worry about money growing up? 

Yes and no. I worried about it secondhand because my parents, mostly my mother, was always talking about how everything was so expensive and wanting to buy/do/eat anything nice was seen as a waste of money. But in reality, we weren't as poor as she made it seem — we always had food on the table and a roof over our heads, and we could always pay for school excursions and camps.

Do you worry about money now? 

Not really — but this may be because I still live at home and don't have the pressure of paying for my own expenses, and I can also help with the bills and ease the financial burden on my parents. I also feel financially secure as the firm I am currently working at has already offered me a full-time job once I graduate. Knowing that I am capable of earning a decent income on my own has definitely made me worry less about money.

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

I haven't become financially responsible for myself yet as I am still living at home, although I do help out with the expenses. I don't have a financial safety net, apart from my savings. My parents would likely be happy to lend me some money if I was in trouble, but I would only ask them as an absolute last resort. 

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

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Nope, although I hope to start investing soon so I can start earning some passive income.

Day One

9:00am — I’m working from home today at my casual job as a paralegal at a commercial law firm. This morning I decide to make myself a matcha latte with some matcha powder I bought last week from the Asian grocery store, so no coffee expenses today. I have some eggs and toast for breakfast at home. My parents buy our grocery staples (eggs, rice, bread etc.), while I buy anything specific that I want to eat.
12:30pm — Lunchtime! I eat some leftover stir—fry with rice from dinner last night.
1:00pm — Our internet has been acting up so we have a technician from NBN come in. This is a free repair service through our internet service provider. He attempts to fix the issue but ends up not being able to, so we book another appointment for later in the week.
6:15pm — I log off work after spending the afternoon doing some legal research on commercial leases. I live with my family so we have dinner together at home. My mum makes a variety of dishes with ingredients she purchased throughout the week and green vegetables she grows in our garden: steamed fish, stirfry veggies with beef, and some tofu. She’s obsessed with her garden and grows whatever she can — leafy greens, beans, ginger, blueberries, lettuce, cherry tomatoes. She even grew a watermelon once! Because of this, we save a lot of money on fruit and veg (but this also means that sometimes we have green beans as part of various dishes for multiple nights in a row). I’m not much of a gardener myself (save for the one succulent I’ve had on my windowsill for years), but maybe I’ll get more into it when I get older.
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9:00pm — I end the night by watching Love Island Australia with my sisters. We’re obsessed! Our favourite couple is Mitch and Tina, but we also love Zoe and Chris.
11:30pm — I brush my teeth and then it’s bedtime.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

8:10am — I decide to go into the office for the first time since lockdown today because of our faulty internet, plus I want to collect the things I left there before our team moves floors. I catch the train into the city ($2.61). I’m excited to be going into the office for a change, but waking up this morning was hard! During lockdown, I was waking up at 8:45am for my usual 9:00am start. $2.61
8:50am — A friend from the year below me at university is starting a summer internship at the firm I work at, so I catch up with her for coffee before the day starts to make sure she's settling in okay. She’s very relieved to have snagged an internship for the summer as the application process in the legal industry is very competitive. I was glad to hear that she’s been enjoying it and has made friends with the other interns. I get a cappuccino with oat milk — $4.77.
12:00pm — I work until midday doing some research for a business development article on SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies), which are very popular vehicles for taking companies public on an accelerated timeline. It’s still a new concept and a rapidly developing area that was very interesting to research. Then, I head out to meet one of my best friends for lunch. She gets some noodle soup with prawn dumplings and I get a small creamy mushroom pasta. We pay for our own meals — $8.
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6:30pm — It’s a busy afternoon spent on document review and I work until 6:30 before catching the train ($2.61) back to the nearest train station where my dad picks me up. I’m very lucky that my parents are usually available and prefer to pick me up after work as we don’t live within walking distance of the train station. $2.61
7:30pm — I get home and have dinner with my family. We mostly have leftovers from last night along with some boiled leafy greens and flat green beans freshly picked from our garden. 
9:00pm — My sisters and I continue with our current routine of watching Love Island Australia.
11:30pm — Bedtime.
Daily Total: $17.99

