This post is based on an interview we conducted with Sasha 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: Inner West of Sydney.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a lesbian who’s done many things with her life. I do a lot of volunteer work and I have a passion for writing and research; I’ve always been a storyteller. I love dogs, and I’m currently doing my honours in social work.
What is your current net worth, and how does it break down?
Savings: $2,000 in cash savings that I’m trying to avoid paying off my card with.
Debt: I owe about $600 on my credit card. I think I owe about $24,000 on my HELP debt but I haven’t checked it in a while because it’s too depressing.
Assets: About $2,000 in cryptocurrency and about $200 in my Spaceship Voyager account. I also have miscellaneous other assets worth about $10,000, including super, shares, and jewellery and valuables.
Tell us a bit about your career:
I worked for McDonald's for about five years, then I moved to Sydney and did a range of admin jobs. I got sick of McDonald's at age 18, and since then I’ve been in the sex industry. Full-time a number of years, and since FOSTA/SESTA, I’ve not had that same opportunity. [Editor’s note: FOSTA/SESTA is a bill passed in the U.S. in 2018 aiming to curb sex trafficking on online personals sites. The impact was felt in Australia due to the fact sex workers could no longer place ads on key websites.]
I went back to uni to study social work a few years ago, which I’m about to finish. I’m doing a lot of unpaid work at the moment which goes against my sex worker ethics! But I’m trying to get a nice government job afterwards so I can gloss over my sex work history.
Do you have income sources outside of your job? If so, how much do you earn from each and how did you develop them?
Right now, I’m probably making around $750-$800 a week. At the moment it’s mostly Centrelink payments with a little bit of sex work. I also do odd jobs like dog-walking or babysitting. I try to use my spare time productively.
What advice do you have for people who want to earn more money?
It would go back to that old adage: be good at what you do, and don’t do it for free. The whole unpaid placement thing for social work is really inconsistent with the values of the profession. Particularly for women; don’t undervalue your skill. Just because you’re not a lawyer/accountant/software engineer doesn’t mean you’re not contributing to society. Make sure you’re paid what you’re worth. Save money where you can, and join your union.
What is your savings rate? And how has it changed over time?
I recently had a bunch of things come up (moving houses, my bike is in the workshop, that bit of credit card debt) which has stalled my savings. I can see myself saving money more consistently within three to six months. I’ve always tried to save somewhere between $50-$100 a week when I’m not working, and $100-$250 a week when I’m working more.
Tell us about your budget?
Historically, I’ve tried to make sure my rent is no more than a quarter of my income. My outgoings for other things I try to keep to less than half (after tax). I pay about $200 a week for rent. Maybe $100 a week on food (groceries and eating out). I don’t really drink, so I only buy the odd bottle of whisky for when my partner comes over.
I have high medical bills thanks to the Australian mental health system being unaffordable. I try to do other sensible low-income things like buying food from low-cost places, using services like Community Pantry and OzHarvest. I try to make sure I bulk bill my health services where possible. I pay about $700 a year on private health. I also easily spend $1,000-$1,500 a year on maintenance and protective equipment for my bike.
Do you make purchase decisions carefully, or are you loose with your money?
Anything $10-$20 or less I’m more likely to buy instantly. Anything $50 and up I’ll think carefully. Anything $100 and up, I’ll think very carefully and do my research.
How is your work-life balance?
Poor. Too much study! Too much placement, not enough paid work. I do a lot of volunteering in the gay community too, which I enjoy. It provides me with a social outlet.
When I was doing sex work full-time I pushed myself too hard, until I burned out. People assume when sex workers work too much, it’s because they’re forced to. It wasn’t that for me. I was just raking in money and my expenses crept up. Major case of lifestyle creep! Since going back to uni and having to make do on less money, I’ve had to re-evaluate all of that.
What’s been the hardest thing to re-evaluate/the biggest change?
I went from paying commercial rent to paying co-op housing rent. I went from living in a nice house with one housemate and holidays overseas every six months to student life. It’s a rude smack in the face for anyone.
Was FOSTA/SESTA a driving force in deciding to phase out working in the industry?
I always wanted to leave at some point, but it made me leave quicker. FOSTA/SESTA has stopped me being able to work as successfully as I have in the past. I’ll always have the hooker mindset that a job is a job and money is money. My partner comes from a super wealthy family and she turns her nose up at some of the things I do now, like dog walking. But I can’t call my family and ask for money like she can. So, it can be a source of contention in our relationship.
What is your favourite thing to spend money on?
Fetish clothing and Oak chocolate milk! Oak chocolate milk is the best!
How do you invest?
Well, I’ve got a Spaceship Voyager account. I’m putting in $10 a fortnight but I’m looking to raise it in the future. When I have spare money I often put it into crypto.
What has been your best investment?
I’m not sure. Probably getting a motorcycle so I’m not beholden to Sydney's public transport when I need to travel for work.
What has been your worst investment?
I bought Bitcoin when it was going up, then I decided to buy about 500 more just as it decided to crash. I haven’t sold it yet, but I wish I’d bought it at a different time. I’m hoping the crypto improves again.
How are you building wealth?
Aiming for that nice cushy government job once I graduate. The problem is so many social workers are willing to work for the same as you’d make working at a supermarket. I’m interested in policy or consulting. [I’ll] definitely pick myself up financially by continuing to invest and eventually buy an apartment in Brisbane or Melbourne because let’s face it, nobody can afford Sydney.
What are your main roadblocks? And how are you addressing them?
The university has a lot of bureaucracy, which is delaying my graduation by over a year. And general mental health problems. People say that poverty is a great motivator. It’s not. It simply makes people feel hopeless and helpless. I also think without FOSTA/SESTA, I’d have been able to keep earning good money while studying and not have the debt and related problems I currently have.
If you could start again, what would you do differently?
I would’ve saved more. I would have still gone on those long overseas holidays, but I’d have done them cheaper. I would have learned to drive earlier, and I would have invested in crypto earlier. I would have asked for help earlier.
What mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from?
Don’t earn $250/hour and blow it all at age 19. You’ll regret it. You’ll have fun, but the fun doesn’t last forever.
Do you have any worries about retirement? If so, how are you planning to address them?
At this point, I don’t know what our societal financial system will look like in 40 or 50 years. I resent my father's generation because he could retire at 58 on a nice government pension, affordable housing and with healthcare and free university. We have none of that. Let’s be honest, most people don’t have a retirement plan unless they’re born rich. I’m ignoring that at the moment. I resent the baby boomers, and now they’re complaining about changes to aged care.
Particularly to young women: don’t assume that the sex industry will be the solution to your financial problems. Several TV shows make it appear lucrative, but it’s like that saying: you can be the prettiest, juiciest peach, but there will always be someone who prefers apples. Capitalise on what you’re good at, not what you think will make the most money.