A 23-Year-Old Software Engineer & Singer In A Band On 36k

Laveta Brigham

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking a cross-section of women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period – and we’re tracking every last penny. This week: “I’m 23 and have been working full time […]

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking a cross-section of women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period – and we’re tracking every last penny.

This week: “I’m 23 and have been working full time for over a year now, having graduated in 2019 with a physics degree and now working on a grad scheme at a financial services company. I knew I wanted to go into tech because I really enjoy it, and genuinely didn’t realise how lucrative it would be financially. I feel incredibly fortunate to be where I am now, especially considering how COVID has left many of my mates unemployed and back at home. 

I’m also in a band, which while being a super fun passion project, is an absolute money sponge and quite a risky venture to be doing financially, particularly in the COVID era. Music has always been a huge part of my life but now I’m in a stable and well-paying job, I’m starting to question whether I really would ever take a pay cut to do music full time. I am not too bothered that I’m spending a lot on this in the short term because I’m young, barely out of uni, not in debt and don’t have any dependants.”

Industry: Tech/Finance
Age: 23
Location: East London
Salary: £36,000
Paycheque amount: £2,125 (after pension contributions, monthly payment for buying five extra holiday days a year, and student loan).
Number of housemates: Three (H, V and D).

Monthly Expenses

Housing costs: £740 base rent per month (hello, London).
Loan payments: N/A (I already paid off my student overdraft).
Utilities: £18.75 for my share of the gas and electric, £3.22 TV licence, £40.85 council tax, £7.50 water.
Transportation: ~£65 long distance trains, ~£50 transport around London (when not locked down).
Phone bill: £10 per month SIM only (I bought the handset outright last year).
Student loan: £92 per month. My current balance is £51,830.90, laughable really as the more you earn, the more interest they whack on the top. I just try to think of it as a tax in order to spare my sanity.
Savings? £400 in a pot per month in my bank account (I should really look to invest as it’s just sitting there), £100 per month into holiday pot (I try to put into this but end up taking it out if I overspend), £100 into a locked pot for a new laptop, £50 for reserved band spending (although I normally have to spend more than this).
Other: £10 Spotify, £3 musical instrument insurance, £20 to band bank account (we set this up last year and this barely scratches the surface), £80 split between Mind, Nordoff Robbins (a music therapy charity), the Music Venue Trust and the Stephen Lawrence Trust – my company lets me donate this pre-tax, which is pretty great.

Day One

9am: Get up (I sleep like a log but I’m determined not to sleep away my rare day off). I went to this amazing brunch place called The Barge House in Haggerston a couple of days ago (it serves a full breakfast in a massive sourdough bread roll). I have my leftovers which I put in the oven for brekkie, yum. I literally do this every time I go out because it’s such a great way to save money (1 -> 2 meals) and also not stress-eat my way through a massive meal when I’m full and not enjoying it. I watch an episode of Good Trouble.

10am: Still chilling as I realise I’m leaving in an hour. Buy some reusable freezer bags from Amazon (last time I use my now-cancelled Prime subscription, I promise). They’re spenny but hopefully will last a few years. I’m bulk cooking leftover pumpkin later this week so will use them for freezing some of the portions. £14.99 

10.30am: Cannot seem to sit down and watch one episode of a programme without getting distracted so start separating out the supermarket basil I bought to propagate in some water. I’ve never done this before so I’m excited to see if it actually grows! 

11am: Leave to take train to Brighton for a hair appointment later. Bought ticket yesterday. 

11.40am: Sitting on the Tube and starting to shit myself a bit about my hair appointment. I’m getting the fronts dyed e-girl style and it’s the first time I’ve ever dyed my hair – hopefully it’ll look sick and not shit. Ah well, guess it won’t matter since we’re going into lockdown again in a couple of days. Buy Pret sandwich in Victoria and settle down on train to Brighton. £3.35

1pm: Arrive in Brighton and have half an hour ’til my hair appointment so take this opportunity to browse Snoopers Paradise, a wacky, massive vintage shop. Buy a vintage glass bottle to propagate more plants. £3.50 

4pm: Hair is done and looks great! A bit more expensive than expected but considering the self-employed hairdresser said he’d lost over half his salary due to COVID, I didn’t feel that bad. £83 (also paid a deposit when I booked which sadly totalled the overall cut to be more than this).

