Cat litter and yoghurt: What a journalist on $63,500 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 senior journalist and producer who makes $63,500 a year and spends some of her money this week on two bags of cat litter (“because litter trays sadly don’t clean themselves”).

This week on Money Diaries, a producer who makes $63,500 a year and spends some of her money this week on two bags of cat litter.Credit: Refinery29 Australia

Occupation: Senior Journalist / Producer
Industry: Media
Age: 28
Location: Mackay, Queensland
Salary: $63,500
Net Worth: ~$28,000 ($36,000 in superannuation, $2,200 in a Raiz account, and $7,000 in various savings accounts).
Debt: $17,350 in HECs debt. I also have a credit card that I use for subscriptions/automatic payments, but it doesn’t hold a balance.
Paycheque Amount (Weekly): $945
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $1,480. I pay $370 a week for a three-bedroom, one-bathroom pet-friendly home which is about a 10-minute drive from work. While writing this Money Diary, I was hunting for a new housemate. Thankfully, she moves in shortly, so this expense will halve.
HECS: $30 to $50 gets taken out of each paycheque towards HECS.
Subscriptions: $23.98 (for YouTube Premium and Spotify). I have very kind friends and family that let me mooch their Disney+, Netflix and Binge.
Car Insurance: $63.52
Health Insurance: $52.90 (Extras only)
Gym: $67.04, but I’m looking at changing to a gym with classes to actually motivate me to go.
Pet Insurance: $103.04. Every time I go to cancel it, I end up needing it. Last year, it saved me $3,600 on an emergency surgery, so it paid for itself really.
Phone/Internet: $78. My phone’s paid off and I mobile hotspot for internet at home.
Utilities: I don’t pay for water and electricity is an average of $80 a month which I put aside.

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

I have a Bachelor’s degree. I put everything on HECS and worked during my degree as well to pay for books, accommodation etc.

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

Not many, and they weren’t great. My mother had a big spending problem and would hide money/credit cards from my father, which I found out later on. When they divorced, she hid money from him and he had to pay her a lot extra, which put us in an uncomfortable position. My dad worked hard and sacrificed a lot to send me to a private school, which I went to on a scholarship. A close family friend who I consider a second mother has really helped educate me on personal finance over the last few years. I had gotten myself into a bit of a credit card pickle, and I’ve been very conscious of never doing that again.

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

I got a job working at KFC. I wanted to earn money to buy a phone, takeaway, clothes and also so I didn’t need to take money from my dad. I basically just wanted to waste it like an average 15-year-old.

Did you worry about money growing up?

Yes and no. I was always scared to ask my mother for things I needed for school (like new uniforms or extracurriculars) because it usually ended in her screaming at me, so I was very conscious not to ask her for anything when I could avoid it. But I also didn’t like asking my dad because I knew how hard he worked, but he didn’t mind. I always had a roof over my head, and plenty of food in the cupboard, so I knew we were okay, even if I didn’t have everything everyone else had.

Do you worry about money now?

Absolutely — who doesn’t? I live alone, and I’m not very close to any family, so there’s always that concern. I have a small amount of savings but am very anxious about ever having to spend that. I’ve really started to cut back on buying any non-essentials and that’s helping a lot.

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

I’ve been financially responsible for myself on and off since I was 15 due to family circumstances, but overall since I was 19. I have my savings, and I know my dad/grandparents would help me out if the situation arose, but I really hope it never does.

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

Apart from the very small dividends on my Raiz account, no. I am led to believe I’ll inherit some money when my grandparents pass away, but I’d rather that never happen.

Day 1

4:35am: My boyfriend P.’s alarm goes off. Yuck. Thankfully, I fall back asleep.

5:10am: P. comes in for a goodbye cuddle before he goes to work. I fall back asleep.

6:25am: Awake! Pack up my things into the car, and head to my own house via a friend’s place which I am cat-sitting for. Cuddle and feed that cat, then go home to do the same with mine.

9:00am: I’m off sick today (I caught some kind of bug over the weekend and am not coping) so I’m snuggled away in bed. Briefly get out of bed to make a coffee and do a Covid test… what better way to spend a Monday morning?

9:15am: Covid-free!

12:00pm: Somehow, I’m never hungry when I’m sick. Make myself some toast, and discover I have very little food in my fridge/freezer. Unsurprising considering I’ve been away from my house most of the last few weeks. Check my bank account, and a PayPal pay in four payments has come out. I purchased four pairs of denim shorts about a fortnight ago because it’s impossible to find decent ones, so this is my reminder to pack up the three pairs that didn’t work and get the refund sorted. $19.99

2:00pm: After speaking to my Dad, P., and my best friend M., I call my boss and ask for tomorrow off. I feel bad letting the team down, but I feel like this illness is turning into a chest infection and an extra day of rest is probably the best idea. I’ve been wondering if I’ve been taking on too much lately and this is a sign that my body needs to chill.

