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Money Diaries: A process scientist on €57K supporting the family while her husband studies

This week, our reader is using her salary to keep the show on the road as her husband returns to learn a new skill.

TheJournal.ie reader

WELCOME TO HOW I Spend My Money, a series on TheJournal.ie that looks at how people in Ireland really handle their finances.

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

Are you a spender, a saver or a splurger? We’re looking for readers who will keep a money diary for a week. If you’re interested send a mail to money@thejournal.ie. We would love to hear from you.

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, so let’s be kind.

Last time around, we heard from a product manager living in Dublin. This week, a process scientist balances the family finances while her husband returns to college to upskill.

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I live in Dublin with my husband, our almost-two-year-old daughter and our dog. We bought our house over three years ago, a couple of months after getting married. I work in the biopharma industry and as a result of the pandemic, I generally work both onsite and from home, but it can vary week to week. I will probably keep working from home one-two days per week when normality resumes.

After our daughter was born, my husband decided to change career and is currently back in college doing a four-year degree in an entirely different field. While he could work alongside this, the course is challenging and it would undoubtedly add strain to family life so he made the decision to look after her, meaning he could focus on the course and his new career path. He loves it and especially enjoys having this time with her while she is young.

We are extremely grateful to be able to afford this option and be saving on childcare costs. However, we have still taken a hit financially, and as such we have to manage our money carefully every month. Thankfully we have been in this habit (albeit with a larger budget) over the last six years from saving so diligently for our wedding and house deposit. We have always more or less pooled out income. This just works for us and we will do this when my husband is earning an income again. Our goal for the moment is keep things tipping along without debt if possible, and build our emergency fund back up.

We use our joint current account to pay for monthly/bimonthly bills. We use our joint online saving account to save for annual and non-routine expenses when they arise. We our joint credit union account to save our emergency fund. We use a Revolut account, which we both have a card for, for the small amount of discretionary income left over.

Thankfully, we have no overdrafts or car loans etc., but can end up using our credit card sometimes when money is tight towards the end of the month if an unexpected expense crops up that we hadn’t planned for. With respect to annual college fees due, these are paid using company shares that I sell annually as they mature.

We enjoy cooking, baking, and spending time together as a family with the dog.

Occupation: Process Scientist
Age: 31
Location: Dublin
Salary: €57,991 excluding annual bonus
Monthly pay (net): €3,555.96 (after pension contribution and paying for additional annual leave)
Child benefit: €140

Monthly expenses

Transport: Diesel, tolls, and parking €140
Mortgage: €1,329.16
Household bills: Mortgage protection €35.65, monitored house alarm €30, gas and electricity allowance €125, TV and broadband €109, bins €17, monthly bank fee €6
Phone bill x 2: €25.98
Health insurance: Family policy paid for by my employer
Groceries: €423.5 including dog food and work lunch money
Subscriptions: Standard Netflix €12.99, Spotify Premium Family €17.99
Medications and contacts: €44.43
Counselling: €100
Annual/non routine expense allowance: €850-1000 – this may seem excessive but this I try to estimate everything that it is not a monthly/bimonthly bill for the year and then save monthly i.e. Christmas, car insurances and tax, health expenses, family days out, house maintenance, clothes, gifts etc. Currently targeting the higher amount to pay off some credit card debt.
Savings: €125

As we have one income, I have completed the diary on behalf of us, jointly.

***

Monday

6.45 am: Get up and ready for the day, let the dog out and get his breakfast. Catch up on the news on my phone, make an oat and fruit smoothie for breakfast and take a coffee upstairs as I head into meeting first thing.

8.00 am: Working from home today so I head upstairs to the office and log on to start the day. Very lucky to have a designated room to work in. Helps keep the dog and toddler from video bombing meetings!

9.30 am: After the morning of meetings, I check in on the family. While it’s definitely different than the office chats, I really enjoy having these snippets throughout the day when working from home, particularly as our daughter is learning new skills and words so quickly at the moment.

12.00 pm: Head downstairs to make lunch for us as my husband, daughter and dog arrive in from a walk. It’s a random combination of some leftover takeaway and some ham salad sandwiches.

1.00 pm: Head back up for with a cup of tea, ready to tackle the afternoon of meetings.

