A week in Northcote, Melbourne, as a cafe worker on $44,000

This article originally appeared in Refinery29 Australia.

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 dollar. Anyone can write a Money Diary! Want to see yours here? Here’s how.

Today: a cafe worker who makes $44,000 a year and spends some of her money this week on Cadbury Mini Eggs (because it’s never too early for Easter chocolate, right?).

On Money Diaries: a cafe worker who makes $44,000 a year and spends some of her money this week on Cadbury Mini Eggs.Credit:Refinery29 Australia

Occupation: Cafe all-rounder
Industry: Hospitality
Age: 22
Location: Northcote, Melbourne
Salary: $44,000
Net Worth: $4,342.36. I loosely use the Barefoot Investor method, so I have $9,260 in a savings account specifically for big things that will make me smile (like holidays). I have $10,611 in a savings account called Fire Extinguisher, which is cash for unexpected rainy days (I’ve used it previously to pay a couple of months of rent while I wasn’t working). I have $4,306 sitting in my super, and I have a car worth about $10,000. The rest is money that sits in my daily transaction account.
Debt: I have $29,834.64 worth of HECS debt. If I don’t look at it, it doesn’t exist, right?! I also want to study more, so this number will probably just keep increasing.
Paycheque Amount (Weekly): $854
Pronouns: She/Her.

My partner just moved in with me at the start of the month. At the moment, we just split all bills and expenses, like groceries, down the middle when they come in. We’re looking at setting up a joint account in the near future to make paying for joint expenses easier.

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $1868 split with my partner, so $934 each per month. It’s just the two of us in a two-bedroom apartment in Northcote. It’s a steal compared to the housing market at the moment. We almost had our rent increased by $66 a month but managed to negotiate our way out of it.
Utilities: $200, split 50/50 with my partner
Streaming: $23.99. I pay for Binge and Disney+, I use my family’s Netflix account, and I use a friend’s Stan account.
iCloud Storage: $14.99. I have 22,193 photos on my phone and need to make sure I never run out of storage!
Car Space Rent: $100, split 50/50 with my partner. Our apartment only comes with one car space and we each have a car, so we rent an additional space from another person in our building.
Psychologist: $180 with about $89 back in Medicare benefits.
Pay the Rent contribution: $5
Savings Contributions: I try to put some money aside each month when my expenses aren’t too high. This will usually be 10 per cent of my pay into my Smile savings account and 20% into my Fire Extinguisher account. When I do this properly, it’s $1,024.80 each month.

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

Yes. I just completed a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in gender studies and media and communications at the end of last year. I also did one year of an arts/business double degree at a different institution right out of high school. All of my uni expenses are currently on HECS and I haven’t started paying my debt back yet. I lived out of home for pretty much all of my degree, except for one year in 2020, when I moved back home right before the COVID-19 pandemic started. I lived in multiple share houses while studying, and often worked two – and at one point even three – jobs to pay for my expenses. I’ve always been super independent, so being able to support myself has always been very important to me.

This worker in one of Melbourne’s inner north cafes earns around $44,000 a yearCredit:iStock

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

While we didn’t always sit down and have explicit conversations about money, my parents always led by example, instilling important money values in me and my brother. They both own their own businesses and have worked really hard to make sure my brother and I could go to good schools, participate in extracurricular activities, and never feel any money pressure.

I know that I was extremely privileged to grow up this way. The conversations that we did have about money always encouraged me and my brother to be smart and savvy with it, and to always have enough money saved up for anything life throws at us. Our parents also encouraged us to work and save up for things that we wanted. This meant that I could buy my own car right before I turned 18. I’m super grateful that my parents taught me the importance of a really strong work ethic – it’s been one of the most important life lessons they passed down to me.

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

My first job was helping my mum out – she owned a beauty salon and I sat at the front reception desk. I started doing this around 13 to 14 years old, during my school holidays. She would pay me around $30 a day. It wasn’t much, but it was the start of my working career.

Did you worry about money growing up?

