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Money Diaries: A 35-year-old HR Manager and busy mum working hard to save for a mortgage

This week, our reader and her partner and two children are living with her parents long-term in order to save for a home.

TheJournal.ie reader

WELCOME TO HOW I Spend My Money, a series on TheJournal.ie that runs weekly and looks at what people in Ireland really do with their cash.

We’re asking readers to keep a record of how much they earn, how much they save if anything, and what they spend their money on over the course of one week.

Are you interested in keeping a diary in the run up to Christmas? We would love to hear how you’re saving or spending in this strange year. Are you shopping online, finding it cheaper? If you’re interested, send an email to us at money@thejournal.ie and we’ll be in touch.

Last time around, we heard from a 22-year-old in Dublin earning €24K per year. This week, a 35-year-old HR Manager and mum saving hard for a mortgage but finding it tough in the wake of Covid-19.

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I am a 35-year-old HR Manager living and working in Kildare. Myself, my partner and our two kids had to move into my parents’ house 2.5 years ago as our landlord of the previous eight years decided to sell.  

It was a heartbreakingly huge upheaval for us and the kids. We only intended to live with my parents for a couple of months until we could find somewhere else to rent. I was working part-time, and my partner was just finishing college, so a mortgage wasn’t even on the horizon at that point.

However, rent was shooting up everywhere, places were very hard to come by, and our kids were so hurt by losing their home, that we decided to buckle down and work towards a mortgage. I knew it would be a process, but I didn’t realise it was going to take as long as it did. 

I had to change jobs in order to go from part-time to full-time, and my partner has done all that he can to establish his own business too. If I am honest, we have only started saving solidly this year, as previous to that I kept losing hope and trying to persuade him to just rent our own place. Each time, he would point out that if we do that the sacrifices we have made to date would all be for nothing, and we will never be able to buy. 

We were very close this year, we met with two banks in February and it felt like we were finally getting somewhere. Then Covid hit us hard. Like a lot of people, I was laid off between March and June. Then I was in two days a week for the €350 subsidy. I have only been back on my normal (full-time) hours and salary for the last three months. My partner has worked for a total of six weeks since March. He has been trying to pick up anything he can to keep us going. 

We cut back on everything so that we could continue to save this year. We hope to start the process again in January. I do feel like the odds are stacked against us, as my partner is self-employed, and we have two kids. I am so worried about the process, and if we will be refused or given too low of an amount. The four of us have sacrificed so much to get to this point, and I honestly don’t know if it will even happen for us.

Occupation: HR Manager
Age: 35
Location: Kildare
Salary: €47,000
Monthly pay (net): €3,056.12

Monthly expenses

Savings: €1000 per month (after Christmas I will be saving €2000 per month)
Transport: €115 (€50 tax, €35 insurance, €30 petrol)
Rent & household bills: 0
Phone bill: €59.99
Groceries: €400 (I do the weekly shop for all 6 of us)
Subscriptions: €57 (A family gym pass for swimming and Disney Plus)

***

Monday

7.00 am: Time to wake up (after two quick snoozes). I get myself washed and ready for work and wake the kids at 7.45 am. We are tight for space with six of us living in a three-bed, so the kids have bunk beds in the box room. You can imagine how delighted a nine and 11-year-old are with this arrangement. They get five minutes of Mary Poppins as I attempt to gently wake them, but nobody is budging so I channel my Batman voice to get everyone moving. It takes 3-5 working days to get through breakfast and then I am onto making lunches. I was in the habit of making sandwiches the night before, but the kids have recently decided they don’t like any form of sandwich, bagel, wrap, scone or muffin. The only thing they will eat is pasta. I am normally of the opinion that they will eat when hungry, but if they don’t eat in school, they are hangry and don’t concentrate. I worry that they will fall out with their friends or fall behind with their schoolwork. I think that in previous years I was quite relaxed in my parenting approach. Normally I am quite good at keeping things in perspective, but I feel like I lost the ability this year to differentiate between what needed to be worried about and what I could let go. Everything feels highly problematic and I find myself constantly overthinking. Long story short, we are making Carbonara at 8 am. 

8.30 am: We somehow managed to use every single utensil in the kitchen and all available counter space, so I quickly load the dishwasher and wipe the counters before getting us all out the door. The nine-year-old dropped 80% of her Weetabix down her uniform so we do a quick wipe at the sink, and while I am distracted the 11-year-old takes the opportunity to make two inappropriate Tik Tok videos which will likely earn her an iPad ban once I review them.

