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How I Spend my Money: A 55-year-old office administrator from Galway with four children

This week, our reader details the week she spent in early March as Covid-19 became a public health issue in Ireland.

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WELCOME TO HOW I Spend My Money, a series on TheJournal.ie running weekly and looking 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.

Each money diary is submitted by readers just like you. When reading and commenting, bear in mind that their situation will not be relatable for everyone, it is simply an account of a week in their shoes.

If you’d like to document your spending, or lack thereof during this Covid-19 period, we’d love to hear from you. Send an email to money@thejournal.ie and we’ll be in touch.

Last week, we heard from a 37-year-old junior civil servant who signed on to social welfare just before Covid-19 hit as his contract had ended. This week, we hear from a 55-year-old office administrator with four children, living in Galway. She details her experience and charts her spending in the week before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a partial shutdown for Ireland on 12 March.

how i spend my money

We live in a village in the west of Ireland about half an hour’s drive from Galway City. I have four children. The oldest is financially independent, living and working in the US. The next is in the final year of college in Dublin.

The two youngest are in Leaving Cert and hoping to go on to third-level next year. I’m separated since 2007 and divorced since 2012. I work full-time in a small office. I don’t save anything, apart from €125/month out of my pre-tax wages into my employer’s pension scheme.

Occupation: Office Admin
Age: 55
Location: County Galway
Salary: €43,000/year
Monthly pay (net): €2,896
Maintenance: €375/week. When I got divorced the judge awarded the maximum maintenance for the children allowed at that time, €125 per week per child until each child finishes college. I don’t get Child Benefit anymore since my youngest turned 18 last year.

Monthly expenses 

Mortgage: €1,218/month. At the time of our separation, my ex and I had a Celtic Tiger mortgage of €2,294/month; which is now, after negotiations with the bank, down to €1,218 a month, until I’m 68. I pay it all myself. There’s also €189/month for mortgage protection; and €26/month for the LPT
Third Level Fees, Rent, etc: €500/month for my daughter’s living and college expenses in Dublin
Transport: €80/month, minimum on fuel

Household bills
Groceries: €350/month on food. Another €46/month on dogfood (if only they could get a job)
Phone bill: €134/month for broadband, TV, and a landline we don’t use but have to have as part of the package; €50/month for the kids’ mobile phones and €46/month for mine
Health insurance: €253/month health insurance for one adult and three students
Home and car insurance: €51/month home insurance and €42/month car insurance
Electricity: €87/month
Bin Charges: €30/month
Heating Oil: €50/month
Credit Union Loan: €234/month car loan
Credit Card Debt: €150/month to pay off a balance of €3,000 built up over time; I don’t use the card anymore
Subscriptions: €26/month for Netflix and Spotify


Monday 2nd March

8 am We’re all up about 8; the kids are gone by 8:45 for school. I don’t have to be in until 9:30 so I have a bit of quiet time to put on the laundry, check my diary and my email, make sure we have enough milk and bread, etc. I leave at 9:25 and walk to work.

10:30 am I get a call from my son at school to say he isn’t feeling well and wants to go home. I tell him it’s okay to go home.

1 pm I go across to the pharmacy for an over-the-counter medicine for my son, €6.90. I won’t spend anything else today; I try not to spend much during the week. I bring my lunch to work every day; I freeze anything that’s leftover from dinner in lunch-size bags. I eat at my desk as usual and am working again at 1:30 pm, we have a deadline today.

7 pm I work late and get home at about 7 pm. While I’m reheating yesterday’s leftover Bolognese for dinner I check my bank account online, which I do every day. I always know to the penny exactly how much I have and what’s going out, otherwise, I might find myself at a till without the funds.  I’ve been keeping all my expenses/cashflow etc in an Excel spreadsheet for years. All my direct debits are entered in already at the start of the year, and any other regular expenses that I know might be coming up like car tax or school fees. Then I enter all the ATM withdrawals and debit card transactions each day as I go. 

The only direct debit that came out today was the electricity, €87. I’ve got €282 left in my account now but the credit union loan direct debit will come out tomorrow, €234. So I’ll have €48 left until the maintenance comes in on Thursday. There’s nothing in my wallet. Excel matches the bank total so I haven’t missed anything. My son is feeling better which is more important! 

