Real money talk: Claire

By Jessica Sier 07 May 2019 7 min read

This post is based on an interview we conducted with Claire in March 2019.

Real Money Talk is our series where we interview Australians from all walks of life about their personal finances. The views expressed are those of the interviewees, based on their experiences with money, and as such are not necessarily representative of Spaceship's views.

We have changed the name of the interviewee for their privacy.


Name: Claire

Age: 23

Where do you live: Armidale

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a speech pathologist, originally from Newcastle, moved up to Armidale mid-Jan this year when I got my current job. I like horses, reading, yoga, and alone time.

What is your current net worth, and how does it break down?

$22,500 I think...

Savings: $6,000

Super: $5,000

Debt: $36,500

Investments: $7,000 in stocks

Car: I think my car is worth about $4,500

I guess that actually puts me at -$14,000.

How did you accumulate your net worth?

Just working and saving. A lot of it, I’ve saved in the past couple of years. Before that, I went travelling and spent almost $10,000. Working and living as cheaply as possible.


Tell us a bit about your career:

I’m a freshly graduated speech pathologist. I’m in my first job now, full time. I’m on a six-month maternity cover contract. I’ve applied for another position for after this, but it’s all a bit uncertain. The worries of working in health! Through uni, I worked as a disability support worker. I’ve done that the most over the past five years while I was studying, I also did some stuff for the Starlight Children’s Foundation, and tutored drama.

At the moment I’m on a $65,500 a year salary, which is pretty much what I expected. It’ll incrementally go up every year of experience you get, up until a certain level.

Do you have income sources outside of your job? If so, how much do you earn from each and how did you develop them?

Nope, I’ve always just had the one main job, or a collection of casual jobs going simultaneously.

What advice do you have for people who want to earn more money?

Hahaha, no. I don’t really know how to do it myself! I suppose, when I think about my friends who always say they don’t have any money, and they’ve been earning more than me for longer, I look at their spending. You have to prioritise. If you want to travel, don’t go buy new jeans every week. Think about your goals and spend or save accordingly.


What is your savings rate? And how has it changed over time?

The plan is to save a minimum of $400 (now that I’ve got a decent pay). At the end of the fortnight pay period, I bank whatever’s left over.

Do you have a budget?

Yeah, I do. I just break it up into essentials.

Per week:
$400 savings.
$60 groceries, and I often go under.
$80 fuel.
$75 rent (I’m staying with a friend’s mum at the moment, and I’m extremely lucky; when I was living in Newcastle though, I was still only paying $90).
$10 gym.
$60 horse riding.
$23.12 private health insurance.
$50 incidentals, like going to the physio, needing medication, etc. I guess that covers incidentals. This one most typically blows out way over. Physio can be $60 and then I’ve already blown it. So, I probably need to be more realistic about how much allergy medication costs all the time. That’s been my largest unanticipated cost.

How much do you spend per year?

On average, it works out to be between $18,000- $20,000 on living, or has in the past, and I’m trying to stick to that now as well.

Do you make purchase decisions carefully, or are you loose with your money?

I’m probably a little bit too conscious. I’ve got a spreadsheet I’m doing every week. For the first time I’m earning what feels like a lot of money, and suddenly have all this buying power. I have to actively stop myself buying prosciutto!

How is your work-life balance?

It’s a bit of a challenge. It’s my first time working full time, 8am-4:30 pm. Not a great balance, I don't think, especially because I drive between Newcastle and Sydney a lot and I’m still trying to fit in all my life stuff. It’s a work in progress. Plus, there is some health stuff going on at the moment; I’m hoping after a few more doctors visits I’ll have a better handle on it. I generally stay at home alone and do nothing because I’m too tired.

What is your favourite thing to spend money on?

Food! It makes me so happy. If I’m gonna spend on anything, I’d rather spend $10 on prosciutto than $10 on something else. I’ll enjoy the hell out of it. Mostly groceries, not eating out so much. I treated myself to coriander and lactose-free ice cream today. My shopping was like $70 and I was like whoa! Slow down!


How do you invest?

I started investing like a year and a half ago. I bought $5,000 in one go, then decided to invest in a few more individual companies. I can’t tell if I’m good or bad because I regularly forget. Most of it is really long term plans… I’d pull the money out when I’m retiring or buying a house or something.