4.10pm: Feel super hungry at this point and acutely aware it’s still two hours before dins so go to a fudge shop and buy a couple of flavours to share with the guy I’m just about to meet. £5 

4.20pm: Meet K (the guy I’m seeing) and we decide to grab some beers and head to the beach to kill time before dinner. He very much enjoys the fudge flavours (rum & coffee and lemon meringue) and we have a little snuggle on an otherwise empty beach. £7 for four beers. 

6pm: Cold and slightly tipsy, K and I head to the pizza place for dinner. I order a Romana pizza without the ham (I’m veggie) which the Italian waiter finds hilarious as apparently it’s like ordering a pepperoni pizza without the pepperoni. It tastes flipping great anyway and I grab half to take away to eat for tomorrow’s lunch. £0 as K pays.

7.30pm: Head to another pub for a couple more drinks to make the most of our time together before lockdown (K lives in Brighton). Having tried to slow things down with him a couple of weeks ago, I changed my mind and decided to ask him to be my bf – he found this very cute and said yes. I fancy him a silly amount. 1.5 pints £7.95.

10.15pm: K and I have a sad goodbye before I head back to London – because of lockdown I won’t see him for at least a month, which sucks big time but it is what it is. I find it pretty sucky how societally backwards the lockdown laws are – that a relationship is deemed legally valid only if you live together. Can’t argue with the science I guess.

12am: Get back to flat and fall into my bed after a lovely but kinda bittersweet day.

Total: £124.79

Day Two

8.15am: Alarm goes off, I snooze for about half an hour. My mantra is max sleep = happy woman. I can get up, get dressed and start working by 9am. The perks of working from home! I check my emails (200 and most are automated service updates, bleurgh) and grab some coffee and porridge while I work out what I need to prioritise today. 

12pm: Set my Slack notification to ‘run/lunch’ then promptly decide a run is not what mildly hungover me wants to do right now. Do some more work and wait for my flatmates to break so we can do some abs/butt exercises instead. 

1pm: H finally gets off a call and we can do exercise! Do 20 minutes of butt and 10 minutes of abs using YouTube tutorials. Shower and eat the leftover pizza from yesterday which I’m very smug about. I have a late-night work call on Thursday so can afford to have some longer lunches this week. 

2.30pm: I’m in back-to-back meetings until 5 as some of my colleagues have now come online. I’m basically the only colleague in the UK on my team and so my mornings tend to be empty and my afternoons (and sometimes evenings) chock-a-block, which has taken a lot to get used to. At least the clocks have gone back now which means I can normally be done before 5.30. 

5:30pm: After meetings running over (love a bit of West Coast USA time difference), my three flatmates and I head out to grab some food and drinks. We have a table at a brewery booked for 7pm and get to the food market for 6pm to find it’s completely shut apart from one food stall (the bao buns stall, thank Christ). I get a wave of bleakness – is this how dead London is going to be for the next year with COVID? I buy a bao bun but it’s tiny so I share some tofu rice with H as well. £9.50 in total.

7pm: Grab our table at the brewery. The beer is a bit meh, I’d take Brewdog over this any day (classic millennial huh). Two pints £10.50.

9.30pm: Get back from pub. My flatmates go to bed so early, I swear to god. They’re all in bed by 10pm and I just cannot bring myself to turn my light off before 11.45pm. 

10pm: Grab some more pumpkin pie and ice cream and watch Grand Army on a mate’s recommendation. It’s very, very good and I’ll probably finish it in a week…

Total: £20

Day Three

8.15am: Alarm and get up. Turn on my phone and watch a truly dystopian speech from Trump about the election being ‘rigged’, how depressing. I’ll try and get the lowdown from my US colleagues this afternoon but will have to be quite careful, given some of them will be Trump supporters. 

9am: Check emails and grab brekkie and coffee. I invested in a pretty decent coffee machine using some vouchers back in April and I’ve never looked back. I’ve developed an addiction to oat flat whites though… 

10am: While working I remember that this is the last day of freedom for a while so I pre-book some eyebrow threading for lunchtime. I haven’t had this done for around eight months so it’s gonna hurt! 

