Money Diary: Working In Retail At Christmas

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking a cross-section of women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period – and we're tracking every last penny.

This week we're with a 25-year-old who works in fashion retail doing merchandising who is, after two years in London, just starting to save some cash. But with a work Christmas party at the busiest time of year for retail, will she be able to stay strict?

Industry: Merchandising, in fashion retail
Age: 25
Location: Living in Clapham, working in Camden
Salary: £22,585 plus annual bonus if company performance is up to scratch (currently 4%)
Paycheque amount: £950, though I actually end up with £1,450 (see 'other' below)
Number of housemates: 1 – just me and my boyfriend in our studio flat

Monthly Expenses

Housing costs: £512 on rent – my boyfriend and I split the £1,025 it costs us equally as we're on similar salaries. We flex this a little most months as he works in retail so his paycheque varies, but it's fairly relaxed.
Loan payments: £40 currently going towards my student loan. £400 down, £23k to go!
Utilities: £75 total for gym membership, council tax, electricity, water and internet. I like to think I'm a savvy utilities shopper (one of my more glamorous traits).
Transportation: £157 goes to my parents each month – they kindly pay for my car insurance and annual zone 1-2 travelcard upfront to save money, and I pay them back monthly.
Phone bill: £10
Savings? I add £150 a month and inevitably end up taking about £100 back out before payday. This means they're going up extremely slowly, though it's a novelty to have savings at all – for the first two years after I moved to London it definitely wasn't possible but a couple of small pay rises have helped.
Other? A few small charity donations to the Retired Greyhound Trust, Water Aid, the Epilepsy Society, Shelter and Dogs Trust. These are very handy; when I need to justify spending money on clothes and/or wine later in the month, I can go "Well I've done my bit for charity, time to treat myself now". I also pay £500 a month into my company's Share Save scheme – this comes directly out of my paycheque, hence why my monthly pay is so small compared to my salary, but it's replenished by my parents from some inheritance money they put aside for me. The shares money will hopefully contribute towards a house deposit in the future.

Day One

5.45am: Alarm goes off and I reevaluate all the decisions that I've made which have led to me getting up at 6am on a Saturday. I'm going to Manchester for the day to drink mulled cider and eat cheese at the Christmas markets with uni friends whom I haven't seen since we did the same thing last year, so I'm actually really excited. Briefly browse ASOS but the jumper I want is out of stock in everything but a size 6 (hahahahaha not going to happen): £20 saved.

8am: Stuck in the train station. My train was due to depart half an hour ago but in true British fashion, everything out of Euston has been delayed. Buy an overpriced bottle of water and almond croissant from Delice de France because I'm angry at National Rail and if you can't eat your feelings at the weekend, when can you? £4.65

10.10am: Arrive at Manchester, where I've arranged to meet the girls at Caffè Nero. Buy a flat white because it makes me feel alive. £2.60

12pm: Consume copious amounts of cheese samples, watch the others spend copious amounts of money purchasing said cheese. Buy a German sausage and share it, Lady and the Tramp-style, with my bestie, £1. Also spend £4.50 on a hot mulled cider because it's freezing oop north and now I've spent two years in London, my tolerance for the cold is apparently much lower. Slightly worried I'm losing my roots. £5.50

2pm: Highlight of the day: lunchtime. Head for wonderfully, disgustingly greasy burgers and fries, and a shared pitcher of gin and prosecco cocktail which tastes like sherbet (it's nice to relive your uni days now and again). We discuss boys and put the world to rights. Split the bill between us, £25 for meal and tip.

4pm: Time for some proper day drinking. Hit the first bar: Aperol spritz for £8.75. Annoyed that it's not happy hour yet.

5pm: Next bar: Some rosé-based cocktail which tastes suspiciously like Pimm's. Bit weird in December. Friend pays.

6pm: Next bar: 2-for-1 mojitos. £7.15. The North is ace, happy hour is ace and day drinking is ace.

10pm: Been on the train since 6.45pm. It's delayed by 48 minutes thanks to "some clown walking on the tracks" and I feel very sick. Decide I don't like day drinking anymore.

11pm: Arrive back in my flat, immediately collapse into bed. Remember I'm hungry so get up again. Quickly make some pasta with pesto, eat it, get back into bed.

Total: £53.65
Day Two

11.30am: Wake up. Accidentally-on-purpose elbow the boyfriend to wake him up; he immediately goes back to sleep. Waste half an hour playing Animal Crossing on my phone in bed. Wish I could live in Animal Crossing land where my biggest worry would be deciding which beach to go fishing in while I wait three hours for the next batch of cherries to grow on the tree.

12.30pm: Make myself lunch – I've been growing spring onions in a shot glass on my windowsill (closest thing to an allotment I can get right now), and they're looking excellent. I cut them up and put them in an omelette and am extremely proud of my green-fingered self (the orchid in the bathroom is not okay and the aloe vera in the bedroom looks sad, but we'll forget about them for now).

2pm: Last year, for Christmas, I made a selection of jams and chutneys for my mum and dad. This year they're low-carbing so I'm making spice rubs and seasoning for them, and today's the day I've blocked out to get my craft on. Head to Tesco, where I buy an obscene number of herbs and spices, and receive plenty of funny looks in the process. Spend £30.82 on everything from paprika to parsley.

