Money Diaries

A Week In Leichhardt, Sydney, On A $36,000 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.
Occupation: Copywriter
Industry: Marketing
Age: 30
Location: Leichhardt, Sydney
Salary: $36,000
Net Worth: $25,000 in a savings account
Debt: $53,000 (From university, but this is on HECs)
Paycheque Amount (1x/month): $3,000
Pronouns: They/Them

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $300, I live with my mother
Loans: $0
Mobile phone: $15/month (This is for a prepaid ALDImobile plan with 3GB of data)
New York Times subscription: $8
Patreon for Hey Riddle Riddle: $8
Private health insurance: $100
Pole dancing membership: $144
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Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances? 

A little bit, but we didn't discuss finances very often. My parents gave me an allowance, but I don’t recall a lot of oversight on how I spent it. I was probably sat down a few times to have the importance of savings explained to me, but I barely spent money on anything as a teenager so there wasn’t too much concern around it. Still, I made it into adulthood with a decent grasp on how money works, so something must have worked along the way!

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

My first job was tutoring physics to university students, and I got it so I'd have a bit of income to pursue my hobbies, go out and so forth. I mostly fell into the job through university and kept doing it for a few years afterwards since it was flexible and interesting. Flexibility has remained important to me later in life, and continues to matter with my current employment. Tutoring was my main employment for a long time.

Did you worry about money growing up?

No, I did not, I was relatively comfortable when it came to money. My parents were very generous in covering any health-related expenses that came up and the only thing I really spent money on as a teenager was collecting Magic the Gathering cards, which are pretty expensive. However, with very few personal expenses, I was fortunate enough to not have to worry about money much at all.
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Do you worry about money now?

Not so much, although I can see myself becoming far more concerned when I move out and start paying rent. That catapults your expenses into the stratosphere! My earnings are more than enough to support myself as far as food, hobbies, medical expenses, travel, and so forth, but if I start paying full rent instead of the reduced rent I pay now, I’ll have a lot less money to work with. Sydney is a super expensive place to live.

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

25ish, although you may say that living with my mum currently delegates a decent amount of that financial responsibility. My financial safety net is mostly in my savings account and maybe my parents if that ever becomes necessary. I don't really have any significant investments hiding in the back.

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

No.

Day One

7:30am — I wake up, but my partner is still asleep. We have a weekend deal where I can’t wake her up till 9am, so I pull out my e-reader and dive back into The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas. This book is great — it’s sci-fi with a lesbian romance that doesn’t end in tragedy, which is SO. RARE.

9:00am — My partner finally stirs, so we wake up and fry some potatoes and vegan sausages for breakfast. It’s pretty good! I have this Tuscan seasoning mix that always makes the potatoes extra tasty. I don't contribute toward groceries directly, but I make a monthly contribution on top of the rent that I pay that goes towards food.

10:30am — Time to walk the dog! I live with my mum currently, and we have this adorable greyhound named Dakota. We all go to a lovely local park, where it’s interesting to see the mix of people with masks on and off. Seems like no one else knows how to adjust to all the new health advice, either.

12:00pm — My partner and I have another go at making focaccia with a Mexican flavour, inspired by the vegan baker Freya from the latest season of The Great British Bake Off. This round of home baking is less to do with thrift, and more to feed our bread obsession. We tried basic focaccia the previous week, but it ended up pretty doughy — but this time, it’s perfect and light. If you haven’t, watch Bake Off to see the love in Italian baker Giuseppe’s eyes as he stares at his loaves.

3:00pm — It’s Sunday, which means time for chores. I mow the lawn for the first time in months and do all the other mundane tasks. Things get cleaned.

5:30pm — Back to work on the 1500-piece puzzle of the Notre Dame I’ve been assembling. I have fewer than 100 pieces left, but they’re all varying shades of blue and purple sky. This part of the puzzle is hell. But I have the Notre Dame to cheer me on.

8:00pm — Dinner is a microwave leftovers affair on Sunday, so not much to report. At least there’s homemade focaccia.

10:30pm — A little more reading before bed. Timelines are starting to confuse me, and I find myself losing track of what’s happening in which year (time travel is hard, okay?).
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Daily Total: $0

Day Two

7:30am — Normal morning routine — wake up, have cereal for breakfast, and a quick shower. Today might be a weekday, but I’m actually taking this week off work to apply for potential study next year (more on that later).

