When I first moved out of home, everything was about budgeting. I moved into a damp, mould-ridden terrace with three friends – one of whom lived in an attic space with no door. Yes, we really charged rent for a doorless attic.

The bedroom walls weren’t sealed properly, so when it rained the entire house turned misty. The kitchen was a glorified outdoor patio with PVC roofing and plasterboard walls. It was cheap and (not so) cheerful.

Our thrifty attitude extended to how we filled the home. We bought generic brands, we stretched detergents by adding water, we sourced our furniture for free on Gumtree.

I’ve moved three times since then, slowly upgrading my living quarters in small ways. Bed linen from Bed Bath N’ Table instead of Kmart (which has, in fairness, lifted its bedding game since 2010). A Le Creuset casserole dish. A TV from a brand that isn’t Palsonic.

Still, for a long time I was pretty frugal when it came to the supermarket. I just didn’t care what canned tomatoes I was using for my spag bol or which handwash lived in my bathroom.

But along the way, something changed. Imperceptibly so. One day I looked around my bedroom and realised I’d actually put thought into the aesthetic – and I also realised I’d become more considered about what I bought for my house.

If I analyse this behaviour, I’d say it came with age. As I approached my thirties, I reached a point where grabbing the cleanskin wine at the bottle-o was no longer the norm. I actually started caring about well-made furniture and what hung on the walls of my apartment. Basically, I’d joined the “finer things in life” club.

At first I thought this was just about privilege. But I don’t think it’s simply about how much money you’re spending, or spending more – it’s about the fact that you’re suddenly budgeting for things you once didn’t care about. When I was in the grotty share house, I wanted to throw my money into all-nighters and an array of spangly tops for said all-nighters – and budgeted accordingly by getting the flimsy toilet paper that disintegrated whenever shower water hit it.

But there’s buying a $20 bottle of wine instead of the $8 one on the bottom shelf, and then there’s upgrading to the “good” handwash. I reckon the telling sign you’ve moved into adulthood is choosing the nice handwash over whatever’s on sale.

It doesn’t matter if fancy to you is a pretty $6 bottle at the supermarket or a $39 Aesop investment instead of the $2 cheapie – the moment you decide you simply can’t wash your hands with just any old soap is, in my opinion, the sign you’ve crossed the threshold into adulthood.

For me, the sober gateway drug was Thankyou handwash. There was a moment last year where I selected the more aesthetically pleasing bottle, regardless of what else was half-price at the supermarket. I’m still not at the financial level where investing in Aesop on the regular is budget-friendly, so this is the next best thing, I feel.

There’s a bit of sadness that comes with this realisation. Getting old has its pros and cons, and I’m already weirdly nostalgic for my frugal twenties. My home may be my comforting nest these days – as opposed to somewhere to store my stuff when I’m not out partying – but there was something special about eating rice and tuna for dinner with your equally budget-conscious housemates so you’d have enough cash for Jagerbombs that night.

Still, I can’t say I miss that fake-apple scent – especially during a pandemic.