A Week In Auckland, New Zealand On A $54,000 Salary

Refinery29
·19 min read

Welcome to Money Diaries where we are tackling the ever-present taboo that is money. We’re asking real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.

Today: an engineer who makes $54,000 per year and spends some of her money on 0% beer.

Editor’s Note: All currency has been converted to USD.

Occupation: Engineer
Industry: IT
Age: 26
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Salary: $54,000
Net Worth: $24,000 ($18,000 in retirement, $2,0500 in savings, $1,650 in passive share funds, minus debt. My boyfriend (henceforth C.) and I have a joint account that we use to pay for rent/bills/groceries/shared entertainment, but otherwise have separate finances.)
Debt: ~$16,000 student loan, nothing else.
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $2,898
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $717 (C. and I rent a one-bedroom apartment)
Student Loan: $381 (this comes out with tax, not from my take-home pay)
Power: ~$35 (my half) in summer, ~$70 in winter
Water: ~$14 (my half)
Internet with Prime Video: $30.60 (my half)
Contents Insurance: $13.35 (my half)
Kiwisaver: $223.20 (this is NZ’s retirement savings program, and also comes out with tax)
Health/Life Insurance: $0 (work pays)
Cell Phone: $11.52
Subscriptions: $36 (Netflix, Living Big In A Tiny House Patreon, two NZ newspapers/magazines, and an online text browser game)
Donations: $32 (split between Amnesty International and Auckland City Mission)
Spotify Premium: $0 (parents’ family plan)
Savings: I dump $792 in my savings account when I get paid (this is a round number in NZD) and will feed in smaller amounts through the month if I’m running under budget.

Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
It was always expected that I would go to university. Both of my parents went, I did very well in school, and everyone around me treated it as a foregone conclusion. I did go, but I’ve wondered since whether taking a gap year might have been better in the long run, because I dropped out of the course I started after two years and wasted a lot of money. I did graduate two and a half years after that, but with a different degree. I took out student loans for courses and textbooks and was able to live at home almost all the way through, and I worked part-time most years.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I don’t remember many conversations about money directly, but my mum was much more frugal than my dad, and sometimes when we went to the supermarket she would ask us to work out which brand was the cheapest by weight or unit. I do remember as a teenager my parents would try to convince me to be better with my money and not spend it all at once. I was quite bad with money right up until I started working full-time. Most of the conversations we’ve had about money have been since I became an adult.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
A paper run when I was 11 with my brother for extra pocket money; I think my mum encouraged us to get it. After that, I had a couple of one-off jobs in high school and my first proper part-time job was at a café.

Did you worry about money growing up?
My parents were poor when I was very young, but in all honesty, they’ve been quite well-off for as long as I can remember. I never really worried about not having money.

Do you worry about money now?
I don’t worry about food or housing, and our jobs are stable. However, we’re deciding whether to try to buy a house when our lease is up and I worry about what we can afford and how fast house prices are rising. We don’t quite have a 20% deposit between us, which is what we would need to avoid paying for things like valuations and mortgage insurance in the buying process — for context, the median house price in Auckland is about $720,000, ie. $1 million NZD, and the median house price in the country went up 20% last year.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I moved out of my childhood home in my last semester of university. I borrowed a few hundred dollars from my parents just before I finished a few months later. I paid them back as soon as I got my first full-time paycheck at 22. I did stay with my parents for six weeks during our first lockdown in early 2020, but that was by choice, and I was still working and paying rent and bills for my old apartment. I have enough savings now to cover any emergencies, but if things were really bad, my boyfriend or my parents would probably be able to help.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My parents paid me for part of my university fees (~$6,500) a couple of years ago as part of an agreement we had about paying for university; student loans are interest-free here, so I’ve saved that rather than putting it straight on the loan. They also sent me $1,080 when I last moved because my brother was moving at the same time and was broke and they didn’t want to give him money but not me.

Day One

7 a.m. — Monday is my scheduled day at work, so I get up as soon as my alarm goes off. I have a quick shower and am out the door 25 minutes later. I used to have a 90-minute commute to work so I cut down the getting-up-to-leaving-the-house time to as short as possible, and I’ve managed to keep that habit since. We don’t have any community COVID cases in the country at the moment, but we do need to wear face masks on public transport. The fare is $1.44, but I topped up my bus card yesterday.

7:30 a.m. — The first thing I normally do at work is check my emails, but I don’t have any important ones, so I go down to the café in our building for a flat white. I brought a banana from home and I have that and the coffee for breakfast. I’m trying to steer away from also buying breakfast on the days I come into work. Hopefully, my bank account will appreciate me in the long run. $3.24

12 p.m. — Lunchtime! I brought leftovers from last night into work with me, so lunch would be free… except that I buy a Coke Zero and a packet of chips from the vending machine to go with it. Whoops. The vending machine and I have a long-standing relationship. $2.52

4 p.m. — It’s home time, and I get the bus back again. I have a few cans of 0% Heineken left and I open up one of those when I get home. I’ve stopped drinking quite recently, after a few too many incidents under the influence and general overconsumption. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it seems relevant that I’ve recently quit. I also take my multivitamins while I remember. One’s just a general multivitamin and the other is an iron tablet, which I’ve been taking because the blood service told me my iron levels were too low last time I showed up and banned me from donating for six months.

