If you feel like life is getting exxier, and your money sitch not really growing to match it, it's not just you—most Aussies' salaries aren't going up at the same rate as the cost of living. It might seem as though the things you want (a holiday, a house, to be debt-free) are out of reach, but how unreasonable is it really to be able to afford them, and still have money left over for the finer things in life (like a Mecca splurge, monthly facial or yoga membership)? To find out, we asked three 20-something gals, all on different salaries and in very different living situations, to tell us what they really earn, and more importantly, how they really spend it.
LIVING AT HOME: EMMA, 25
I earn $61,000/year as an online editor, which after tax, HELP, and my additional super contribution, leaves me with a little over $45,000, or $870 a week. I started salary sacrificing $25 a week (before tax) as an additional super contribution to help top it up, after I read women typically end up with half (!!!) as much as men because of the gender pay gap and things like maternity leave.
I was renting in the inner city up until about a year ago, when I moved back home with my parents to try to pay off a hefty credit card debt. At over $10,000 in the minus, paying almost $350 rent each week (plus bills and groceries) meant I wasn't cutting down the debt at all, which was getting a bit scary. I'm putting a serious dent in the repayments now, lumping up to $450 onto the card each week, and still stashing away $150 so that I'll have rent and bond upfront when I start renting my own place again, later this year.
I don’t pay any board to my parents, which I realise makes me pretty fortunate. My car expenses (petrol, tolls, rego and insurance) are also taken care of, but my Opal costs me a little over $50 each week. I put aside $70 a week for boring ~life~ stuff—private health insurance, my phone bill, and subscriptions such as Netflix and Spotify. I'm actually considering cancelling my health insurance ($100/month) and just putting the money away in case I need it, because I recently read something that said health insurance is rarely worth it until you hit 30. I do yoga most nights at home, I used to have a yoga membership but cancelled it for the sake of saving and use Yoga Studio ($5.99) instead. Surprisingly I find it's just as effective, and then I'll buy casual classes every now and then for a really good sweat.
I try to limit my spending on coffee and lunches at work during the week to about $50, which is doable as some days I'll bring lunch and fruit from home. When it comes to going out it's a little harder, though. I hate saying no to things, so it's more about finding ways to not spend as much while still doing the things I enjoy, like dinners/drinks/brunches with mates. I've had to embrace Saturdays spent with Netflix every now and then, and doing more low-key things like picnics or nights in with girlfriends in place of all-nighters.
Clothes and beauty (read: Mecca splurges) used to be a big thing for me, which I've really reigned in for the sake of my credit card repayments. Now, if I want something I’ll sit on it for a couple of weeks before buying it—that way I know whether I really need and want it. Sounds snoozy, but YOLO-ing too hard basically got me into debt in the first place, so it’s high time I showed a little constraint. I've also put a hold on things like facials and regular brow appointments, which isn't as hard as you'd think!
If I could give my 20-year-old self some advice it would be to not get a credit card—it's such a dangerous way to spend money and an even quicker way to get into serious debt. Even with some 'savings' in a high-interest account, I'm technically still in the minus, and it's going to take some time to be able to take a holiday that's not on credit. I do feel a little guilty that in my mid-20s, I’m essentially living off my parents so that I can pay off a debt I mostly racked up on things like clothes and overseas holidays, but I've come to my senses now and that's the main thing. So many friends who are my age or older are considering moving home because of their debt, or because they just can't save for a house, so I’d rather get my shit sorted now.
I'm not even thinking about a mortgage—I've come to accept that it probably won't happen for a long time on my single income, and for me, a mortgage doesn’t necessarily equate to an accomplishment like it seems to for other people. My goal for the next few years is to get debt free, find a great apartment, and then once I’m content with that, probably pack it all up and move to Paris.
Emma's weekly expenses (from $870)
Credit card repayment = $450
Saving for rent/bond = $150
Socialising = $100
Opal card = $50
Lunches/coffees = $50
Clothes/beauty = $30
Health fund = $25
Phone bill = $15
RENTING: CLARE, 27
I work for a beauty brand as a PR manager, and after a recent pay rise am now on $82,000 plus super and a yearly bonus. After tax and my HELP debt ($22,500), it comes down to around $57,000, and I end up with $1100 a week. That sounds like so much more than it is—hello Sydney living.
I pay $270 a week to rent in the inner-city suburbs, with my good friend and her boyfriend in a two bedroom apartment. Internet, gas and electricity come to about $200 a quarter. Living with a couple makes life so much more affordable—we’ve got a pool, sauna and gym in the complex. We also have terribly tacky feature walls, but you can’t win ‘em all.
My car is a pretty big expense: $100 a month on comprehensive car insurance, $600 every six months on CTP and rego, plus $75 a week in petrol and tolls, which all works out to be about $125 a week. In a lot of ways it'd be much smarter to get rid of it, but it saves me a lot of travel time and generally makes life easier.