8 pm We sit down and eat dinner together. After that we all have a quiet night; the Irish orals are this week, so everyone goes to bed earlyish. The kids are in their bedrooms talking to friends online. I watch an hour of Netflix, read for a bit, surf on my phone for a while and message back and forth with a friend and my older daughters. I switch off the light at 11:30 pm.

                    Today’s total: €6.90

Tuesday 3rd March

8 am My son is still unwell so I let him stay in bed. It’s just a bad cold, but Covid-19 is in the back of my mind. My daughter goes to school and I go to work after the usual morning tasks.  I’ve got nice leftovers from the freezer for lunch, risotto. 

1:30 pm I go for a walk at lunch today, just half an hour. I should do this more often.

6 pm I get home from work and start dinner; I bought a chicken in Aldi on Saturday so that’s dinner tonight, with potatoes and veg, it will be good for my son’s cold. It will take a couple of hours to cook so it’s really more of a Sunday meal but no one is immediately hungry so I chance it. While it’s cooking I catch up on chores and check the bank account, the credit union loan came out as expected.

8 pm Pretty much a repeat of last night, we sit down and eat dinner together and after that, we all have a quiet night. At dinner the kids tell me that they have a history trip next week, €27 each. It better be worth 10 points in the Leaving. I’ll have to figure out where that money is coming from.

                     Today’s total: €0

Wednesday 4th March

8 am The day starts off the same: once the kids have gone to school I check my email and my bank account, no direct debits coming out today; and I find some decent leftovers in the freezer, beef and broccoli stirfry, but the supply in there is getting low. I’ll cook something up tonight. I hang up the laundry and I’m out the door at 9:30 am.

5:30 pm It’s a normal day at work, half an hour for lunch and I finish on time at 5:30. I stop in the shop on the way home for a few bits, bread and milk and briquettes, €9.99 total.

The kids have gone to their dad’s for dinner so I have a free evening. I have a list of cooking planned: sugar cookies for sewing club at mine tomorrow, vegetable stew for my lunches for the rest of the week; chicken stock from the leftover chicken to freeze. I won’t bother with dinner, I just nibble on stuff while I’m cooking.

7 pm My good friend calls in while I’m cooking so we have tea and sugar cookies and catch up for an hour.

8:30 pm The kids get home from their dad’s and want to watch a film, so we put on the fire and a DVD and watch until about 11. I fold some laundry while we’re watching and I’ve some knitting on the go as well so I do a bit of that. After the film, I’ve got some work to do to clean up the kitchen. Dishwasher on, and lights out about midnight.

                 Today’s total: €9.99

Thursday 5th March

7:30 am When I wake up I check my phone, and the coronavirus has come quite close to us, it seems. There’s a case not that far away. Guess I picked an interesting week to do this… money doesn’t seem as important at the moment. I also check the bank account and the maintenance is in.

9:30 am A normal morning at work though we are all talking about the coronavirus and I’ve got TheJournal.ie and Twitter open in my browser all day. We’re all watching the Covid-19 developments.

1 pm Lunch is the vegetable stew and I eat at my desk as usual; then I take out cash from the village ATM so I can go across to the surgery and pay €50 for my daughter’s visit there last week. They are very good; they see us when we need to come in and let me pay when I can, usually the following week, I almost never have the €50 to hand. The medical admin looks stressed when I pay her and I’m not surprised. I have to take out €150 because I also need €56 for the school history trip, €106 total but the machine will only give me €50s as usual. I’ll hang onto the remaining €44 for the grocery shop on Saturday, it wasn’t in my budget to take out that much cash.

6:30 pm I work late and after work, it’s straight home and dinner; just tuna melts and frozen chips tonight as there are a few friends coming around at 8 pm for the sewing club and I need to get ready. I’ve got plenty of sugar cookies and tea which is the main thing that’s required.

8-10 pm The sewing club arrives and we sit at the table and ‘stitch and bitch’, mostly about the news of the coronavirus and our kids. No one knows what to say about the virus yet, but we have a good laugh (about teenagers) which is always needed. 

10 pm I always make something for the office birthdays and we have one tomorrow, so I bake a quick cake and leave it to cool and go up to bed at midnight.

