Money Diary: A 26-Year-Old Art Gallery Administrator On 24k

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking a cross-section of women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period – and we're tracking every last penny.
This week: "I’m a single, 26-year-old woman who moved to London last year after five years of trying to land a job in the city. At first my position as an administrator was part-time so I worked as a Saturday retail assistant to top up my income to roughly £18k per year. After six months I asked to go full-time under my current terms, which means I now work more hours over less days and have an extra £6k pro rata.
My money language definitely fluctuates, though I am consistently frugal over what I consider luxury goods – clothes I see as a waste, so I will only purchase a few key items a year. Food I am happy to spend extra on as I don’t enjoy cooking but I know this is one area of my budget that I could reduce if I wanted to. I wouldn’t describe myself as financially ambitious. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 10 years old so I use my spare time to work on my novel rather than the side hustles endemic to my generation. I know that I can live comfortably for less, though it can be hard to socialise in London on my salary. Saying that, I firmly reject the romanticised 'struggling writer' trope – I’m privileged to live here and happily adapt my lifestyle to my income."
Occupation: Administrator
Industry: Art gallery
Age: 26
Location: London
Salary: £24,000
Paycheque amount: £1,587
Number of housemates: Two
Pronouns: She/her
Monthly Expenses
Housing costs: £550 including bills. I sublet a room in a two-bedroom flat that I share with a couple.
Loan payments: £15 student loan per month.
Pension? £48 pension contribution per month, which my employer tops up to a £200 total contribution monthly. My pension pot is currently around £5,000.
Savings? £400 in an Easy Saver account, £100 in a Help To Buy ISA.
Utilities: Included in the rental price.
All other monthly payments: £12 phone bill. £250 Invisalign (I remind myself that not all investments are financial!). £15 charity donations. Subscriptions: £5.99 Netflix, £9.99 Spotify, £3.99 Audible, £5.99 Microsoft Office.
Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
I’ve always been a big reader and am consequently fairly academic so I decided at 15 that I wanted to pursue a history degree. After finishing with a 2:1, I completed a postgraduate degree in creative writing. I paid for both through the student loan system, obtaining a maintenance grant for my undergraduate degree and working during my postgraduate degree to make up the balance as the loan didn't cover the fees. My parents sent me £100 a month during my undergraduate degree to help cover food costs and I worked during holidays at a local tearoom back home to save for the next term. During my postgraduate degree I lived at home and saved whatever I could from my retail job.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money?
Money was always tight. I had the benefit of growing up in a safe, suburban neighbourhood just outside London, a choice made by my mum after a health diagnosis to live near her (much more well-off) parents. My mum worked part-time in a supermarket and my stepdad had a full-time office job but even combined they didn't pay enough to live comfortably in such an affluent area. Clothes were purchased secondhand on eBay, school trips weren't always possible, but they still managed to take us on an annual trip to Thorpe Park and get us birthday and Christmas presents. My stepdad had the strongest impact on my financial attitude; he regularly reminded us that our financial situation was precarious so we knew to turn off lights and not ask for anything expensive.
If you have, when did you move out of your parents'/guardians' house?
At 23 I moved out of my mum's house, which in itself was a huge financial safety net. Even now I know that if my living situation became untenable, I could move back in with her and my stepdad and commute to work. This is a huge luxury!
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself? Does anyone else cover any aspects of your financial life?
Even though I had been working for seven years consistently before moving out, it was only when I did that I became financially responsible for myself. I didn't pay rent or contribute to bills, which looking back makes me feel incredibly guilty, but my mum wanted me to save so I could move out quicker and with greater financial security.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started working at 16, first in a coffee shop, then in a local tearoom on a casual basis, which saw me through sixth form and university.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes. I budget fanatically, though don't always manage to keep within my goals. I’m definitely in the lower income bracket for London, which means I have to be careful with my spending.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income?
My grandad purchased my first car for £2,500, which he eventually gifted to me after I finished university (the initial plan was to sell it and I would pay the depreciation difference). Without this, I wouldn't have been able to work as a nanny to bolster my income after finishing my postgraduate degree, or travel between stores when I worked in retail. The car was eventually scrapped for £80 but that was seven years of use that saw me through a lot of what would have been financial obstacles otherwise.

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