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Dublin: 15 °C Friday 29 May, 2020
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Money Diaries: A charity worker at home during the shutdown with her wife and two teenage children

This week, our reader juggles work, parenting and looking after her wife, who is ill, during the Covid-19 shutdown.

TheJournal.ie reader

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 and any lifestyle changes 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 25-year-old Design Engineer who usually resides in Dublin but has moved home to isolate during the Covid-19 shutdown. This week, a woman who works in the charity sector describes life in a busy household during the coronavirus changes. She’s also a landlady.

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I’m working for a charity in the disability sector for over 20 years. I married my partner four years ago, we live in her house and we rent mine out.  My wife is out of work since 2017 due to illness; she pays her mortgage and mortgage protection for our main residence out of her illness benefit.  

We had initially planned to sell both houses, pay off the mortgages, and buy a house just outside Dublin with smaller or no mortgage, but that dream had to be put on hold due to my wife’s illness and the loss of her income. The house prices rocketing in the areas that we were hoping to move to was also a factor.  Now with the pandemic and an impending economic recession, it looks like we won’t be moving anytime soon. 

I have two teenagers from a previous relationship, living with us, a son in college and a daughter in secondary school. My ex-partner pays for half of the kids’ college and school expenses. I enjoy reading, meeting my friends, going to the local if there’s a good band playing and cooking; I am a major foodie, my wife jokes that I miss my calling as a food critic. 

I aim to put between €1000-1200pm into the credit union every month: €100-300 of this goes towards Christmas/family birthdays/holidays/Rainy Day etc., the rest is to cover the tax bill, insurance, RTB & accountant fees, and any necessary repairs in relation to the rental property. 

We just finished paying off a PCP car loan in February, it’s the first time (apart from our mortgages) that we’ve been loan-free in years. We have almost €20,000 in our credit union account but €2,000 of that is the tenants’ deposit, this year’s rental retainer, and the 2019 rental tax bill has yet to be paid. Our rainy day ‘portion’ of this is about €5,000. We had way more savings than this four years ago but we had to dip into it over the years for various emergencies.  

Occupation: Family Support Worker
Age: 50
Location: Dublin 
Salary: €42,891
Monthly pay (net): €2,905 
Rental Income: €2,150 
Child Benefit: €140

Monthly expenses (pre-Covid-19 rates):

Mortgage: €1,300 on rental property 
Car: €468 (tax, insurance, servicing, NCT and petrol/diesel for two cars)
House Insurance: €51 for main residence
LPT: €67pm for two houses (LPT is not tax deductible against rental income) 
Life Assurance: €19
Household bills: €180 Gas/electricity  
TV & Internet: €87
Mobile bills: €105 (bill pay for self, top up credit for wife, GoMo for kids) 
Health insurance: €140 (for self & wife only)
House Alarm monitoring: €36 for main residence 
Groceries: €475       
Dates/night outs: €300
College/travel expenses etc. for son: €300
Lunch/pocket money for daughter: €100
Medical expenses: €135pm (average cost medicine/doctor/consultant fees for partner) 
Subscriptions: €12 Netflix

***

Monday 20 April

8:45 am: My ‘human alarm clock’ nudges me awake.  In another era pre-Covid-19 I used to get up at 7 am for work but in this surreal existence I’m really struggling to get up, not sleeping well these days, I keep meaning to contact my GP about this.  

9:30 am: I’m at my ‘office’ at the end of our kitchen table with my cup of coffee; checking emails and making my ‘to do/call’ list.  My job is usually pretty full-on, sometimes involves anti-social hours and weekend work.  I am lucky that I still get paid to work from home during this lockdown.

11.00 am: My wife is having one of her good days and makes breakfast for everyone: batch bread sambos with bacon, white pudding and fried eggs. My son comes into the kitchen bragging that he was up working away on a college assignment since 7 am and has it done, I give him the job of tidying up the garden shed to keep him busy for the rest of the day; he’s not too impressed and starts on the ‘merits of having time to do nothing’, but it’s not washing with me! 

