Money Diaries

A Week In Sydney’s Lower North Shore On A $40,000 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 penny.
Occupation: Freelance User Experience (UX) Writer
Industry: Information Technology
Age: 41
Location: Milsons Point, Sydney
Annual Income: $40,000 after taxes
Net Worth: $445,900 (An investment property in Narwee worth $500,000 that was purchased back in June 2006, $41,000 in savings in my mortgage offset account, $13,000 in superannuation (it's low as I'm self-employed), $5,000 in emergency savings, $4,000 in shares in index trackers, $2,500 in other savings (banked for some further IT study to increase my income earning potential), $2,500 in precious metals (gold and silver bars and coins which are stored in a fireproof safe at home), $800 cash in my wallet, and $100 in Bitcoin.)
Debt: $123,000 for my mortgage on the Narwee investment property. I'm blessed to not have any other debts.
Paycheque Amount: This varies each week as I'm self-employed, but it works out to be about $40,000 a year after tax, so about $3,300 each month. Of my two ongoing part-time clients, one pays me weekly via PayPal, while the other one pays me fortnightly via Payoneer. The rent from my investment property comes in monthly, and my share dividends come in on a quarterly basis.
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $1,998. I live in a one-bedroom apartment with an ensuite. I think this is a pretty good deal for a single person living in the Lower North Shore.
Gas and Electricity: $200. I was being unfairly billed by my last energy provider so I just switched to get a cheaper and fairer deal.
Mobile Phone and Internet: $90, mainly used for my business.
Loans: $540 a month for the line of credit for my investment property, which actually ends up being tax-deductible. I have no other debt, and when I buy things on my credit card, I pay it off immediately. I am a bit old school and prefer to pay for items with cash where possible. 
Food and Groceries: $480, which includes some eating out. As I'm happy with myself and have work that I'm passionate about, I don't need to eat nearly as much. I also just changed to a plant-based diet, which I've found is far cheaper than consuming meat all the time. I also have a couple of clients that pay me with gift vouchers, so I use these to buy groceries.
Web Hosting: $25 (for my UX design work portfolio).
Natural Supplements: $40
Treat budget: $400. I use this for treats for myself, family and friends. This includes travel and things like clothing, candles, yoga classes, beauty products and treatments, and things for the home like indoor plants. I am more about the quality of life, rather than the quantity of possessions. I believe that you don't need to earn much to live a great life. It's not how much you earn, but what you do with it.

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

Back in 1999, I went to TAFE to get a business diploma and build my self-confidence. My mother had passed away when I was 13, so I was placed in foster homes and had to repeat four years of school. My high school scholarship and welfare paid for my expenses.
Between 2003 and 2005, I went to university. I paid my HECS upfront as I didn't want to graduate uni with any debt. Plus, I got a 10% discount on my tuition. I paid for this through two part-time managerial jobs.
When the first lockdown hit in 2020, I returned to study UX design online for three months. I used part of my JobKeeper payment from a permanent part-time job to pay for this. This education has led me to freelance — and I'm thankful to be out of the corporate rat race.

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

I grew up in a poor family, living in housing commission properties with my single mother who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and cancer. To say things were tough for me growing up would be a huge understatement. "Money doesn't grow on trees" was a common phrase my mother would say. I was lucky to receive $2 of pocket money a week from my birth mother.

However, my foster family has different beliefs around money. My foster mother was an accountant and my foster father owned his own photography business. They got me on the personal development bandwagon, where I ended up investing $60,000 of my own money over a 10-year period, all on my own. I quickly learned that money is energy, and that there is an abundance of money available in the universe.

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

My foster parents begged me to go out and get a job after finishing TAFE in 2001. I was not motivated to, and being on the dole, all I wanted to do was sleep all day. To their surprise, I got a job in data entry for a research firm, and two and a half years later, I was still working for the same company. I was promoted to team leader, then office manager. I was working long hours (like, 90 hours a week) as a contractor, and was suddenly on the highest tax rate. This inspired me to work in IT.

Did you worry about money growing up?

I was not worried. I grew up poor and I didn't think there were any alternatives. Despite living in housing commission homes until my mother passed away, I had a nice roof over my head. All medical expenses were covered by Medicare, and I received free orthodontic treatment due to those circumstances. I have never worried about money that much.

Do you worry about money now? 

