How a Young Australian Does Money

Brisbane
I’m living in Brisbane, the great Australian city known for its exorbitant public transport fees and terrifically muddy river. I’ve been here since I moved out of my parent’s home at 17, figuring out how to do money—first on a trainee wage, then as a student, and now as a part-time worker.

My parents and I had a silent agreement that as long as I was studying at university, they would pay for rent. This was obviously a fantastic help for me, and one that not many people would have. I began studying full-time in 2009, coupled with part-time work.

Each semester, the government paid me a “textbook subsidy,” but I received no other financial assistance. The three years I spent at university were, surprisingly, the times in which I felt the wealthiest, and saved the most successfully. In hindsight, this is because I accepted all extra shifts offered to me, I was very careful with my money, I didn’t take holidays, and I had no rent to pay.

In 2012, I dropped out of university, and was admitted into a psychiatric ward, where I stayed for eight weeks. While I am very, very lucky in that I didn’t pay any out-of-pocket amount for my hospital stay, it did mean I took eight weeks off work without pay. I was fortunate enough to have a stable and understanding workplace, and a job to come back to once I was well enough. My return to the workforce was very slow, starting at a half day each week, and over two years, working my way up to a four-day workweek. I am paid at slightly above the award rate for my industry, having slowly made my way through the pay grades. I started at $10 an hour and am now at $23 an hour.

Before I receive each paycheck, my employer makes a compulsory contribution to a superannuation account (a type of retirement account in Australia) on my behalf. I’m not taxed for this money, and because I never really see it, I don’t notice it missing from my pay. What this means though, is that at the age of 23, I magically have about $15,000 saved up for retirement! I believe I can also make my own, possibly tax-free, contributions to the account and the government will match them up to a certain annual limit, but honestly it’s not something I’ve ever looked into.

The recovery from my nervous breakdown and subsequent mental illness diagnoses has been slow and expensive, with very frequent visits to my psychologist and psychiatrist. I am entitled to 10 subsidized (about $100 off the regular fee) visits with my psychologist, but my psychiatrist and many different medications are all full-priced. This means that I occasionally need to cancel appointments I need because the financial cost is too high.

I am no longer studying because of my breakdown, so I’m paying rent on my own. I also ended a long-term relationship about 18 months ago, resulting in carrying the financial burden of paying the full cost for a house for close to six months, and then all of the subsequent moving fees. These two unexpected events meant that my savings account took a very large hit—one that it won’t recover from for a long time.

My savings are currently stable, but not rising. I don’t pay very much attention to the balance, as long as it doesn’t drop below $2,000. I pay my bills on time, and would probably describe my approach to spending as cautious, but not careful.

I would estimate my student loans to be around $13,000, but they don’t have to be paid off until I’m earning more than $53,000 (this repayment system is similar to an income-based repayment system in the U.S.). At my current pay rate and, considering I never actually completed my degree, I’m not at risk of this for a long time—hence my lack of interest in knowing the exact balance. To the best of my knowledge, these loans are interest-free, but are adjusted each year to maintain the “real value.”

A ridiculous quirk I picked up sometime after my hospitalization is stashing money away in various places to increase the chance that I will “forget” about it until I actually need it. I have accounts with three different banks, two of which I leave the cards for at home so I can’t access the funds. I have about $800 stored in gift cards for major chains, and a few hundred dollars in cash stashed around my bedroom. It may not seem to make much sense, but it does make me feel a little bit better. One of the early warning signs of my depression and anxiety is a tendency to spend all the money in my account without being my being aware.

Although I’m bumbling my way through life, my government has set up enough safety nets for me. That, combined with the high wages here, has meant that despite everything I have accidentally fucked up, I still have enough money for both now, and for my future.

 

Rohie Marshall is not a writer. She spends 80% of her time on the Internet and 20% of her time assuring people that no, it’s not a nickname, that is her actual name. She tweets at @sunshineslice.

Photo: Damien Ayers

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