3pm: Spend the rest of the afternoon sterilising jars, mixing spices and sneezing when pepper gets up my nose. It's all very therapeutic (minus the sneezing), 100% recommend for Christmas pressies.

7pm: Feel a bit down tonight so decide to shun the healthy dinner I was planning and make myself pancakes, because being an adult means you don't have to wait until Pancake Day. Use almond milk because it's all I have. The pancakes taste a bit funny, so I check the date and it's embarrassingly far in the past. Continue to eat them anyway. Fall down a Netflix rabbit hole and spend a long time pondering whether I'd rather marry Jughead or Archie from Riverdale.

10pm: Do a face mask to make me feel like I have my shit together. Go to bed at a reasonable hour, for probably the first and last time in 2017.

Total: £30.82
Day Three

9.30am: Get to work at 9.15 after the most hellish Tube journey. I only live in zone 2, but at 8am it feels as though the entire population of England lives there with me and really wants to get in my Tube carriage. Fortunately, work has great coffee, so my daily flat white makes me feel less ragey. £1.40

12pm: My work pals and I like to eat lunch at 12 on the dot (while we do the Guardian daily crossword together – don't knock it 'til you've tried it) and today's plan is the first Pret Christmas sandwich of the year. I spend £3.75 on it, but am actually a bit disappointed after how much I'd hyped it up. Eat a ginger biscuit to get over the sadness.

6pm: Planned to go home and eat a cheap dinner after my pricey weekend, but instead decide to go and spend more money. Head to Paperchase where I spend £18.75 buying wrapping paper and various other ribbons and cards. This is a lot, but I budgeted for it. We were lucky enough to get a bonus at work this year, and I put mine aside to pay for Christmas – my mum and dad are the best, so it's nice to treat them without having to worry about where the money is going to come from. Head to Hotel Chocolat afterwards to buy more presents, another £15. Resist buying anything for myself for the first time ever. £33.75

7.30pm: Even though all the Christmas presents are being paid for through savings I feel a bit anxious about how much I've spent the past couple of days. Nip to Tesco where I buy capers, red onions, chopped tomatoes and black olives to make my favourite Sicilian-style tuna pasta bake. I have the rest of the ingredients in so it's pretty cheap, it has actual vegetables in it and it will do lunch tomorrow, too. £3.08

Total: £41.98
Day Four

7.30am: Today is an exciting day – it's our team Christmas night out! We have a big work party next week for the whole company, but tonight is just the 14 of us and it's going to be great. Apply extra eyeshadow this morning to mark the occasion. Consider making myself a coffee at home but decide against it.

9.30am: Another commute from hell. I have actual fantasies about what my life will be like when I no longer have to get the Tube every day. Another flat white at work – I'm a creature of habit. £1.40

12pm: I brought lunch in today – last night's leftovers. This is a rare occurrence and I'm proud of myself. I know as I'll be drinking tonight I need a decent meal, so the pasta bake does the trick nicely. FREE!

5pm: We leave the office half an hour early, like the rebels that we are. Head to Jerusalem Bar and Kitchen in Fitzrovia, where we're attending the Christmas edition of Sounds Familiar Music Quiz. We're regulars here – think inflatable microphones, everything from mash-ups of Bon Jovi and Disney to '90s power ballads, and wine (so much wine), then multiply that thought by 10 and you'll have some idea of how much fun it is.

6pm: After pulling crackers and donning paper hats, we order food. Me and my friend split the 'piggy board' sharing platter – scotch eggs, crackling and sausages. The name is appropriate for many reasons. I'm in heaven. I pay. £15 well spent.

7.30-10.30pm: Last time we went to the quiz I got overexcited and bought two bottles of wine, so this time I'm on a wine-buying ban. This works out great for me – I end up sharing four bottles with three of my friends and it costs me nothing, thanks to my generous colleagues. We have a fabulous time; favourite moment of the night is seeing one of the girls belting out Oasis like her life depends on it, while simultaneously dancing AND pouring herself a new glass of wine.

11pm: Come 14th out of 24 teams. Last time we came 11th out of 12, so this is a vast improvement. Drink more wine to celebrate.

11.30pm: Trip and fall into McDonald's on the way home, where my debit card jumps into the self-service machine and orders me a double cheeseburger (plus one for my long-suffering boyfriend who has work at 7am), a vanilla milkshake and festive cheese bites. These things happen, can't be helped. £6.46

Total: £22.86
Day Five

7am: Wake up. Room is spinning. Contemplate whether or not I can afford to live in London without a job and feel panicked at the thought. Get up, google 'how to stop hangover shakes' and am advised to sleep it off. Google is stupid.

8am: Top up my Oyster with a fiver – I have a travelcard but my spur of the moment trip to Balham McDonald's last night (like there aren't enough in zones 1 and 2?) has put me in a negative balance. £5

9am: Buy the breakfast of dreams at work: sausages, hash browns and ketchup. Eat it and feel a sliver of hope that I may in fact make it through the day. £1.90

12pm: Not making it through the day. Stuck in a meeting which has overrun by about 45 minutes so far. All I can think about is lunch.

