Cheap wine and a cover charge: What a student on $32,000 spends in a week

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This article originally appeared in Refinery29 Australia.

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we ask real people how they spend and save their money during a seven-day period, tracking every last dollar. Anyone can write a Money Diary! Want to see yours here? Here’s how.

Today: a student and part-time banker who makes $32,400 a year and spends some of her money this week at the pub.

On Money Diaries this week, a student and part-time banker who makes $32,400 a year and spends some of her money at the pub.Credit: Refinery29 Australia

Occupation: Student and part-time banker
Industry: Finance
Age: 23
Location: Gladesville, Sydney
Salary: $32,400
Net Worth: $20,629 ($27,981 in savings ($5,000 of which is in a U.S. bank account), $13,342 in investments (across CommSec, Raiz and Pearler), $7,966 in super, and $183 in cryptocurrency)
Debt: My HECS/HELP debt is currently $27,943, and I have a credit card that I use to accrue frequent flyer points, which I usually aim to pay off at the end of every month.
Paycheque Amount (Weekly): $707
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $1,080. I live in a flat with one housemate. It’s relatively large, but not the most modern joint. We each have our own bathroom.
Debt: I don’t earn enough to be paying off my HECS debt yet. I have my credit card, which I put large expenses on, but then pay off at the end of the month.
Rowing: The rowing club that I train at has an annual membership fee of around $1,500, so around $125 per month. That said, there are a number of other costs that come up throughout the year for trips
Netflix/Stan/Binge/Disney+/Spotify: $0. These are either kindly paid for by my mother or are friend’s accounts that I leech off.
Private Health Insurance: $0, again, thanks to my mum.
Apple iCloud storage: $4.49
Investing: I have $40 a month that goes to Raiz and is automatically invested in a portfolio with my desired investment tolerance.
Gas: $21.50
Electricity: $59

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

Yes. I’m currently studying a Bachelor of Commerce and I am in my final year. Luckily, I’m eligible for the HECS/HELP loan and that is how my university tuition has been paid. Throughout my degree, I’ve received varying sums of scholarship money as an elite athlete from the sports and fitness foundation and the business school. This has ranged from $1,500 per year to $4,000 per year. However, most of this money often contributes to my ongoing sport-related costs throughout the competition season. I initially studied overseas at a private university in the US for a year which my mum paid for before I moved back to Australia to continue my tertiary education, hence the money is still in an overseas in a US bank account.

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

I had the value of money instilled in me from a young age. My family was well-off, but our parents made a point of not giving us pocket money. Any spare change we wanted was expected to be earned by doing chores around the house. My parents had a very messy separation when I was finishing high school and I ended up helping my mum navigate the finances involved in the divorce (just eldest daughter things). It was a sudden and shocking introduction to household finances, and rather distressing at the time, but it taught me the value of having access to your own money and the importance of mindful spending.

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

When I was 15, I got a job at a local hairdresser that my friend worked at. I worked one day a week and quickly became an expert in scalp massages, brushing out knots, and passing foils to the hairdressers. It was one day a week after school for four hours, and I got paid $11 an hour in cash. I thought having a job would be fun (I’d be in for a rude awakening) and I wanted to have my own money to be able to spend when I was out with friends.

Did you worry about money growing up?

Yes, and I think irrationally so. Our family was well-off when I was younger; we’d travel overseas for holidays, and my siblings and I all went to private high schools. However, my parent’s divorce really changed my outlook. Suddenly, there were very frank conversations about the money we had, and I started noticing some of the small luxuries we used to indulge disappear. We were by no means struggling, but I became very aware of the activities I undertook and how much they cost.

After getting into my dream school in the US and subsequently being denied any needs-based financial aid, I distinctly remember being worried that I wouldn’t be able to go because my mum couldn’t afford it. Looking back, these worries were unfounded, but I feel like I took on some of the financial burden being the eldest and someone my mum turned to for advice.

Do you worry about money now?

Yes. Having moved out of home in Sydney just over six months ago, I’ve very quickly learnt how expensive it is (who knew?). When I lived at home, all the money that I earnt simply went to things I wanted to spend money on — drinks with friends, new clothes, and trips with my partner. It’s been a very steep learning curve as I’m realising I have to pay for truly everything.

Even though I have a relatively steady income and a decent safety net, I still sometimes feel guilty spending money on things as necessary as groceries. The nature of my studies and work gives me confidence that I have all the tools to develop good financial habits, so I try not to worry in the short term, but rather look further down the line to where I’d hope to be in ten years. This aligns with my savings goals as I have a decent amount invested.