Day Three

10:00am — I hand in my last university assignment for the year this morning (woohoo!). It was a 3,500-word essay on gender theory, domestic violence and sexual offences. I really enjoy my degree, especially the electives that I get to choose but it’s been a long year and I’m at the tail end of my degree (this is my fifth year at uni!) so I’m at the stage where I’m just waiting for it all to finish!   
12:00pm — I spend the rest of the morning cleaning my room and taking some pictures for my Instagram account where I review and recommend books. I started this account during lockdown last year just to keep track of what I’m reading and to connect with any other like-minded people out there. Reading has been a huge part of my life ever since I can remember (yep, I was one of those kids reading under the covers with a flashlight waaay past bedtime), but I didn’t have a lot of friends to talk about them with. I was so happy to discover so many other bookworms out there once I started this account. I even get to receive gifted new releases from publishers in exchange for reviews which has been an absolute dream come true!
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1:00pm — I make myself a tuna and avocado rice bowl for lunch with some canned tuna, leftover rice from last night's dinner, and avocados my mum bought from the fresh food market. 
2:00pm — I spend the rest of my afternoon reading Emily Ratajkowski’s recently published memoir, My Body, which I was very kindly gifted by the publisher due to my Instagram account. I was a bit sceptical at first, but find myself really enjoying it! Emily is a very introspective and eloquent writer. After, I do some shopping. And because I, like the rest of the world, am a huge Taylor Swift fan, I also end up buying some Taylor Swift-themed stickers with my favourite lyrics on RedBubble to celebrate the release of Red (Taylor’s Version) ($17.32). The album has me reliving my angsty high school years (think: staring out the bus window on the way to school with All Too Well blasting in my earphones like I’m in a music video) and I am loving every second of it. $17.32
7:00pm — I have dinner at home with my family. Mum has made soy sauce chicken, the usual boiled leafy greens from the garden, and steamed fish. Mum is usually in charge of dinner while my sisters and I take care of the dishes (there’s a rotating roster: my dishwashing days are Monday, Tuesday and Friday).
9:00pm — I spend the evening watching the Love Island Australia finale with my sisters. Our favourite couple wins, yay!!!
Daily Total: $17.32
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Day Four

10:15am — I have a free day today so I drive to my closest KX Pilates studio for a morning class. I booked this via the ClassPass app, which I am a huge fan of because it allows you to try out a whole range of fitness classes without having to be tied down by a membership. You can also get classes for a much lower price than usual if you book them during off-peak hours. This is my first time back after lockdown so I’m a bit out of practice, but already feel so good afterwards! 
11:15am — After class, I go to a nearby café to continue reading My Body for a while. I usually do this if I have time after a morning pilates class at this location. I order my usual cappuccino with oat milk and an orange cake —$9.85.
12:30pm — I head home before accompanying my mum to drop off my sister at the library to study for her HSC exams, and then to the shops where she picks up some gardening supplies. 
2:00pm — We come home and I have some pre-made lasagne from Woolies for lunch. I pay my friend for some postcard-sized paintings that I commissioned from her a while ago — they're based on some photos I took of different stages of a sunrise. She’s from the US, so I have to transfer her via PayPal. She charged $30USD which converts to $45.08AUD including fees. $45.08
6:00pm — I post the photos that I took yesterday on my book Instagram, which was a collaboration with an Australian wine brand.
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7:00pm — I have dinner at home with my family, which my mum prepares.
9:00pm — I spend the evening winding down, reading, and engaging with some other book reviewers on Instagram.
12:00am — Bedtime!
Daily Total: $54.93

Day Five

9:00am — It’s raining heavily in Sydney today, so I decide to stay home. I was planning to go to an aerial yoga class that I had booked via the ClassPass app, but decided to cancel it yesterday as I didn’t want to drive there in the heavy rain (it’s about a 25-minute drive away). I started aerial yoga classes at the beginning of the year and absolutely love it. I always come out of classes feeling calm, at peace and well stretched. 
10:00am — I make myself two fried eggs and some toast for breakfast. I spend the morning lazing around and watching the new Mindy Kaling show, The Sex Lives of College Girls on Binge. It’s smart, funny and classic Mindy Kaling. I highly recommend it!
1:00pm — I have the rest of the lasagne from Woolies for lunch.
4:00pm — I finish reading My Body, which blew me away! A must-read for anyone interested in feminism, the commodification of female bodies, mother-daughter relationships, privilege, wealth and internalised misogyny.
6:00pm — I have dinner at home with my family. Mum prepares some prawns, leafy greens, and tofu with pork for dinner.
8:00pm — I decide to sign up for a free trial with Binge so I can watch the new Gossip Girl. I stayed up much too late watching it, but hey, it's worth it in my opinion.
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Daily Total: $0