9:00am — Time for an online tabletop roleplaying session - something akin to Dungeons and Dragons. But since none of us like generic medieval fantasy, we’re playing something called Broken Compass which emulates pulp adventure like Indiana Jones. This is a new game I bought last week — the whole rulebook only cost $20 which is pretty expensive compared to most RPG games. And yes, I’ve actually managed to round up a group of adults capable of rolling dice and going on imaginary adventures at 9am on a Monday, which is a small miracle. Today’s adventure involves murder and intrigue at a dig site a la The Mummy - can’t beat the classics.

12:00pm — Our online game ends, so it’s time for lunch. God, I love focaccia. Did I mention that? The little bits of vegan sausage we sprinkled on top are particularly good today.

2:30pm — The mail comes — finally, onto my main project for the day. My anniversary is on Wednesday, so I ordered a little miniature scrapbook/album last week to make a fun gift. My previous anniversary gift for my partner was an Instax polaroid camera, and I’ve been busily taking photos for the past year. Now, I set to it with scissors, shiny gold tape, and stickers to make a little memory scrapbook. I’ve never made one before, and it’s a huge amount of fun.

6:00pm — The day really got away from me — while I scrapbooked, I was listening to back episodes of Hey Riddle Riddle, a comedy podcast that has very little relation to riddles. I take it down to the kitchen to start up a stir fry, my go-to dish. For the cost of a few veggies and some tofu, you get a great meal with a good chunk of leftovers. My secret ingredient is Lao Gan Ma, an unbelievably tasty chilli oil that can also take your popcorn to a whole new level.

8:30pm — Sit down with my mum after dinner to watch some TV. Tonight, we’re continuing The Dark Crystal, probably the only Netflix original series I’ve ever watched apart from The Queen’s Gambit. It’s amazing! I barely remember the original film, but this version has some of the most creative and visually stunning puppetry you’ll ever see. Apparently, it was so expensive to make (they handmade EVERYTHING) that there will never be a second season. Which, fair.

10:30pm — Back to the book. We’re closing in on the last few chapters, and there’s a lot of people meeting themselves from the future. Surprisingly, this book takes it in an interesting direction, rather than the awkward mess of most time travel plots. Did I mention it’s super gay? This is a good book.
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Daily Total: $0

Day Three

7:15am — Normal routine again — cereal, shower, so on. I work from home, so this is the same thing I do during the workweek. I also make a big cup of tea for my next activity. Melbourne Breakfast is the only thing I drink in the morning despite my big ol’ tea drawer (I’m a T2 addict, I can’t help it). My T2 teas last quite a long time. I last ordered tea on the 29th of September where I spent about $70 on refilling some of the old ones I'd run out of. Every few months, I'll order top-ups for my tea collection, maintaining a wide range while not spending too much on individual purchases.

8:15am — Novel writing time. My friend and I started doing these sessions during lockdown where we would put each other up on video chat, have a quick catch up, and then mute each other and get to work. We’re both writing novels, so it’s a great way to actually focus and get stuff done without distractions. I’ve completed my second draft after like 3 years, while she’s polishing off her first — today, I’m continuing my read-through of all the chapters so that I know exactly what to change for the next draft.

10:30am — By this point, I’m out of both tea and ideas, and should probably start on my main goal for the week — applications. I currently work as a copywriter, but have been trying to move towards queer advocacy during COVID. I’m on the fence between counselling or psychology as a better pathway to where I want to be, but figure I’ll apply for several courses and see what happens. First, though, I need to update… oh, god, all the documents. Resumes, letters, certificates…

1:30pm — Lunch during the week is usually a basic sandwich and some potato chips, but I still have a tiny bit of focaccia left. Bread is the gift that keeps on giving.
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2:30pm — After lunch, I notice that a payment for my pole dancing membership has gone through ($72). I didn’t get to dance at all during lockdown since I don’t have a pole at home, and I am thrilled to have my first class back booked for Friday evening. $72

3:00pm — I get back to application work, after many distractions. Dogs, podcasts, lying in the sun, you name it. I start chasing down some references for the resume I haven’t updated since 2019.