I worry about my mum as she nears retirement, so ultimately, the goal is to be in a position where I can comfortably support her in whatever way she’d need as she gets older. In saying this, I often hear from my older colleagues things like, “You have the rest of your life to work!“, so I try to take that to heart when I plan exciting trips or spend a bit too much on a Saturday night out because, as they say, you’re only young once!

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

Last year when I was 22 and moved out of home. But there are still aspects of my life that my mum pays for, such as my health insurance and streaming service subscriptions (for which I’m very grateful for). I have a decent amount in savings that I could fall back on if I needed to. I also feel like I could always turn to my mum if things were dire, but I would hate to put her, and myself, in that situation.

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

Nope. When my mum buys expensive things or goes travelling, she often jokes that she’s spending the inheritance. As she very well should.

Day 1

8:55am — I’ve been sick for the past week, so it’s an incredibly slow start to the morning. I’ve set my alarm a whole five minutes before I have to log on for my first meeting of the day at home.

9:00am — My only meeting of the day is a quick catch-up with my team. I am still completing my undergraduate degree but I am lucky enough to work for a bank as a casual employee. The role was put forward to me after I completed an internship at the same company, the idea being to support student-athletes during their studies and give them an opportunity for industry experience. I’m able to work very flexible hours and am only on from 9am until 1pm today. I have a belated breakfast of yoghurt, granola, and banana to try and give my body all the good vitamins and minerals it’s craving.

1:00pm — I finally call it a day after what feels like a very long four hours. Sometimes I wonder if I’m truly capable of working an eight-hour day (or more!?) five days a week. I have to head to university this afternoon for two classes, but also have weights beforehand, and will need clothes for a big work event, so I have lots to pack. I quickly throw a mix of clothes and get in my car to drive the twenty minutes to uni.

1:50pm — Time to lift heavy things. I head to the high-performance gym on campus. I’m a rower currently in the off-season so while our training is minimal right now, I enjoy staying fit and being able to use facilities like the gym, which are free for me as an elite athlete scholarship holder. At training, we discuss the fees we were recently charged for the cost of our National Championships trip, which came out to about $2,000. The champs were in Perth, so this included the cost of flights and accommodation during a very busy travel period. I paid the invoice off as soon as it came through last week, so I didn’t have to think about it again.

3:00pm — Time for class. I grab a slice of banana bread from the café on campus on my way to class to refuel after weights ($4.50). I open my laptop for the writing class I’m taking as an elective and get to work. $4.50

5:10pm — My last tutorial for the week wraps up, and I head to get dressed. Even though I’ve been in the team for some time now, I still get a bit nervous for large company-wide events like these. Being a part-timer means I don’t spend as much time in the office as everyone else, and I sometimes worry I’m missing out. I get along well with so many people in the team though, so I’m just hoping I can build on some of those relationships tonight.

5:30pm — I abandon my car and promise myself I’ll pick it up tomorrow morning. It’s an ambitious goal, but hopefully, I won’t be too hungover (famous last words). I jump on the bus and tap on with my Opal card. You can tap on with your debit card, but as a student, I’m eligible for a concession card, which means I get half-price rides. Plus I hate seeing the pre-authorisation charges appearing in my bank statement and only getting charged the final amount at the end of the week when I use a debit card. Instead, I just put $50 on my Opal card and top it up when the balance is low. I tap off near the office and the screen tells me the trip cost me $1.76.

6:00pm — I arrive and see my colleagues, who are deep in the free food and open bar. The event is essentially a company-wide celebration of all those employees who have received a promotion throughout the year.

8:30pm — With the official event wrapping up, the team heads to a bar to continue the festivities. We spend ages chatting, drinking, and dancing. The senior team members are buying drinks for everyone, so I somehow manage to only buy drinks for me and two other colleagues ($37.50). I didn’t want to drink too much tonight, mainly because I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of my co-workers, but also because I’m going on a big trip soon that I’m desperately trying to save for. So while I’m trying to be beverage-conscious, there’s no way I’m saying no to a free round of shots. $37.50

12:35am — We then head to the casino. I don’t spend anything here mostly because I have no interest in wasting my money on the pokies, but also because I’m getting tired and ready to call it a night.

1:45am — I make my way to the bus to head home where the Opal card reader is broken so I can’t tap on. My drunk brain considers it a money win. I live extremely close to a Macca’s and treat myself to a cheeseburger and chips on the way home, convincing myself it’ll help with the hangover tomorrow ($11.45). Once I get home, I scrub my makeup off and throw myself into bed. $11.45

Daily Total: $55.21

Day 2

10:05am — I wake up and reach for a big glass of water to chug, and of course, I didn’t put one beside my bed last night. I head to the kitchen for some water and a banana.

