Real money talk: Sarah

By Bryna Howes 04 June 2019 6 min read

This post is based on an interview we conducted with Sarah 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.


Name: Sarah

Age: 35

Where do you live: Melbourne

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m an editor at a really small publishing house and I’m a single mum. I’ve got a masters in editing, publishing, and creative writing, and that tends to be how I spend my spare time too. Reading, writing, and generally bookworming.

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

Savings: $6,000

Super: Maybe $25,000? Not sure.

Debt: $10,000 of student debt.

Assets: My parents took part of their Centrelink allowance and invested it on our behalf. So it’s a little nest egg that my dad keeps an eye on. Maybe a couple of thousand dollars.


Tell us a bit about your career:

Most of my career up until mid-last-year was in the tertiary education sector. I was in research admin with Melbourne Uni. I was a contract officer - that was my longest and most recent job. I did that off and on for about 15 years, always part-time.

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

I freelanced on the side as an editor and proofreader, which I did while I was studying my masters too. Halfway through last year I left the uni job, but kept doing some casual stuff for them, and had my editing and proofing. Then, earlier this year I got a more permanent position at the publishing house (4 days a week). I’m not freelancing at the moment but I’ll probably start up again later in the year.

My rates varied a lot. I charged more for work I did for the university because I knew the had the budget for it. I didn’t charge as much for PhD students. I negotiated my rates on a project by project basis. I tried to set my rates around $50-$60 an hour though.

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

I feel like I haven’t quite cracked it myself. I worked so hard the past few years that I got really sick (which is why I’m only working 4 days a week now). But I also left a really stable, relatively high-earning job, for one I felt more passionate about and with a better work environment. I value that more than the dollars. If you’re just focused on the money, go out and hustle. But take care of yourself too!


Tell us about how you save money, and how it’s changed over time?

I had a few friends who did the Barefoot Investor thing last year and got really excited about it. So, when I get my fortnightly pay, I have an automatic transaction moving about 20-25% of my income into a savings account. I don’t live extravagantly, but if I need something extra I will dip into my savings to complement my lifestyle.

I grew up in a big family with a single income. We didn’t go without the basics, but I definitely learned some frugal habits, which is a blessing now. When I got my own income for the first time I got excited and didn’t save much. Now I’m more sensible.

Do you have a budget?

Not really. I’m not good at that. It’s like dieting, the more rules I try to impose on myself, the less likely I am to follow them. I try to be generic and make sure the basics are covered first and put leftovers into my savings. I find if I try to examine where every dollar is going it gets really stressful.

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

I’m increasingly careful. I buy most of my clothes at op shops and get furniture and stuff second hand, and always choose home brand groceries. I’m not fussed about trendy labels and branding, which makes it easier. If there’s something else I want, I ask myself if I’ll regret not getting this thing in 3 months. If yes, I’ll get it and not feel guilty. If I can imagine it in the back of my wardrobe gathering dust, I’ll skip it!

How is your work-life balance?

It’s pretty good actually. Working 4 days is a good amount. I can be creative, which keeps my soul alive, and I can work more if I need to. It hasn’t always been that way though which is why I appreciate it so much currently.

What is your favourite thing to spend money on?

Food! Going out for dinner with friends. Or travelling. Getting out of the city for a few days. And books, I’m a sucker for a bookshop.


How do you invest?

I don’t have any investments of my own. My Dad’s put that little nest egg into shares, which he’s chosen individually.

What has been your best investment?

Education. My HECS debt and the time and energy I invested to change my career direction into something that I love has been so worth it.

Do you have a target net worth - or a target lifestyle you want?

Not really, though that would be sensible to have. I guess I want to retire young enough to still enjoy the time, and to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, which for me isn’t big spending and travelling every year, just maintaining the status quo. And being able to afford medical care later in life. But I don’t really know how much that’s going to be.

What advice do you have for your younger self?

Money-wise, I’d tell myself to stick to my own guns and not get influenced by other people about what kind of job or study I should do. If I’d stuck to my own guns when I was younger I’d have gotten a similar job to what I have now earlier on. I don’t think I’d change too much else to be honest.

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

When I first went to uni, I had a bunch of savings plus an incredibly generous scholarship. Because of that, I actually paid my first couple of semesters of HECS up front, which I think was silly. I’d have been better off investing that money or travelling. I wasn’t used to having any debt so it made me uncomfortable. If you can get a low interest/low-pressure loan, take advantage of that!

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

If I think about it, it is stressful. But I’m also taking steps now to make it less of a worry. Everything seems so unstable for our generation, so I don’t know what the political or environmental state will be like when I’m ready to retire. It’s hard to plan ahead, and I’m pretty cynical about a lot of our social structures. You can do what you want now but if the world ends in the meantime it won’t help you in the post-apocalyptic wasteland!

That being said, I am taking steps to try to ensure me and my child are taken care of. I’m doing more conscious saving, I’ve cut back my health insurance to the bare minimum (it’s such a waste of money), I’m going to learn more about super and how to use it as an investment vehicle. Educating myself about the financial market and what it is and how it works is my plan.

How are you going about educating yourself?

I’m mostly reading books and talking to people who know more than me. My super fund offers a free consultation, I had my first proper chat with an accountant who specialises in people working in the arts/creative industries, I’ve been getting some advice from professionals and people who know this stuff. It seems overwhelming but I’m not the first person who wants to know about this, and people are usually pretty willing to share their expertise if you ask for help.

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

Yes, I volunteer at my kid’s school doing events, and I do some volunteer work for
my local council, helping out with their annual publication. I give money to panhandlers if I have cash on me, and then I’ve donated to GoFundMes here and there for friends who have been unwell. I also try to donate to charities for refugees and asylum seekers whenever they pop up on my facebook.

Words by
Bryna Howes Right Chevron

Bryna Howes is the Head of Content at Spaceship. She's equally obsessive about cinnamon donuts and scouring the web for great reads.

Real money talk: Sarah