9.15 am: I arrive at work feeling as though I have run a marathon. I should have had my hours cut again with this latest lockdown, which would have set us back to square one with our mortgage. If you have never experienced moving back in with your parents in your mid 30’s with a partner and two kids in tow, I am not quite sure I can accurately capture the magic for you, or even explain how much we did not want to go back to square one. I took on additional duties in three different departments in order to keep my hours up. I am so outside my comfort zone and feel like every day is a huge learning curve. 

6.00 pm: I arrive home and start the homework battle with the nine-year-old who feels very passionately that she is in fact, done, for today, and absolutely not doing homework of any kind. My mam put pork chops, carrots and a 12c pack of Koka noodles into the slow cooker this morning, because what even is flavour? My partner was unfortunately right in the firing line and politely ate a bowl before I got in from work. The kids do not have the same self-restraint and are losing the will to live over the contents of their plates. 

8.00 pm: Bedtime routine which comes as a surprise to the outraged nine-year-old every single night. We argue over why bedtime is at 8 pm, why she has to go to bed first, why we have to brush teeth and why she can’t sleep in her uniform. Then we lose pyjamas, misplace stuffed animals (which genuinely is life or death) and become intensely dehydrated. It’s almost 9 pm before we finish our bedtime dance.

10.00 pm: In our old house we could put the kids to bed in their own rooms, at the same time. Something I never thought I would take for granted. Here, we have to wait for the nine-year-old, with the willpower of a Samurai, to fall asleep, before we can sneak the 11-year-old in. Otherwise we have absolute murder over who is rolling over too loudly (it’s always the nine-year-old). My parents are great, but they hit a point in the day when they are (understandably) exhausted and need everything to be quiet. Tension builds until the nine-year-old finally falls asleep and I can send the 11-year-old to bed. I manage to watch seven minutes of TV before falling asleep.

                          Today’s total: €0.00

Tuesday: 

7.30am: I have taken a day’s annual leave today as I have my NCT next week and a trip to the mechanic is the most excitement I’ve had in months. I wake the kids and start the breakfast/pasta/Weetabix wiping/teeth brushing fiasco. The pasta party runs late this morning as there was a physical fight over which type of pasta we would use. I don’t have any sisters, but I have friends who assured me that going through life with a bald patch caused by a row over pasta is perfectly normal. Tagliatelle (and the nine-year-old) wins.

9.25 am: We are so late, and I absolutely hate being late. I lecture them the whole way to school on the importance of being on time and prepared for life. I go on and on about how they need to be more efficient in the mornings, and if pasta is making us late then we need to re-think our whole mornings. They don’t say a word. Then they look so tiny as they walk into school and I feel awful. I drop my car into the mechanic and walk home. I stop in Supervalu on the way home for some fabric softener and laundry detergent, like the Rockstar that I am. It comes to €16.96.

12.30 pm: The car needs €425 worth of repairs. I am gutted. It is twice what I had put aside to spend, and I just wasn’t anticipating a bill that size so close to Christmas. It empties my bank account and sets me €109 into my overdraft. I thank the mechanic and then allow myself a small cry before collecting the kids from school. 

3.30 pm: I made the kids lunch and we get homework out of the way. I feel silly for getting so upset over money, but I feel stretched so thin already with savings and Christmas just around the corner. I lived in my overdraft for most of this year when I was laid off and I am so worried about the effect this will have on our mortgage application. I deeply regret all my online shopping purchases over the past couple of weeks and hope my partner forgets all of them before I tell him about the car. Helpfully, he reminds me that my car probably isn’t even worth €425.

5.00 pm: I prep the dinner and then we go for a quick 5k walk to a) tire the nine-year-old out and b) keep some form of exercise going. I really started to look after myself more during the first quarantine, and I was exercising every day and feeling great. Needless to say, I am not the same person I was during lockdown.

6.00 pm: I make a nice roast chicken dinner for everyone. Since we don’t pay rent or anything to my parents (I know, I know, I can hear the comments section already), I do the weekly shop and cook almost every night. My parents won’t take any money from us, and we obviously wouldn’t be able to save the way we are if we were paying them rent. 

7.00 pm: We watch some TV with the kids before bed. I warn the nine-year-old about the upcoming bedtime, but she is still utterly shocked and outraged when it gets to 8 pm. We do the full nighttime dance again and I tell myself that we will have to move her bedtime earlier again. 