10:25am — I flop on the couch and start to feel a bit sorry for myself. I have so much uni work due next week and had planned to dedicate time to it over the weekend. But now my head is pounding and the hangxiety starts to hit. I reflect on whether I did anything embarrassing last night, and realise I actually had the best time, didn’t break the bank, and am now closer to my colleagues for it. I decide you can always resit an exam, you can never relive a party.

10:30am — I message a friend who lives nearby who often heads to the library on the weekends, right near where my car is parked. Lucky for me, she’s going to study and can drop me at my car!

11:15am — I arrive home and crack on with a 2500-word essay I have due next Wednesday. It’s an assignment where I’m able to weave in information about my personal life as an athlete, so it’s actually quite enjoyable to write.

1:45pm — Deciding I might as well keep my unhealthy streak up, I head to KFC for lunch ($17.90). I swear my eating habits are not usually this bad, but I’m enjoying the break from rowing training and am letting myself go a bit crazy with junk food. $17.90

6:45pm — Satisfied with my work so far, I jump in the shower to get ready to meet my friends for dinner and drinks. I had sent them a message the night before proclaiming my drunken state, so there’s an understanding I might not be in fighting form tonight.

7:30pm — I run to the bus stop and tap on with my Opal ($1.76). After getting off, I duck into a bottle shop to grab a cheap wine to share at the BYO restaurant we’re going to ($16). $17.76

8:00pm — We arrive at the restaurant and head in. We heard about this place online, they have 80-cent dumplings from 5pm and we’re all suckers for a good deal. But when the bill comes we realise we didn’t get the deal. We query it with the owner who said they stopped running that promotion last month. We don’t worry about it too much and split the bill between the four of us. A while back, I accidentally transferred a friend more money than I needed to. So even though my portion is $19.50, I only end up owing her $8.50 for the dinner. $8.50

10:15pm — We end up going to a venue that’s running a Fireball event and head in for a boogie. The entry is $15 with a card surcharge ($15.12), but we get a drink card for a free drink at the bar, so we rationalise that it evens out. $15.12

11:15pm — The bar starts to die down, so we head out to find our next venue. There’s a club nearby that we’ve heard positive things about, and upon arrival, we’re stuck in a line that snakes around the corner and figure it must be a good sign. As we finally get to the door we find out it’s a $20 entry fee! We don’t really want to pay again but want to make our wait worthwhile and decide to cop it and promise ourselves we’ll have fun. $20.20

11:20pm — My friend shouts us all a drink, and we dance our cares away. It’s a packed venue and the music is a mix of hip-hop and reggae.

12:10am — I’m beginning to fade and message my partner to see if she’ll come pick me up (yay, she does). We head back to her place for the night, and I debrief her on my adventures the night before as well as tonight before we pass out.

Daily Total: $79.48

Day 3

8:15am — Not hungover today, but definitely a bit dusty. My sweet partner makes me an acai bowl that I inhale, one that I likely would’ve gladly paid $15 for.

9:30am — I impress upon my partner that I really have to get more uni work done today, and she kindly agrees to drop me home so we can spend the day together.

10:00am — We arrive home, and I get straight into my work. I manage to bang out two 500-word writing tasks for an elective subject that are due the next day. I’m actually quite happy with the work and get my partner to read it over. She agrees it’s good. Diamonds are made under pressure.

1:00pm — We have some soup for lunch, and I continue with my schoolwork and my partner works on a big project that she’s been busy with at her job.

3:15pm — We begin to get ready for the Swifts netball game later that afternoon. My partner’s brother’s girlfriend is on the team, so she manages to get us and some other members of the family free tickets. Watching live sport is always so much fun, especially when you’re in the friends and family section.

4:10pm — We finally arrive at the game ten minutes late after sitting in the most insane unavoidable traffic trying to get into Olympic Park. The Swifts go on to win by four points in an exciting match.

5:45pm — On the way home, we stop to pick up some groceries including fixings for burritos for dinner ($36.55). This includes turkey mince, tomatoes, lettuce, spice mix, and wraps as well as some bread, yoghurt, bananas, and chocolate for myself for the week. Since my partner and I live separately, we just buy our own groceries and whoever’s house we’re having dinner at will buy the fixings for that night. $36.55

6:30pm — We whip up some burritos and start a new Netflix series called The Diplomat, which we very quickly become obsessed with. I try to keep working on my assignments while half-watching, but end up caving in and giving my full attention to the show.

9:45pm — It’s been a weekend, and we’re both wrecked so decide to call it a night and get some well-needed rest before the upcoming week.

Daily Total: $36.55

Read the rest on Refinery29 Australia here.

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