3:15pm: Wake up from what might be my third nap of the day to leave the house to feed and cuddle my friend’s cat. Then I pick up some essentials from Aldi. I’ve got some formulations for food… just need things like salad mix, bread for the freezer, bread rolls (homemade burgers for dinners because I am an adult), cereal, juice, fruit, crackers, yoghurt and ice creams because I’m sick. $36.01

6:30pm: A very lazy day in bed. Make myself a burger for dinner (a few weeks ago, I purchased chicken fillets that are meant to be the same as KFC ones. They aren’t, but they still taste good) and have some juice. Text a few friends, but fall asleep by 8:30pm.

Daily Total: $56

Day 2

6:30am: Awake. Turn on the local ABC News, cuddle my cat and generally just chill out in bed for a while. Definitely feeling better head cold-wise, but the chest infection is hitting me hard. Organise the refund for the denim shorts and make a note to sneak into the office this evening to print the form to send them out.

10:15am: Make a few work calls and send off some emails to try and set some interviews up before tomorrow. I know I’m off sick, but I’ll be better off for it tomorrow.

10:30am: Head out to run a few important errands. First stop is the pharmacy for a medical certificate (I don’t have a GP) for today ($25). I also pick up a new Lanolips while I’m there ($18.99). Head next door to purchase a birthday card for my grandmother ($5.19) and drive to the post office to express post it so it arrives to her (in a different state) by Monday ($8.10. Why is this so expensive?!). Then I head off to feed and cuddle my friend’s cat. After, I go home via the car wash to get off far too much bird poo. I’d normally do it myself, but I do not have the strength ($20.33). $77.61

12:00pm: Finally home, I still don’t have much of an appetite, so I heat up a hot cross bun from the freezer and have it with some orange juice so I have something in my stomach to take some painkillers.

1:55pm: Feeling vaguely hungry again, so I make myself a cheese, Vegemite and lettuce sandwich, just like what I had when I was a kid. It’s one of my favourite sick-day lunches.

4:30pm: Leave the house to give the cat one last meal and cuddle, then head to the office to send my sick leave form and medical certificate through to my boss. It’s late in the afternoon so I know I won’t run into anybody. Discover a package on my desk when I get in: a send-out from a PR company! These are few and far between, and thankfully when they do arrive, my company is comfortable with us accepting them. I am very happy to take home free snacks! I also print out the refund form and package up my clothes to send back.

6:30pm: The same dinner as last night with a can of Sprite, followed by a cheeky ice cream around an hour later. Watch the last episode of Season 1 of The Mandalorian, right in time for the Season 3 finale tomorrow night. Yep, that’s right. I started watching it at season three with P. and I’ve been playing catch up since. Then I fall asleep with many thoughts and feelings.

Daily Total: $77.61

Day 3

5:15am: Cat wakes me up. Nope. She gets kicked out of the bedroom.

6:15am: Bearable. Slowly wake myself up, turn on ABC for the local headlines, and catch up on news from the last few days as I’m back at work today!

7:40am: Get out of bed and make myself a coffee. I’m usually at my desk right now, so having this extra time up my sleeve is strange! Log onto my work computer and tighten up a few story ideas for the day.

10:30am: Somehow, the day has absolutely flown by! I’ve done as much as I can do before a couple of interviews this afternoon, so the bosses encourage me to log off and rest. I have ‘the’ shower (exfoliating, hair treatment, shave legs and the like) and feel remarkably better after. Then I make some Vegemite toast and orange juice for breakfast and watch a couple of YouTube videos.

12:00pm: Get a text message that my pill prescription has come out of my account ($88). Since moving, I haven’t found a GP and signed up to Kin online to keep my prescription going and the automatic side of things has been so handy because I have a terrible memory. Ouch to the bank account, but yay for contraception and regular, non-painful periods! Then I jump into a couple of my interviews and log back on for work. $88

1:30pm: Wrap up my last few bits for work (I’ve been told to have some quieter days as I recover, so no complaints, especially given I still feel awful!) and log off for the day. Unsure what I’m in the mood for with lunch, so I make myself a ‘pick plate’ featuring cut up apple, raspberries, peanut butter, crackers, some brie, a piece of toast… aka, random bits to pick at for the next little while. Then it’s time for a cheeky nap.

4:00pm: Pack up a few things and head over to P.’s for the night. On the way, I drop off the house keys for my friend whose cat I was looking after.

8:00pm: After spending the evening eating delicious pasta (I am a lucky woman), watching the season finale of The Mandalorian (Grogu has my heart always) and generally not being helpful with the tasks P. has to do (he moved house on the weekend), I head to bed.

Daily Total: $88

Read the rest on Refinery29 Australia here.

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are owned by Nine, which also holds the publishing rights for Refinery29 in Australia.

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