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Dublin: 1°C Saturday 26 September 2020

How I Spend My Money: A health sector worker on €73,000 who moved home from Australia with three kids in tow

Some of her older children are still living in Australia.

WELCOME TO HOW I Spend My Money, a series on TheJournal.ie that runs on Wednesdays and Sundays 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. Want to take part? Details on how to do it are at the bottom of the piece.

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. 

During the week, a woman living in Australia discussed the benefits of working abroad and today a single parent with three children who recently moved back to Ireland from Australia talks about making a tough move home. 


Occupation: Health services
Age: 53
Location: Kildare
Salary: €73,000
Monthly pay (net): €4,100
Child benefit: €420. This pays for school costs and clothing during the year. I don’t receive any child support from my children’s other parent.

Monthly expenses
Mortgage: €700
Home improvement loan: €488
Household bills: Gas (€65), electricity (€50)
Transport: €413. Transport is difficult to price as it varies. I drive a lot for work, but can claim back a mileage allowance and tolls. I would average €36 per month on road tolls, but I only pay €12 after claiming €24 back. Petrol costs €300 per month. This includes the cost of getting to and from work (not claimable miles), driving kids to and from activities and visiting family and friends around the country. My train fare is about  €75 per month. Luas tickets €26 a month. My parking at the train station (or the Red Cow Luas) would be roughly €24 per month.
Phone bill: €0 (Paid for by work). I pay €48 monthly for broadband.
Life insurance: €48
Groceries: €800 (including cleaning products and toiletries)
Clothing and shoes: €100
Car tax, insurance, servicing and annual NCT: €160
Travel: Over the past few years, our travel has averaged about €5,000 annually. My goal this year is to save €120 per week into my travel account to visit New York, London and Rome. Sounds like a lot, but I’m an expert at cheap flights, Airbnb stays and public transport – we get around a lot for a reasonable price. I will start at the beginning of February when I have all the January bills out of the way.
Gym membership: €28
Child sponsorship: €38 

I’m a single parent who moved back from Australia two years ago with three teenagers in tow. I lived out there for 20 years and the standard of living and lifestyle we had was very good, but all my family are here and my parents are getting older. I also wanted to be able to use my skills in Ireland to try to help improve health services – big dreams! It was a big decision as Australia was very good to me and provided opportunities that I would never have had as a single parent here at the time.

It took over a year to buy a house. Finding something I could afford that wasn’t snapped up by a higher bidder was difficult. I ended up buying a house that needed a lot of work. I had some money saved from the sale of my house over there, so I didn’t need a huge mortgage, but then when it got to renovating the house I realised it was going to cost a lot more than I had planned. I had to take out a loan to rewire, plumb, etc. I haven’t finished renovating yet, but have to do it on a bit-by-bit basis when I can get money together.

Since I have older children in Australia, it’s important to us that we go back there as often as we can – so that’s a priority in my spending and saving. I love travel and think that’s important for us as a family so we have been to a number of countries over the years. My kids are very good and don’t look for the latest brand names or most up-to-date technology. We’ve never had a PlayStation or Xbox in the house – and don’t have TV.

I get paid monthly and try to put a lump sum of €1,000 per month into my ‘bills’ account, which covers my mortgage, utility bills, car insurance, tax and a couple of insurance policies. It doesn’t always meet the costs and sometimes if an unexpected expense crops up I have to dip into it.

My goal this year is to withdraw €700 per week in cash and not use my debit card so much as it’s too difficult to keep track of spending. It sounds like a lot of money, but there are so many different expenses.



First day back after Christmas break and I’m going into the office in the centre of Dublin. I HATE going in to the city and have to decide how to get there today. If I drive, it’s bumper-to-bumper all the way up to Red Cow, then standing for 40 minutes squashed like a sardine on the Luas. If I take the train, it’s €25 return, but gets me a short walking distance to work. I decide to take the train, so I’m up at 6:00am to shower, get ready, unload the dishwasher, put on a load of washing, feed the animals – a dog and a cat – and have a coffee.

I leave the house and drive 10 minutes to the station. Park by text is €3.50 for the day and my ticket is €25. I buy a coffee on the walk to work (€2) from Tesco express and get in at 8:30am to start the day. It’s crazy busy catching up on emails and phone calls.

