Money Diary: A Single Mum Of Twins On 20k

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 woman who works in retail while looking after 3-year-old twins on her own. Despite the excitement payday brings, she often finds herself paying off last month's debts before she gets a chance to plan the following month. However, with a potential new job on the horizon, things might be about to change...
Industry: Merchandising assistant in retail
Age: 24
Location: Bedfordshire
Salary: £19,828
Paycheque amount: After income tax (£125), National Insurance pension scheme (£105.84), and attachment of earnings for my council tax (£101) I am left with £1,178.14 of my work salary. I also get child benefits of £34.40 weekly, and child tax credits monthly, which is now reduced down to £396. In all that's £1,711.74 a month.
Number of housemates: Two (3-year-old twins)
Monthly Expenses
Housing costs: For my two-bedroom flat I now contribute £263.74 in rent as I get £45.54 housing benefit based on my salary. Because of my council tax arrears for previous years, they have given me an attachment of earnings, which gets deducted prior to me seeing my wages.
Loan payments: When I was offered my flat it came unfurnished, and so I had to buy furniture and decorate myself, which I am still doing three years on. I took out a hire purchase for a dining table and chairs which I so needed. I'm now repaying £98.51 per month. My very first car broke down at the end of last year, and so I was basically forced to get a new one in order to get to work and travel with the kids. That car was also on hire purchase, costing me £150.16 per month. Plus my car insurance has increased, because it's a newish car. I can't afford to change providers so I'm stuck paying £205.16 per month.
Utilities: I try and stick to a weekly budget to get by. That means spending approximately £160 on food shopping monthly, £80 on gas and electric, £35.50 for my internet and TV. My TV licence is £12.25, and my water bill is £30.18.
Transportation: I spend approximately £200 as I drive to work.
Phone bill: £16.10 as I only pay for my sim card.
Savings? I have been aiming to put aside £100-200 monthly leading up to my holiday to South East Asia. It hasn't been going so well. I slightly regret having booked my holiday, but it was prior to me being made aware of some of the changes to bills I am now having to budget for since working full-time.
Other? When I was previously on benefits they overpaid me. I don't know how they managed to do that, but now I am having to pay £25 per month until it gets paid off for the next year. Bank overdraft £50 per month.
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1 of 8
Day One

00.00: Yay! It's payday. I don’t waste any time and check my account online to see it says £30. Which means I have to wait a couple more hours to see my wages go in. I feel it comes in at different times each time. I owe my mum some money and want to pay her straightaway, because I know she'll be on my case if I leave it later in the day. It's nice to see a few numbers in my account prior to spending it all.

5am: I wake up. I get the kids dressed and drop them off at nursery. I have a job interview today, so I'm really nervous.

9.30am: Time is tight as I leave home. My interview is at 12. I decide to walk to the station as it is only a 15-minute walk, and I book a return train ticket, which costs me £15.80. My railcard expired a few weeks ago, and I am not going to take the chance using it. I check my account and realise that an automatic payment has come out for my dining table £48.92. I pay my mum £54 that I owe her for a top-up food shop and petrol money to get to work from the week before.

10.15am: I get into St. Pancras and head to the Underground, trying my hardest to calm my nerves with some positive self-talk in my head. I decide to use my debit card instead of my Oyster because the queue is too long (£4.25 return). I badly want this job and I find a café near London Bridge to go over my notes, which I know is going to cost me but I think I might as well treat myself to a nice cup of tea and a sandwich, seeing as I have come this far. I buy a fennel and mint tea – meant to have calming effects, right? And a basic ham and cheese sandwich that sets me back £4.30 in total.

12.40pm: Interview over. I don’t know how to feel about it; I said as much as I possibly could. I'm not a regular smoker but a cigarette is so needed, so I find a corner to call my mum and have a quick smoke. Then I head off back home, with enough time to wash the dishes and pick up the kids from nursery.

4.30pm: On my way to my mum's house I buy some cod bites and chips in the local chip shop that makes the freshest chips ever! You have to always get there before the Friday night rush (£6.75). It’s only after I eat it that I think about all the things I could have bought with that to make a decent meal at home, and have leftovers for the weekend. But I convince myself that the treat was needed as it is Friday and payday! I get to my mum's and also pay my sister the £30 I borrowed from her to go out the weekend before. I feel irritated because the money I get is basically going back into paying past weeks of borrowing or struggling. I can never win! I contemplate going to the shop to buy a scratchcard but talk myself out of it as I don’t want to make it a habit, just because I won £15 a few weeks ago.

