Money Diaries

A Week In Brunswick, Melbourne, On A $25,000 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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Today: a student services assistant who makes $25,000 a year spends some of her money this week on expensive tinned tomatoes after 'borrowing' some from her housemate.
Occupation: Student Services Assistant
Industry: Higher Education
Age: 21
Location: Brunswick, Melbourne
Salary: $25,000 for my student services job. I also earn $50/hour for occasional tutoring which equates to an extra $1,000 — $1,500 each year.
Assets: $26,800 ($20,000 in savings, $6,800 in my super. I have no investments or large assets.)
Debt: I have around $30,000 in HECS debt from both my Bachelor's degree and my Master's degree (which I am one semester into). Both degrees are under Commonwealth Supported Places [i.e. where the government pays part of your fees] so this is much less debt than I would be paying if I were on an Australian Full-Fee place.
Paycheque Amount (Fortnightly): I'm a casual employee, so this changes week to week. It can be anywhere between $600 — $1,200 during the semester (for 15 — 30 hours a fortnight), and $800 — $3,000 during semester break.
Pronouns: She/Her
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Monthly Expenses

Rent: $1,000. I live with two other housemates who also pay a similar amount. I have a really large room in a three-bedroom renovated terrace house in a great location. It's close to both university and work so I can justify paying this much.
Spotify: $11.99
Netflix: My parents pay for my family's Netflix account.
Phone Bill: $10. My parents pay for this.
Public Transport: $20 — $30 a week as I'm no longer on a concession Myki [a public transport card in Melbourne, similar to Opal in Sydney].
Eating Out: $100 — $200. I spend about $10 — $20 each week on coffee, but I consider this a treat to myself and my motivation to study.
Internet: $25
Gas: $25
Electricity: $30 every two months.
Vapes: $60. I buy two or three vapes a month.
House Supplies: Extra house supplies are split evenly between us, usually equating to no more than $10 a month.
Savings Contributions: I put about $400 in my savings each month, but this really depends on my study load and how much I'm working. I will always put extra away if I can.

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

Yes. I'm currently enrolled in a Master's course, which I pay for using HECS debt. I've made one voluntary payment of $500, however I sometimes have a small amount deducted from my salary depending on my pay that month.

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

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I was always taught to save as much as I could. My parents opened savings accounts for me and my sister when we were very young. We would regularly deposit our pocket money into it. There were never any serious conversations about money, but we understood its importance. We didn't grow up poor as we had many luxuries and travelled overseas as a family often. Because of this, I've always valued saving money and will never buy things I can't afford.

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

I got my first job when I was 14. I worked at a local law firm after school as an office junior. I really wanted to earn money and was eager to work. My parents never pushed me to work (and still beg me to work fewer hours), but working has been a means for me to be independent and buy clothes, alcohol and see my friends.

Did you worry about money growing up?

Never. My family have always been comfortable, and they never involved us in any discussions about finances as they didn't want us to worry. 

Do you worry about money now?

Yes. As a full-time student, my working hours vary considerably as I always prioritise university. Some weeks I live comfortably and can save. Some months, I live paycheque to paycheque. I always make sure my savings sit at the $20,000 mark, so I occasionally miss social events to ensure that I can cover my basic living costs. I feel guilty when spending money on luxuries like clothes, eating out and alcohol, but I have always felt this, even when I was living at home. I feel a lot of pressure to have a safety net, as well as saving for travel and an eventual home loan.
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At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?

I became financially responsible at 20. My parents helped with my rent in the first two years that I was living away from home, but I covered everything else. I'm now completely financially independent. Even when I was living at home, I was paying for most things myself (minus food and rent) and was managing my money.

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

No.

