An Unemployed 29-Year-Old In Glasgow On Universal Credit

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’ve just returned home from living and working overseas […]

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’ve just returned home from living and working overseas where I had a great job, earning a salary of around £40k. I came home at the beginning of the pandemic and have been living with my parents and two sisters since. I had hoped I would get a job reasonably quickly and be able to move out and begin planting roots at home again but it hasn’t worked out that way. I definitely feel stripped of my financial freedom, which has had a massive impact on my mental health.

I grew up in a working class family where my mum has always been the main breadwinner. My dad had a bad injury at work around 10 years ago and had to stop working, which means they’ve been living off just my mum’s paycheque ever since. I have memories of growing up in extreme poverty when I was very young but by the time I had a grasp of what money was, we were living a lot more comfortably. I never felt really deprived as a child though and we seemed to always get by. I really wish my parents had spoken to me more about money however. I think they were really set on hiding their financial worries from us so it was never really discussed. When I started earning my own money I was really foolish with it and it took a long time for me to get out of the habit of living paycheque to paycheque and borrowing just because I could.”

Occupation: Unemployed
Industry: N/A
Age: 29
Location: Glasgow
Salary: £4,438.68 universal credit
Paycheque amount: £369.89
Pronoun: She
Number of housemates: I currently live with my parents and two younger sisters aged 20 and 17.

Monthly Expenses

Housing costs: I give my parents £50 a month towards living costs which isn’t much but at least it’s something.
Loan payments: £0. I have a lot of student debt but I don’t need to start repaying that until I am earning over £19,390.
All other monthly expenses: £6 for a Microsoft Word subscription, Amazon Prime £8, Phone £35, Spotify £10 and I donate £5 a month to the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust (the irony of redistributing government money to a charity is not lost on me).

Day One

12pm: The one thing about unemployment is my sleeping pattern is completely shot. Stretch for five minutes then have shower.

12.30pm: Head downstairs for brunch. Today it’s toast, avocado and tomatoes, and a coffee.

1pm: Read some of my book. I keep track of my reading on Goodreads and so far this year I’ve read 21 books (thanks, lockdown). Realise I have no more new books to read when I finish this one so order two online from Waterstones. Go for Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Due to my rewards card I’ll be able to get a £10 off voucher next time I order, score! £17.23

6.30pm: Mum, Dad and I try to take turns at cooking. Tonight it’s Mum’s turn, she makes homemade battered fish and thrice-cooked chips with some salad. She’s been trying out a lot of new recipes recently and this one isn’t such a success. Batter is a little chewy but solid effort.

9pm: Have a half-hearted browse at some jobs online but I applied for most of them yesterday so there’s nothing new. Give up pretty quickly and watch Shameless US instead.

10pm: Spot Mum has bought crisps and dip. Oh dear. Eat my way through some Pringles and red pepper hummus, finished with a Freddo and a Coke Zero.

1am: I have a little checklist of things to do to maintain my wellbeing during the pandemic after seeing the idea online. My list is VERY basic but happily I’ve done everything on there today except drink water (WHAT?). Chug half a litre before bed and realise that was probably a bad idea as I’m going to be back and forth to the loo all night now. Try to get some sleep.

Total: £17.23

Day Two

12pm: Horrible night’s sleep, kept having dreams that I was dying and no one had the time to help me. Read into that what you will. Read my book for 20 minutes before doing a morning yoga stretch I found on YouTube, then go for a quick shower.

3pm: Ask my sister if she’d like to give HelloFresh a try with me as I have a 50% off voucher. We do it just as a one-off as I definitely couldn’t afford to do it every week at full price. Three vegetarian meals for two people comes to £14, which we split. £7

6pm: Ahh, the absolute best part of living at home. Mum’s Sunday roast. Beef, roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, roasted cauliflower, broccoli and carrots served with her own gravy. Utterly divine.

9pm: I will never understand people that don’t get late night munchies. Been picking at some mango in the fridge since dinner, ignoring the huge pavlova Mum made. End up eating a Freddo and packet of Quavers.

11pm: Spent the evening doing some writing. We’re in a local lockdown here now and since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve been trying to be more creative. I’m a bit embarrassed by it and hide my laptop when my sister comes up with a cup of tea but it gives my day some purpose. The hardest thing about being unemployed for me personally isn’t just the lack of routine or financial freedom, it’s not having a purpose in my day. Encouraging myself to write my crappy story gives me that.