3.15 pm: Pop down for a quick snack and see how everyone is getting on. My husband and daughter are heading out to the local park, so I help get her ready.

5.30 pm: Finish up work and head downstairs. My husband has made a start on dinner and it smells delicious. I play with our daughter and before I know it, it’s time for prawn and pea risotto, inspired by the incredible Italian win of course! After dinner, we clean and tidy up while having a quick kitchen disco, and then I put laundry away.

7.10 pm: Bring our daughter up to bed. I do bedtime most evenings but I don’t mind as it’s a nice bonding time and good for me to wind down. After a new Julie Donaldson story, she’s out like a light. Head back downstairs and catch up on last night’s Love Island (no judgment please, it’s easy entertainment!), that we missed due to the final of the Euros.

8.20 pm: My husband heads out to play football and I log back on to try get a grapple on emails and my to-do list. I also check to make sure we have enough money to see us through to pay day.

10.00 pm: My husband is home from football. Time to watch tonight’s episode of Love Island. It’s easy watching and requires little energy, ideal for tired parents. Have a polar sandwich aka an iceberger – a truly underrated ice cream.

11.00 pm: Head up to bed.

                        Today’s total: €0

Tuesday

7.55 am: Wake up later much than planned as I fell back asleep after my alarm. Our daughter was awake 5.30 am for a bit. Quickly get up and ready for the day, usual routine. Make a smoothie for breakfast again and take a coffee upstairs – badly needed this morning.

8.15 am: Log on for the day and the morning meetings.

9.00 am: Go downstairs and help get our daughter dressed and ready. My husband brings her to his parents’ and my parents’ house at least once a week each. They are great support to us and really cherish this time with her after so many months of video calls. He generally uses this time to attend lectures or complete course work, and also catch a break. He has an essay due for an additional certificate course he just completed. He’s under time pressure this morning as he forgot he has an appointment in the opticians. Opticians check-up is free for him due to PRSI contributions but new glasses cost a cool €236.63. They’d want to be magic glasses for that price.

1.15 pm: Go downstairs and make lunch – a ham salad sandwich. We started buying a ham fillet and cooking it to have as lunch meat. We slice it and freeze some of it when it’s cooked and just defrost as necessary. Much tastier and works out much cheaper too. Have a cuppa and some chocolate I found in the press. Take the dog out for a quick 20 minute walk to stretch the legs and get some fresh air. My husband buys lunch for €5.00.

2.00 pm: Head back upstairs for the afternoon.

7.30 pm: Finally log off from work – got dragged into something and had to get it over the line. Usually I can’t really stay late but luckily my husband is still at his parents’ house. He comes home later to miss the traffic and avoid a danger nap that would mess up bedtime. I go down and get started on dinner, stirfry rice and veg with salmon. My husband calls to let me know he will be later than usual as the bank card got stuck in the pump in the garage. After a 30 minute calamity, my husband manages to fill up his car (€50.16). The 0.16 surely is to wind me up! I clean the kitchen while waiting for them. When they arrive home, I transfer our daughter to bed while dinner is getting dished up.

9.00 pm: Head downstairs for a late dinner and to chill out and watch TV. I continue sewing a felt giraffe I’m making. I’ve already made a little elephant and our daughter loves it. I bought the kits in the middle aisle of Aldi and have really enjoyed them. Think I might attempt to make some sort of decorative mobile with them.

10.30pm: Head up to bed.

                        Today’s total: €291.79

Wednesday

7.30 am: Get up and ready for the day. Tired this morning as daughter was up in the middle of the night, I blaming the warm weather. Also received a phone call late to inform us about an emergency situation with a family member. I contact work and let them know I won’t be in or online for today.

9.00 am: Husband makes coffee and breakfast, toast with penaut butter and some fresh berries. We all leave the house to go attend the situation and support in whatever way we can. We bring the dog as we don’t know how long we’ll be.

3.00 pm: The day was spent assessing the situation, planning and organising the immediate situation, as well as putting a longer term plan with numerous phone calls to the relevant supports. A family friend paid for parking at the hospital as I had no change and also bought lunch in a local cafe for us. Simple kindness like this is very appreciated in situations like this. We leave feeing relieved that we have plan in place and the person is safe, but frustrated at the system.

