Banh mi and a new book: What an ER doctor on $86,000 spends in a week

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This article originally appeared in Refinery29 Australia.

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we ask real people how they spend and save their money during a seven-day period, tracking every last dollar. Anyone can write a Money Diary! Want to see yours here? Here’s how.

Today: an emergency department doctor who makes $86,000 and spends some of her salary at the Finders Keepers Market.

This week on Money Diaries, an emergency department doctor who makes $86,000 and spends some of her salary at the Finders Keepers Market.Credit: Refinery29 Australia

Occupation: Doctor
Industry: Medical
Age: 30
Location: Clayton, Melbourne
Salary: $86,000
Net Worth: Net worth $426,000 ($250,000 in a term deposit, $185,000 in savings, $80,000 in superannuation, plus $89,000 of HECS/HELP debt). My husband and I share all our finances and operate out of a single joint account where we deposit both of our paycheques. We’re very lucky to have a similar approach to money, and tend to agree on the majority of our purchases and spending habits. We sit down and discuss any larger purchases (anything that’s more than $200), but anything smaller than that usually just gets quickly run past the other. We’re currently saving up to purchase our first home, which we’re hoping to do in the next couple of years, once we know where I’ll be doing my specialty training.
Debt: $89,000 in HECS/HELP debt. We don’t have credit cards or loans, as both of us have a preference for paying for things up front, which we realise is not something everyone has the luxury to do!
Paycheque Amount (Monthly): $14,400 between my husband and myself. However, that number usually tends to be a little bit higher, thanks to shift work on my part (weekends, night shift, public holidays etc).
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $2100 in rent. We live in a nice, spacious two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment less than five minutes from Oakleigh Station.
Gym: $150
Internet: $85
Phone: $80
Music streaming: $25
Public transport: $80
Savings: All the money we don’t spend goes straight into savings, and that usually ends up being approximately $10,000 in an average month.

Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?

I have three degrees under my belt by this point, so you can say I took the scenic (and expensive!) route to get where I am now. I did my first two degrees (Bachelor of Pharmacy and Masters of Clinical Pharmacy) while living at home, so there were no money pressures at all, as the entire course was covered under HECS. As my final degree (Doctor of Medicine) required me to move interstate, my husband (then-boyfriend) and I moved out of our parents’ homes and into our own place together. Money was definitely a lot tighter at that stage, as not only were we living in Sydney, but we were also trying to get by on my husband’s single salary, which was about $80,000 at the time. We didn’t have any financial troubles by any stretch of the imagination, but there were a couple of years when we saved very little money, until my husband got a pay rise, and I was able to pick up a part-time job while I studied. Luckily, my degree was covered under the HELP scheme, so there was nothing to pay upfront.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?

My parents have always been very candid and open when it comes to talking about money. Even as a child, they welcomed any questions I might have had during their discussions. As a result, I understood the value of money from a young age. Like many first-generation immigrants, my parents had very little money when they first came to Australia, and made many sacrifices to get us where we are now. I was very lucky, as I think my parents both had a very healthy attitude towards money. They saved and scrimped wherever they could — I still remember my mum walking 40 minutes home from the library, rather than spending $1.20 on the bus fare — but they knew when it was important to spend the money that they had saved.

There was always a good meal on the table, bills were paid on time, and when we did have a treat (such as a nice meal out, or a small holiday), they knew how to enjoy the rewards of their savings. This gave me the best of both worlds. Although I’m frugal with day-to-day expenditures, and always sleep on my discretionary purchases, when I do spend money, I’m able to do so in the knowledge that it’s a financially responsible decision.

What was your first job and why did you get it?

My first job was at McDonald’s when I was 16. Like most other people my age, I wanted a bit more freedom with my finances, and the ability to buy things for myself without having to ask my parents for money.

Did you worry about money growing up?

Looking back, my parents really had very little money when they first came to Australia — only $2000 in cash, and a PhD grant of $12,000 a year! Even in 1999, that wasn’t very much to raise a family of three on — but they somehow still managed to save!

So given that, it was amazing that I never worried about money, especially given how much I knew about my family’s financial situation. I think this really is a testament to just how well my parents managed their finances, as well as how cleverly they were able to use what they had.

Do you worry about money now?

Yes and no. My husband and I are very fortunate, as we never have to worry about money on a day-to-day basis. We’re able to make all the discretionary purchases that we would like, afford some luxury goods should we so choose (very rarely), and still manage to save a good portion of our pay. But with the current property market being what it is, being able to afford our ‘dream home’ (a modest three-bedroom house — a generous library is a must!) is still quite far away. We’ll get there eventually, and that makes us much, much luckier than many people our age, however it’s sometimes demoralising to think about how many more years of saving and loan repayments that will take.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?

I lived at home until I was 24, and had been working full-time for four years by then (and part-time for four years before that), so I had more than $100,000 saved by the time I moved out. That was when I became fully financially responsible for myself, though I guess technically I could’ve been from the age of 20.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

Aside from monetary gifts here and there from overseas relatives over the years (maybe $15,000 all up?), I haven’t received any inheritance, and hope not to for a very long time! My passive income consists primarily of what we get from our term deposit, which should be approximately $10,000 at the end of this year for a 12-month deposit. At least the rising interest rates are good for something!

Day 1

6:30am: My alarm goes off. It’s earlier than I would usually get up for a morning shift, but I’m starting at a new hospital today, and getting my access pass sorted tends to be notoriously difficult. I do my morning skincare routine in the dark (I must remind my husband to email the real estate agent about getting the bathroom lights fixed!), and then have a quick breakfast of natural peanut butter on sourdough toast and a cup of instant coffee. I hope my team leader today is one of the ones who likes to shout everyone a round of coffee at morning tea time!

