My Money: ‘We are £200 to £300 a month worse off’


Image copyright Laura Tarver

My Money is a series looking at how people spend their money – and the sometimes tough decisions they have to make. Here Laura Tarver from Oxford takes us through a week in her life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Laura is 35 and lives in Abingdon, just outside Oxford with her husband, two-year-old daughter and cat. She works part-time as a speech and language therapist both for the NHS and privately. Her husband Tim is a doctor. In her spare, toddler-free time, Laura enjoys running, and during lockdown has taken up learning the ukulele online.

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Over to Laura….

I am woken at six by my little girl Izzy shouting from next door. Today I am working from home, while she goes to the childminder.

Our time during lockdown has been quite varied. At the start, I tried to juggle my two-and-a-half days of work around childcare, being very thankful that I didn’t work full-time. I then had a very brief stint being redeployed as a home carer within the NHS, and now that things are starting to get back to normal, I am starting to work as a speech and language therapist again, thankfully while Izzy continues to go to the childminder.

Today, the childminder fees for June come out – £563 for the month (although the government pays 20% of this as part of the tax-free childcare scheme). As all of my work is usually schools based, it is not known yet how long we will have to work from home for – we are starting to try to carry out more therapy online, but this is tricky with many of the children I work with.

As a very small plus side, working from home is saving me money and time on commuting, which is often an hour each way in Oxford traffic. I spend £33 on filling up the car today, which I have to do significantly less often than pre-lockdown.

Total spend: £596

Image copyright Laura Tarver

Today, during my lunch break, I pop out to pick up some clothes and a toy trolley for Izzy, which I found advertised on a Hand me on Baby and Toddler site I follow on Facebook. These sites have saved me a fortune over the last few years, as well as avoiding buying new when not needed. Generally, I like to get as much as possible from places such as this, charity shops or second-hand sales, although with those not being available over the past couple of months, I have had to get a few bits like toddler sandals and shorts during my weekly shop.

Our fortnightly cleaner also starts back today, hurrah! Although a bit of a luxury, I feel that this £20 a fortnight is more than justified by the number of arguments it saves in our marriage!

In the evening I take part in an online ukulele course, shown on Facebook. In non-Covid times, these take place in a pub in Oxford. Although lockdown has obviously limited our opportunities to go out, I was never able to make this class in person due to Izzy’s bedtime, so having the chance to do it online now is a plus! The class organiser has kindly made the class fee voluntary (£6) for those who are on limited finances at this time.

Total spend: £26

Image copyright Laura Tarver

Lots of bills go out today, making me feel considerably poorer! Our mortgage is £1,000 a month, while a combination of various insurances (cars, house, pet), mobile phone, council tax and a couple of charity and professional subscriptions comes to £314. We try to review these fairly regularly, to check that other subscriptions haven’t sneaked in that we are no longer using, but they do seem hard to pare down.

I pop to the supermarket to get a few bits we are missing, and somehow end up spending £18. This includes a big bag of compost – like half the country, I’ve got into gardening during lockdown. Because I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, anything that doesn’t die feels like a bonus – and I can’t wait to see if we get anything edible out of it in a couple of months time.

I also treat myself to a takeaway chocolate milkshake from a local cafe (£3). This is the first time I’ve had the chance to do something like this in weeks, and feels like heaven!

Later on, I buy an e-book for a bargain £2. I usually tend to try to get books out from the library, or from the charity shop, but again with those options out of action at the moment, I have been getting a few online.

Total spend: £1,337

Today me and Izzy head to the supermarket for our main food shop of the week. This comes to £63, which is a bit less than usual. Although most of our spending has gone down during lockdown, our supermarket spends have definitely gone up – probably due to less eating out, and feeling like we deserve some “treats” at home!

In the afternoon, I take Izzy for a bike ride near our house, on her balance bike. Lockdown has meant I’ve got much better at finding these close by, free activities, whereas before it was always easiest to sign up to classes like music or gym classes for easy entertainment. It’s nice to have time to play at home a bit more and not be so tied into a schedule, as well as saving some cash!

In the evening I carry out some private speech therapy online. Pre-lockdown, I saw four or five children privately every week. This has now decreased to only two, who I see online. I haven’t yet got my head around how to provide therapy online effectively for everyone I see, but need to start thinking about that if the situation is unlikely to change for a while. For the moment though, this does mean we are around £200-£300 a month worse off.

Total spend: £63

Image copyright Laura Tarver

Today we have a lovely walk with a friend, her toddler and two-month-old – the first time I’ve met the little one! While it’s great to be allowed to meet up again, I am missing our usual options of a cup of tea in someone’s house or a cafe, especially given the looming rainclouds. Still, it’s another free outing.

We also treat ourselves to our weekly lockdown takeaway, this week Lebanese. This has been a little treat to ourselves since the option was taken away of going out for dinner, to pubs, cafes etc, although ironically we used to manage this much less than once a week.

It’s also the time in the week that me and Tim make to sit down and have a proper conversation, which can often get missed with work and toddler bedtimes. We are making our way through all the local places still offering takeaway food in our town – all to support the local economy of course! Today’s was £40, quite steep, but gives us enough food for tomorrow lunchtime too.

Total spend: £40

Image copyright Laura Tarver

My Money

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Today me, Tim and Izzy meet up with some different friends to help them walk their dog. Our child entertainment options have changed a lot since lockdown. Previously we would have relied a lot more on paid activities, such as soft play, farm parks and cafes. Now, we tend to have a walk or a cycle ride, with a packed snack for Izzy.

It’s enlightening to see that she gets just as excited by these smaller, cheaper trips as the previous bigger ones, although she does keep asking for different activities she is going to do “when virus gone”. Although we have definitely saved money on our weekend trips out, we did compensate for being at home so much with a 10ft trampoline!

Unfortunately the good weather has turned, so we hide out at home in the afternoon with a film. We also have to jumpstart the car. (Note, don’t let your toddler play at “driving” without checking the lights are switched off at the end!) I clearly don’t learn from my mistakes as the same thing happened a few weeks ago with the other car! Luckily this time we don’t have to end up shelling out for a whole new battery…

Total spend: £0

Image copyright Laura Tarver

Another day, another walk with friends. This time we go to a local farm park, which has opened up a few walks past the animals, and (woop woop) the cafe! So we spend £2 on parking and £5.50 on ice creams for us all. It’s been lovely this week catching up with friends we haven’t seen for so long.

This afternoon, despite having time to cook, we were all feeling super lazy, so we got Domino’s Pizza (£20), which made me feel a bit guilty from both a health and money perspective, but as always we promised ourselves that next week would be better…

Total spend: £27.50

Image copyright Laura Tarver

Total spent this week: £2,089.50

How does Laura feel about her week?

As it was “bill week”, this obviously made it much steeper than other weeks in the month. Taking out the bills and childcare costs, we spent £209 on other things, which is more than I was expecting before adding it all up. It was a slightly decadent week, with two takeaways, but apart from that I don’t think there were any other big luxuries. Although the amount we spend on food has gone up since lockdown, I think spending has gone down on other things such as trips out and shopping for non-essentials, so I don’t think we are doing too badly.

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