Total: £7

Day Three

10.30am: Wake up to the sound of building work happening outside our house. Glad that I’ve finally awoken before midday and do my usual morning yoga and shower before heading downstairs for toast and ham and a coffee.

2pm: I have downtime on my phone meaning I can’t access my social media from midnight until 2pm. It has been a game-changer for me and I can’t recommend it enough. Finish my book then browse social media for a while.

4.30pm: Get a phone call from a recruitment agent asking if I’d be available for a job interview this week. The job is a step down for me, would earn me less than half what I was previously earning and is only part-time. Agree to it anyway. She also lets me know that part of the reason she hasn’t called me with many other opportunities is that a lot of jobs require full background disclosure checks, which I can’t provide if I’ve worked abroad for the last three years. Great.

5pm: It’s my turn to make dinner so I start preparing some chicken egg fried rice. Halfway through I have a sudden feeling of weakness and have to sit down. Feel a bit panicked about it thanks to COVID but it passes and I finish making dinner.

7pm: We’re all craving ice cream so I head to the shop to get everyone some snacks. I half my sister for a packet of cigarettes even though I’m really trying to quit. It’s a lot of snacks for a family of five and when you throw in the cigarettes and a box of ice cream lollies, it comes to £21. Sister sends me £5. I don’t mind spending money here and there on food or snacks for the family as I still feel a little guilty at living here practically for free, so I foot the bill. £16

10pm: My family drink way too much tea and I can’t keep up with the constant cuppas being placed in front of me. Spend some time updating my LinkedIn page, munching on the ice lolly and Quavers I bought myself earlier and trying hard not to resent all my old uni mates’ impressive careers. Comparison is truly the thief of joy. Do some more writing before heading to bed.

Total: £16

Day Four

8am: Wake up to the construction work again, then the dog wanting in my room then out my room then in my room, then Mum rushing around for work. I didn’t get to sleep until around 4am last night and I am knackered. Eventually manage to fall back asleep.

1.20pm: Well that was a mistake. Slept away the full morning and wake up grumpy and groggy. Do another YouTube morning yoga stretch which said it was for beginners but lied. Struggle through it before having a shower and going downstairs for the usual toast and ham and a strong cup of coffee.

2pm: Check my emails to see I have three rejection emails from jobs I had applied for. Ugh. At least my new books arrived.

5pm: Fairly uneventful day of watching the news, playing a game on my phone and browsing social media. It’s Dad’s turn to make dinner tonight and he makes a baked potato and tuna pasta for everyone. I skip the pasta because carbs on carbs while living a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t seem wise, and have tuna and salad with mine instead.

7pm: Sit with my mum for a while with a cuppa and a Freddo. She’s having a really tough time at work. She’s a senior manager in care and a few of her staff and service users have recently come down with COVID. Luckily she’s office-based and away from the care homes and people they support but she can barely talk about it without breaking into tears. She also lost her sister at the start of the year so she’s just having a bad time all round.

9pm: Job hunting again. Today I have officially hit over 100 jobs applied for. See a job that has a salary of £19k and requires the completion of a numerical test and a verbal reasoning test, three 250-word statements, an online application form and submission of a CV. So frustrating.

10pm: The queen of late night snacking strikes again. Munch on a packet of Monster Munch while I do some more writing.

12am: Finally climb into bed with a book. Please, please let me get a decent sleep tonight.

Total: £0

Day Five

11am: Wake up. I feel so lethargic today and my sciatic nerve is killing me. Skip the morning yoga and head straight for a shower instead. Go downstairs for my usual toast and ham and spot a nice surprise when I see someone’s bought tiger bread. Have that toasted with a coffee.

12pm: Dad’s currently studying accountancy and it’s his first day back today except it’s all online learning. Vacate the living room so he can do his induction.

2pm: Another job rejection email comes through right before my phone interview, which actually seems to go really well. I have plenty of experience and it’s such a niche field so I’m hoping that works in my favour. I think it’s a job I’d really enjoy too so it’s disheartening that it’s only part-time. I would be able to choose how I want to work the hours though so toy with the idea of finally going back to uni to do my master’s. Perhaps it could be a blessing in disguise? Master’s degrees are fully funded in Scotland too so it would be the perfect opportunity.

6pm: Mum makes dinner just for us two tonight since everyone else ordered a Subway. We have omelette and a salad.