I've got about $4,000 debt on a credit card with an interest free balance transfer for 14 months. When it gets to the end of the period I'll switch it to another interest-free card. I'm also paying off a MacBook Air which I purchased interest-free for 12 months. I'm all about instant gratification.
I'm going to Europe in July for a month, so I'm putting away $250 each week, but could definitely be more strict. I lay-buyed flights in October, depositing $129 and paying the rest over four months. I got a bonus of $3000 earlier this year which went on the trip and some expenses for my best friend's wedding, which is coming up this month. I'm a bridesmaid and it will set me back about $1000 all up, including flights, accommodation, my dress and shoes, but she's an absolute queen and has been very relaxed and understanding about costs, which has made life a lot easier.
I buy my coffee and lunch every day, which is around $15. I could bring it from home but I feel so time poor, and I do love About Life. I'm a sucker for wine and will happily drop $20-$25 on a nice bottle at least twice a week. Nothing better than chilling with a good film (or The Real Housewives Of Sydney…), my boyfriend and a glass or two of pinot. I’m pretty social and I used to be out almost every night—whether that’s just for a vino, a cheap pub dinner or wine at a friend’s place—and could easily drop $100 on a Friday or Saturday. My Pocketbook app tells me I average $175-$200 a month on Ubers alone—ugh. I've really had to cut down in the lead-up to Europe.
My yoga membership costs $70 a fortnight, and it's one of my non-negotiable expenses as it keeps me sane. I try to go 3-4 times a week. I also have health insurance which is about $40/month. Normally I spend $300-$400 a month on clothes, but thanks to Europe I've had to curb that. However, I work in beauty so can't compromise on a regular facial—I usually get an extraction facial every 4-6 weeks which sets me back $80-$100 a pop.
I use Pocketbook to budget, it’s the most intuitive app I’ve found so far because it automatically syncs with your bank accounts and categorises your purchases. It’s a DREAM to use and I feel more woke about where my money is going (see: About Life, Uber). While I’m 100% never going to own a house in Sydney, I've realized I need some savings in a rainy day fund, especially if I'm ever going to move overseas. I’m an adult now, it needs to happen.
Clare's weekly expenses (from $1100)
Rent = $270
Saving to travel = $250
Socialising = $150
Car = $125
Clothes = $75
Lunch/coffee = $75
Uber = $40
Credit card repayments = $35
Yoga = $35
Facials = $20
Household bills = $15
Health insurance = $10
PAYING A MORTGAGE: ALICE, 29
I earn $67,000 as an executive assistant, which after tax is about $52,500, or $1010 a week. I just bought my third property, an apartment in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, and I pay just under $500 each week in mortgage repayments. It’s a beautiful brand-new one bedroom apartment—quite the upgrade from the first unit I bought 10 years ago in Adelaide! I'm grateful I invested in property at an early age, and have always paid more than the minimum repayments, which has helped me make money for a bigger deposit each time and now I'm in a place I love, in the suburb I want to be.
My household bills (strata, council rates, electricity, gas and water) come to around $120, then my personal mobile phone and internet are about $35 a week. I also have combined health and home and contents insurance, which covers any huge dental bills I get, and gives me peace of mind in case (god forbid) I were to get robbed.
I spend about $80 on breakfast, lunch and coffee at work through the week. I know it's a huge waste of money, but I'm the worst at organising meals ahead of time. I couldn't go without coffee either, but you can’t deny yourself life’s simple pleasures, even if you do have a mortgage. Then I spend about $50 on groceries and dinner at home. Girl’s gotta eat, but I usually stick to cheaper cuts of meat such as chicken breast and sausages.
Only three more years of paying off my HELP debt and I'll be free! Instead of having my workplace take it out with tax like they normally would, I keep it in my salary, then put the equivalent into my mortgage. It reduces the interest, but the money still sits in "redraw" as it's extra I've paid on top of my repayments. Then at the end of the tax year, I take it out and pay off the HELP debt. It's all about making your money work for you.
This leaves me with $140 to live on a week. I’m not a very social person so this is usually enough, and if I ever want to buy clothes or something expensive I’ll just put it on a payment plan or sell something I have to make some extra money. Things are a bit tight, but I know life will get easier once my HELP debt is gone, and hopefully my salary will have gone up by then too. My goal now is just to pay down my mortgage as much as I can and free up cash flow. I don’t technically put anything into savings but the way I see it, my house is my saving plan: it’s making me money while I’m paying it off.
Alice's weekly expenses (from $1,010)
Mortgage repayment = $495
Socialising = $140
Household bills = $120
Breakfast/lunch/coffee = $80
HECs = $70
Groceries = $50
Phone/internet = $35
Health/home insurance = $20
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