I was worried when I got my first mortgage on a property back in 2006. Right as that was happening, my first business went bust and almost bankrupted me, leaving me with $80,000 of bad debts to pay off. I was in a messy place. There was a week when I only had $10 to my name. It was scary not having enough money for the train fare home.
Thankfully, I survived this period and haven't worried about money since, with the exception of the long Delta lockdown of 2021. Otherwise, I am financially secure and comfortable, despite my low income. If I worked full-time I would be earning more, but I make a conscious choice to work part-time as I want to make my health and wellbeing a priority.

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

I became financially responsible for myself back in 2006, after university. I began to appreciate what it was like to take full responsibility for myself and my actions. At a young age, I knew what it was like to parent myself. I became good at saving money during my university days, which meant I could pay my HECS upfront and buy a property with a 20% deposit. If I wasn't a great saver, I would still be in the rat race today, selling my soul. My emergency savings account covers three months of basic living expenses, just in case. I also have a healthy amount saved up in my offset. Holding precious metals is also a hedge against inflation.

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

Yes. I receive rent on my investment property. It was positively geared until July 2021 — the Sydney lockdowns changed all of this. Today, this rent covers all of my property expenses, from the mortgage interest to the strata levies. I also receive share dividends, and even bank interest is still passive income. I receive a small payment every time someone views any of my feature articles or eBooks (I've written 12!). I also received a $1,000 inheritance from my foster nan back in 2016, all of which went towards some major dental surgery. In March 2021, I also received a $5,000 gift from an elderly uncle in a nursing home as I was his partial carer. This was an added boost to my UX career, after quitting my permanent part-time bridging job.

Day One

8:00am — I wake up and order a small cappuccino at a local cafe ($4). I take my laptop with me to do some UX writing work. While I'm there, I transfer $300 from my transaction account into my mortgage offset account. I stay at the cafe for a couple of hours, and then head home and snack on a piece of fruit from my fruit bowl and drink plenty of filtered water. I clean up my house a bit, and water all four of my indoor plants. $4
11:00am — I go out for a walk around the city. I'm feeling peckish, so I order lunch — a tofu and avocado baguette. $8
1:00pm — I leave the city. On the way home, I stop at a supermarket and buy kombucha, chocolate, a couple of bananas, a mango, and cheese snacks ($11.80). I take a leisurely stroll back home afterwards. $11.80
2:00pm — I settle in at home. I rest for an hour, meditate, and scroll on the internet as I do a few more hours of work. I like doing these things as they don't cost me any money. I'm currently watching Chicago Med, Grey's Anatomy, motivational content on YouTube, and I also enjoy watching some Friends.
5:30pm — I do two more hours of UX writing work for a chat site client who's based overseas. Writing is therapeutic, and I'm helping users in the process. These users are really needing some positive dialogue about their lives and some reassurance that Covid will pass at some point.
8:00pm — I cook myself a stir-fry and stargaze from my home balcony. 
9:00pm — Bedtime. I know it's an early one, but I'm someone who generally needs 12 hours of sleep most nights. I'll always be that kind of person.

Daily Total: $19.80

Day Two 

8:30am — After a bit of a sleep in, I head to another local cafe, taking my laptop and dongle with me. I order another small cappuccino ($4) and drink some complimentary table water. As the cafe is quiet, I take advantage and spend two hours working away. $4
10:30am — I do a bit of housework and meditation. I chat to a couple of my close friends and see how they're going. I met these friends from work over a decade ago and we still keep in touch. We'll usually catch up with each other once a month. I've been friends with them since 2009, and we generally text each other once a week, and catch up once a month. We usually chat about our hobbies, what we've been up to, and our wins and losses in life. I'm thankful to have such a great support network.
12:00pm — I walk to North Sydney and buy my groceries for the week ahead — some frozen plant-based foods, as well as some yoghurt, vegetables and fruit. I also splurge on a bit more chocolate. I spend about 15 minutes in there, and the shopping is done. It comes to $69, and I pay for it with a mix of card and cash, just to get rid of some coins. $69
12:30pm — I arrive back home and pack the groceries away.
1:00pm — I catch the train to Chatswood (paid on my Opal card) to catch up with a friend who I met through yoga. I've been friends with them for a few years, and we catch up once every couple of months. We eat Mexican food ($11), but leave after 45 minutes as I'm trying to be mindful of Covid right now. $11
2:45pm — I arrive home and get started on my laundry. As I don't have a washing machine, I travel to Potts Point and get a laundromat to do it ($13.50). I do have enough space for a washing machine at home, but I just haven't bothered to buy one since I moved to Sydney almost a decade ago. This laundry service is great as I just drop off my clothes, they wash and dry them, and I get a text when it's ready. I have an hour wait, so I pick up a chocolate bar at Coles ($1, paid on a gift voucher). Somehow, I also end up spending an extra $30 on food, buying a few more frozen plant-based meals. $44.50
4:00pm — I get home and have a swim in the common area pool and spa. I then relax with a bath. I'm grateful for having a bathtub at home, and aim to have a relaxing afternoon bath every other day.