Day 1

9:30am — I wake up later than expected, realising that I've accidentally turned my 8:30am alarm off instead of hitting snooze. Today is Sunday so I'm planning on studying all day. I get dressed and head down to the fruit shop to buy my veggies for the week. The store near my house has a veggie box on Sundays for $15 with different fruits and veggies available each week. This ends up being cheaper than shopping at Coles or Woolworths. Plus, it's fun making up recipes based on what's in the box. $15
10:00am — I decide to make a coffee at home (saving myself $4.50 in the process) and put a load of washing on while my coffee brews on the stove.
12:00pm — I’m hungry (and getting restless from studying), so I heat up some leftovers. Yesterday, my friend and I were studying at the library and she came over after so we made a huge serving of vegan mac and cheese. Luckily, I've still got some leftovers. I do today's Wordle (unsuccessfully) while I eat.
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1:00pm — My colleague asks if anyone can cover their morning shift as they are unwell. I’m already working from 12 to 5 tomorrow, so I offer to extend this to 8:45 to 5 as I could really do with the money. 
3:00pm — I'm getting a bit restless, so I decide to call my mum and ask if she will read the first part of the literature review I’m working on for my thesis. My family lives interstate, and my dad currently has Covid so he's isolating in his bedroom. When Mum picks up, she's already Facetiming Dad from another room because they miss each other. We all have a conference-style conversation about my cousin who has just bought a new house. I send my essay to my mum for editing and make another coffee. 
5:00pm — I recently started making a desk from scratch because I couldn’t find one on Marketplace that I liked. This ended up being a costly choice ($300, but my friend had a Bunnings discount as they’re a tradie), but it's been fun to make. I continue sanding and staining the wood. 
6:00pm — For dinner, I decide on leftover tofu Pad Thai from Friday night. My housemate had an UberEats voucher and offered to buy me dinner. I watch the last episode of Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel on Netflix while I eat.
7:30pm — My housemate and his friend make dinner and put on The Office. I decide to pause studying for a bit and continue crocheting the beanie I'm currently making. I have some orange juice and a bit of chocolate left over from Easter and keep studying until I head to bed at about midnight.
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Daily Total: $15

Day 2

7:30am — I start work at 8:45am today. I live really close so the tram, so it only takes about 10 minutes to get there from my house. I'm no longer considered a concession, so travelling 2km for $4.60 (paid on my Myki) pains me each morning.
10:15am — On my 15-minute break, I decide to head to the cafe outside work and grab a small coffee ($4.70). I stupidly leave my card at the cafe, but I don't realise this until much later. Grrr. $4.70
1:00pm — My lunch break involves a study session in the break room. Doing your Master's feels as though you don’t have enough hours in the day to do what you need to do, and I constantly feel overwhelmed by the workload. 
5:00pm — I was meant to go to the bookstore after work to get a present for my housemate's birthday, but I'm cardless so I head home via the tram instead.
6:00pm — I make some parmesan fries for dinner. They're essentially potato fries, but I douse them in this buttery, garlic parmesan topping. Not the healthiest, but it's my go-to comfort food as of late.
8:30pm — I continue studying and preparing for my class tomorrow afternoon. Riveting stuff.
Daily Total: $4.70

Day 3

7:30am — I wake up again and begin getting ready for work. I make an effort to make my coffee this morning so I won’t buy one at work (plus I'm still cardless, RIP). I pop it in a KeepCup and head out to make the 8:30am tram.
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2:00pm — I finish work and decide to walk a few tram stops' worth into the city as the weather is so nice. I love working at this campus as I can walk past the National Gallery of Victoria and the Yarra.
3:00pm — I have class at 3, which goes for an hour and a half. Today’s session is actually interesting because for once, I know what I am talking about. Our lecturer gives us an assignment extension which is the biggest blessing. 
4:50pm — I get home and continue working on #ProjectDesk. I sand the remaining bits of wood and get them ready for staining. I also take videos of myself using the power tools because I'm trying to convince my friends that yes, in fact, I am not completely hopeless!
5:00pm — I'm still cardless, but I've managed to successfully go an entire day without paying for anything, which is so rare. I realise that I should probably stop bringing my card with me because I always feel the need to buy myself a little treat every single day. 
Daily Total: $0