I’m on a health kick for the New Year (me and the rest of the country), so I have a shake for lunch. Kids usually make their own lunch at home and bring it to school with them. I bought a stock before Christmas in anticipation of the need to lose the Christmas excess, so no cost involved.

I leave the office at 4:30pm to catch the train home. Home by 6:00pm, but I stopped at Tesco for groceries (€47.06). I make dinner and catch up with the kids about their first day back at school. The kids do the clean up after dinner and put dried clothes away. Then they all fight over the shower. It’s a big issue in our house. I think they were mixed up at birth are really half mermaids/mermen. The showers generally end with me banging on the bathroom door and threatening to turn off the water.

My daughter is also focusing on health, so she uses my gym membership and heads off for a couple of hours. I’m glad she is using it as I haven’t used it in the last six months, but it’s a three-year contract deal and not expensive so I don’t want to cancel it.

Today’s total: €77.56


Working from home today, but I’m generally up at 6:00am anyway. I love working from home as I get twice as much done. I FaceTime my daughter in Australia while I’m having coffee and we catch up for half an hour.

I start working around 7:00am. My daughters are up and getting ready, but my son needs a bomb under him to get him out of the bed. I went to a parenting talk once where the presenter explained that growing adolescent boys need up to 13 hours sleep a night because of the rapid pace that their brains and bodies grow. If my son ever meets that presenter he should get on his knees and thank her for preventing numerous morning fights as he was growing up.

Anyway, I digress. All hell breaks loose with a fight over school socks. I check feet, yes they still have only two each. We have HUNDREDS of socks in our house or at least it feels that way as I’m always buying them.

Once they all leave the house, I can concentrate on work properly and work straight through to 2:00pm with a quick break for a coffee and shake. My dog is booked in for a groom so I coax him into the car and drive over to the appointment. It’s only a few minutes drive but my dog is 16 and objects to walking.

He really should have gone in before Christmas, but the groomer (who is also a friend) was booked out and I didn’t really need the expense at the time. I pick up two coffees on the way (€4), have a quick chat as she is flat-out and then back home to work until 5:00pm.

I already have roast pork in the oven and add roast potatoes to it and cauliflower, broccoli and carrots in a cheese sauce.

I collect the dog, who looks amazing, but the grooming (€40) has revealed that his skin is quite inflamed in places so I’m recommended to take him to the vet. It was on my to-do list anyway as he has an ongoing medical condition that needs regular check-ups.

Usual evening routine of dinner, chats, homework, showers (complete with door banging and threats). The kids clean up after dinner. We are all early bed goers, so everyone’s in bed by 10:00pm most nights.

Today’s total: €44


My daughter needs €20 for a school field trip this morning. She’s doing her leaving cert this year so it’s important that she goes.

I’m travelling to Limerick for work today, so I’m out the door by 7:30am. I stop at the service station on the way and fill the car up (€66.84) and grab a coffee (€2). Lunch is provided and toll is paid for by work.

A friend gave me some light fittings before Christmas and the electrician calls while I’m driving home to see when he can fit them. There’s another couple of small jobs I need him to do so we organise for tomorrow evening. I also need to get a bulb in my car for the NCT tomorrow, so I go to Halfords on the way home and get a bulb and oil (€31.20).

I stop at Aldi on the way home for groceries and toiletries (€52.25). Usually I go to Dealz for toiletries and cleaning products as they are way cheaper, but don’t have time today.

I’m in the door by 6:30pm. It’s the same evening routine, but no cooking as there’s lots left over from yesterday. I visit a friend for a couple of hours and back home for bed by 11:00pm.

Today’s total: €172.29


My car is in for its NCT today. I booked it online for what I thought was 6:30am. “Would you like to save this to your calendar,” said the web page. “Sure do,” I replied. I have been known to forget about appointments, so I always take this option if offered.

I’m up at 5:45am for a quick shower, coffee and off I go. The NCT centre is in total darkness when I get there. I check the calendar and yes it’s in there for 6:30am. Check email confirmation and notice that it says 6:30pm! Bloody hell! Yes, I know I should have checked that it was PM and not AM, but really in this day and age can you not use the 24-hour clock?