Daily Total: $124.50

Day Three

9:00am — It’s New Year's Eve! I sleep in, then start work at 9:30am — there's no cafe visits today, unfortunately. I finish at 11:30am, then walk to the city to enjoy some lunch.
12:15pm — Lunchtime. I buy a tofu and avocado baguette again ($8), then walk to Broadway to buy a couple of items at Kmart. $8
2:00pm — I buy a pair of ballet flats (for the bargain price of $2!) and a set of hair combs ($4.50). Not long after, I make my way to L'Occitane to buy a Solidarity Candle ($15) to celebrate New Year's Eve in style. $21.50
3:00pm — I take a pit stop at a cafe and enjoy a turmeric latte ($4.50, plus a 50 cent tip). Then I walk home. $5
4:30pm — I'm home and having another bath. I enjoy a power nap for an hour to pump myself up for the night. When I wake, I see a text from my friends. They've bailed on tonight due to the high number of Covid infections in Sydney. That's not fun, and I feel a bit sad. I usually don't get involved in the hype and commercialism of NYE, but I was looking forward to spending time with a couple of friends at one of our places and just enjoying each other's company.
6:00pm — I log on and do some more UX work to pass the time. 
8:30pm — I log off and I chat to my friends and family on the phone, wishing them a Happy New Year.
9:00pm — The Harbour Bridge fireworks are going off! I can see them from my apartment balcony. My place has an amazing view, although there are a few buildings in front of mine that obstruct the view of the Harbour Bridge. This is one of the main reasons why I didn't mind spending New Year's Eve alone this year — it's just such a treat to get front and centre views of the fireworks, all from my house.
9:30pm — I do some more freelance work, simply to pass the time and to feel a bit more useful. If I went to bed, I would have missed the midnight celebrations. Owning my own business, there are times when it's okay to work a bit more in order to keep the business sustainable. This also means that I can live life on my own terms when I'm not working.
10:30pm — I pass the time by calling my friends. We chat about the celebrations and what we want to achieve next year. 
12:00pm — I watch the midnight fireworks and head to bed. Hello, 2022.
Daily Total: $34.50

Day Four

9:00am — Happy New Year! It's another quiet day.
10:30am — I start getting ready for the day ahead — it's going to be a busy one!
11:00am — I log on and do six hours of work for one of my ongoing clients, watching TikTok videos and sorting out the algorithms for their UI. That's right — I get paid to watch TikTok videos. Then I choose whether to approve them for advertising purposes based on if they adhere to certain community guidelines. To me, New Year's Day is just another ordinary day. I also have a deadline to have 300 — 400 videos moderated by tomorrow — and deadlines don't go away just because it's the festive season.
5:00pm — The reports are written up, so I go for a walk to Circular Quay and buy a snack at McDonald's ($4). I know it's not healthy, but I was really hungry. I promise that I hardly ever eat fast food. $4
6:30pm — I start heading back home and spot some Christmas chocolates on sale. I buy a jar of fruit and nut chocolate, and a hollow Chocolate Santa. All in all, a bargain at only 80 cents! $0.80
7:00pm — I come home and binge watch videos on the internet for two hours. Then it's off to bed.
Daily Total: $4.80

Day Five

9:00am — I wake up and head to Chatswood with my laptop, doing an hour's work at Starbucks on my laptop. I sip on a tall matcha frappuccino while I tap away ($7). I head off to Chatwood Chase at 11am. $7
11:15am — I'm at the chemist and buy a pack of five antigen tests ($59.95). I want them just in case, and also to test myself before travelling. Things were fine when Sydney got out of lockdown in mid-October, but the current case numbers exploding is restrictive and frustrating. It's also frustrating when many of my friends choose to hibernate at home, all in fear of the virus. I don't like the current restrictions imposed on us, but they're in place for a reason. I'm feeling fatigued, just like everyone else. I'm lucky I have my freelance work — it's acted as a bit of an escape. $59.95
11:45pm — I have Mexican for lunch again — a mushroom taco and some cheese fries with basil and tomato ($11). While snacking on my first meal, I manage to squeeze in 30 minutes of UX work before my laptop battery and dongle dies. Then I enjoy the second meal more mindfully. $11
12:30pm — I head to the supermarket to buy a few more vegan snacks — cookies and nuts — and head back home. $8.60
1:15pm — I come home, then go out for exercise while my computer and dongle charge. I'm lucky to live near some beautiful parks, so I soak it all in. 
3:15pm — Head home and do some more UX work for three hours. After, I catch up with some friends with some text messages just to see how they are.
8:00pm — In bed. Zzzz.