Day 4

7:30am — Another ‘early’ wake up for me. I have a counselling appointment at 9, which is something I have recently started. I have a very unhealthy relationship with school and stress management, so I'm finally doing something about it. 
8:30am — My best friend arrives at mine and we walk to uni together. We take turns buying each other coffee and croissants, and today it's my turn to shout. The farmers market at uni has finally opened again after Covid, so we're set on restarting our original tradition of Wednesday morning bagels. I buy two large soy lattes ($9) for us. I've made friends with the baristas here because I came in every single day during Covid for a coffee (and a social outing, I guess). As a result, they always charge me less for my coffee now! $9
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9:00am — Today my counsellor and I work on grounding exercises. I'm very stubborn and often reject his suggestions of meditation, yoga and exercise because I know I will not do them. I talk to him about a recent award I received at university, and how, while this is great, it feeds into a vicious cycle of needing academic validation. Counselling is a free service that the uni offers, so this costs me nothing. I guess I'm paying for it indirectly via my annual student service amenities fee.
10:00am — I meet up with my friend again and we head to the farmers market in search of the elusive bagel. We're disappointed to discover that the stall isn't there this week. Sad. I decide to head home for my 11:00am online class via the tram. 
11:00am — Class goes for two hours. I really like this class and the people in it, although we have technical issues every week. My lecturer introduces the Timor-Leste trip that's currently awaiting final approval to go ahead. I've wanted to do this trip since 2019, but it's going to cost me anywhere between $2,000 and $2,500, on top of the tuition fee!
1:00am — Class finishes and I walk to meet my friend on the tram. We head to hers, and she drives us to my favourite deli for a roll. We get the same thing every time — hard roll, pesto, roasted capsicum, eggplant, artichoke and tomato. I pay for my friend's roll because it's payday and I owe her two croissants ($25.80). My housemate is also returning from a month in Perth this week, so I need to replace some pasta and tomatoes I ‘borrowed’. My housemate earns a lot more than me, so he doesn't buy home brand food like me. I buy tinned tomatoes for $2 and pasta for $4. $31.80
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10:00pm — My friend and I hide ourselves away in her room and spend the whole day studying in her bed. We work well when we're together. I haven’t eaten since lunch, so we decide to head to Greece in Fitzroy to get hot chips — $6.
10:30pm — I eat about four chips and decide I’m not hungry, so my friend drives me home and I head to bed. 
Daily Total: $46.80

Day 5

8:30am — I wake up and get ready for work. I'm working at a different campus today, which takes a bit longer to get to, so I decide to head in a bit earlier. I love the morning tram to Southbank! It's so relaxing listening to music, and I love the morning winter sun. The tram isn’t too busy so I'm able to get a seat. 
9:30am — My tram arrives at 9:33am, so luckily I have time to get a coffee. I decide on a campus cafe I haven’t tried before and grab a small soy latte which costs me $4.86 (criminal!). $4.86
2:00pm — Work is very uneventful, but I love chatting with the librarian staff. I knock off at 2pm and head into the city. I left my computer charger at my friend’s house last night, so I head over to her place. I make a pitstop in the city and pop into a metro Woolworths for some study snacks. I've been craving Pringles for weeks now, so I buy Pringles and my favourite veggie chips, which are on special ($11.50).
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3:00pm — The 96 tram takes forever today, but I finally arrive at my friend's house to collect my charger. I walk home and have an hour to spare before class, so I stain the remaining wood on my desk. One more coat of the finishing varnish is needed before it's officially done. 
4:00pm — Class begins at 4. It's boring. It's a Master's meeting that we have every two weeks with the course coordinator to discuss any pressing issues. My cohort is small, so I have to go. 
5:15pm — I watch Netflix afterwards — a new show called Friends from College. It's awful, but I can't stop watching it. I crochet some more of my beanie which is nearly finished (!). 
6:00pm — I have some work to do for a faculty committee I'm part of. I spend a few hours reviewing documents and making notes to put forward to the board. I have major imposter syndrome being part of this committee, especially because I'm the only student amongst the academic staff. 
9:00pm — One of my housemates arrives home with a birthday gift for my other housemate, who is arriving home tonight. I am in charge of wrapping the gift, so I do that. We split the cost of the gift, so I transfer him $15. 
10:30pm — My housemate arrives home from Perth after a month away. We chat about his trip in the lounge room over a cup of tea until midnight. I head to bed as I'm exhausted. 
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Daily Total: $31.36 