6pm: I head to Asda and buy a few snacks and breakfast foods for the kids and I for the weekend. I spend £6.60 in total. I try my hardest to be tight, as I plan to do a food shop in Lidl tomorrow that needs to last me for the next two weeks until I get my child tax credits. For the rest of the evening, I chill on my mum's sofa, scrolling through Netflix and falling asleep on the sofa.

Total: £170.62
2 of 8
Day Two

6.30am: It's a Saturday and I still get woken up at crazy hours by the kids begging me to make them some cereal and put some cartoons on. Once I do that, I go back to sleep – I have learned to be a very light sleeper around them as they like to fight over toys and sometimes I need to be the mediator. I get out of bed at 8am with a cup of tea and get on my laptop to organise my finances and what bills need to come out of my pay before I get carried away. I book my one-way train ticket to the airport for my holiday to South East Asia. I have more than four weeks to go, but while I have the money I specifically set aside to do this, I need to get it now. With no railcard it costs me £28. I return to a different airport and plan to take a coach home. I will book that at a later time. I consider travel insurance but decide to leave it. Perhaps I will do this closer to the time. I pay my rent which costs me £283.74 (£263.74 included in monthly budget) as I shorted my rent payment last month by £20 so I have to make it up this time.

12pm: I get the kids and myself dressed as I need to go into town to get a few bits and bobs. I end up spending £20.19 in Superdrug although I get £1 off using my store card. I only planned to get a body lotion, then realised I needed to top up on some makeup. Why is makeup so expensive? I don't wear it often. I go into Poundland to buy some more bits, and spend £5. Parking for an hour costs me £1.50.

1.20pm: Food shopping is now needed before I head home. Whatever I spend I need to make stretch for the next two weeks. And so I set up a shopping list in my head, and end up spending £20.20 in Lidl. I love shopping there. You get so much with so little. I buy food for the kids, as well as packed lunch bits that I need to force myself to get through rather than buying lunch at work.

2pm: The kids are super tired, and although I wanted to take them to the library after shopping, I’m also very tired. I desperately need my car washed though as I haven't done so since I got it in January, which is disgusting! I can't afford to but to spend another month or more with a dirty car is going to drive me crazy. So I bite my tongue and pay £13 to get a service at a carwash near my house. They do a BASIC job! I don't even get those smelly things that hang over your rearview mirror. I knew I should have gone to the carwash I regularly go to, and paid more. That's what I get for not being loyal!

3.30pm: I get home, make something to eat for us, and jump into bed, leaving the kids to play and make a mess for me to deal with tomorrow or whenever I have the energy. There's dishes piling up in the sink, and washing to do. I remember I forgot to top up my gas and electric, which are both on emergency. I remind myself to do it the following day, as I know it will last until then. Hopefully!

Total: £107.89
3 of 8
Day Three

7am: Another early start where I get woken up by the kids. They are in my bed this time, as they both snuck in at different times during the night. There are repeated requests to make tea and cereal. I do this, and head back to bed once again, scrolling through my phone. I am too exhausted to go to church, and stay in bed a little longer, then eventually make a cup of tea and some cereal for myself.

9am: I decide I need to go through my wardrobe and plan my outfits for my trip to South East Asia as I cannot afford to buy a whole new holiday wardrobe, and so I am having to mix and match – the old with the semi-new! I spend the next couple of hours trying outfits on, listening to music, playing with the kids, and tidying up. I am the queen of multitasking!

11am: We get hungry and I need to wash some clothes, so I head to the shops to top up my gas and electric. £20 on gas and £15 on electric should hopefully last me. While in the store with the kids they spot the baking section and start demanding I buy Paw Patrol cupcakes, or the pancake mix. Never go to a shop on an empty stomach; I easily give in although I realise I don't have eggs at home so have to get them too – additional expense. I also need bicarbonate soda to clean my Converse (I watched a YouTube video that recommended it). I also pick up a big bar of chocolate that I know I will be craving later in the day. I spend a total of £5.

11.30am: I get home, and put aside £200 I took out of the cashpoint. This is to go towards my spending money for my holiday. I promise myself not to go into it until I am ready to exchange the money (included under "savings" in my monthly budget).

Total: £40
4 of 8
Day Four

5am: I hate Monday mornings! I get up and put the heating on and make a cup of tea while contemplating whether I should really be going to work when I feel this exhausted.