12.30pm: Lunchtime! I head for my eyebrow threading – they’re 15 minutes late but I’m sure they’re super stressed today given it’s the last rush before lockdown. Think to myself, This isn’t so painful, then change my mind straightaway, oweeeee. £7

1pm: Head to Sainsbury’s for brekkie top-ups (bananas, yoghurt, frozen berries etc.), £6. Then I head to the local market for the first time to grab some fruit and veg. It’s sooooo cheap: I get two cabbages, six bulbs of garlic, two punnets of chillies, two mangoes and three massive aubergines for only £5. I tend to go a bit cooking mad during lockdown so have loads of dishes planned (sounds like a hell of a lot of food for one person but a lot will be frozen!).

1.25pm: Get back and have some lunch. I have so much food in right now, including some spare homemade gnocchi and tomato & mascarpone sauce from date night at the weekend. It goes straight in my belly.

2pm: Head back to work and prep for some meetings later. I’m presenting a paper to my team tomorrow evening so need to finish reading it and make a deck. Also do some data pulling from a database using Python for some manual labelling later. I’m finding I’m way faster at learning a new coding language than I used to be – once you know a couple, learning another can be quite straightforward, which is immensely satisfying (especially considering how shit at coding I was this time last year compared to now). 

5pm: Day is done! Had a truly awkward 1:1 with one of my clearly very Trump-supporting mentors who said that if Biden wins, it will be a win for communism. Pfft, I guess it’s not my country. I do 15 minutes of yoga as I’m stiff from yesterday’s exercise. 

5.30pm: Head to see a couple of my mates in west London for the last time before lockdown. It’s an 80-minute journey – I sometimes forget how gigantic this city is. Will not be doing this again in a hurry. Buy a bottle of wine from an annoyingly expensive off-licence on the way. Should have planned ahead. £10 

10.30pm: After a lovely meal and company, I head back with a mate before we part ways at Earl’s Court. 160-minute return journey is really a piss-take. The Piccadilly line is so slow…by the time I get back and get into bed it’s 12.30 and I sleep straightaway. £7 travel.

Total: £35

Day Four

8.15am: Wake up and actually roll out of bed pretty much straightaway. I even do 15 minutes of yoga before work – what’s gotten into me? Today is going to be a long, long day as I have an evening meeting where I’m presenting an academic paper. This morning I spend most of my time preparing for that and rehearsing it to myself in my room. I’m getting studying vibes from all this, which I kind of miss. I don’t miss the endless library days though.

12.30pm: After catching up with a few fellow grads over Zoom for half an hour, I work up the effort level to go for a run. I run way longer than expected – was aiming for 5k but did 6.5. Listen to a podcast called Darknet Diaries which is normally about hackers/cybersecurity but this time is about revenge/hacked porn. It makes me a bit paranoid and also so angry at how the owner of a revenge porn website blamed the victims for being hacked, as well as saying that they made that decision when they took the photo. Glad to hear he went to jail.

5pm: My 5pm stand-up is cancelled with an hour’s notice which is lovely and very helpful because we get a text from our band manager at 4.54pm to say we have a radio interview at 5pm… We put on our best energy-filled voices and the interviewer is pretty great actually – it’s a fun interview.

5.25pm: Interview done, rush to bulk cook a load of dinner before V and H use the lounge for yoga class at 7pm. I get through a mere 50% of the pumpkin in my freezer for eight portions of risotto, wowzas! Four portions go straight in the freezer. I have to go out and buy a little bottle of white wine for the risotto, £2.99. Sad I can’t join the yoga but I have work later so want to chill before that.

7pm: Next episode of Grand Army and wow, this is my fave thing I’ve watched in a while. Also do some final hyping of my band on socials as our new single comes out at midnight tonight. It’s a bit of a weird one, releasing at such a crazy time, and I hope it doesn’t flop. We’ve put a load of energy and love (and money) into this one. Because it’s been such an exhausting couple of weeks, I don’t feel much hype about the song – hopefully I’ll come around when I hear it on Spotify. 

8.10pm: Psych myself up for this 90-minute meeting. There are three papers being presented, hopefully I’ll be able to do mine first. 

8.30pm: Meeting time. It’s quite concerning how loud the fireworks outside are, I hope it doesn’t sound like bombs are going off during my presentation (no Guy Fawkes night in the US!). I present at 9pm for half an hour and get a pretty good response, I think? It’s a bit weird talking to a screen for half an hour with no feedback (bar questions at the end), especially when no one has their camera on. It’s all practice I guess. I’ve gotten way better at bullshitting my way through presentations, which is an incredibly important skill for work. 

