finance

What My Salary Gets Me: A single mum-of-two on $68,000 a year, in the Christmas season.

Mamamia’s What My Salary Gets Me asks Australians to record a week in their financial lives. Kind of like a sex diary but with money. So not like a sex diary at all. We still find out the best-kept secrets though. We discover what women are really spending their hard-earned cash on. Nothing is too outrageous or too sacred. This week, a 37-year-old single mother-of-two from Brisbane, QLD, shares her story. 

Age: 37

Occupation: Public servant (on a contract)

Annual earnings: Around $61,548 after tax (plus approximately $7,000 in Family Tax Benefits)

Housing: New homeowner in the (very) outer suburbs of Brisbane

Child support: $0

Monthly Expenses:

Housing (mortgage + strata fees + council rates + home and contents insurance): $1546

Utilities (electricity + gas + water): $300

School costs (school fees + excursions + uniforms + stationery for one high school child and one primary school child): $500

Transport: Car (petrol + insurance + rego + maintenance) and public transport: $245

Mobile phones (mine and daughter’s): $43

Internet: $69

Streaming services: Around $40 (we got a bit overexcited)

After-school activities: $60

Groceries: $440 (this covers our meals – we rarely go out to eat)

Regular charitable donations: Working on it. Most of my giving is currently done on an ad hoc basis.

Savings: $12,000

Debt: HECS – Around $20,000

Assets: Home ($380,000 – have paid off half) and car (own outright – approximate value of $7,000)

WATCH: Simple budgeting with a banana. Post continues below.

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I recently wrote an article based on my previous salary. I’ve since gotten a new job in which I earn a significant amount more. However, the upcoming Christmas season and school holidays are conspiring to chew up any additional money I’m making at the moment. It also doesn’t help that I just caught a glimpse of my children’s Christmas wish lists and there is not a single item under $100. It makes me yearn for their younger days when they didn’t know any better.

On top of that, I have a slew of random guests who might be visiting over Christmas and New Year. I’m not used to this level of hosting, so I want to prepare early for once. Here goes…

Sunday – Day One

Grocery shopping day. I keep an eye out for non-perishable goods to stock up on over the holiday season. I spot some half-price frozen prawns, Toblerone and Spam. They’re Christmassy, right? I also grab some cheap snack-y items such as cheese, crackers, and dip, and my daughter finds some gifts for her class Kris Kringle.

To celebrate such excellent forward-planning skills, I treat myself to ageing cheesecake from the reduced-price section that HAS to be eaten in the next two days. The kids don’t like cheesecake so I’ll, unfortunately, have to eat it all myself. Tee hee.

Daily total: $51.50 (additional to normal grocery expenditure)

Monday – Day Two

In the office, there’s talk about our own Kris Kringle with a $15 limit. This makes me a bit nervous as I don’t really know anyone that well yet. We are also reminded that the payment for next week’s Christmas party is due soon. Because I’m still ‘on probation’ and pretending to be an organised and considerate human being, I decide to cough up the cash immediately ($20).

The danger of working in an office near lots of food outlets is working in an office near lots of food outlets. Despite my attempts to be disciplined and bring food from home, I’ve forgotten today and have to go out and find some lunch. I treat myself to a fancy poke bowl ($13.95).

At dinner time, as I start cooking up the chicken I bought from the supermarket last night, I notice that there’s a strong whiff of ammonia. Arrgh, the chicken has gone off. Yuck! What to do?

Despite having made sketchy food decisions in the past, I decide that the price of the whole family being ill is too high for a single parent who gets paid by the hour, so I grab the nearest 10-foot pole, collect a few ammonia chicken pieces for evidence and head to the supermarket to try get a refund. Thankfully it is a success, plus I get a fresh batch of chicken on top of the refund.

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Daily total: $33.95 (minus the Ammonia Chicken refund, $6.70)

Tuesday – Day Three

The danger of working in an office close to lots of shops is working in an office close to lots of shops. For my lunch break, I head into the nearby shopping complex to have a wander. It’s not long before I’m approached by a muscular hunk with a thick European accent.

“Excuse me, Miss,” he purrs sexily. “Has anyone told you that you have smooth and lovely skin?”

My smooth and lovely skin flushes with pleasure. Wow! I’m having a real-life Sex and the City moment! A meet-cute that doesn’t involve copious amounts of alcohol, dim lighting or a sketchy dating app.

Wait, Euro Hunk is still talking. “… and the minerals from the Dead Sea act as a natural cleanser and exfoliant for… makes the perfect Christmas gift for a loved one or even yourself…. ”

Ohhhh. It dawns on me that I’ve run into a Christmas sales trap. I nod politely for another few seconds while trying to formulate a clever exit strategy.

“Um sorry, I have to go, my auntie needs me,” I mumble elegantly. Nailed it! As I rush towards my fictional relative, I hear him start to praise someone else for having smooth and lovely skin. It’s an 85-year-old woman.

Continuing towards Aunt Dorothy (yes, I gave her a name), it’s not long before I get accosted once again.

“Excuse me, Miss. Miss!”

Another looker with a hot accent. I must mention at this point that I almost never get called Miss. Yes, despite my “smooth and lovely” skin, I’ve been a Ma’am for the past 20 years. Is this a buttering-up sales tactic?

I prepare the Aunt Dorothy defence until I realise that the guy is collecting for a charity. I offer to make a one-off donation but he cannot accept anything less than regular monthly payments. Not prepared to make such a commitment on the spot, I decline while feeling horribly guilty.

I still haven’t reached poor fake Aunt Dot when yet another flirty man comes up to me. This one is promoting a calendar to raise funds for a Christmas appeal. Phew, that’s an easy one! Without a second thought, I hand over $10 in cash and continue on my merry way.