11:30 am: My daughter appears, just about, and we all instantly cheer.  This is a record, she’s hasn’t got out of bed ONCE before 3 pm since Easter ‘holidays’ started. She haughtily tells us she has an online class at noon, grabs her sandwich and disappears back to her room.  Wife and son head to the shed as I return to my ‘office’.

3.00 pm: I need a coffee break so I go rooting for a snack to keep me going but find nothing decent.  I fry some halloumi cheese slices instead and start doing my ‘rounds’ checking in on the family. My wife is sunning herself in the garden; my son did half the shed then disappeared back to his room. Daughter is at her desk with school books open and 4-5 classmates on a Zoom screen; as I wave at them, they all look at me in horror… I’m hoping it’s just my hair, it IS in a right state these days.  

5:30 pm: I’m done working, clear the ‘office’ off the kitchen table and get started on making dinner.  We had a delicious roast chicken dinner yesterday, so today I’m making a pasta bake with the leftovers: chicken, paprika, fresh tomatoes, mixed with penne pasta and a cheesy sauce with a bit of mustard; I saw Mary Berry doing this on BBC about 87 years ago and have been making it same way ever since.  The only thing that was missing is fresh basil, there was none in the shops last week.

6.10 pm: Catch TheJournal.ie’s newsflash banner on my phone reporting an additional 77 people dead from Covid-19, the highest daily number reported so far, it gave me an awful jolt seeing that jump. Are we getting worse in Ireland? I thought we had already peaked?  I swear myself off looking at any more news until tomorrow.

6:30 pm: Dinner is subdued tonight, we don’t usually discuss the coronavirus situation at the table but today’s news hinted that the lockdown could go on longer than we expected, means our family holiday to Spain in June could be cancelled.  It was going to be our first sun holiday in over two years, we were all looking forward to it, I got a cheap apartment rental from the friend of a friend and we paid for flights ourselves; the kids each had a friend coming with them paying their own flights. Going to have to cancel our apartment booking, will lose the €100 deposit but I don’t mind that, will leave the flights until nearer the time and hopefully Aer Lingus will offer us our money back if they cancel the flights.  

7:30 pm: My 79-year-old mother calls, giving out that I’ve not phoned her since Saturday, she’s currently doing her own version of cocooning while staying in my sister’s house about 40km away.  She still goes out walking with the dogs every morning and pottering around the garden talking to everyone that passes the gate. We have all tried talking to her, even the fact that an old neighbour of hers from her hometown passed away from Covid-19 last week hasn’t stopped her. I’ve given up fighting with her at this stage. 

8-11 pm: This is usually family time: we try to get together watch some TV/Netflix, chat, play a game of Uno or Scrabble, depending on our moods.  Tonight my son is doing some online quiz game with his friends, and our girl is still working on school work that must be emailed to her teacher by 11 pm. We end up watching Netflix by ourselves. 

11:30 pm: I make myself go to bed; after 30-40 minutes struggling to sleep, I start reading a book from the BorrowBox app on my phone until 2:30 am. 

                Today’s total: €0.00

Tuesday 21 April

8:30 am I manage to drag myself out of bed this morning and get to my ‘office’ by 9 am, armed with coffee and toast, immediately getting started on my calls.  Most of our service users are cocooning or self-isolating, so I link with them 2-3 times a week to check if they need any support, shopping ordered, or even a dog walked.  I pass on some requests to the local authority or local volunteer groups to arrange any support as our clients are scattered all over the Leinster region.  Most families were great linking in regularly with their vulnerable relatives at the start of the lockdown, but for some people that support is starting to taper off.  I might be the only person they are talking to all week… a couple of them are struggling this week, so I spend a bit more time than usual with them today talking about coping mechanisms and making them laugh with a joke or two. 

1.00 pm: My wife is having one of her illness flare-ups today and is staying in bed. No sign of life from either kid’s room yet.  I use the rest of our leftover vegetables and chicken stock to make soup for lunch with bread rolls. We are running unusually low on supplies this week, I need to go shopping again soon, but I calculate we can hold off for a day or two and use up what’s in our cupboards or freezer first.  