8.00 pm: I prepare as much of the lunches as I can for our early morning pasta extravaganza, and make sure uniforms/bags/shoes are ready to go. I get a couple of washes done and clean the kitchen and our room.

10.00 pm: With both kids in bed we look at some houses on Daft. We can’t have the kids near us when we are searching because we seem to have vastly different ideas on what kind of house is in our budget. The kids’ obvious disappointment in the prospective houses lack of swimming pool/home cinema or mansion-esque style really hits a nerve when we are just existing to work at the moment. We would love a four bed, as we would love to try for another baby once we buy, but with time working so firmly against us I am not sure that it will be possible. Sometimes I think about how the two kids will be almost teenagers by the time we move out, and I feel like I have failed them by losing their home and not being able to provide another one. 

We lost the home where my babies learned to walk across the sitting room floor, and where they learned to read at the table. They learned to ride their bikes in the driveway, and we made rice krispie buns (that were 75% saliva) in the kitchen. We had Christmas Eve’s, birthdays, sleepovers and tea parties in that house. It hurts my heart that we had to close the door on that place and never go back. We obviously can’t impose any of that onto my parent’s house. And I think they will have outgrown most of it by the time we have a new home.

                                 Today’s total: €441.96

Wednesday 

7.00 am: I’m up early and ready to leave by 8 am. My dad is doing the school run this morning. He went to put a bag in the wheelie bin this morning and discovered the area had been ransacked by a suspected fox and I discovered that I can only listen to someone ranting about foxes and wheelie bins for a total of eight minutes before my ears start to bleed, so I made a hasty exit to the peace and quiet of work. 

2.00 pm: I leave work to do the school run. I am lucky to have flexibility in this role, where I collect the kids from school three days a week and then work from home for the afternoon. I find that they both come out of school talking over each other about their days for 10 minutes, and if I miss it, I don’t hear anything that’s going on with them. I could do with a few bits from the pharmacy, but I feel queasy at the thoughts of going further into my overdraft, so I leave it for another day. While waiting on the kids I browse the Smyths website and make a note of what I want to order once I am paid. They have both done their Christmas lists and I’ll pick up a few extra bits. I will have to go with the delivery option, but I wonder how discreet their trucks and packaging are. A big Smyths truck pulling up outside when they are home could ruin everything.

4.30 pm: I squeeze in a quick workout while painstakingly going over the seven times tables. I try to spice dinner up with pesto chicken fillets. I have myself convinced the kids won’t like them but surprisingly everyone eats. The 11-year-old is having trouble simplifying fractions so we spend an exhilarating 45 minutes watching YouTube videos so that I can explain it to her. Unsurprisingly, she catches on before I do. 

8.00 pm: I am exhausted so I do the nine-year-old’s bedtime on Turbo. I set a strict limit of two hugs and then go straight to the shower where I instantly feel bad. I go back in for seven more hugs as soon as I’m done, and to my delight, she has spent those five minutes composing a song about how much she loves me. She assures me it only has four ‘chapters’ so I stand through it for what feels like six months while ignoring everything else I need to finish. When I go to empty the lunchboxes, I notice that not a single strand of tagliatelle has been consumed. Honestly, these are the parts of parenting that no one prepares you for. I feel like waking the nine-year-old to tell her off but luckily come to my senses quite quickly. I resolve to put an end to the early morning pasta revelries and sulkily make them a turkey wrap each. 

                                    Today’s total: €0.00

Thursday

7.00 am: Up and moving. The kids are in great form and moving quickly and with the lunches having been made the night before we are unstoppable. 

3.00 pm: I should be doing the school run but my dad is on duty as there are some afternoon meetings I need to attend. 

5.30 pm: I arrive home and see the kids are playing out on the street with their friends and breathe a sigh of relief. Not only were they heartbroken to leave our home, but they also lost their own bedrooms, had to say goodbye to their friends and both parents doubled their working hours in order to get a mortgage. It took them ages to settle into friend groups in my parent’s estate. We tried to keep in touch with the kids from our old estate, but they went over once on a play date, a couple of weeks after the move, and saw a new family living there with kids running in and out of the front door, they were too hurt to go back. The landlord had it rented again within two weeks of us moving out (because they wanted to sell). Now I drive 10 minutes out of my way to avoid the road. I banish the negative thoughts and throw myself into a workout. ‘Throw myself into’ sounds a bit dramatic for what it was. I puff and wheeze through 25 minutes and call it a win. 