10pm: Finally done with that – the other papers were pretty interesting to be fair. I’m knackered though, what a long day. I crawl into bed and FaceTime K for a couple of hours, which is lovely. I make him stay up ’til 12 for our new single to come out, which is very nice of him. To see it on Spotify actually does make me excited – it’s our fourth song out so we’re getting quite numb to it but it’s still cool to see the numbers go up. 

Total: £2.99

Day Five

9am: Have a bit of a lie-in this morning in lieu of the long ass day yesterday. Get up around 9.15 and rewrite the code of our band website to say ‘out now’ instead of ‘pre-save now’, tedious stuff. A meeting with my manager has prompted me to set up some more time with four colleagues that I haven’t yet met so I send out those invitations and then get going on some data querying again. 

12.45pm: Morning goes super quick as I got properly into solving a coding issue I faced – programming is actually so satisfying. Lunch is pumpkin risotto – don’t think I could get sick of this, it’s so yummy! All of my flatmates are now working from home again so we have lunches together, it’s really lovely. Also buy a T-shirt as a treat from one of my fave and underrated bands, Chartreuse (as they’re nearly sold out). £17.68

1.45pm: Glad that I only have three meetings this afternoon and can otherwise keep to myself and do more coding. I’m finally making some proper progress with my current project now which is a relief. Last meeting of the day is a show and tell to my team about my last sprint of work (weird but very standard tech lingo) and I get some good feedback, which is a brill way to end the week. 

6pm: After finishing work half an hour ago and getting into a TikTok hole (I’m not even embarrassed to say I love this anymore), I realise I am finally sick of the risotto so go to the supermarket and get some Linda McCartney bao buns, veggies, some Leon aioli and a bottle of red wine. Bao buns are alright but very overpriced, probably wouldn’t recommend. £14.85 

8pm: Band Zoom call to discuss a few things. Our single is actually doing super well – we’ll hit 2,000 streams by midnight. Hopefully we get on the algorithms or even an editorial playlist next week. We basically make no money off this shit (100k streams has made us around £300 in total) but we do it for the fun of it I guess. We’ve had a second mix back of our next single and it sounds like utter shit, which is really frustrating since we can’t get in the studio with the engineer (cheers COVID). He seems to have taken on literally none of our very detailed notes from the last mix. Paying someone £400 to do a mediocre job sucks really bad but we’re learning what not to do next time. 

9.30pm: Hop on another call with home friends this time for a couple of rounds of Among Us. I’m unlucky and get chosen to be the Imposter first go, which normally I love but it’s a new map for me and I’m running around like a headless chicken so I’m pretty obviously sus. Play a few rounds and catch up with my lovely pals but a busy week and red wine have made me exhausted so I clock off around 11.15 and watch more Grand Army before going to sleep. 

Total: £32.53

Day Six

10am: Snooze for a while which is lovely, apart from my pending headache. I’m starting to think I have a caffeine addiction. All my flatmates seem to have gone to their boyfriends’ (we’ve made a pact as a house that we’re allowing this this time, although K’s flatmates won’t allow him to come here, boohoo). Peace and quiet for me! Classic millennial avo toast with spinach and sundried tomatoes, as well as a coffee, accompanied by some reading on the sofa. This is something I discovered in the last lockdown – it’s so, so relaxing. 

1pm: Sort out the kitchen and make a list of all the remaining veg in my fridge. I got an Oddbox last week and really need to use it all up by the time the next one comes. I get round to chopping up the cabbages and putting them in a jar with 2% weight salt to make sauerkraut (I love this stuff so much and it’s so good for your gut). It’ll be ready in two weeks so I’ll have to wait for a while.

3pm: That took way longer than expected so I’m feeling lazy and watch a couple more eps of Grand Army. I’m down to the last three haha, I knew I’d fly through it. I grab yet more risotto (as well as putting yet more in the freezer) and some popcorn for a mid-afternoon lunch.

5pm: Finally tidy my room and get going on some music. I’m trying to redo an old song I wrote as the arrangement is a little dull as well as the vocals sucking, so I tidy up the Ableton file and try and re-record vocals. The walls are thin though and my flatmate is downstairs so I’m not really in the mood to be honest. The band chat is going off right now as we’re ordering T-shirts to sell – we’re going to have to put £100 each down to buy them but will (hopefully) get this back when we sell them at our next gig. £100

7pm: Finish up with the music, order some sushi and FaceTime K for a little date night. We were going to cook something together but I can’t really justify buying any more food given the amount I have already, and also we’re feeling lazy. We were meant to watch a film but we watch around an hour of that and chat shit for the remaining four hours which is very lovely. I miss him a lot and want to see him, he’s just optimistic that we’ll be able to see each other a lot when lockdown’s done. £15.72 for sushi.