4.00 pm: I have a follow up hair appointment to correct something from my previous appointment. It doesn’t cost me anything but I buy a product I had been thinking about since the previous appointment for €27.50. I notice the mortgage protection direct debit has come out €35.65.

6.15 pm: Home after an intense day. I play with our daughter while my husband whips up a Chinese style fake-away chicken curry from scratch, a fav in our house. Clean and tidy up afterwards and get our daughter ready for bed.

8.45 pm: Bring our daughter up to bed, much later than usual with the day was in it. Head back downstairs and watch TV. I make us hot chocolates. Not the season I know, but exactly the comfort I need today.

11.00 pm: Head up to bed.

                                 Today’s total: €63.15

Thursday

06.45 am: Get up and ready for the day. I take the dog out for a short walk to clear my head. Make a coffee and some porridge when I come back and take it upstairs to the desk.

07.45 am: Log on for the day and try catch up on what I missed yesterday.

9.00 am: Go downstairs and help get our daughter dressed and ready. My husband brings our daughter to his parents’ house to try and finish the essay. He also has a dental appointment, costing €260.00. This is the second part of some his treatment. Parking costs €2.65.

12.15 pm: Head downstairs to make lunch. I throw an omelette together with some bits from the fridge. Window cleaner knocks in to let me know he’s here and to open the side gate. He is a new guy who came around recently. I was impressed with the price and his professional manner. He does a great job and it’s €40.00 well spent. Our estate still has some construction going on, so we won’t get it done very often, maybe three times a year. I take the dog out for a short walk. My husband buys lunch for €4.50.

1.00 pm: Back upstairs for a full afternoon of meetings.

4.00 pm: Head downstairs for a snack. Remove a load of washing that my husband put on and put on another load. Play with the dog in the garden for a couple of minutes.

6.30 pm: Finish up work. My husband and daughter are home. I play with our daughter while my husband makes dinner, chicken burger, salad and chips. Clean and tidy up afterwards and get our daughter ready for bed.

8.00 pm: Bring my daughter up to bed. Head downstairs and watch TV.

11.00 pm: Head up to bed.

                         Today’s total: €307.15

Friday

7.00 am: Get up and ready for the day, usual routine. Take overnight oats and coffee upstairs.

8.00 am: Log on for the day and the morning meetings.

11.00 am: Help get our daughter packed and ready to go to my parents’ house. My mum rang this morning to say they would like to take her for the night. I’m delighted and very grateful. My husband drops her out and picks up some delicious freshly baked bread and coleslaw for our lunch on the way home costing €2.69.

1.30 pm: Head downstairs for lunch. I hard boil some eggs and assemble salad bowls for us. It’s nice to chat together without interruption.

2.15 pm: Head back upstairs to work.

5.00 pm: We plan out the meals for the week ahead and then head to do the food shop in Aldi – a much calmer experience sans toddler. Had to be creative with the meal planning for the following week as money is tight enough until payday. Shopping comes to €51.65. I pick up a book and game for an upcoming birthday of a friend of our daughters. I throw in a copy of the same book for our own daughters upcoming birthday. Total is €13.26. We head to Dunnes to get a couple of remaining items that we can only get in Dunnes €15.26. While we’re there we pick up some summer clothes that are badly needed €82.50. Feel a bit guilty even though they’re needed. I always find it easier to spend money on my husband and daughter than myself. Notice that the direct debit for tolls came out €7.80.

8.00 pm: Head out for a walk with the dog. Everyone is in good form with the weather and we get stopped a few times along the way. I’m biased obviously but our dog is beautiful. He’s not quite fully grown yet but always draws attention and I never mind chatting to people. This was an unexpected bonus of getting a dog.

9.00 pm: Husband dishes up steak and chips. We had initially planned falafel but couldn’t resist the steaks for date night. Chill out for the evening and watch TV.

10.00 pm: Head up to bed. Try on the clothes we bought and decide some will be returns as they are too big or don’t suit. Organise our wardrobe a bit while we’re at it.

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11.30 pm: Hit the hay.