5.00 pm: The ‘office’ has closed; I’m drained, it’s mentally tiring work trying to keep people positive. Realising no one has turned up for their breakfast or lunch, I do my rounds: check in on the wife, still sleeping.  The son is in his gaming zombie-mode with a headset on and some combat looking game on his PC screen.  Daughter’s PC has Zoom on again, school books open, and watching YouTube on her mobile phone, but that’s not what irks me. In both kids’ rooms, I spot empty wrappers from the biscuits/crisps/spicy crackers/chocolate treats and other food that I had noticed missing. I usually let rip over this, give them both the verbal hairdryer treatment, but after a few weeks of tough tense stubborn standoffs and arguments over keeping them at home, I decide to bite my tongue and head off to the local park for a brisk walk and calm down instead. When the lockdown started I had big plans to go walking every day, but I’m only getting a walk in every two or three days.

6:30 pm: I’m back home and I pull out a couple of frozen leftovers from last week’s dinners: a savoury chicken and rice dish for the wife and spicy mince for the rest of us to make wraps with some grated cheese and salad.  I call the family for dinner and we spend over an hour around the table just making small talk. Afterwards, I casually mention it’s bin night and assign both teenagers to bin duty as those wrappers aren’t going to walk themselves out.   

8.00 pm:  I call my mam, she tells me that her old neighbours’ family have all tested positive for Covid-19, then asks me to order her a book online.  She’s hopeless with that stuff; a few weeks ago she ordered five or 10 border plants to be delivered for my sister’s garden but 50 of them arrived.  The book she wants is only available from Amazon she offers me her card details but I insist on paying for it. It costs €11.04 including postage.

9.00 pm: I open a bottle of wine for myself and partner; we had said no drinking until Friday but after the day we’ve both had, it’s strictly medicinal – honestly!  I make the kids join us for a game of Uno until they start squabbling over the rules and I send them both to their bedrooms. I’ve had enough of the pair of them!

11:30 pm: Lights out… I think I will sleep better tonight after that vino. 

                      Today’s total: €11.04

Wednesday 22 April

5.00 am: My wife wakes me up, there are noises and laughter coming from my son’s room keeping her awake. He complains he’s ‘too buzzed’ to sleep so had decided to play some online game. I end up taking his keyboard away. He might get it back on Saturday if he’s good.  

6.00 am: Couldn’t get back to sleep, gave up trying and so I come down to the kitchen to make coffee, toast, and get stuck into doing work reports.  

8:30 am I jump in the shower and put on my smartest work clothes on for our weekly online video team meeting at 9:30 am with the area manager today. We’ve another team member out for the next two weeks due to illness/self-isolating. Their workload gets redistributed among us, we are all feeling the pressure right now. I had asked my manager for one-to-one supervision soon and had planned to discuss getting some extra support as I’m starting to feel overwhelmed with the increasing workload.   

11:30 am: My wife gets news this morning that a relative of hers, in a nursing home, has tested positive for Covid-19. They seem to have a mild dose so far.  But news like this doesn’t help her illness, the more stressed she is the more likely she is to have flare-ups.  

12:30 pm: I put in an email to my GP to request a consult, and get a brief phone call less than 30 minutes later. After a gentle pep talk from him to be kinder to myself, he recommends a course of sleeping tablets, to help me get some much-needed sleep. The prescription will be emailed to the local chemist, I’m charged €25.00 for the prescription.

1:30 pm: I finish up work for the day on GP’s orders, reheat the soup for lunch for myself and wife, there’s no sign of the kids this morning again. It’s a beautiful day so I suggest a walk, to the local park after lunch, to my wife. We used to do a weekly date night, usually the cinema or a local pub, or join some friends trying out various restaurants around Dublin. It’s been weeks since we had a date or even a proper chat, she’s feeling very frustrated and has a lot more pain because of the lockdown limitations, missing her community physio and swimming sessions, while I am exhausted from lack of sleep and stressed over my work.  Add two headstrong rebellious teenagers doing our heads in, little wonder the tension of staying home is affecting all of us.  