Daily Total: $86.55

Day Six

8:00am — I wake up and get ready to be picked up by my ex. We are on friendly terms — the lockdowns back in August 2021 sadly caused our eight-year relationship to end. He's a busy and successful lawyer who is 14 years older than me. We reunited back in October 2021 on a chance encounter in the CBD. It's such a small world. Despite this, I'm still single and not dating anyone. There's been a lot going on with Covid.
9:00am — My ex arrives. We take a walk to a new bakery that's just opened up in Lavender Bay. We order two small lattes ($8). It was my shout, in exchange for him picking me up and driving us to Palm Beach. $8
9:30am — We leave my apartment and he drives us to Palm Beach in his luxury Mercedes Benz. We speak about Covid, work and life. Since we reunited, our relationship has grown and we've ended up developing a strong friendship. We text each other every day, and now that he's back at work, we usually catch up for lunch once a fortnight in the city. I ended up testing positive for Covid a few weeks back, and during this period, he called me every day of the week. He's such a sweet man, and I'd think of him as my soulmate.
10:30am — We arrive at the beach and just enjoy each other's company, walking along the sand. 
12:00pm — We order some lunch. For him, it's a chicken baguette and a large skim latte. For me, a can of ginger and turmeric kombucha with a mushroom burger. $42, my shout. He thanks me for my generosity, but it's all good — he drove me up here with him in a luxury air-conditioned car! Far better than taking public transport and needing to mask up. Palm Beach is serene — it's a great day trip to escape busy Sydney life without going too far. $42
1:00pm — We walk along the beach, enjoying nature and the company. At 3pm, he drives me back home. I don't know where life's going to take us next, but I'm enjoying these moments together.
4:00pm — I take a bath at home and meditate in my bed for an hour.
5:00pm — I tidy up and declutter the home.
6:30pm — Time for dinner. I heat up one of my frozen vegan meals in the microwave. I'm not in the mood to cook. 
8:00pm — Bedtime. 

Daily Total: $50

Day Seven

8:45am — Wake up and prepare for the day ahead. I normally just have a banana for breakfast every day, along with one of my multivitamin supplements for some extra nutritional support.
9:30am — I'm logged in and start some more TikTok work. I smash it out for over six hours, taking a few breaks to eat my lunch and snacks along the way. Again, I'm watching a set number of videos and determining whether they're suitable to stay on the platform or if they have to be removed. At the end of the day, I log off and tidy up my desk.
4:30pm — I walk to Circular Quay and buy a scoop of some limited-edition Messina breakfast ice cream ($6.30), then walk through the Botanical Gardens for more 1-on-1 time with nature. I love spending time outdoors, especially as the last two years have kept us in isolation. I find that the isolation energy is very dirty, and that's why I appreciate some quality time with being connected to Mother Earth. I'm all about enjoying life outside, whether it's in a garden, a park or the beach. It just feels natural to me. $6.30
6:30pm — On my way home, I stop by a brand-new supermarket and buy more groceries — this time it's two more frozen plant-based meals and a bottle of Ribena. I don't mind eating meat — I'm not an animal advocate or anything like that. I just feel more alive when I'm on a plant-based diet. My body craves savoury vegan food. I always feel fuller for longer and my body feels lighter. $18
6:45pm — More UX work. Tuesdays and Fridays are my busiest days, otherwise I only work a few hours a day. To me, UX and UI work feels like play. I think when you're engaged in work that you enjoy, then work doesn't feel like work. I like that I have full flexibility and can choose when I feel inspired to work. When work is pleasant and you're not subject to overly demanding clients and bosses, it can be absolutely wonderful.  
9:00pm — Bedtime. I brush and floss my teeth for at least 10 minutes, followed by a facial cleanser (I go for brands like Burt's Bees — I just resonate with natural beauty products).

Daily total: $24.30
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.