                      Today’s total: €173.16

Saturday

7.00 am: Up early to get organised for the day. I am going to visit family and stay overnight with our daughter to support them. Make a veggie-packed beef chilli for dinner later, taking out a portion for my husband, and some homemade burgers for their freezer. Pack an overnight bag for myself, and pack some toys and books to keep our daughter entertained. My husband has a professional workshop for the day so he gets ready to log onto that.

9.30 am: I make a takeaway coffee, and some almond butter and banana toast to bring with me. En route, I drop a birthday present I bought a while ago, into a friend for her little boy’s 2nd birthday. I arrive to my mum and dad’s house to collect our daughter. Have a little catch up with them and then head back on the road.

12.00 pm: Arrive down and see how things have been. I make some sandwiches for lunch a while later and the afternoon is spent playing and pottering in the garden and paddling pool in the sunshine.

6.00 pm: We have dinner and afterwards our daughter plays for a bit at the sink, simple games are the best. I clean and tidy up afterwards. Then I get our daughter ready for bed and bring her up.

8.30 pm: Head out for a walk with the dogs to a very peaceful nearby beach. Sea looks incredibly tranquil and serene, after a glorious day of sunshine.

10.30 pm: Head up to bed but takes a while to fall asleep with the heat.

                            Today’s total: €0

Sunday

4.00 am: Up and dressed early to relieve my family members’ partner. My family member is not very well so it’s important to have somebody awake in the case of emergency. I had hoped our daughter would stay asleep but it was wishful thinking. I give up trying and she comes downstairs with me. We watch some Peter Rabbit and have some cereal and fruit a while later. She falls back asleep for a while. She wakes full of energy and we do some colouring and watch a film.

10.30 am: My mum arrives to take over from me. Briefly catch up with her and then repack the car with the ridiculous amount of bags needed for one night, and get going.

12.00 pm: During the week I have arranged to meet friends so I drop our daughter into my dad and head out with a couple of friends for lunch and a walk afterwards. It has been at least 18 months and feels great to catch up with them. Lunch costs €22.00 including a tip.

3.00 pm: Pick up our daughter and spend some time catching up with my Dad and telling him about my upcoming DIY plans. Eventually, coax our daughter to leave the paddling pool and slide. Get home to my husband and the dog. The weather is amazing so we spent the rest of the afternoon in the garden. My husband gets charcoal BBQ going in preparation for cooking a whole chicken and gets dinner for our daughter as the chicken won’t be ready before her bedtime.

7.15 pm: I bring our daughter up to bed and she’s out like a light. We prep the couscous salad and salad dressing for dinner.

8.00 pm: Chicken is ready and worth the wait! Dinner al fresco – could get used to this! Clean and tidy up afterwards. Then chill out and watch TV.

11.30 pm: Head up to bed.

                         Today’s total: €22.00

Weekly subtotal: €857.25

***

What I learned –

  • I was already clued in to what we were spending. There were a few unusual expenses this week. This is where having savings set aside comes in very handy. I should get back 50% of the optician and dental expenses with my health insurance.
  • Living on one income can be hard, because we were used to having a particular lifestyle, including eating out and getting takeways etc. without thinking. It can be hard at times to keep things in check, particularly when forgoing something simple like a takeaway when our discretionary income for the month is gone, in favour of making sure we have money for a later expense. However, it isn’t forever and we’re appreciate that the option to have one parent at home is not one that everyone can make.
  • It was far easier to stick to a budget when we were in lockdown. We feel the pressure of socialising and therefore spending money, from friends who are in better financial positions/different stages of life. However, with vaccinations increasing amongst our friends, we are starting to have friends over to our house for brunch and dinner etc. again, something we really enjoy doing.
  • When college fees no longer apply and my husband is in employment again, we will be able to enjoy things a bit more without worrying. We’ll also move to investing child benefit and my matured shares in a long term investment product, and increasing AVC’s as it’s more tax efficient.
  • I acknowledge that this level of micromanagement isn’t for everyone but to keep things afloat, this is the way it has to be. I grew up in a family where money was tight so management of it was necessary. It was simply a way of life due to our circumstances and what my parents had to do to provide the best could afford for my siblings and I. I have the luxury of a secure job already earning more than they ever did so I want to maximise security for my family in the future. This level of financial planning has also has got my husband and I to where we are today. Given our current situation with only one income, it is of the utmost importance to keep afloat and not slip into debt.

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