5:00pm — The final stab at that Notre Dame puzzle — I spend two hours slotting the final pieces of sky into place. I can’t tell whether it’s satisfaction or relief that I feel as I push the last piece home. This puzzle was beautiful and pleasant for the first 1400 pieces, and then a horrible hours-long nightmare of nearly identical sky pieces.

7:30pm — A friend and I have set the night aside to play some good old-fashioned Age of Empires II — a PC game that was released over 20 years ago (in 1999) and somehow continues to receive regular updates and new content. Tonight, we’re trying the co-op campaigns, where you experience the struggles of historical figures together on tiny computer screens. Ultimately, I don’t learn too much about Suryavarman I, king of Angkor, but I do enjoy flooding the map with battle elephants and watching them tear down stone castles with their tusks. The lesson? Nostalgia is a powerful force.

10:30pm — Time for bed. I end up too exhausted to read too much — I’ll finish the book tomorrow.
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Daily Total: $72

Day Four

7:15am — You know the drill by now. Breakfast, shower, get dressed.

8:15am — Back to the writing grind. I'm writing an absurdist urban fiction novel that's set in a town where conspiracies are real, but everyone kind of just accepts it. I finish my notes on Chapter 6 and move on to Chapter 7 out of 21. Why is my book so long? My friend and I have our morning meetings over a video call. During this session, my friend’s cat (simply dubbed “writing cat”) won’t stop bugging my friend and being cute. Pets are disruptive, and are surely the reason writing is a struggle. Yep, let’s go with that.
10:30am — I go back to applications, but it’s a little half-hearted. I get distracted and don’t end up accomplishing much. I’ll get ‘em next time, I promise.

12:30pm — I need to make a trip to the pharmacy to pick up some prescription meds. Among them are my hormones, which I’ve been taking for almost three years now. I take estrogen regularly for hormone therapy, which helps my body conform more to my desired body type. I identify as non-binary, but take female hormones because that's the way I like my body to be. These would be hella expensive if I was back in the US, but in Australia their cost is heavily subsidised. Hooray! However, the other stuff I buy bumps the total way up, oops. I buy some B12 vitamin spray and some painkillers, plus a regular prescription drug for an unrelated condition. $83

1:00pm — While waiting for my prescriptions, I head down the street to one of my favourite bakeries, Ragamuffin. I get some English muffins with a cool vegan spread ($16) and go to the nearby park to eat. I get caught up in reading my book and finish it, noting that the author also worked as a copywriter and psychologist before publishing — is this a sign? $16

3:00pm — I do a little more application work, but have resigned myself to not getting much done — it’s one of those days. I call up to make a reservation for tonight.

5:30pm — I spend an absurdly long time getting ready for dinner — not only is it my anniversary, but this is my first time going out basically anywhere in almost four months of lockdowns. It’s nice to be super fancy and wear my loudest statement earrings after months of t-shirts, sweatpants, and jeans at home.

7:30pm — We eat at Vina Vegan, where we had our first date, and one of the greatest vegan restaurants in Sydney. We get spicy chilli eggplant, clay pot fried rice, and vegan duck noodle soup, and it’s all delicious. My partner pays for dinner, which is about $50.

10:00pm — We round off the day at home with a couple of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We’re finally on season six after over a year of watching (we’re very poor at bingeing) and everyone in the show is all upset and mopey. Buffy still holds up after 20+ years. The lesson? Nostalgia is — actually, no, the show’s just really good.
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Daily Total: $99

Day Five

7:30am — It’s not the weekend, so there are no rules about waking people up. I’m too hungry to wait so I go and sneak some breakfast. I decide to start on a new book, Gideon the Ninth, another sci-fi romp that two friends recommended to me separately. The ebook was free as part of an online mailing list, and I’m keen to see what it’s about.

10:00am — We’re both working from home today, so I get back to applications with renewed vigour. I quickly hit a wall on applications when I realise there are like five different documents I need and I only know the whereabouts of half of them. This is where a well-organised wardrobe or filing system would come in handy — sadly, I have neither.

1:00pm — After a morning of getting stuff done (seriously, working from home is way easier when there’s someone to silently motivate you), we make sandwiches for lunch. These are fancy, because we use a sandwich press and put some rocket on top.