The $5,000 is in some kind of automated fund. Government bonds, Australian and international shares… and $2,500 in medicinal marijuana companies, just to support something that I think would be good and hopefully, if it ever gets legalised, that investment will pay off.

What has been your best investment?

Um, probably the long term stable bonds and index funds. They’ve been pretty steadily growing. I just put it there and forget about it and it does its thing. I set it up so that whatever dividends I get paid are automatically reinvested.

What has been your worst investment?

The marijuana [stock] has tanked and is worth pretty much nothing. But it fluctuates a lot.

What's been your overall return?

It hasn’t been much. It’s been in the negative overall, but from the government bonds and stuff, maybe $400 over the last 1.5 to 2 years. Which is okay.

How are you building wealth?

Working, saving, reinvesting my dividends. That’s my only game plan right now.

What are your main roadblocks? And how are you addressing them?

My general understanding of how the stock market works. I think going forward in my career, I won’t be earning as much as I originally thought. I think that there are more external factors that are stopping me, like my health, the cost of living going up, my wage not going up… wages that used to seem good to me. If I factor in wanting to have kids, it’s not going to be enough to support a family in the way I’d like it to. I think I’m not creative enough to think of other ways to build wealth.

Do you have a target net worth you want?

More a target lifestyle. I don’t think I’ve thought too much about what I want to be earning to get that. I just want to not worry about covering the bills, not check my bank account on my way to the supermarket. I don’t want to have to be concerned about how much money is in my bank account. I don’t want it to be a constant worry. Can I buy brand name Scotch Fingers or do I have to get the Coles ones. I’ll pretty much top out at $95,000 in my career if I’m able to progress through the ranks. That knowledge has definitely motivated me to get started with investments now, when I’m unattached and it’s not the end of the world if I go broke tomorrow.

If you could start again, what would you do differently? (Advice for younger self)

I would’ve started working earlier, even a part-time job. Had a bit more control over the money I was receiving. I was getting Youth Allowance from when I was 16, but I didn’t know about it until I was 19. It was just in this savings account earning 1.6% p.a. I wish I’d known about it, and started saving and investing when I was 18 or 19, rather than when I was 22. I’ve always been a good saver but didn’t really know what to do with that money, nor had a specific goal as to why. More direction or more of a clue would have me in a bit of a better place now.

What mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from?

I don’t really think so. As a general rule, I was more flippant about spending money when I was younger… I feel pretty good and pretty happy about most money decisions I’ve made.

Do you have any worries about retirement? If so, how are you planning to address them?

Yes, definitely. I’m trying to do things to safeguard now, like making sure I’m getting my super, investing in long term stable investments. I worry where our cost of living might be by the time I retire and how much. I’m looking at my parents now who have no super at all, and they’re kind of being forced into retirement. My dad always worked for himself and never earned enough, so he’d skip on paying himself super. He had an accident a couple of years ago and now he has a spinal cord injury and he’s had to stop working. I think he didn’t expect to have to stop working so suddenly. For his/our financial position, it was way too soon. He has workers comp now, but it’s not going to last forever. Mum raised four kids and has had many jobs that either didn’t pay super, or she worked for herself and only put a minimal amount away to keep the business alive.

How are you learning about building wealth? Is it from family, books, forced to learn as wealth grew, etc.?

I predominantly learned about what I can do with money through my partner, as well as a few different podcasts. My parents taught me how to save, but we never had money discussions at home. A lot of my early money learning happened with and through my partner, who I lived with five months after I moved out. If I hadn’t met him, I definitely wouldn’t be making spreadsheets right now! I do a lot of driving and I’ve turned to podcasts because they’re a good way to keep me engaged.

Which podcasts do you recommend?

I’m listening to The Pineapple Project by the ABC; it is the most money, business, productivity-based one. I’d love to find one that talks about investing the way people talk about other things. All the investing ones are a bit dry for me.

Do you give to charity? If you do, what per cent of time/money do you give?

One-off donations mostly. Not often. When it comes to tax time, I always forget I can claim on my donations. I mostly give to causes that I believe in.

Words by
Jessica Sier Right Chevron

Jessica Sier is a financial journalist. Prior to that she led content at Spaceship and was a reporter at the AFR where she discovered that breaking down financial jargon was a public good.

Real money talk: Claire