Total: £115.72

Day Seven

10.33am: Wake up, can’t believe it’s this late already. We were meant to be in Bristol having a big rehearsal day today but lockdown killed that plan. Instead I snooze and look at some US politics stuff, then work out what I’m doing today (all from the comfort of my bed of course). Look at a Christmas cake recipe, which I’ll do next weekend for Christmas presents for pals, woo! I’m quickly realising I spend around 50% of my life thinking about food and cooking. I send over some coding course ideas to a mate who’s looking to get into it. I’m always keen to help others into programming and don’t really like the comp sci degree boys’ club that tech seems to be right now (even though most of those boys are nice people to be fair).

11.45am: Need to stop feeling so guilty about having a lie-in and not filling every part of my day with something productive – chill gal! I get up and have some brunch with D and her bf: fried garlic mushrooms, avo and a bagel. We watch First Dates for a bit then I water six of my plants, chucking ’em in the (unfilled haha) bathtub and letting them drain. I’ve already killed two house plants this year through overwatering (RIP) so I’m determined for that not to happen again! 

2pm: H and bf have gone out so I take the opportunity to do some more warbling before they get back. I’m way more in the groove for this song this time and get some proper vocal takes. The only thing is, my computer keeps freezing when I’m recording, meaning it keeps going out of time – it’s really getting on its last legs now. Poor thing, it’s five and a half years old and I haven’t treated it very well. 

3pm: Get back and show D the plants in the bath, which she finds hilarious. She asks me if I can give some of her tired-looking plants a bit of care so I trim some of the dead bits off them. Most are salvageable apart from the fern, which is sadly beyond recovery.

4.24pm: Shit, it’s only half an hour before Sainsbury’s shuts! I head over and get some stuff for a curry on Tuesday and for soup this evening, as well as some extra bits. Annoyingly none of the spices I want are in stock, bleurgh. It’s fine, will ask a housemate to get some tomorrow or something. £25.72

5.15pm: Get back, unpack and sort the fridge out a bit. Then I try again on my dead AF computer to do some more work on the same tune. It already sounds a million times better than it did yesterday which is well satisfying. 

7.30pm: Realise I’m actually really hungry and it’s late so I head downstairs to make pumpkin and carrot soup. V is back so we have a nice chat. I am pretty knackered by this point and in my infinite wisdom decide to put way too much fresh chilli in the soup, meaning it’s difficult to eat a whole bowl. Nice one! I watch this weird Lidl doc with D which is quite funny and makes me sad that Aldi and Lidl are now too far away to shop regularly at. Yet more food goes in the freezer – I’ve made tons of spare meals this week but will be grateful when I’m too busy to cook post-lockdown when I go into intensive band rehearsals. We have our first shows back in a few weeks (COVID permitting) – it’s been nine months since we played live and we’ve missed it so much.

9.15pm: It’s back to my computer to keep working on this tune. I’m nearly at a point where I can send an mp3 to my band to have a listen. I have a tech breakthrough as well: I can now send signal from my computer to my synth so that it plays automatically – who needs human players anymore? I’m well satisfied with this because I’ve been trying to do it for a while, what a bloody nerd I am. I get into a click-hole about mixing bass and before I know it, it’s 11.45pm.

12am: Finally get into bed and can’t resist yet more Grand Army before going to sleep.

Total: £25.72

The Breakdown

Food/Drink: £123.58
Entertainment: £0
Clothes/Beauty: £107.68
Travel: £7
Other: £118.49

Total: £356.75


“My first conclusion is how on earth have I spent so much on food and drinks? I did go a bit mad with filling my freezer with food this week but still, that seems pretty extortionate (although with lockdown, there’s not much to do other than cook). I tend to have alternate expensive and cheap food weeks. The band expenses are pretty standard sadly, and travel/other expenses were pretty down this week. The hair was also a big splurge which I’ve never actually done before – I’ll probably not do that more than a few times a year. Living in London is spenny but I appreciate I could be a bit more frugal – I’m planning to try and save a bit more as I get older and more sensible (haha). For now, I just wanna have fun.”

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