Not really. Even when they were experiencing considerable pressure and financial concerns, my parents made sure that my brother and I were never aware of what was going on. I only learnt about the times my parents worried when I grew older. That being said, even when I was little, I was always concerned about spending my parents’ money. I never wanted them to spend too much on me – I used to freak out or get really panicky if they bought me something expensive!

Do you worry about money now?

I think it’s normal to worry about money at 22 while working a casual job. While my hours are usually regular, they’re never guaranteed. My rent is also fairly high and I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to touch my savings, so most of the money I have isn’t usually considered in my day-to-day life. I often worry about being able to afford my lifestyle.

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

Even though I moved out at 19 and was paying for most things myself, my parents still helped me out here and there. I definitely wasn’t fully financially independent, despite feeling like I was. It was only when I was 21 that I became fully financially responsible and independent (although my dad still pays for my phone bill and my Myki card!).

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


Day 1

7:30am – Today is my first of three days off this week. I’m excited to have some time for friends and myself. I work at a cafe four days a week, which usually includes an early start, so I was planning on sleeping in today, but my partner accidentally woke me up while getting ready for work.

8:15am – I pull myself out of bed and make breakfast. My favourite time of year is when hot cross buns are finally on the shelves again! I warm up a chocolate hot cross bun and make a coffee with my stove top coffee maker. I sit down to read I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy while having my breakfast, and end up reading for around two hours.

11:20am – I’m catching up with a friend I haven’t seen in a while today, so I quickly get ready, throw on some jeans, a new T-shirt I bought on sale from Emma Mulholland on Holiday, and my beloved Dr Martens sandals. It’s perfect for the slightly cooler (28C) weather day Melbourne is having today compared to the last few days.

12:05pm – I catch the tram (free, as my dad pays for my Myki) to meet my friend outside a cafe near her house. We pop in to get some takeaways. We both love matcha and I already had a coffee this morning, so we both get a matcha latte. I get mine in my Frank Green KeepCup with oat milk and a little bit of honey. $5

12:18pm – My friend and I are both hungry, so we stop at the local health food grocer. I get a delicious-looking vegetarian sausage roll with some relish ($10.50), and my friend gets some gluten-free banana bread. We take our snacks to the gardens to eat while we catch up. $10.50

3:21pm – On my way back home, I stop at an op-shop. Surprisingly, I don’t buy anything (op-shops tend to be my downfall). I also pop into a gift/homewares shop I really like and buy myself a candle ($31.95) that smells like Australian botanicals. Delicious. $31.95

3:45pm – I get home and get stuck straight back into reading I’m Glad My Mom Died. I have the book finished within the hour. It only took me about a day and a half to read it, and I could not recommend it more. It’s such an interesting and sad insight into the lives of child actors, and it’s quite harrowing at times, reading what Jennette McCurdy went through.

5:00pm – As it’s almost dinner time and my partner will be home soon, I head to the supermarket to get a few ingredients for tonight’s menu – sticky tofu with rice, a tasty-looking recipe I found on the Keep It Cleaner app. I stop at Aldi first (because who doesn’t love getting their groceries for less?) and buy cat litter, rice, rinse aid, tofu, a one-kilo box of peaches, a cucumber, a bag of grapes, and a bag of avocados ($37.25). I then head to Coles to get all the things I couldn’t get at Aldi: bagels (I love the Savion brand), apple and cinnamon hot cross buns, a block of Coles-brand feta cheese, a bag of Mini Eggs (I’m on my second bag and it’s still only January), and ginger ($20.30). Not bad considering the amount of fresh fruit and avocados I manage to buy! When I get home, I pop the groceries into Splitwise to split with my partner. Since he just moved in, we’re not sharing finances yet, but we just split everything that we share. $28.78

6:15pm – I cook dinner while my partner practices his saxophone, and then we then eat our meal while finishing the last two episodes of a new Netflix series called Kaleidoscope. It’s about a heist, and the cool part is that everyone who logs into Netflix gets their episodes in a different order. We finish off the night with some grapes and chocolate for dessert. Time for bed!

