My Money: 'It feels like a luxury to shop for non-essential items'

Image source, Sarah
Image caption,
Sarah on holiday before lockdown

My Money is a series looking at how people spend their money - and the sometimes tough decisions they have to make. Here, Sarah, 31 from Kent talks us through her weekly spending as the UK emerges from its third national lockdown.

Sarah lives with her three-year-old daughter Annie, who attends nursery while Sarah works from home.

Sarah works as a team manager in social care where she recently received a promotion. The increased salary has allowed her to spend more during her week.

Over to Sarah...

Image source, Sarah
Image caption,
Sarah and Annie during a walk

Monday morning and the start of a new week. I have back-to-back meetings but halfway through the day my cleaner arrives which feels very exciting after nearly four months of lockdown.

When I was promoted to a management role in early March 2020, I decided to hire a cleaner as a gift to myself - so that I would be able to spend my weekends focused on my daughter instead of doing housework.

She has been able to come periodically throughout the year, when restrictions were eased, but now that Lockdown Three has ended and restrictions are easing, I've asked her to come back every week for an hour.

It's £12 an hour and she does a wonderful job, and it gives me peace of mind knowing that I can focus on quality time with Annie at the weekends instead of mopping the kitchen floor!

While the rest of the country hit the shops for the first time since December, I sat at my laptop for the entire day, so no other spending for me today. My internet direct debit comes out today though (£24.45) so my total spend for the day is £36.45

Total spend: £36.45

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Apart from the nursery drop off and pick up, I don't leave the house today.

As a social work team manager, my days are full on, but I know it's important to manage my time well and I try to make sure that I take my lunch break most days and whenever possible I go for a quick walk around the block.

I use my lunchtime choosing my meals for next week's meal plan box. I haven't got a delivery coming this week as I wanted to use up some things from the store cupboard and freezer, but over the last two months I've been ordering a fortnightly box from a well-known meal plan company.

I select five meals from a wide menu and it then delivers all the ingredients and recipe card to my door. The meals are all for two people so I either freeze the second portion or have it for the lunch the next day.

I've been able to use discount codes and vouchers, so the overall cost has been reduced, making it almost the equivalent of what I would usually spend on a week's shopping.

I wouldn't be able to justify paying full price for the service but I do like the convenience of having it all packed and delivered - if only they could do the washing up after!

While I do the meal selection today, the payment for the box won't actually be made until next Monday when it is delivered - which means today's total spend is £0.

Total spend: £0

Image source, Sarah
Image caption,
Annie on her way to nursery

I used up the last of the milk when Annie and I had breakfast this morning, not even enough left for one cup of tea - so once I've dropped her at nursery, I make a quick run into Tesco and pick up six pints of semi-skimmed for £1.50.

It really is a quick run - I am in the shop for all of five minutes and most of that I spend in the queue for the self-service.

While the kettle boils I put tonight's dinner in the slow cooker. It is just a simple chilli today, which Annie loves as she is a huge fan of mushrooms and kidney beans. She'll have a little bit for her supper when she comes home from nursery.

During the week, Annie has the option of a second breakfast at nursery, and then she has a cooked lunch, tea, and two snacks during the day.

As a solo mum working full-time, I was pleased to find a nursery that "home-cooks" all their meals on site so I know she is getting good quality food like she would at home.

Even so, it's important to me that Annie and I always sit down together to eat supper in the evening. Sometimes I'll cook my dinner while she sits on the kitchen side and "helps me", and then she'll have a little bit of it for supper.

Total spend: £1.50

Image source, Sarah
Image caption,
Sarah's gifts

April is a busy month for friends' birthdays, and there are two coming up this weekend so I use my lunch break to go to the shops and get their presents.

It feels like a luxury to shop for "non-essential" items and even more so going without Annie who is at nursery which means I can have a proper browse around the aisles.

I decide on some hanging plant pots for one friend, and Annie and I will add some flowers we have been growing. For the other friend, who is a chocoholic, I buy a new mug, some hot chocolate and mini marshmallows and a little box of Milk Tray. At the last minute I add a scented candle too, so the total for both gifts comes to £17.43

I check my bank account at least once a week to make sure that all my direct debits have gone as planned - today I see that my membership fee for the British Association of Social Workers has been paid (£24.42) and my monthly child sponsorship through Compassion has been paid too (£33).

Which brings my total spend for today to £74.85

It's been a long week, so I invite a friend over to have a takeaway in the gardens. We choose a pop-up burger restaurant that we both love - and I decide to treat my friend as she's a teacher and going back to school on Monday after the Easter holiday. We order a deal for two, which comes to £25.00 and is totally delicious.

Total spend: £25.00

Annie and I love the weekend, and over lockdown we have got used to having a lie-in and looking at books in my bed, then having pancakes for breakfast and staying in our pyjamas for most of the morning.

Image source, Sarah
Image caption,
Annie's brunch

Not so today though - as the easing of Covid restrictions means that Annie's pre-school gymnastics class is starting up again this morning!

I pay her monthly fees for April, which are reduced to take into account that there are fewer Saturdays this month. This comes to £27.20.

After gymnastics we head into town to go to the library - another exciting activity after lockdown.

Since Annie has used up a lot of energy in her class, and to celebrate the fact that we just can, I take her to a lovely cafe to have brunch (outside!) Annie does a great job of ordering "sausage, and scrambled egg, and mushroom and beans" and I have a fantastic cooked breakfast (£15.00)

Image source, Sarah
Image caption,
Sarah's Aldi shop

Before we walk home, I pop to Tesco and to Aldi to get some basics. I usually do a "big shop" once a month at Aldi and fill up the store cupboard, fridge and freezer and then try to limit the number of "top up" shops that I do the rest of the month and just get milk and fresh fruit/veg.

However, Annie has some food intolerances that Aldi doesn't accommodate for, so I always have to do at least one "mini shop" at Tesco to get "Annie-safe" yoghurt, bread and other items.

I spent £3.69 at Tesco, on yoghurt and bananas, and another £3.39 at Aldi on cereal, orange juice and lactose free milk.

The total spend for today comes to £49.28

I have another no-spend today, having bought all the "top up" groceries yesterday. Annie and I spend Sundays with our support bubble, which consists of two of my closest friends and their children who are four and six.

Annie loves to play with them and it has been so good for all three of them to have each other to play with since bubbles were introduced in June last year.

We have a lovely day relaxing in their garden, and it feels like spring is finally here.

Total spend: £0

Weekly total: £187.08

How does Sarah feel about her week?

My total spend for the week is £187.08 - but when I take into account that £81.87 of this is monthly direct debits it doesn't feel that high… only £105.21 was money that I "actually" spent.

It is still a fair bit higher than my previous average weekly spend, but that was to be expected given it was the first week out of lockdown.

It's extremely rare for me to have a takeaway and then eat out twice in the same week but it was really nice to be able to treat Annie to brunch in a café.

She told me she has a "good plan" that every time she has gymnastics, we should go to a restaurant afterwards. I think she's onto something.

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