7 p.m. — Dinnertime. C. is cooking what we have left in the fridge and freezer (which today is lamb steaks with oven fries and frozen mixed vegetables). Someone will need to go to the supermarket tomorrow. After, we watch some Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Netflix. I watch a little YouTube, browse a little Reddit, and am in bed by 10.

Daily Total: $5.76

Day Two

7:45 a.m. — Today we’re both working from home. Our apartment’s quite small — C. has his setup in the lounge and mine is in our bedroom. I generally try to start at 7:30 but I’m late this morning, so I log in, check my emails, and try to finish off what I started yesterday before our morning meeting. I have my usual coffee and banana.

12 p.m. — It’s time for my lunch break and I feel like getting some sunshine, so I go to the shops. I get chicken, mince, sausages, broccoli, onions, soy sauce, frozen dumplings, a couple of microwave meals, cereal, sugarfree L&P (this is an NZ thing, sort of an extra lemony lemonade), a bottle of switchel for me to have when I get home, and a six-pack of 0% wheat beer. The total comes to $56.92 and I use the joint account card to pay. When I get back, I realize I don’t actually feel like cooking any of what I bought, and realistically, my lunch break should be over anyway, so I microwave a tin of tomato soup from the pantry for lunch. $28.46

6 p.m. — Neither of us feels like cooking and I need to stay near my computer for work, so C. is the one who goes out to pick up our Pizza Hut. This is $27.69 and goes on the joint card. $13.84

8:30 p.m. — I kill time catching up on my YouTube subscriptions waiting for one last work assignment. After that, I wind down with more YouTube. C. is playing League of Legends with some friends. Everyone’s in bed before 11, but I have trouble getting to sleep so I play some Fallen London for a while (the aforementioned text browser game in my expenses).

Daily Total: $42.30

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — We’re both working from home again today. Shower, banana, and a Nespresso, and then another Nespresso about an hour later. We do take all the empty capsules in to be recycled, just to be clear.

9:15 a.m. — I emailed the people at work that deal with our health insurance a few days ago because it looked like they had me on the wrong plan, and I get an email back letting me know that I’m right and they’ll fix it ASAP.

12:30 p.m. — We watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine on our lunch break. I’m not too hungry but I should probably eat at this stage, so I have some cherries (it’s cherry season here; I got a big box last week) and cheese and crackers for lunch.

3:30 p.m. — Work is slow, so I browse through the shopping folder in my bookmarks. When I like the look of something online, I bookmark it and every so often I go through and see what I still want and what I don’t want anymore. There’s a PS4 game I bookmarked a while back that’s in stock now (Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition) and someone is selling a second-hand copy on the website’s marketplace on the cheap, so I buy it. The game plus shipping is $21.60. $21.60

6.30 p.m. — I decide I should probably cook since I haven’t this week, so I make a pasta bake with frozen mixed vegetables, chicken, garlic, onion, and pasta sauce from a jar. (I can cook, and I sometimes like the idea of cooking, and I watch a lot of Binging with Babish on YouTube, but I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly talented or enthusiastic about it.) We watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine again; we’re up to season 4 now. I’m not really on board with Jake’s frosted tips.

8:30 p.m. — I’ve been trying to get back into writing for fun recently and I’m in the middle of that when I realize I haven’t left the house today. Oops. I did this quite a bit when we were in lockdown and everywhere was closed, but the last time this happened was in August and since then I try to go out at least for a bit of a walk once a day. Working from home four days a week makes it quite easy to forget to go out.

Daily Total: $21.60

Day Four

7:45 a.m. — I’m late starting work again — shower, banana, Nespresso, second Nespresso, the usual deal. I check my bank accounts and see my Kiwisaver contributions have come in. You can use your Kiwisaver money either when you turn 65 or to buy a house, and barring some kind of lottery win from the lotteries that I don’t enter, I’ll be using what I have in it now for a house, so every deposit is a welcome sight at this stage. Today is C.’s day in the office, and he heads off around 8, but he expects to be back after his morning meeting.

12 p.m. — The weather’s been very bad for summer — rain and clouds and generally overcast — but I resolve to at least leave the apartment when I finish work anyway. I microwave some of the leftover pasta for lunch. C. sends a message that he’s going to spend the rest of the day in the office.

4:30 p.m. — It’s the end of work, so I go out again… all the way to the supermarket. I’ve had all the 0% wheat beer, so I pick up more. Some people obviously don’t like the idea of 0% beer, and I realize that for some people who don’t drink, it reminds them too much of normal beer to be comfortable with it; but personally, I’m coming around to it. It’s cold, tastes… mostly like beer, and doesn’t give you morning-after guilt or crippling hangovers. The total is $5.03 and I put it on my card since C. won’t have any. $5.03

7 p.m. — C. cooks up some sausages with boiled potato and (non-frozen!) broccoli. We watch more Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

9 p.m. — C.’s working on his game (this is a hobby of his); at the moment I think he’s playing around with the mechanics on a battle screen. I try to do some writing, but I don’t find myself very motivated for it. I find it quite difficult sometimes to be productive on workdays other than, you know, actually working. On the plus side, I’m tired today, so I’m in bed and pretty much asleep by 9:30.