3.00 pm: I jump in the car and drive to the local chemist to collect my prescription (€8:15) while queuing for the chemist I decided to order a surprise Chinese delivery for dinner. We all adore Chinese food and it’s been ages since we had any. I check my account to make sure I have enough money, before heading to the ATM for the first time in weeks to get cash out, to pay for the delivery, as they don’t take cards. It feels really strange handling cash after so many weeks using my card.  

5.00 pm: Kids are kicking off about how unfair life is, the ‘Twenty One Pilots’ concert in June has officially been cancelled. I got three tickets for them (and me as a chaperone as our girl is only 13) as part of their Christmas presents. Looks like I will be getting a refund within 21 days.  If I’m honest, I am secretly delighted I was dreading that concert!

6.00 pm: The Chinese delivery arrives and cost €50.00 (€47 plus €3 tip to the driver) and instantly the mood lifts; we share two starters and four mains and sides between us.  Nothing like a good meal to lift the spirits. After dinner we watched TimeTrap on Netflix; what a weird movie! 

9.30 pm: I’m starting to crash so head to go to bed early. Didn’t think I would need the sleeping tablets but I take one anyway.

                    Today’s total: €83.15

Thursday 23 April

10.00 am: Woke up in a fright. I’ve slept in and I’m late for work!  Thankfully no one has noticed. I’m still feeling tired and drained, GP did warn me it will be a few days before I feel any benefit. I grab a coffee, and catch up on emails and overdue paperwork.  I’ve no calls to make today thankfully.

11:30 am:  I bring my wife coffee, scrambled eggs and toast in bed, she’s feeling sore again. I then order the kids up; take their mobile phones, they each get a list of chores to do including stripping and remaking the beds, laundry and hoovering, they will get the phones back after they complete the list.    

12 noon:  My mortgage provider calls me, my application for a mortgage break was declined. There are five people renting my house: three of them are claiming the Covid-19 Emergency Payment while the other two are still working as normal. The rent is considered affordable for them at €100.00 pp per week.  When the emergency first started and three of them lost their jobs overnight I told them not to worry about paying April’s rent.  

1.00 pm: Lunch is tinned mackerel mashed up on toast and put under the grill; the kids are disgusted! I was raised on this as a kid and still love it. I add my own touch with a bit of grated parmesan, splash of Worchester and black pepper. Divine!  Every so often I order a €25.00 vegetable box online from a local farm, it’s a massive box with fresh Irish grown top-quality vegetables and fresh eggs. I put in my order, it will arrive tomorrow sometime. The ingredients change from time to time but include 10kg potatoes and eggs, which does us for over a week.

2:30 pm: Have an online supervision meeting with my manager; they are aware we are all struggling and a decision needs to be made to reduce calls to service users that appear to be coping fine or have other supports and to focus on priority clients instead. I’ve to review my list to see if this is workable. She points out that our future funding may be cut if we are facing a serious economic recession, so all our jobs are at risk.

6.00 pm: I finish work for the day; time to make dinner for the family. I find some frozen prawns, a tin of sweetcorn and some rice. The Masterchef 3 ingredients 30-minute meal challenge begins. Throw in an egg, soy sauce and chillies and we are all sitting down to stir-fried spicy rice with prawns. Only the girl complains about “another fish dish?!”  At least the boy has no problem eating all her unwanted prawns.    

7:30 pm: Call my tenants and check that they all are staying safe and well, and everything is okay with the house. As I inform them of the rent situation they immediately offered to pay back rent for April but I decline, no need to pay anything until May. They are great tenants, the place is spotless and well maintained any time I visit. 

8:30 pm: I call my mam, she’s in good spirits, still waiting for her book. I remind her that we only just ordered it and it will take a few weeks to arrive from the UK.  She moans she’s not heard from my other sibling in ‘weeks’ but when I text the family WhatsApp group, my brother informs us he did call her yesterday and my sister (who she lives with) has also ordered the same book for mam last week. We all get a good laugh out of this.

9.00 pm: Everyone is ‘peckish’ so I make pitta-pizza snacks.  Slice a pitta bread open fully lengthways, spread a tomato-based sauce (I make my own from passata, herbs, garlic and other condiments), some grated cheese, chopped onion, mushrooms, sliced chorizos or ham etc., and bake in the oven.  When they come out of the oven cut them into strips like finger food… gone in seconds. 