7:10am: I leave for work, 10 minutes later than planned, but still pretty good.

7:35am: Amazing! I get into the staff carpark with no issues! Unfortunately, my access card is still not sorted, so I will just have to pitifully beg a passerby to let me in and out of the emergency department until security gets their act together.

10:15am: YESSSSS! The team leader heads off to do a coffee run. I ask for my usual skinny flat white, and he brings me a large cup (free!), which I sip on as I try to get the surgeons to come to see a young man who took out a chunk of his shin during a bicycle accident.

2:19pm: Time for a late lunch. I gave myself permission to buy lunch today, as it’s my first day in a new ED. I buy a lemongrass chicken banh mi ($13.10) from the hospital cafeteria. It’s not great, but it’ll do. I down my sandwich and two glasses of water. I take a moment to text some gory photos of injuries I’ve seen today to my husband and sister. They are not impressed.

5:05pm: A good day’s work! I wrap up after seeing my last patient (pulled a nail out of his palm after a nasty nail gun accident), and spend a few minutes chatting with a friend before heading home.

5:45pm: I get home, cuddle my cat, and clean up a hairball she coughed up on the rug. No gym today because I have a bunch of meal prep to do. I shower and have a quick glass of cold barley tea, then put a Harry Potter movie on in the background and get to cooking.

6:04pm: I just remembered that I’m almost out of my medications! Luckily, my husband is still on his way home, so I ask him to swing by the pharmacy to pick some up ($6.30).

7:54pm: Finally, all the cooking is done. I sit down with my husband to enjoy a meal of black pepper udon stir-fry with plenty of veggies, and we chat about our days. Did you know there is a self-serve 7-Eleven in Richmond where everything is paid for via an app?

8:34pm: I settle down at my desk with a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate while my husband does the dishes. I catch up on my work emails, and then write a bit about my recent trip to Japan on my blog. I check my planner, and spend a few minutes doodling in it. I have some paperwork to do, but that can wait until my day off.

10:47pm: I sit down to spend a bit more time with my husband before bed. He watches as I play some Hollow Knight on Xbox, and then we get ready to turn in. I do my nighttime skincare routine and try to give my cat a bedtime cuddle, but she’s not having it.

Daily Total: $19.40

Day 2

9:24am: I’m on evening shift today, so I get a bit of a sleep-in. I’m still very tired though; I ended up staying awake until past 1am last night. Definitely going to get to bed earlier today. I lie in bed and text my little sister — they’re turning 21 today, and we have plans to go out for dinner this weekend.

10:04am: I finally drag myself out of bed and hop on my computer. I sip on a coffee and snack on some XO Cocoa Crunch cereal (dry is the way to go!) while I get started on some life admin. I fill in some forms for work, and then give the orthodontist a call to book a preliminary assessment — apparently despite having had a total of seven teeth taken out, I still have too many, and things are getting crowded in there. It’s $150 for the preliminary assessment, but thankfully I don’t have to pay for that today. I also grab a new book off Amazon ($17.70), despite the rapidly diminishing space on my shelves.

11:39am: I head to the gym for a run, which I try to do daily. I come back, have a shower, and eat yesterday’s black pepper udon for lunch. While I eat, I read a bit more of A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin. It’s pretty good, but also a bit grim.

1:57pm: I leave early enough to avoid the cutthroat scrum for parking at the start of a shift.

10:57pm: I take a quick breather from seeing patients to eat the summer rice salad I had prepped.

11:25pm: It’s a long day, but at least I got to leave work on time. Drive home (the empty roads are a nice silver lining), eat the sandwich I nicked from the work fridge, shower, and collapse into bed just a bit past midnight.

Daily Total: $17.70

Day 3

9:30am: Another day on afternoon shift. I wake up and listen to the soothing rain sounds outside.

10:26am: I finally emerge from my cosy bed to my cat screaming at me. I give her some scratches, make a coffee, and settle down to read my book.

11:17am: I head to the gym, this time to lift some weights. It’s still raining, but it’s not too cold…it’s quite nice, actually.

12:16pm: I browse my phone between sets. I find a gorgeous pearlescent glass mug. It’s $34 from T2. I consider impulse-buying it, but decide to sit on it for a day or two.

12:23pm: I start cooking up a spring vegetable minestra. It’ll be my lunch and my husband’s dinner for the next two days. It’s not a traditional Italian minestra; rather, this recipe I found adds arborio rice, so it’s more of a soupy risotto. I shower quickly while it simmers, then take a breather and eat the minestra (it’s delicious) before I head off to work. Meanwhile, my husband is at the office. Thursday is a bit of a social day at his workplace, so he heads out with his coworkers for a burger and fries ($20).

2:45pm: The workday starts off chill with a teaching session. This week’s lecture is on obstetric emergencies. Not my cup of tea, but still important to know about (I tell myself as I sip on a cup of instant coffee made in the work tearoom).

7:12pm: My husband grabs a few essentials on the way home from work. Thank goodness one of us works regular hours. Shaving cream from Lush for him ($16), double-sided tape for my journaling ($5.45), and milk and frozen peas for the fridge ($9.20).

11:17pm: I finish work. No dinner break today because it’s been a busy one, but I’m not too upset because that time was spent doing a femoral nerve block instead (that’s where you inject local anaesthetic around a nerve, with the help of an ultrasound, to numb the pain. In this case, it was used for a poor 91-year-old granny with a broken hip). I’ve only done one of these before, so I was pretty chuffed when I got it right. At any rate, she was having a good snooze both during and after the procedure, so I can only assume she’s pretty comfy.

12:12: I’m fed, watered, showered, and in bed within an hour of finishing work — not bad at all!

Daily Total: $50.65

Read the rest on Refinery29 Australia here.

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