1pm: After all the shite I've eaten lately I'm a bit worried that I might develop scurvy, so in a superhuman feat of strength I pass on the brie toastie in the canteen and opt for jerk chicken and vegetables. It's nice, but it's no melted cheese and bread. Costs more too. £3.30

2pm: Flagging. Eat some Pringles and a banana to keep my strength up – lots of deadlines this afternoon.

5.30pm: Leave work at 5.30 on the dot. Send the boyfriend a list of dinner options to choose from: takeaway pizza, takeaway burger, Chinese or Indian. Get no response, which is extremely concerning – this lack of enthusiasm about fried food isn't like him?

6.15pm: Arrive home to find him fast asleep. That explains it, then.

7pm: We go for Chinese – spring rolls and crispy duck – and I thoroughly enjoy it, it rids any last dregs of the hangover. After dinner, he shows me a photo from two years ago which came up on his Timehop: "Look, it's us when we were skinny!" Opt out of dessert. £13.80

10pm: Wrap some Christmas presents and listen to Christmas songs while boyfriend swears at the fictional characters on Call of Duty. Isn't it just the most wonderful time of the year?

Total: £24
Day Six

8.30am: On the Tube on the way to work. Reading my weekly MoneySavingExpert email newsletter on my phone – I like to think it makes me savvy, but then I remember I spent £150 on a casserole dish two weeks ago and realise I have a long way to go.

10am: Spend £1.40 on a flat white. I'm still so tired from going out the other night, I'm getting too old for this. I'd rather stay in bed and watch old Jamie Oliver re-runs than go out and get drunk. Scrounge a free banana and orange from the work canteen.

12pm: Buy lunch from work today – they're doing bang bang chicken burgers today and they look banging (thank you, I'm here all week). Crossword was too hard today, so I read some Mail Online to make myself feel more intelligent. £4.80

4pm: The office is super quiet today, and I'm flagging. Luckily, there's a vending machine nearby so I buy a Twirl. Eat it in two seconds flat. 75p

6pm: Meet the boyfriend at the store he works at, and we head home together via Sainsbury's. I buy garlic powder for the spice mixes I'm making, he buys prawns and stir fry vegetables for dinner. We eat it with the leftover noodles from last night's Chinese and it's GREAT, like a takeaway that I don't immediately feel guilty about. £2

9pm: Spend the evening chilling out, watching Netflix and moaning about how full we are – standard Thursday night activities. He tends to do late shifts at work which means I always end up staying up late with him, so it's a nice change for him to be on earlies this week. It also means I'm getting a reasonable amount of sleep, which is a whole new experience for me.

Total: £8.95
Day Seven

6.30am: Struggling to get out of bed. I'm doing flexi-time because I'm off to the spa after work (I'M SO EXCITED), so heading in an hour early to leave an hour early. Spend a while tagging the boyfriend (who's asleep next to me) in dog memes on Facebook, then eventually drag myself up.

9.30am: Buy breakfast because IT'S FRIDAY! Sausage, hash brown and egg this morning, plus a flat white. £3.60. Also take a free banana and orange from the canteen to kid myself I'm going to get my 5-a-day today.

12pm: Midday lunchtime – fish and chips on the menu, so I buy some scampi and eat with a friend away from my desk. The daily crossword was originally instigated as a way to stop us looking at our screens for an hour, but it doesn't work because we end up googling answers. Getting away from my desk for half an hour is actually very nice. £3.60

3.15pm: I've left work (we finish early on Fridays), and I'm on my way to Old Street to go to the spa when I realise I've left my swimsuit at home. Like an idiot, I remembered hair oil and eyebrow gel for afterwards, but not my swimsuit. Briefly consider trying to get away with wearing my underwear but very quickly decide I should instead run home and fetch it.

4.30pm: Arrive at the spa 45 minutes late. The first three hours should have been a relaxing sauna and steam room session, so I spend my remaining 2h15 trying to chill out hard before my 6.45pm massage. I booked this on a whim a few weeks ago on Black Friday – it cost me £34, down from £114. I was pretty pleased with myself for that one.

7pm: Stomach starts rumbling during the massage. It's a bit awkward, not least because I've eaten loads already today. Try to send mental signals to it that I'm not actually hungry in an attempt to make it stop. It doesn't work.

8.30pm: Massage was great, highly recommend treating yourself like that if you get a chance. Along with a traditional massage, it was a full-body scrub, a massage with bamboo sticks and also one with hot stones. Feel extremely relaxed and zen and resolve to make it a semi-regular thing – gotta treat yo'self.

8.45pm: Get on the Northern line and no longer feel relaxed and zen. Why is the Tube always so hot?!

9.30pm: Boyfriend is a terrible influence. We eat baked camembert and crisps for dinner (he bought them yesterday). Diet starts January.

Total: £7.20
The Breakdown

Food/Drink: £119.89
Entertainment: £0
Home Supplies: £0
Clothes/Beauty: £0 (for once)
Travel: £5
Other: £64.57

Total: £189.46
Show More Comments...