6.15am: I get the kids up, make their cereal and get them dressed; we leave the house for me to drop them to nursery and hopefully get to work on time.

12pm: At lunchtime, I go to my staff shop and purchase some bits for the kids that includes a little educational animal game of snap. Total spend £2.

4pm: I finish work and head straight to the petrol station to top up. The child benefit money I get every week on a Monday is my petrol money pretty much for the week, so I decide £25 will fill the remaining tank, and I will have £9 left to top up if need be.

5pm: I pick up the kids from nursery and head home.

Total: £27
5 of 8
Day Five

5.30am: I wake up, and take my time to get dressed.

6am: Get the kids dressed and leave.

7.30am: McDonald's breakfast is so needed. I get up so early, I never feel to eat anything while at home. But I drive past McDonald's every morning on my way to work, and this morning I am starving. I really can't help myself and get a breakfast wrap with brown sauce (£3.69). I get to work dead on time!

4pm: I feel like I'm making a habit of McDonald's; I order a large chips and mayo chicken burger (£2.39) before I go pick up the kids.

5pm: I receive a call from the company I had an interview with on Friday. I got through to the second stage! I am ecstatic, but also nervous all over again. I need to find a new interview outfit!

7.30pm: This evening I have a session at (public speaking initiative) Toastmasters. It's very random for me but I am always working to personally develop myself, and this had been on my list of things to accomplish in 2018. This is the second session I will attend and I'm really trying to get the feel for it. I pay £1.50 for parking in the shopping centre car park, and then realise that the session is cancelled last-minute. I left the kids with my mum, so I just decide to head home and enjoy a night of peace and quiet.

Total: £7.58
6 of 8
Day Six

5.45am: I wake up and start all over again. Minus getting the kids dressed and dropping them off.

12.30pm: I don't want to eat my Thai carrot and sweet potato soup that I bought from Lidl for lunch. I had it yesterday, and it was so thick it could have passed as some sort of porridge. I instead buy a pasta dish that sets me back £1.95. It has no flavour, but is still better than the soup I brought in.

5.30pm: On my way to pick up the kids at my mum's house, I head to Asda. I didn't want to buy Easter eggs last weekend, as they would have been eaten by now – by me. But I wish I had gone earlier in the week, as there are only the crap ones left. I buy one each for the kids, one for my sister and brother, and of course one for myself. It costs me £9.

Total: £10.95
7 of 8
Day Seven

5am: My alarm goes off and I shut it down, only to wake up at 6 panicking! I have half a day at work, so it'll look very bad if I turn up super late. I get dressed, get the kids dressed and drop them off to nursery. I am so happy I am no longer having to buy nappies. They are fully potty trained but I have to pack extra clothes in their backpacks for potential wet clothes to wash.

8.20am: I get to work. Twenty minutes late isn't too bad. My boss doesn't notice. I check my account and realise because it's Bank Holiday Monday coming up I got my child benefit money early.

12.30pm: I leave work, and as I have lots of time before I pick up the kids from nursery and head to our dentist appointment, I decide to go to the shopping centre and find an interview outfit. I spend about an hour trying on potential looks, and decide to go with a nice blouse and tailored pants. On the day I will decide whether heels are necessary or not. I had £8 in Zara vouchers so that goes towards this, leaving me £37.30 to pay. Parking costs me £1.50.

3.15pm: I'm super hungry and I haven't eaten all day. I pick up the kids from nursery and the only thing I can think to eat is a quick McDonald's on my way to the dentist. I decide to order 20 nuggets to share with the kids (£3.99). This fills the gap for a little bit until I get home and make something for dinner.

4pm: The dentist comes to the conclusion that one of my teeth needs a slight filling, and so there and then I consent to her operating because I have never had to pay before for any treatment as my income has never been high enough to not come under the NHS. I get to the reception to hand over my notes, and the receptionist tells me I have to pay for the treatment as I have no NHS exemption code. If I decide not to pay and I can't provide the exemption code I get a £100 fine on top of the £20.60 treatment cost! To save myself the added stress, I pay the money. I did not see this coming, and now I've spent additional money saved for whatever expenses I have left to pay for the month. It's a joke! You just can't win when you're trying to make ends meet, provide for your family and still be able to have a little treat here and there.

Total: £63.39
8 of 8
The Breakdown

Food/Drink: £117.87
Entertainment: £32
Clothes/Beauty: £62.49
Travel: £76.05
Other: £139.02

Total: £427.43

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