This post is based on an interview we conducted with Natasha in April 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.
Where do you live: Melbourne
What is your current net worth, and how does it break down?
Personal savings: $3,000
Joint account with my Dad: Around $30,000
Debt: No debt, I only recently became a permanent resident so I couldn’t really get a credit card. Your options are pretty limited if you’re not a PR. I owe a friend $3,200.
Assets: None at the moment, but myself and my family (parents) are in the process of buying a house together. They sold a property in Malaysia and they’re using that to buy an apartment here for me to live in.
Tell us a bit about your career:
I’m primarily a freelancer — writing, creative production, performance art, production assistant. I’ve been looking for more steady, stable work for some time (like a decade), but it hasn’t happened. The longest contract I’ve had was a year, in digital comms/social media. That paid like a grand a month, which doesn't even cover my rent.
My dad deposits money into our joint account, and I pay myself $2,500/month from it. On a student visa, you can only work 20 hours a week. There’s only so much you can do. And there are no scholarships. My family was always really into education, so they helped me cover my expenses while I was studying. When I graduated, I applied for permanent residency. The idea was I’d have the allowance until I got a job. But that became a lot more challenging than any of us expected. At one point I decided to stop taking the allowance. After three months, I couldn’t find anything better than selling issues of The Big Issue (that’s why I owe my friend money). Then I was on this bridging visa for ages; meanwhile, I’m building this amazing art career and portfolio and getting knocked back over and over and over.
Then I decided to do my Masters in San Francisco. There, I found they care less about qualifications and visas. I was getting interviews for crazy good jobs. In the end, I didn’t stay because I couldn’t get my visa stuff together in time, and by then my PR here was approved. I’ve been back in Melbourne since 2016. Even with the PR, and fewer restrictions, it’s still so hard. I’m making up for lost time but it’s hard.
In the end, the family allowance is there despite me not wanting it, because I’d be homeless without it. I acknowledge it’s a privilege. It comes with a lot of emotional strings but I have it. How do you navigate that?
What advice do you have for people who want to earn more money?
If I had any advice, I would take it myself. If anyone out there has a very unusual portfolio or experience, try somewhere else. It was so surprising, being in San Francisco, I was getting way further than I ever did in Melbourne or Brisbane. Maybe moving overseas or moving cities makes the difference?
Do you have a budget?
I try to stick to around $2,500 a month, but I’m not great at following it. Usually due to unpredictability of the arts and my own health. I recently lost a $250 gig because I just got sick and went to the hospital that morning. Then random fees that pop up on you, union fees, my P.O. box, supplies for particular projects. I try to also put money away to pay back my friend.
Do you make purchase decisions carefully, or are you loose with your money?
It depends. I could be more careful, but at the same time, my carelessness is more around wanting to donate to people's Kickstarters, supporting my friends and artists who are putting on shows at festivals. So, I sometimes overextend myself, but I’m trying to support my community as well as survive myself.
How is your work-life balance?
What work? That’s the nature of the arts world, right? It’s so irregular. That’s why I wanted a stable job. It doesn’t even have to be that interesting; I just want some security. I think that would allow me to be more discerning with my art.
Isn’t it ironic that being an artist is getting in the way of you being an artist?
It is. There’s only so much I can do with the resources that I have.
What is your favourite thing to spend money on?
I really like surprising my friends with things. I recently surprised my friend at the airport, which cost like $30 just to get there on the Skybus. Then I bought food while I was waiting for him. Side note: the airport is a great co-working space with all the tables and wifi!
How do you invest?
The closest thing is a Raiz account. I’ve got a couple hundred at the most. It’s also kind of like a second savings account. It rounds up your purchases and invests the excess.
Are you anticipating things to be easier when you get the apartment from your family?
Well, some costs will be lowered. Even with all the peripheral outgoings, it’ll still be cheaper than paying rent. I’m actually very anxious about it because I have to maintain it. It’s so much more permanent than renting. If something breaks, it’s on me to foot the cost for repairs. It’s such an alien concept to me, even though I come from a long line of homeowners.
Do you have a target net worth you want?
My minimum ideal annual salary is about $50,000. That covers my most basic expenses with enough of a cushion for me to put towards healthcare, self-care, fun, and art. Also, I like the number five. More than that would be a bonus. I don’t even know what I’d do with $100,000. Seems like a lot of money.
If you could start again, what would you do differently?
Move to the U.S. Financial stability from the arts in Australia? Hah. Good luck.
What mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from?
Potentially there were some gigs that I picked up because I considered them stepping stones to jobs. It didn't usually work out. I wish I’d been more discerning, even very early on. That energy would have been better spent. But it is hard to tell in the moment, especially when you need the money and it’s right there on offer.
Do you have any worries about retirement? If so, how are you planning to address them?
I don’t even know how I’m going to retire. I don’t have anything to retire from! Given my mental health stuff, it’s hard for me to imagine being old enough to retire, much less be in a financial situation to do so. I’m surprised I’m even still here sometimes, as morbid as that sounds.
How are you learning about building wealth? Is it from family, books, forced to learn as wealth grew, etc.?
My family were always big believers in property as investments. They had a few, and always believed in property ownership, hence them really wanting to buy a house for me.
Do you give to charity? If you do, what per cent of time/money do you give?
All the time. Probably more than I should. Not in a structured fashion. I’m in an LGBTQ+ artistic community, so people always need hands and money. I do what I can.