               Today’s total: €50

Friday 6th March

7 am Made it to Friday, but I wake in a panic and dread about the coronavirus situation that hasn’t abated. I’m not so worried about getting it as none of my immediate family are immuno-compromised or suffering from asthma or similar, but it’s the worry about how bad daily life could get. Everyone is talking about stocking up on supplies but I’m working today so can’t do a proper shop until tomorrow. I don’t have a lot of cash to do a Christmas-size shop and it’s not like the direct debits are going to stop coming out of my account because of the coronavirus. We are getting low on heating oil also, though it is finally warming up a bit outside. I’m not sure what would happen if we couldn’t go into work though I know my boss would do his best to keep paying us. I know I’m lucky that way but it won’t last forever. Though I guess neither will the coronavirus. I frost the cake I made for the office birthday and I’m at work by 9:15.

11 am Cake! Always makes things better. Lots of coffee, too.

1 pm I make it to lunchtime at work and then I go across to the shop and spend €30.30 on a big pack of toilet paper, a big box of firelighters, two bales of briquettes, milk, fresh rolls, cheese and ham, all of which we are almost out of. I would usually buy most of this in Aldi in my Saturday shop but I’m too anxious to wait so I probably spend more than I should shopping locally (though the firelighters are on sale and so is the big pack of toilet paper). I feel a bit better afterwards. I pay cash from the €44 in my wallet.

6:15 pm I’m not planning to spend any more money today but at 6:15 as I’m leaving work. I was invited to go for a drink and it’s turned into that kind of week, so I go. I spend €10.50 when it’s my round. There’s only a few euro left in my wallet now but I feel better walking home after a good day at work and two bottles of beer in my local. I had half-planned to go to an exhibit that’s opening in the Hall tonight, but it seems like not a good time for a group social event so I just go home. 

7:30 pm I put on an easy dinner (carbonara), and check the online banking. My health insurance direct debit came out, €253. It’s one of the highest monthly payments apart from the mortgage but I’ve always been afraid not to have health insurance and now doesn’t seem like the time to drop it. Though I’m not sure how far health insurance can help in relation to epidemics and all SARS-related illnesses.

9 pm I watch an hour of Netflix with my son, who is feeling better, which is a relief. I put the dishwasher on and go up to bed about 11pm; planning to spend half an hour online catching up on Instagram and anything I can find about the coronavirus. Shortly after 11, I get a message in a group WhatsApp chat that someone I know and am friends with, who also lives in the village, and who I was supposed to be having a coffee with this week, is in hospital with Covid-19. I’m both horrified to learn this for my friend’s sake and horrified that someone would share this information on social media. I want to message my friend in hospital but I don’t know if she is aware this is circulating and don’t want to upset her if she’s not aware. 

                           Today’s total: €40.80

Saturday 7th March

7:15 am I haven’t slept well. I message another friend at 8:15 am and we make an arrangement to go to Aldi together at 9:15. It’s my weekly shop, and I’d like to stock up on a few things as well, but I really don’t have the money and am regretting the money I spent yesterday. I’ve got to have enough in the account for the mortgage coming out on Monday.

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9:15 am - 1 pm I do the shop in Aldi and spend €95.95 which is high for my weekly shop. I’ve bought a few extra things. I spend another €32.33 in Tesco, again a few extra things. I’m with my friend and we go for a coffee afterwards, her treat, which is lovely. I get home at about 1.

1:15 pm I get a call from the good friend I had coffee with on Wednesday night and she tells me she’s been exposed, on Tuesday, and is now in self-isolation. She asks me to pick her up a few bits at the shop so I take back the €56 I’ve set aside for the history trip and go back out to the local shop to get what she needs, €15.70. I leave the bag at her door as she’s asked and I come home. I don’t feel like going anywhere ever again. I’m thinking no one should go anywhere. I’ve also spent a lot more than I should have by now. I need to check my budget and make sure I can cover the mortgage, and I’m wondering if I should have cash on hand for this situation though it’s a moot point as I don’t have any spare cash in my account anyway until the maintenance comes in again next Thursday and I won’t get paid again until the end of the month. There’s talk that the schools in the village may be closed from Monday. Now there’s a worry as to how this will affect Leaving Cert.

It doesn’t help that the weather is desperate again: cold, windy and wild. There doesn’t seem to be a weather warning in effect but it seems just as bad out there as it has been every weekend for the past month or two. It’s kind of overwhelming. I put the groceries away and fret. Have I been exposed by my friend? Should I be in self-isolation too? Do I have a sore throat? Does it mean anything? What about the kids? What about sewing club on Thursday night? They were all in my house… and the drink I had in my local last night… too many questions and no real answers. At least the history trip seems unlikely so maybe I won’t need to give the kids €56; which is good as I’ve only €40 of it left now anyway.