2:00pm — Back to work. Not much happens over this period, except I find 2 of the three needed documents and finally get a submission in. They ring me 20 minutes later, and walk me through the extended enrolment process. Applying for things as an adult is always so complicated.

4:00pm — Just before my partner leaves, we start a new jigsaw puzzle together. This one has 500 pieces worth of motorboats moored in some Greek harbour, and I found it on the side of the road. The price was right, but the box smells kind of musty and it’s missing two edge pieces at least. A bargain! We spend most of the time debating the difference between must and mould. Google plays tiebreaker.

6:00pm — Leftovers for dinner. Normally, Friday night is leftovers night at my house, but I’ll be at my partner’s house tomorrow so we decide to shift it to tonight.

8:00pm — With a bit of time to spare, I play a round of Darkest Dungeon, a video game where you send desperate heroes into blighted dungeons to fight eldritch horrors. The game is good, but my favourite part about it is the writing and the main voice actor, Wayne June. His voice is divine, and even more exciting he’ll be voicing the sequel that comes out next week. I’d buy the sequel for his voice alone.
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Daily Total: $0

Day Six

7:00am — Normal morning routine once more, with the only difference being that today is my weekly hair-washing day. This always takes a fair chunk of time.

8:15am — Back to the writing grind. I finish Chapter 7 and move onto Chapter 8. Once again, I wonder how and why I wrote all these words. And why do they still require so much rewriting? It’s like past me did it on purpose.

10:00am — I finish my second application for a course, and decide to call it a week. All in all, it’s been a semi-successful week, with some holiday sprinkled on top. As usual, I could have gotten more done, but I’m happy enough with the outcome.

12:00pm — With the rest of the day to myself, I turn to another favourite way to pass the time — chess. I got back into the game in May this year, with the last time I played before that back in high school. It’s a fun but frustrating game, and you really have to sink into a zen state to not feel like tearing your hair out sometimes. Still, there’s nothing quite like it.

4:00pm — I start getting ready for my pole class later in the evening and packing for the weekend. At least the weather is nice, something that you can’t count on much recently.

6:00pm — My first class back at pole dancing. This one is contemporary pole, and is a lot more about motion and flow than the stereotypical “sexy” style that people think of by default. It’s always been my favourite style of pole dancing, and I’ve missed it heaps. I’m fairly out of shape, which is to be expected.

7:00pm — After my class, I take the bus over to my partner’s house since it would be about an hour walk otherwise. I haven’t been on a bus for months. $3.40
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Daily Total: $3.40

Day Seven

9:00am — A return to weekend rules, no waking up before 9am. Either way, I didn’t sleep super well the night before so this suits me just fine.

10:00am — Breakfast: avocado on toast. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not as precious a commodity as one might assume. My partner has been storing an avocado seed for a while now to see if she can plant it, and it’s gone a strange clearish-red colour. I don’t know enough about plants to be able to say whether this is a good thing or not, but we’ll have to see what happens! When I'm at my partner's house I eat her groceries, and she eats my food when she's at mine. So in terms of cost, it balances out for us. We generally take turns paying for meals out, but we don't share a set grocery bill at present.
2:00pm — We muster our collective energy to take the housemate’s dog on a big walk down by Cook’s River. The goal was for her to get a swim, but there isn’t really a spot for it and the water is probably polluted, so we stick to walking. It’s pleasant, but also super duper hot. Has spring arrived?

4:00pm — Weekend energy drain hits, and I head for a nap. Doing a full-on hour of exercise the day before has made my neglected muscles ache, so I’m out for a while. Hopefully, this is the worst of it and my body will remember how movement works in the near future.

8:00pm — Dinnertime, and we’re making little samosa-y things. We take some puff pastry and add in a lentil daal, then cook it in the oven for twenty minutes. The pastry is crisp and the filling delicious, making us feel like contestants on the Great British Bake Off. This is a great set up because…

10:00pm — Time to watch the latest episode of The Great British Bake Off! Needless to say, the bakers produce some stunning creations, and it’s one of the strongest cohorts yet. Having watched nearly all of the previous seasons of this cozy show, the recipe never gets stale. The bakers’ personalities carry the show, and we exercise self-restraint in not jumping to the next, but heading to bed, instead.
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Daily Total: $0
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