Drive back home to another pre-school sock fight. I gain a small amount of sympathy, but mostly derision, from my kids who think it’s hilarious that I yet again got times mixed up. I work at home again today and don’t stop for lunch as I’m focused on what I’m doing. My neck is killing me and I should go back to the physio at some stage, but not now.

I remembered to call the electrician and ask him not to come over this evening as I have the NCT and reschedule for Saturday morning. I finish work around 5:30pm when the chanting for food becomes too loud to ignore. The kids do cook dinner occasionally, but part of the whole New Year resolution thing was to try to have more healthy and interesting meals on the menu, so I’m in control.

Today, it’s chicken burritos and salad, which is nice and quick as I have to get over for the 6:30pm NCT. The place is packed. I explain to the lady behind the counter that the website could do with updating and she looks at me blankly and shrugs. I probably would too if I was at work at 6.30pm with a freezing draught blowing in the door.

My car is in and out in half an hour (€55). No luck in passing unfortunately. Apparently I need a wheel bearing on one side and ball joints on the other. I can tell by the sympathetic look I get from the tester that this is not going to be a cheap fix. My car is a 2007 1.8 petrol. I know it’s not economical, but I bought it from a friend when my other car suddenly collapsed.

Since I’m paying back a house renovation loan, I really can’t think of getting a loan for a decent car for the next three years. I need a car for work and it’s essential that I have something reliable. I knew the history of this car and that it was well looked after. Unfortunately its age and the amount of driving I do is now catching up with it.

I stop for a few essentials like bread and milk on the way home (€14.55). I get home and contemplate having a glass of wine to settle the anxious feeling that’s building up about car repairs, but decide to watch an online movie instead. It takes my mind off money.

Today’s total: €69.55


Back in Dublin today. Surprisingly Friday is one of the best days to drive in. The roads are not as busy on the way up, but I need to either leave early or stay late to avoid the exodus on a Friday afternoon.

I leave the house at 7:15am. I was going to drive to Red Cow and park for the day then catch the Luas into the city, but when I check Google Maps it tells me I can drive into the office in an hour compared to the 1 hour 40 mins if I park and ride. We also have free parking at work, which is a bonus.

I decide to drive the whole way in and get into the office at 8:30am. Fridays are always busy and there is still a lot of catch up from the holiday break, plus a huge amount of work coming up over the next couple of months to prepare for.

I have a shake for lunch and by 3:00pm, I need to decide to either go or stay. I decide to stay so that I don’t have work on my mind over the weekend. I bought a coffee, salami and olives in Tesco Express (€6.80) for dinner and my eldest daughter made spaghetti bolognese for dinner this evening at home.

I end up working until 10:00pm. I’m very satisfied with everything I’ve managed to get done and my car is outside the door – it’s such a nice feeling. There’s very little traffic in the city and I get home in exactly one hour.

I talk my to daughter in Australia on Messenger on the way home and catch up with what’s happening over there. My kids get out of bed to say goodnight to me, which is lovely. My youngest daughter reminded me that her art lessons had begun again tonight. She couldn’t go as it’s a half-hour drive away, oops! I’m in bed and asleep within half an hour.

Today’s total: €6.80


I have a lot on this weekend, so I’m up at 6:00am. All washing has to be in the laundry on Friday evenings for Saturday morning washing or it doesn’t get done.

I get all the uniforms into the wash, feed animals, change sheets and go grocery shopping at Tesco (€69.88). I pop into Dealz (€41.40) for a few bits and pieces and collect a necklace that was in the jewellers for cleaning (€15).

I take my dog to the Saturday morning clinic at the local vets (€155). Of course he has to do the business as soon as we walk in. I apologise profusely while the vet nurse finds a towel to soak up the lake he’s left on the floor. The vet is wonderful and we work well together to keep this 16-year-old in the best shape possible. He’s older than my two youngest children and deeply loved by us all.