Day 6

8:50am — I wake up and shower. I have no work or class today so I sleep in a little bit later. 
10:05am — I top up my Myki online with $20. I was written up last week for having pending funds on my Myki after topping my card up online, so I make sure to do this early so the money can upload to my card in time. $20
10:15am — My housemates and I get breakfast at a cafe down the road to celebrate my housemate's arrival back home. I get a coffee with mushrooms and avo on toast (the cheapest menu item) which comes to $19.90. We give him his gift (which he loves!). $19.90
11:30am — I walk into uni to study as I have a meeting with my supervisor at 1pm. I meet with a friend who is in my course and we study together in the postgraduate offices. 
1:00pm — My meeting with my supervisor goes well. We discuss a scholarship I want to apply for and go over my literature review plan. I promise him a draft by next week, which is stupid on my end as I know I won't be finished in time. 
2:55pm — I meet up with my friend again. We're both feeling tired so we decide to get a coffee on campus. Nothing is open at this time, so we trek to the only cafe that stays open after 3pm. A soy flat white costs me $4.60, but I only drink half of it. $4.60 
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4:15pm — I decide I can't study anymore, so I head home. I see a friend on the tram and we have a quick catch up about their housemate interviews and uni workload. I accidentally miss my stop, so I walk a bit further to get home. It’s funny moving from Tasmania to Melbourne. In Tassie, you can't leave the house without seeing at least two people you know. I thought this wouldn’t be the case living in Melbourne, but I run into someone I know on the tram all the time!
6:30pm — I’m exhausted so I have a quick nap. This is very rare for me, and I always feel guilty about napping during the day. I’ve had a really big university and work week, so I think my body needs it. 
9:00pm — I make a late dinner of pasta, olive oil and nutritional yeast, and watch some Sex and the City. I decide to continue studying until I fall asleep at midnight. It’s never productive to study at this time of night, but I feel guilty stopping this early. 
Daily Total: $44.50

Day 7

9:00am — I wake up and decide to go to Footscray to do some op-shopping — something I haven't done in forever! I drink half of the coffee from yesterday afternoon that I couldn’t stomach at the time — I can't bear for it to go to waste.
9:43am — The tram is late (of course) so I wait in the cold for it to arrive. In the process, I'll also miss my connecting train to Footscray. Yay.
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10:30am — I finally arrive at Footscray Station and head to Savers. Barely anyone is there this early, so it makes for a more peaceful experience. Despite living in Brunswick and frequenting Savers often, there hasn't been a single time where I’ve not felt overwhelmed by the number of people in the store. 
11:10am — My friend texts me and asks if I want to be picked up from Footscray so we can get some food. When she arrives, I make her come into the change room with me and help me try everything on. I decide on a Coopers beer scarf (ofc), a purple jumper and a black top. My total comes to $28.47. Savers is not cheap, would you believe?! $28.47 
11:30am — We both decide to buy a vape. I haven’t bought one in a while, and they're pretty cheap here. $18.30
12:00pm — We walk around Footscray for so long trying to find somewhere to eat and end up deciding on a vegan Vietnamese place. I order stir fry Peking duck ($26.42), and my friend orders pho. I also buy two vegan instant noodle packets at the counter which are $2 each. I figure my future self will thank me as I have a busy week of assignments ahead. It's truly the greatest food I have ever eaten, and will definitely keep me full until dinner. $30.42
1:10pm — We decide to head into uni to study, so I offer to pay for parking as my friend is driving me home. We can't find our parking ticket, panicking as a lost ticket is $120! We frantically search our bags until we finally find it, only paying $5.12 for parking. $5.12
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2:00pm — Traffic is bad, so we get back to mine at 2pm. My friend has recently discovered ‘First Class’ by Jack Harlow, so we play this on repeat on the drive home. I pack my laptop and we drive over to campus. I decide against buying another coffee as I've already spent a stupid amount of money today. 
6:10pm — We decide that we’ve had enough of studying so we head home. Leaving university at nighttime feels illegal.
7:30pm — I decide to make parmesan fries again and finish off my beanie crochet. I've been following a YouTube tutorial so it's been pretty easy to make. It feels like a huge achievement to finish a creative project, and it motivates me to continue studying a bit more. 
12:00am — I head to bed at midnight as I've promised my friend that we'll study in the library again tomorrow. I watch the Franco Cozzo documentary my dad recommended on iView to fall asleep. 
Daily Total: $82.31
Money Diaries are meant to reflect an individual's experience and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behaviour.
For many of us, money can be a major source of stress. But it doesn’t have to be. Become more confident with our beginner's guide to managing your money.

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