2 pm I check the budget, post-shop, and the mortgage is okay for the 9th; but I can tell that the over-spend on the groceries means that the TV/broadband payment won’t go through on the 10 March. They will automatically re-debit on the 20 (why can’t everyone do that) so I adjust my Excel sheet for that and I know the money will be there for it on the 20 March. I’ll get charged €12.70 by the bank in the meantime but there’s not much else I can do, and at least we have food and the mortgage will go through. I spend the rest of the day tidying, making homemade pizza for dinner, and stalking the coronavirus news, with a glass of wine around 6 pm to help with all that. My daughter’s boyfriend comes over (is this okay? should I have said no?) and my son and I watch a movie again at night. After that, I try to read in bed but I can’t focus so I’m back on my phone until after midnight reading the news and messaging my older daughters.

                Today’s total: €143.98

Sunday 8th March

7 am I wake up too early but stay in bed, reading the news and I watch a bit of Netflix (Schitt’s Creek, short episodes and very funny, I haven’t got the attention span for anything else). At 9 am I get up and make pancakes and then go back to bed with a pot of coffee. I’m tired.

12 pm I meet my friend at the beach with our dogs and we bring them for a run.

1:30 pm I’m doing a bit of work for my daughter’s dance school, to help cover the cost of her term fees. I work on a spreadsheet for them for about an hour and a half at my laptop.

3 pm I start putting together Sunday dinner; we are eating early today because I am going into Galway with my book club to hear Margaret Atwood speak (the ticket, €20, was bought in January). I’ve debated not going, it doesn’t seem safe, but I really don’t want to miss the chance to see Margaret Atwood in person; I read The Handmaid’s Tale in the 80s and it’s one of my favourite books. Dinner is a chicken pie with leftover chicken I’d frozen to save, and we eat about 5:15 pm. I clean up quickly, we’re leaving for Margaret at 6:30.

8-9:30 pm Leisureland is absolutely packed for Margaret Atwood and she’s amazing. As we are gathering our things to leave, one of us gets a text to say that another woman that we all know well has gone into hospital diagnosed with the virus; it was passed on to her by the woman I know who went into the hospital on Friday before she had symptoms herself or knew she had been exposed. We’re all stunned, and upset; we go straight home. 

10:30 pm I get home and say goodnight to the kids and message my older daughters, both of whom know the two people from our village who are now in hospital. Their families are self-isolating, as are more people I know; including, I hear now, someone in my local where I had a drink Friday night. I think I should have decided not to go out and I’m feeling bad that I went. I have a cup of tea and try to read but end up stalking coronavirus news on my phone again. I finally turn out the light at 00:30.

                    Today’s total: €0

            Weekly subtotal: €251.67


What I’ve learned:

  • To begin with, I was trying to keep this diary on a “normal week”, but this wasn’t that. Anything but. I’m from a small community but I now know four people currently in hospital diagnosed with Covid-19. Not just “pass in the street and say hello” know them but “stop to chat, end up going for a coffee” know them. That includes my good friend who called in last Wednesday night. I thought I might have been exposed through her; but when she provided her contact-tracing information they said no, last Wednesday night was too early for her to have been contagious, based on when she was exposed. But it’s in our area, so I guess we all wait and see.
  • This week was more or less a normal week in terms of spending, between the direct debits, the groceries, and other bits and pieces. I keep careful track of incoming and outgoings for my cash flow, but I haven’t looked at my overall expenses lately like this, so it’s a bit of a shock to find out that a ‘normal’ week is over €800 between cash and direct debits. There was some extra spending this week due to uncertainty about what’s coming due to the coronavirus situation, but I always feel as though I’m spending more than I have and I’m not sure what to do about it. On paper it looks like I should have enough—but I never seem to. I’m thinking I should probably go to MABS and ask them to review things with a more neutral eye since there’s no one else I can really discuss this with.
  • This week I’ve also learned that money isn’t everything… health is. I’ve learned that my mother is right when she says “it’s only money” and that I’d like to be worrying about nothing more than whether the mortgage is going to go through tomorrow. I’ve learned when all this is over, and I know it will be at some point, I need to go to MABS for some help and advice. But, for once, worrying about money, which I have honestly turned into an art form over the past number of years, is not the foremost thing in my mind.

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