8.30 pm: I finish cleaning the kitchen, put on a wash and get the nine-year-old to bed. The kids swapped beds over the weekend, with UN level negotiations. The older one wanted the bottom bunk, as she felt she could then claim more of the floor space. The younger one was moved up, with a rake of old broken toys as a compromise. I literally do not know where most of them came from, and I am certain I haven’t seen some of them before. I have been subtly disposing of them all week, during the three-hour period it takes her to brush her teeth. 

                                    Today’s total: €0.00

Friday: 

7.00 am: I am exhausted already. Before even getting out of bed I check my bank balance and am so relieved to be out of my overdraft, though I am still raging that I effectively lost that €109. I transfer €250 straight into our mortgage saver and debate paying anything off my credit card. I decide against it. My plan is to keep as much this week as I can and then do a big online Smyths shop next week for the majority of the presents. I am hoping to do all shopping online this year and avoid shops as much as possible.  

5.15 pm: Work was chaotic, and I can’t believe it’s time to go home. I could really stay and keep working for another few hours, but I can’t overwork my dad. Especially heading into a weekend where we have literally no space from each other. I arrive home and the nine-year-old has left me a packet of M&M’s, a lovely note and a necklace made out of three metres of tinfoil on my bed. I am so touched by the gesture. Maybe I’m not failing this parenting thing after all.

9.00 pm: Quick shower and into pyjamas. I am so relieved to not have to sort uniforms or make lunches I could cry. 

2 am: Stay up WAY too late watching old episodes of X Files as I can’t bear to lose a second of the weekend. 

                                    Today’s total: €250.00

Saturday

9.00 am: I wake and make tea. I scroll on my phone and do all the time-wasting things. In fairness, there is very little else to do during this latest lockdown and if I so much as see another jigsaw again I will lose my mind. I wait all week for the weekend, but then I spend so much of the weekend trying to keep myself and the kids out of the way so that my parents can relax, that it becomes a time-filling exercise. 

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12.00 pm: I have some work emails to send that I didn’t get to yesterday. 

4.00 pm: We get out for a little walk to salvage the last of the daylight. As we sleep in what was the garage room, we keep the curtains closed most of the day for privacy (our bed is shoved right up against the window). If we don’t force ourselves out, we don’t see daylight. 

7.00 pm: We order a pizza and the four of us cram into our room to watch a movie. 

                                    Today’s total: €29.50

Sunday

9.00 am: Time for tea

11.00 am: I do a deep clean of the kitchen while washing every item of clothing we all own. I find myself suspiciously eyeing items that I know we not worn this week. 

2.00 pm: I am trying to cut down on the weekly shop again. In all honesty, I have spent a solid €150 every week this year in Aldi. I cut it to €100 in advance of writing this diary! And to be honest there was still bits we could have done without. I trim more off and spend €80 this week. It definitely pays off to meal plan and work from a list. 

4.00 pm: Sunday night dread starts to set in and I brace myself for ironing, lunches, rows about showers and bedtimes. I make a roast and wonder if next year will look different. If we might have some sunnier days. 

6.00 pm: I decide to spend an hour doing emails for my partner’s business. I normally spend an hour every day or so sorting his emails, but as he was closed, I let them slip. Before I know it, it’s 9 pm and I am far too tired to get everyone to bed, iron and make lunches! I end up grumpy and then guilty once everyone is gone to bed. At least tomorrow is a new week.

                                    Today’s total: €79.80

                    Weekly subtotal: €801.26

***

What I learned: 

  • I am well used to not spending money on a daily basis, and tracking every cent. I don’t find this difficult. What does get me, is the large and unexpected expenses. This week it was the car, but there is something every single week. I feel like I should set up a separate savings account to deal with these unexpected bills, and although now doesn’t feel like the right time, it’s probably the perfect time so that the unexpected bills don’t push me back into overdraft. 

  • The food shop is obviously my biggest expense. I think that my hatred of doing it leads me to over purchase. If I could find the time (and willpower) to pop in for smaller amounts twice a week it would probably save me a fortune. 

  • I have realised that this latest lockdown has been quite overwhelming for me. When I read back over the diary, I definitely think I was running on empty this week. I think there is so much uncertainty for the country and in our situation. It’s always in the back of my mind and coupled with the idea that I am failing at being an adult, it all gets quite overwhelming. Bits of the negative thoughts did seem a bit ridiculous when I read back over them on Sunday with the benefit of the weekend’s rest behind me. If anything, the kids are lucky to live with so many adults who adore them, and that will only stand to them as they grow older. 

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