9pm: I end up going to the shop for cigarettes. This quitting is not going well at all. This is the last packet I swear! Always feel like the Daily Mail‘s wet dream when I spend benefit money on cigarettes or alcohol. £10.50

10pm: Get way too ahead of myself and realise that even if I did get this job I have no work clothes whatsoever. Window shop online but I just can’t afford to buy myself any new clothes. Apparently universal credit can give you a loan towards work clothes. Feel a little anxious and try to push it from my mind. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Have a couple of packets of McCoys and a Coke Zero while doing some writing before bed.

Total: £10.50

Day Six

12pm: Please don’t judge me for sleeping so late (again), I didn’t get to sleep until 4am (again). Will I ever sort my sleeping pattern out? Read for 20 minutes in bed then tidy up, do some washing and make brunch – roll, shredded ham, lettuce, tomato and salad cream with a coffee.

2pm: Oh will you look at that? Another job rejection email. Laze on the sofa playing a game on my phone that I’m obsessed with. Also download the new Scottish Track and Trace app. I really should go out for a walk or do something active but the weather is so rubbish and I have zero motivation to do anything. It’s like the longer I stay in the house, the less inclined I am to leave it.

5pm: Dad’s turn to do dinner so I head to the shops to get in what we need: potatoes, Kraft Cheesy Pasta, Coke Zero for me and a multipack of salt and vinegar crisps. He gives me his card to pay for it. My dad makes some mean homemade oven chips which we have with the Kraft Cheesy Pasta. Truly the best comfort food. Message my friend in Manchester who thinks this dinner is only a Scottish thing. Surely he’s wrong?

7pm: Sister makes me a cup of tea which I have with a couple of dark chocolate digestive biscuits (aka the best ones). Sit with Mum for a bit and she lets me know she’s having to go into some of the care homes now due to families complaining about their family members catching COVID from staff. Her boss wants her to do spot checks on staff to ensure they are wearing appropriate PPE etc. Can’t help but worry about her and I’m really concerned that it’ll only be a matter of time before the virus works its way into our home.

10pm: Watch the latest episode of the last season of The 100 while texting my friend who is watching it simultaneously. Stress eat my way through two packets of salt and vinegar crisps. It’s such campy teenage drama but this season is going through a real final season of Game of Thrones moment and I am not here for it.

3am: Still awake. I can’t stare at the ceiling anymore so I get up and do some more writing before attempting sleep again.

Total: £0

Day Seven

9.30am: Must have got about four hours’ sleep. Wake up and ignore my downtime and browse social media.

1pm: It’s a bad mental health day, I just want to lie in bed all day but I get up to eat and order myself a Subway sandwich. Go for a foot long with chicken tikka, salad and light mayo, and a Pepsi Max. Eat half and save half for later. £10

3pm: Another job rejection email comes through. I tidy up, fold up some clothes, open the curtains and open the windows wide in my bedroom even though it’s cold outside. Anything to clear this bad mood. Due to travelling for three years I have a lot of friends all over the UK. Message my friend down south who is also having a tough time. We both try to motivate each other through it. I was supposed to visit her last week but on the day I was due to travel, Glasgow went into a local lockdown. Miss her dearly. Message my other cousin and agree to meet up with her on Sunday for a coffee. Something to look forward to.

6pm: Eat the other half of my Subway for dinner and decide to just give into the blues. It’s raining really heavily so it’s the perfect time to get back into my cosy bed and read some articles online.

8.30pm: Go for a shower then straight back to bed with a cup of tea and a whole bunch of snacks for a movie night. Salt and vinegar crisps, guacamole, a Crunchie and a bottle of Coke Zero. Don’t plan on moving for the rest of the night while I work my way through the Hunger Games trilogy. Wild Friday night!

12am: Still in bed, still not moving. But switch off laptop and read my book before my nightly battle with sleep.

Total: £0

The Breakdown

Food & Drink: £23
Entertainment: £17.23
Clothes & Beauty: £0
Travel: £0
Other: £10.50

Total: £50.73


“The most eye-opening part of doing this money diary was actually realising how much I snack and how little I exercise, which is probably why sleeping is such an issue for me. I feel hyperconscious of what I spend my money on given that it’s benefits but even though I earn so little I think there’s room to treat myself a little bit more. Maybe I’ll buy those work boots I wanted after all.”

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