Today we decide to try something different for his skin. We decide to try a relatively new injection, which is having good results, but is quite expensive. I start to feel a bit anxious about cost, but it will hopefully work for six months and possibly up to a year, so I decide to go for it as he’s driving himself crazy scratching at his skin lately.

My eldest daughter cleans the bathroom and floors on a Saturday morning and is paid €20 for this. She also has a part-time babysitting job and buys her own makeup and most of her own clothes.

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I call over to my mechanic and show him the NCT report. I’m lucky that he’s open today. He tells me he will see what parts he can get, but it’s going to be about €350 to €400. I will have to book it in after I get my next payslip, which is two weeks away. I get home just as the electrician pulls up. He is a lovely guy who rewired my whole house after I bought it. He fixes the new light fittings, replaces the fan in the bathroom and changes the bulb in the outside security light for €40. I give him €50 and he tells me he will put it on the lotto – we will split it if he wins… I wish!

Going out for dinner tonight with my partner. We have been together for a couple of years, but live some distance from each other, so I generally only get to catch up once a week during school term. We both put a lot of time into our work and families outside of the time we spend together and stay in touch through FaceTime, messaging and phone calls a lot during the week. During school holidays we do as much as possible together, which is nice to look forward to.

I leave my daughters money for cleaning plus €20 for my son who is going to a movie with friends – plus another €10 for my youngest daughter to catch up with friends. I drive to my partner’s house and get ready there for a couple of drinks before dinner.

The meal was lovely and very reasonable, including drinks it was €68. We go to listen to a band, catch up with people and don’t leave the pub until about midnight. My share of dinner and drinks is €79.

Between the two of us, there is generally something on socially most weekends, but not always pub-related. We have a few good concerts lined up for the summer and hope to get away somewhere for a week together. We generally split the bill and buy rounds if we are out for a drink.

I’m ferociously financially independent and hate the thought of owing anyone for anything. I think it’s because I grew up in such a poor Ireland and remember when I was a young-single mother queuing for butter and meat vouchers and how demoralising that was. I’ve worked really hard, and been given the opportunity by Australia to make sure that I never go back there – it breaks my heart to see the poverty in this country again.

Today’s total: €465.28


I wake up at 10:00am and can’t believe I’ve slept this late. Obviously the few drinks helped! We decide to go out for brunch (€11.50) and after a quick stopover in a nice little café go for a stroll around the shops.

I’m over the sock fights that have taken place at home this week, so first stop this morning is Penneys where I buy 15 pairs of school socks and some underwear (€21.90). Then into the sports shop where I pick up a pair of sports leggings for my daughter – who has been at the gym every day this week – and grab a pair of yoga pants for myself (€36). I go to Homebase as I need a few things for the house (€31.50). I buy a present and card for my niece who has just had a baby (€22).

I leave around lunch time and stop for petrol (€65.69) while driving to the Red Cow Luas. I park (€4) and get the Luas (€5.40) into town to the Coombe. The baby is beautiful and the proud parents are beaming. I stay and chat for an hour and then get the Luas back to the Red Cow to drive home.

I’m usually home earlier to do family stuff, but kids all had busy schedules this weekend, so I came home to an empty house. They get home shortly afterwards. My dad calls in for tea and a chat and stays for dinner. I’m back up in Dublin in the morning and will get the train again, so after my dad leaves I start getting clothes ready, have a shower and get into bed.

Today’s total: €198.26

Weekly subtotal: €1033.74

What I’ve learned:

  • I’m shocked that I spent that much. It was an expensive week with the NCT and vet fees, but it feels like most weeks have something unexpected at the moment.
  • I have previously managed to keep my weekly spending in around €700, but it’s getting harder all the time. Two teenagers with braces and another one needing them shortly is an example of how quickly your money can disappear.
  • I’m earning the equivalent to my earnings in Australia, but the cost of living here is so much more expensive that I doubt if I could ever have the same quality of life that we were used to there. Don’t get me wrong, I know we have a great quality of life compared to others but it’s nothing compared to what we had.
  • I dread the thought of any of us becoming ill and having to use the health system here as I know how broken it is. The idea of going back is growing stronger all the time. I thought that once I had gotten over the cost of re-establishing a home here that it would get easier, but it feels like it’s getting harder.

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. 

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