Daily Total: $5.03

Day Five

7:30 a.m. — I get up on time today, maybe because it’s Friday. I have my shower. I also have my banana and Nespresso and its friend the follow-up Nespresso.

12 p.m. — I ask C. if he wants to go out for lunch, and he’s keen. There are quite a few cafes, takeaways, and restaurants around where we live and we go to our favorite; it’s difficult to get a seat on the weekend, but during the week, we manage fine. He gets a cajun chicken wrap and a coffee. I get a bacon and egg bun and a cola. The total is $19.08 and we put it on the joint card. $9.54

4 p.m. — I’m hungry and a little bored so I go to the supermarket, again. If there’s a downside to the supermarket being a five minutes walk away, this is it. I get a quick-cook container of pasta and sauce, another bottle of L&P, and ice-cream for C. It comes to $14.96 and goes on the joint card. $7.48

6:30 p.m. — We still have leftovers, so C. has the leftover pasta and I have the leftover sausages. We’ll go out for dinner on Fridays sometimes, but we already went out for lunch. We also live a bit too far away from most of our friends to see them in person that often. So we watch some Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and then I watch some YouTube. I follow a lot of channels, but today I watch a few videos about people living in tiny houses. I probably wouldn’t live in one myself, but it’s really cool watching all the stuff they can fit into such a small space and how it opens new opportunities for their lives. We go to bed around 10.

Daily Total: $17.02

Day Six

8 a.m. — C. does a weekly organized run on Saturdays and usually has breakfast with a friend afterward, so I have a bit of a sleep-in. Sometimes I’ll go out for breakfast, but today, I’m not feeling it. I cook the pasta from yesterday, which is… a bit weird, I know. It’s good though, and I figure going out would have been more expensive. I have my usual Nespresso. C. comes back around 10 and shows me some pictures of him making faces at the camera that were taken on the run. He also stopped by the Dutch shop on the way back and picked up some cheese and licorice, which was $13.68 and put on the joint card. $6.84

12 p.m. — We need to pick up a few things, so we head out to the local mall in C.’s car. We have McDonald’s for lunch — he gets a double cheeseburger, McNuggets, and a small Sprite, and I get a Big Mac and upgrade his cheeseburger to a combo so I can eat the fries. The total comes to $15.70, which goes on the joint card. $7.85

12:30 p.m. — We stop by one store to pick up something for C. which goes on his personal card. At the second store, we pick up chopsticks, metal straws, a serving spoon, and a little net dome cover to put over the planters on our balcony and keep out the sparrows who see us as a free lunch stop (we had to throw out some lettuce a while back because they were pecking so many holes in it). That comes to $50.98 and again goes on the joint card. $25.49

6:30 p.m. — We get home and microwave a couple of freezer meals — today’s meals are not high on nutritional content. C. has another run tomorrow so he goes to bed early, and I stay up on the PS4 and go to bed around 11.

Daily Total: $40.18

Day Seven

8 a.m. — C. is off on his run this morning (he does a few running events a year that cost money to enter, but he gets a finisher’s medal and free gear and so on), so I’m on my own again. I drink two Nespresso coffees and eat the usual banana. He comes back around 10 with his new medal.

11:30 a.m. — We go to do our weekly shop. We got out of the habit of doing this during lockdown as only one of us was allowed to go to the shop at a time and we can comfortably carry about half a week of groceries by hand. Grocery spending is our main splurge category — if we ever needed to budget more, we would do it from there. We get bananas, garlic, red onion, mushrooms, lettuce, hot smoked salmon, a little pot of mussels for C., sausages, steak, rice, a couple of spice packets, ice cream, more 0% beer for me, and some 2% beer of a type I don’t like for C., a couple of quick-cook pasta sachets for lunches, and tea. The total is $116.14 and goes on the joint card. $58.07

3 p.m. — One of the big national papers is reporting a community case of COVID. We haven’t had one in two months, although a lot of people are arriving back in the country and then testing positive in quarantine. Apparently, it was someone who came out of quarantine a few days ago, so hopefully, they haven’t spread it to anyone and the transmission chain will end with them. It sounds like they were logging all the locations they visited in the COVID tracer app, which is great since contacts can be traced more easily.

6 p.m. — Nothing more on the case; we’ll probably hear tomorrow. I cook up some burrito-like wraps, ie. mince with taco seasoning, wraps, cheese, lettuce, and various sauces. It’s another day in the office tomorrow, so I gather up everything I need and wind down with a bit more YouTube. I wouldn’t say I’ve exactly extended myself this week, but I also haven’t had anything to drink, so I’ll take it. We go to bed around 10.

Daily Total: $58.07

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