Hopefully Helpful Advice

In this week's advice column: Help, my parents are boring me! And: I'm in a lot of debt, but want to keep studying. Should I?

Dear Gender Neutral Person-X,

My parents recently bought and started renovating a new house, which is a total shithole. Now all they ever talk about when I ring them up is replacing kitchens or finding asbestos in the bathroom tiles. It’s soooo boring. 

To make matters worse, they complain about how much it’s costing them and how much work it is, as if they didn’t realise what they were in for! I try and listen patiently but I usually end up snapping at them, which then leads to the inevitable deluge of guilt that comes from being a privileged and (sometimes) obnoxious youngest child.

Please help me be nicer to my parents, even if they are really boring and whingey and never show any interest in things that I like.  


Cindy Brady Had It Easy

Cindy sure did have it easy! Those pigtails! Being perennially “the cute one”. As an oldest child I despise my younger sibling for the mere fact of being the young, cute one. So I hate you too, CBHIE!

No, I don’t. But seriously, suck this up.

Do you know what lengths older siblings go to in order to make sure you guys don’t have to do anything difficult in the family unit, ever? We blaze your trails! You get to reap the benefit of our toiling in the seasons of sorrow and drought! There was probably no objection when you wanted to get your nose pierced in Year 9 (in fact you just came home with it, and I guess, fine, DO WHATEVER YOU WANT AND NOONE SAID ANYTHING), largely thanks to the time that we got our eyebrow pierced (it was the style back then) at fifteen and our parents had a fit that they didn’t come down from for about three weeks. But you? Whatever! You’re fine! You come home drunk and everyone is all like, “LOL, you are so cute look at you, you little drunk baby,” which is only because of the time that the police had to bring us home in their car we were so obliterated, and then anything that happened after then to anyone, ever, was NO BIG DEAL AT LEAST THE POLICE WEREN’T INVOLVED.

So here’s what you do, you little drunk baby (it’s 4pm as I write this, I’m just assuming): you will spend some time looking at Pinterest boards and reading interior design blogs and watching seventeen episodes in a row of Grand Designs and then you will be able to out-bore your parents with your incredible bank of renovation knowledge. They will not cope with being out-specified on things like “appliqué”, and “fused glass” and “lintels”. You could start emailing them lots of pictures of taps. Or designer door handles. Or these things. Along with these emails you could attach other things that you are interested in, like this fun video, and then talk to them about that (please attach things you are actually interested in for this to work.)

Then actually, you might love it! Having something to talk to your parents about that excites them enough to talk to you on the phone about and seek your opinion on (even if they are complainy. They’re old, they can’t help it) is a lovely thing. Yes, they are worried about what it’s costing, but that house will probably be at least partially yours one day, and in any case, are you crazy? They love you. Let them talk your ear off about Spakfilla and cornices. Even though you are the youngest, you too will be old one day and wanting to talk to your own children about the house you are renovating even though you are just a floating head in a jar. The future! Can’t we all hardly wait to be there?

Everyone, call your parents.



Dear Gender-Neutral Milk Hotel-X

I’m in a pickle. I’m in close-to-severe debt due to credit cards and loans I’ve taken out, both with banks and with friends. Now I’m working full time, completing cash-in-hand tasks here and there, struggling to keep up with the daily grind whilst also putting whatever spare change I can muster towards paying these debts off. It’s been my priority for the last year and a half, but I feel like no progress has been made at all. 

To complicate matters, I’ve finally made a decision about what I want to do for the rest of my life, and it requires a good three years of tertiary education. I’d love to jump into study as soon as I can, but that would mean having even less money to put towards my debt (at least until my studies conclude), and the added stress of HECS on top.

Money bums me out, the future freaks me out. What should I do? Forgo my dreams temporarily until I’m debt free? Or just throw caution to the wind and put it all aside to pursue a passion?

Anonymously yours,

Poor Bugger

Dear Pool Booger,

Okay. First of all, it’s great that you are taking responsibility for your debts. It might not feel like you are actually getting anywhere with paying them, which we’ll get to in a minute, but the important thing is that you are paying them and committed to doing so. Good job.