10.00 pm: I skip TV, head to bed early to wind down with a book; take my sleeping tablets, and I’m snoring away by 11:30pm.

       Today’s total: €25.00

Friday 24 April

8.00 am: I’m wide awake before the alarm; still wrecked but not as bad. I head to the ‘office’ early with coffee and catch up on emails before making my calls.  My priority list has been reduced by 25%, I have to inform these clients that I’ll just be checking in once a week going forward.    

10:00 am: As today is payday, my wife goes to the local post office to get stamps (€10) top-up for her phone and pay the electricity bill; she collects our order of breakfast rolls and ‘real coffee’ from a local café offering collections (€9.95).  The Home Monitoring alarm direct debit came out this morning too.

12.00pm: I head to our local Dunnes to get our shopping; I learned that if I go down after work or on Saturday, the queues are longer and half the shelves are bare.  So I take an extra-long lunch break on Thursday or Fridays to do our weekly shop. Today is the monthly shop with all the extra bits like toilet rolls, cleaning and laundry products. The total comes to over €216, that’s after the €15 off shopping vouchers and €10 Easter Vouchers. This is much higher than I usually pay, but we are all at home eating more than usual, and well, there was a special reduction on our favourite vino this week, I just couldn’t resist getting a few extra bottles. Before anyone objects: we only shop in Dunnes once or twice a month – most of the time it’s Aldi or Lidl.  Mind you, if I go to Aldi or Lidl I end up buying DIY/gardening stuff so I’m spending just as much!

3.00 pm:  I’m back at my ‘office’ making last of my calls and weekly reports to management; while the kids are tasked with wiping down and putting the shopping away.  The vegetable delivery arrives too. I make a note to move the ‘goodies/snacks’ later… just have to think of a good hiding place for them or there’ll be none left by Monday.  

6.00 pm: I’m officially finished work until Monday, but my work phone remains on all weekend in case a service user requests support or a work emergency arises. Once a month, usually on the Friday around payday, we have a chipper dinner; thankfully our local chipper is still open for delivery. That’s €27 (€25 plus €2 tip to driver) buys four meals: fish n’ chips for us and burgers meals for the kids with cans.  

7:30 pm: I get the laptop out to review our monthly budget, as there’s no rent coming in for this month, the mortgage is due on Monday and I’m conscious that we are spending way more on food than we usually do. I also got my phone bill notification for a direct debit coming out on 10 May with an extra €12 from texting a donation to various charities this month. To offset this I’m already saving money elsewhere by working from home: no petrol costs, no pocket money for the kids (where are they going to spend it anyway?). My wife’s consultant appointment for next week (which costs €125 per visit 3-4 times a year) has been postponed. There’s a rebate being offered on our private health insurance and the refund due from Ticketmaster, which reassures me somewhat.  But I’ve decided to hold off putting any money into the credit union, until mid-May, just in case.

9:30 pm: I join the family in the sitting room with a bottle of vino; we are doing a quiz on a Kahoot app organised by a cousin tonight, it’s hilarious with fun facts about relatives that kids didn’t know about. It was a great way to link in with our extended family too.

12:30 pm: lights out.  Didn’t take my sleeping tablets tonight, had enough vino to knock me out.

              Today’s total: €262.00

Saturday 25 April

9:00 am: Woken by a work phone; a service user has woken up with a temperature and is ‘not feeling good’, he wants me to ‘organise a test’ for him.  After calming him down and reassuring him I can contact the local out of hours’ service to get in touch; while gently reminding him that he may need to have another symptom as well as a temperature before they can test him.  He agrees to wait until tomorrow to see if he’s still not well before deciding to ‘call for a test’.

10:30 am: I make our traditional Saturday fry-up for myself and the wife and leave some bacon and sausages for the kids to make a sandwich whenever they get up.

12 noon: I spend the morning tidying the garden while being directed by the boss, my wife from her sun lounger.  Our neighbour sticks his head over the fence for a chat tells us there’s a ‘social distancing’ fundraiser event being held on our street later on: with bingo, games, music, etc.  I’m not a bingo fan, but we agree to join in the rest for the craic.

