Money

We Asked 5 People What They Earn And How They Spend It

Politics, mental illness and money: three topics that for the generations before us were often considered taboo. You wouldn’t dream of asking someone how much they earn while sitting around the dinner table. But if we don’t talk about these things, how can we stay informed and make good decisions for ourselves, right?

So with honestly and openness in mind, five people – each earning a different pay bracket – have broken down their savings and their spendings for us.


Nadine, 29

Staff Writer at a magazine, lives in New York
Earns USD$40,000 (AUD$55,550) a year

A living wage in New York City is USD$47,000 (AUD$64,500) annually, so earning anything underneath that means needs serious financial savvy. While rent for a private bedroom in a shared apartment in Manhattan can cost anywhere between USD$300 (AUD$410) and upwards of USD$750 (AUD$1030) per week, prices outside of the city are much lower. So, Nadine pays USD$185 (AUD) $250per week for her a room in a three-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. The cheaper rent is at a cost – her daily commute to work is 50 minutes to an hour.

For Nadine, it’s a fair bargain to still be able to afford two or three outings a week in a bar or restaurant with friends. Things like new clothes, high-end beauty products, and expensive meals are out of the question, so she focuses on paying for experiences rather than things, like discount cinema and theatre tickets.

She puts away 5% of her pay into a long-term savings account (which she doesn’t touch) and any remaining money goes towards her short-term savings goals. Travel is a priority, so she books package holidays in advance, and never at full price. The occasional freelance writing assignment (USD$150-$300/AUD$200-$410), and 75% of her annual tax return, go straight towards her long-term savings.


Sylvia, 27

Account Manager at a major tourism agency, lives in London
Earns GBP
£38,000 (AUD$65,000) a year

Sylvia lives in the central London neighbourhood of Pimlico, and shares a two-bedroom apartment with her husband and a friend. They split the weekly rent, GBP£550(AUD$530), between the three of them—it’s more expensive than other areas, but because they plan on only spending two years in the city, they’ve prioritised living in a nicer area.

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Aside from decking the house in exclusively op-shop chic furniture, this lifestyle choice comes with a few strict budgeting rules. Both her and her husband stick to a no-exceptions budget of GBP£70 (AUD$115) for their weekly Sunday shop. They use this to cover breakfasts (frozen smoothie bags for the week), lunches, and most dinners. They also each have £50 (AUD$85) of weekly “pocket money,” drawn out in cash, that goes towards weekend coffees, small household luxuries, and visits to the pub. For Sylvia, choosing how to spend this kitty has been the biggest challenge, and has meant saying no to social outings more often than she’d like. To make up for this, she’s found fun, free ways to catch up with friends—things like going to art galleries, or lunch in the park.

Her and her husband have turned their weekly date night (which traditionally was a nice meal) into ‘Explore London.’ They choose an area they’ve never been to, travel by tube, and walk around. A recently purchased investment property back in Sydney is extra motivation for them to stay on budget. The couple owns an apartment in Woolloomooloo, which they are currently renting out for AUD$700 a week. The rent covers the cost of their mortgage, though not the utility bills and strata.


Burt, 28

Teacher at a public school, lives in Sydney
Earns AUD$70,000 a year

Burt lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Kirribilli with his partner. They split their weekly rent, which is AUD$240 each. To save money during the week, the couple orders Hello Fresh meal deliveries—AUD$69 for three meals for two people—and limit the cost of extra household groceries to AUD$50 per week. Burt orders cases of wine from GraysOnline, but as neither are big drinkers, they tend to only need two cases a year.

For Burt, spending less on alcohol than most of his friends has been a huge money saver. Burt is currently paying off his car—a recent purchase—in AUD$200 fortnightly instalments. The regular payments have forced him to adjust some of his spending habits; he no longer pays for an expensive yoga membership, and opts to do yoga at home or go to the gym.

He and his partner have also been careful about using less electricity in the house, and have noticed a big difference in their monthly bills. Burt puts away a percentage of every pay into both long-term and short-term savings accounts. Moving back in with his parents for a year when he was 24 really kick started his savings, and he has been consistently putting money towards it since then.


Freda, 27

Teacher at a private school, lives in Sydney
Earns AUD$80,000 a year

Freda shares a three-bedroom, waterfront apartment in Kirribilli with two roommates, and her weekly rent is AUD$390. For Freda, waking up to the sounds of Sydney harbour lapping at her window is worth the steeper price tag.

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Photo: Gilad Rom/Flickr

Work perks: the school provides lovely fresh fruit and sandwiches for morning tea, so this usually doubles up as breakfast. For her lunches, she keeps it simple with sandwiches. By saving on meals during the week, Freda allows herself to splurge on a nice dinner and cocktails every Friday or Saturday night (anywhere between AUD$100-$250). Other small luxuries she allows within her budget are: getting her nails done at a salon every two to three weeks; one or two daily barista-made coffees; and catching Ubers rather than using public transport on the weekends (between AUD$60-$70).

Freda is currently putting away AUD$150 per week into a short-term savings account, and for the last six months, has been saving for a trip to the U.S. Since turning 25, she has also put a small amount from each pay into a long-term savings account, which she intends to use towards a deposit for a house in the future.


Finn, 29

Art Director at a digital agency, lives in New York
Earns USD$115,000 (approx. AUD$160,000) a year

Long-term savings have always been a priority for Finn, and he’s been careful about living well below his means throughout his 20s. Rather than upgrade his living situation after a 30% salary increase a year ago, he chose to continue sharing a three-bedroom apartment with friends in Brooklyn, where his weekly rent is just USD$240 (AUD$330) per week.

Since his promotion, Finn has been putting 30% of his pay into a savings account. It’s a fair chunk of his earnings, but for him, worth it, as he’s recently been approved for a home loan and will put a deposit on an investment property next month. For things like travel, technology, and entertainment, he maintains six different savings accounts. Money from each pay cycle is automatically pumped into these accounts at rates he’s specified, so that the cash is there to use when he needs it.

Five years ago, Finn set the long-term financial goal of reaching a net worth of 100k, and is about half way there.


Olivia is a writer currently living in NYC, and she contributes regularly to Daily Life and Sunday Life in Australia.