I give my remaining coins ($3.65) to a busker who is singing an off-tune but enthusiastic rendition of Hotel California. It goes a tiny way to assuage my guilt.

Later that night, I realise that I have somehow misplaced the calendar. Damn… And it definitely had topless men in it too. Firemen, or flirty men of the Dead Sea, or something.

Daily total: $13.65 (plus the emotional cost of losing the topless dudes calendar)

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Wednesday – Day Four

One of the kids is sick and I have to stay home. I wish I could take a proper day off but I’m a working single parent who needs to preserve as much leave as possible for the upcoming school holidays. I decide to work from home so I can still claim some hours. Flexible working options are the best!

Or not. Without the threat of a boss looking over one’s shoulders, one might end up spending way too much time and money online shopping ($147.84). But hey, at least I got a decent amount of Christmas present shopping out of the way!

I head over to the library in the evening to borrow a book I need to read for Book Club, only to discover that my card is blocked because of outstanding fines. I briefly ponder whether it’s worth paying the fine ($7.20) or just buying the book outright. I decide on the former as I will want to borrow things again in the future.

My wallet hates me.

Daily total: $155.04

Thursday – Day Five

In the morning, I notice that the school lunches I’d pre-prepared for the kids have sprouted with mould overnight. EEP! I throw $5 at my daughter so she can buy lunch at school. Unfortunately, I can’t do the same for my son as his school canteen isn’t open today. We quickly duck into a servo on the way to school and buy a pre-made sandwich for him ($5) and an Emotional Support Muffin for me ($3).

Daily total: $13

Friday – Day Six

Christmas party tonight with my old workplace (the one for my current office is not until next week).

I go to the local op shop to see if I can find some accessories to jazz up my outfit. Instead, I end up with a white Christmas tree, a huge stuffed reindeer, and a rare (I assume) documentary on rhinos I just know my friend would love ($15).

At the party, I eat, drink and dance up a storm, all courtesy of my former boss. The only money I spend that night is in using public transport to get home, for which I spend $5.33, or possibly $5,324,485,987 because I can’t remember if I touched off my travel card at the end of the journey. Blame the alcohol.

Daily total: $15, plus at least $5.33 on the travel card

Saturday – Day Seven

Ugh, wake up feeling a tad under the weather. The kids ask how they can earn some money to buy me Christmas presents, and I tell them there’s no time like the present (hehe get it?) and set them to task with a bunch of chores that will slowly earn them money. They get $15 each for today’s chores, and I get to stay in bed a bit longer. Win win!

My gorgeous friend, who stayed over and babysat last night, is treated to brunch as a token of my appreciation. The fact that I’m unable to tolerate anything more flavoursome than cold water and hot chips keeps the total bill down ($38.85).

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In the evening, we head into Kmart to buy a red shirt for my son’s upcoming school Christmas musical. We come out $48 poorer with a sleeping bag and extra pillows (for our maybe-guests over Christmas), as well as a llama candle holder, a huge green palm leaf placemat/giant mousepad thing and other random knickknacks (because why not?). Hopefully, there was a red shirt somewhere in there too.

The supermarket has some special promotions on shortbread as well as boxes of chocolate that would be perfect for emergency gifts. I also grab some half-price bottles of wine from the bottle shop. Wow, this Christmas/New Year’s lunch/dinner thing that I may/may not be hosting is going to be legendary!

Daily total: $153.45

Weekly Total: $434.22

Reflection:

This year, I’ve started Christmas preparations far earlier than usual. I’ve done a fair bit of Christmas shopping but there are a few more presents to finish up. I tend to spend about $100-$200 each on the kids which is fine as I don’t have any other littlies to buy gifts for, nor do I have in-laws to think about – one of the unexpected perks of single parenting.

There are also a few close friends I will give presents to (about $50 each) and something a bit smaller for anyone who comes around to visit.

As for the possible Christmas/New Year hosting duties, I’m not too worried about the food aspect. Most of the basics have been covered so all I’ll really need to do is top up on fresh food closer to the day. Whoever shows up will probably also contribute some food/cooking skills.

School is winding down so there are the usual end-of-year plays, Kris Kringles, teachers’ gifts and other things to think about.

There are also charity initiatives that the schools are running at this time of year such as food donations and wishing tree presents for underprivileged families, which I think are great and may also convince my kids to whittle down their own ambitious Christmas lists (one can only hope).

My biggest expenditure concern around this time is not so much Christmas but the upcoming school holidays. The kids don’t want to do vacation care which is kind of a relief given that my increased income will make it more expensive now. However, balancing working from home, taking some time off (for which I won’t get paid as a contractor) and keeping the kids entertained will not come cheap.

To keep costs down, we will take advantage of free entertainment around town – Christmas carols, trawling for Christmas lights, free outdoor movies and the like.

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Wish me luck and see you on the other side!

Please note: The feature image used is a stock photo, from Getty.

Mamamia’s What My Salary Gets Me series drops every Thursday. Want to share a week in the life of your bank account with us (anonymously of course, no judgement here)? Send us your Money Diary to [email protected]

For more What My Salary Gets Me:

What My Salary Gets Me: A 29-year-old business analyst with a $100,000 salary.

What My Salary Gets Me: A 22-year-old disability worker who spends $1117.75 on pay day alone.

What My Salary Gets Me: A 24-year-old accountant on $70,000 a year, who spends $1500 a month on rent.

What My Salary Gets Me: A 29-year-old on $108,000 a year, with $455,000 in savings.

What My Salary Gets Me: The 36-year-old project manager who spent $3,795 in one week.

What My Salary Gets Me: A Sales Director on $120,000 a year, who refuses to cook.

What My Salary Gets Me: A 34-year-old on $21,400 a year, who has hardly any daily expenses.

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