Daily Total: $76.23

Day 2

7:12am – I’m woken by my partner again this morning, which is annoying because I want to sleep in on my day off, but it’s also not his fault. I figure at least I won’t waste any of my morning. Once I’m up, I give my cat some scratches and his asthma puffers – the poor thing gets coughing fits without them.

8:30am – It’s going to be a hot day today, which I’m super grateful for because summer is my favourite season. I make myself a bowl of yoghurt with yellow peaches and strawberries, and a stove top coffee. I love watching YouTube videos while I eat in the mornings. I find them very inspiring, so I press play on one of Moya Mawhinney’s vlogs.

10:00am – I get ready for the day. I’m heading out for my psychologist appointment and always feel the need to put on a cute outfit.

12:00pm – Appointment finished. It’s always emotionally draining but rewarding and helpful too. The appointments are expensive and definitely feel out of my budget, but since I have a mental health care plan from my GP, I get a Medicare rebate of about $90. But for now, the appointment cost me $180. It’s my mental health, so it’s something I definitely consider to be worth it. $180

1:30pm – I’m craving a pain au chocolat on my way home but remember I have hot cross buns. As soon as I get home, I pop one in the toaster and slather it in butter. It tastes so good that I make myself another one straight away. It’s a hot day and I have no other plans, so I get ready to head down to the beach.

2:30pm – I live in Melbourne’s inner north, so getting to any beach takes just under an hour. By 2:45pm, I’m enjoying the sun, sand, and water.

5:00pm – Back in the city, I meet a friend at Yo-Chi for some frozen yoghurt ($12.53). It’s one of our favourite treats to get when we hang out. Afterwards, we head to Readings. I’ve been looking for a calendar so that my partner and I can keep track of work and social events without having to ask each other a million times what’s going on. I find a cute one that’s 40 [per cent off ($29.99, I’ll pay for half), but when I get home, we realise there isn’t enough room to write anything down. I’ll try to return it. $27.52

6:05pm – I’ve been driving to the beach a lot recently, so I stop to get fuel on my way home ($80.75). I remember when I used to pay around $60 for a full tank of fuel – ah, the good old days. $80.75

8:20pm – After eating last night’s leftovers for dinner, I sit on the couch and plan out my outfit for the upcoming Harry Styles concerts. I’m going to both Melbourne shows, so of course, I need a fresh outfit for both! I consult with a friend and decide to buy a singlet from Emma Mulholland on Holiday, which fits the vibe perfectly. $97.50

10:36pm – I accidentally fall asleep on the couch while my partner and I are reading, so it’s time to have a quick shower and head to bed.

Daily Total: $385.77

Day 3

6:45am – I wake up and make myself an avocado bagel with crumbled feta, and a coffee for breakfast. I give my cat his asthma puffers and get ready to head out for the day.

8:00am – I’m driving down to my hometown to get my hair done today. My hairdresser in the country is significantly cheaper than hairdressers in the city, so I consider the two-hour drive worth it. Plus, I get to see my family while I’m down.

12:36pm – My hair appointment is done ($175). It went quicker than I thought it would. I see an apprentice hairdresser, and she’s getting faster every time. I ask my mum to send through a sushi order for me to bring home for lunch and go pick it up. She transfers me money when I get home, so I don’t have to pay for anything. $175

3:34pm – As I’m heading back on the road to go home, I drop my brother off in town to get his hair cut. I decide to go to the Macca’s drive-thru and get myself a medium frozen raspberry slushie ($1.50) for the drive home. It’s a hot day, which always makes me crave one! $1.50

5:29pm – I’m cooking paella for dinner tonight, so I walk to Aldi and buy a red capsicum, green capsicum, and a punnet of strawberries ($6.07). I then jump over to Coles for some asparagus and a Powerade ($6.25). I’ll split all of this with my partner. $6.16

7:30pm – We cook and eat dinner. Because it’s a beautiful evening and I haven’t moved much today, my partner convinces me to go for a walk. We end up walking for about an hour and 20 minutes, and I feel much more refreshed afterwards.

10:30pm – We read for a bit, then it’s lights off.

Daily Total: $182.66

Read the rest on Refinery29 Australia here.

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