4:30 pm:  I was in the mood to cook a beef curry but with the good weather, I change it to a marinated beef stir-fry with green cabbage, ginger, soy and chilli; served with noodles; washed down with vino.

6.00 pm: The Street Fun event starts and we are all out the front with the neighbours, enjoying the session with more wine.  I donate €20.  I found out the next day we raised over €400 between us which was good going.

9.00 pm: I’ve had enough and retreat inside to watch TV and have a bit of me-time. The kids disappear to their rooms while my wife stays outside chatting until 10 pm.  

11.00 pm:  I’m ready to crash, as we head to bed, we can hear some neighbours still going strong outside… there will be plenty sore heads tomorrow!

                     Today’s total: €20.00

Sunday 26 April

8.00 am:  I wake with a sore head and parched to the core, didn’t think I had drunk that much. I get up for a couple of paracetamol, a slice of toast for soakage and some water.  I bring in coffee and toast for my wife (who is also suffering) then put my head back down for a snooze.  

10:30 am: I’m now feeling okay-ish sitting up in bed reading snippets of news online, I really enjoy reading the ‘Sitdown Sundays’ articles on TheJournal.ie.  I text the client who called me yesterday; he’s “much better today”. That’s a relief, panic over, I can enjoy the rest of my day.

12:30 pm: I have the meat in the oven for our dinner; I get my son to help with preparing the spuds and the vegetables. I’m making roast beef with roast parsnips, carrots & potatoes in the oven, served with mash potatoes and gravy. I get a text from some friend earlier this week challenging me to do 5 km for charity and make a donation, I toy with the idea of lying, saying it’s done, and just donate the money instead. But I’m already feeling guilty not getting enough exercise, and all the vino/food consumed this week… and there are 1.5 hours to kill until cooking time, no excuse not to go. 

2.00 pm: As I get my runners on, I invite the kids to join me to do the challenge, so we go around our local park twice. They manage it no bother but I am red in the face and struggling towards the end. But hey, I did it! I donate €15 online (€5 from each of us) and show off my run map to prove it. We enjoyed it so much going to make it a weekly event – the walk that is, not the donation.  

4.00 pm: After a quick shower, it’s time to finish off making the dinner and serve up.  We have a great conversation going about what we all want to do when the lockdown is cover. My daughter wants a sleepover party in the garden; son wants to go on a lad’s holiday with his mates; my wife wants to go to Howth, walk the pier and eat fish outside overlooking the harbour. I just want to have a massive meal in our favourite restaurant and hug all my friends again. 

7:30 pm: The kids enjoy their ice creams; my wife and I don’t do desserts, instead I make us up a small cheese board with three different kinds of cheese with crackers, chutney, piccalilli and pickles. I open “the last bottle of vino til next Friday” (we have been saying this every week since the lockdown started!). We end up playing scrabble for a couple of hours.  The wife always wins at this.  

9:30 pm: The kids disappear to their rooms, as usual, I give my mum a call but she cuts me off with a “call me tomorrow I’m watching the Gerry Ryan thing on RTE!”. We end up watching it too. I can’t believe it was 10 years ago.

11:30 pm: Before heading to bed I catch up with some friends via text messages, everyone is saying the same thing: “when will this lockdown be over, sick of it already!”   Maybe not the best conversation to be having before bedtime as I toss and turn for a full hour before giving up and taking a sleeping tablet. 

             Today’s total: €15.00

  Weekly subtotal: €416.19

***

What I learned

  • I’m usually much more disciplined with money and make myself stick to a strict budget.  But finance control, monitoring has gone out the window in the past month with all the new changes.

  • I’ve developed a soft spot when it comes to donating to charities, need to keep an eye on this.

  • This was an expensive week as we had the ‘big shop’; two takeaways in the same week plus let’s be honest we ARE buying way more food and drink than usual.

  • Really hope it ends soon or I will need to be strict with myself. I don’t want to come out of this lockdown as an anxiety-ridden overweight drinker, addicted to sleeping tablets!

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