Day Six

9:00am — I head to my first Muay Thai class after lockdown. I started Muay Thai during my first year of university, and joined the university club to try something new and completely out of my comfort zone. It was a bit intimidating at first but it was also so much fun and made me feel strong and confident. I’m a bit sore and tired as I am out of practice after four months of lockdown. My boyfriend picks me up afterwards.
12:00pm — We have Chargrill Charlie’s for lunch (yum!). I order the Peri Peri Chicken burger and my boyfriend gets the quarter chicken and salad combo — he pays. We’ve been together for about four and a half years and we usually like to spend at least one full day together each week.

1:00pm — We head to Westfield to do some Christmas shopping. We buy two toy cars and an Elsa doll for our friends’ kids for Christmas, and split the cost — $27. He also picks up a new video game called Ghost of Tsushima with a voucher he received as a Christmas gift from work. $27

2:00pm — I’m feeling a bit tired so I grab a coffee from a cafe in the Westfield — $4.80.
4:30pm — We finish shopping and head back to his place. We walk his dog and then play the new video game he picked up. He doesn’t usually play video games when I come over because I’m not a fan of video games at all, but this one was surprisingly really fun and I got heavily invested in the storyline and the various missions. The graphics were also very high quality — it was like watching a movie. It reminds me of the historical-fantasy novels I used to read as a kid.
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7:00pm — We have dinner at his place — his mum makes some roast chicken with vegetables and steamed bok choy. We spend the evening watching The Incredibles on Disney Plus (which my boyfriend subscribed to as it was one sale). He was shocked that I had never seen it and look, I have to admit, it was good.
Daily Total: $31.80

Day Seven

9:00am — I have some congee that my mum prepared (a Sunday morning breakfast tradition) for breakfast. My mum has been making congee for breakfast on Sunday mornings ever since I can remember. 
11:30am — I head out to meet a friend to go bookshop hopping! I’ve wanted to do this for a while now as I’ve heard of so many lovely bookshops in Sydney. We decide to take the train to the city ($1.60). She has recently started using Hinge, so she catches me up on her dating life on the ride there. A boy has been giving her some mixed signals and I try my best to help her decipher them, but it’s been a while since I have dated and I’ve never used dating apps, so I’m unfortunately not much help. $1.60
12:30pm — We both grab a coffee once we arrive in the city ($4.50). We head to Elizabeth’s Bookshop, a secondhand bookstore in Newtown to spend a gift voucher that I won in a giveaway over a year ago. I pick out two books (The Survivors by Jane Harper and Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie), and she grabs Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (one of my favourites!). We use up my $30 voucher and I pay the remaining difference ($5). I like shopping for books secondhand as they are usually much cheaper it’s more sustainable. I also use the library a lot too. $9.50
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2:00pm — Our next stop is Ampersand Café and Bookstore where we decide to have lunch. I order Turkish style eggs with labneh while my friend orders a green bowl. We pay for our own meals — $23. Before we leave I also grab a brownie to take away — $5.50. $28.50
3:00pm — We then head off to Berkelouw Bookstore to browse. This is one of the loveliest bookshops I’ve ever seen — it takes up three storeys and also has a cafe inside. We both end up picking out two new books each. I decide to get The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi and Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion ($39.98). I’ve seen so many glowing reviews of these ones from other reviewers on Instagram. $39.98
4:00pm — We head home via train ($1.60). This was such a fun day, I can’t wait to do it again. $1.60
6:30pm — I have dinner at home with my family. Mum makes lamb cutlets with onions, leafy greens (from our garden) and stir-fried veggies (green beans from the garden) with pork.
10:30pm — I’m pretty tired from going out all weekend so I spend the evening winding down, catching up on posts I’ve missed during the day on Instagram and watching the latest episode of Gossip Girl.
12:00am — Bedtime. Why did I stay up late even though I was so tired and have work tomorrow morning? Who knows.
Daily Total: $81.18
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