Now, let’s get to the nature of HECS and university debts and the like. You haven’t said exactly what you want to be studying, so we are going to have to work in the realm of hypotheticals a bit.

If, as you say, what you want to do with your life requires three years of tertiary study, at the end of which you will find definite vocational employment in your chosen field, then you should absolutely apply for your course and, if you are accepted, then HECS that mother up. Your payments are deferred until you are earning a certain amount, once you have graduated. You can look them up here. There is a more detailed plan for dealing with HECS debts here.

But before you do this, you have to be completely sure that there is no other way for you to get to where you want to be. If you want to be a social worker, or an accountant or an architect or a lawyer or dentist or doctor, for example, there is no way other than many years of tertiary study and hard work.

But if what you want to do falls under the much more nebulous rubric of “the arts”, then it’s more than likely that you don’t need to study anything in order to make a path for yourself there. What you do need to do is think seriously about: why would I study? If it’s an industry like journalism, now is not the time to be spending a tonne of money (even if it is deferred payment) on studying for a vocation that is basically not hiring anyone and is in the grips of a fiscal crisis it has never known before.

If you are studying only for the pure joy of learning, then that is something great, too. But there is also an entire world of free educational tools available to us now that have never been available before, which could be the kind of thing you’d prefer if you’re more into self-directed learning.

Tl;dr: In the long run of your life, you can afford to accrue a HECS debt in the services of the career you want to pursue, if the cost-benefit analysis works in your favour. Once you are earning a real salary, the deductions taken for your HECS are really quite manageable. So don’t let future financial stressors that actually might never occur affect your long-term plans.

Now, your debts. I wish I knew where you were writing from. You say you’re struggling with the day-to-day, which makes me think you live in a city. Being an Australian city, it will be by nature unconscionably expensive. So this is tough in itself. It sounds like you will have already done the sensible budgeting thing and worked out exactly what you have left over after rent, bills, and then each of your debts. Where possible, have your payments for all those things direct debited from your account, especially if you feel like you sometimes can’t trust yourself to pay them. That will be harsh, but you will know exactly what you have left over. Then you need to think if you can do without other things, like a car. If you don’t need a car for work, ditch that money pit for now.

I wish I had better news. What you’re doing is really, really hard. It’s really hard to try and make it in a city and do what you want to do for a job. Thanks so much, late-stage capitalism. Here are a couple of other things you can consider doing:

  1. If you are someone lucky enough to have a good relationship with your parents, maybe you could talk to them about the possibility of  living with them until you’re back on your feet. You will want to contribute to the house – the rent/mortgage, bills and food – but I’m guessing that will be a lot less than where you are now. If that’s something you can do, swallow your pride, thank Yeezus for your good family fortune, and emerge six-to-eight months later substantially out of debt.
  2. Go and see a financial planner (do this anyway, I reckon.) There could be options for consolidating your debts based on your particular situation. Seeing a financial planner in any case is a good idea for moving forward with the rest of your life: you want to get on top of your finances, and a professional can help you do that.
  3. You could move out of the city. This is only applicable if your work is portable. This might seem insane, because when you’re young you feel like you might literally die if you aren’t three minutes from your local watering hole. But you won’t. It could give you a lot of financial wriggle room if your expenses were significantly slashed by moving to a regional area. Ideally you should not ever be paying more than a third of your income on rent, wherever you are.

Lastly, prioritise which loans have to be paid first and arrange to defer the other ones. Talk to your friends as honestly as you can about what’s happening, and see if there’s an option to pay them back a little less quickly. But let them know about all your repayments, so they know you aren’t trying to get out of paying them back – which you aren’t! They might be more understanding when they know you also have a lot of debts that will accrue interest if you don’t pay them off first.

Now, try and relax a little tiny bit. Go look up which universities you are going to apply for, and find a financial planner to talk to about your options (this is one expense you can afford to prioritise).

You can do it,


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Gender-Neutral Person X lives… somewhere. And everywhere! Just like God, only more judgemental.