My Money is a series looking at how people spend their money – and the sometimes tough decisions they have to make. Here, Laura Hawcroft, 51, a strategy and planning assistant for Network Rail in Manchester, takes us through her week’s spending.
Laura and her husband Rik met through the discussion forum of the website MoneySavingExpert, which they had both joined to try to reduce their spending. They even got married on a Tuesday because it was the cheapest day to do so.
Laura works full-time for Network Rail. Rik looks after the house and garden, as well as being primary care-giver to their severely autistic son Andrew, 11. They bought their home six years ago and are currently over-paying £100 on the mortgage each month to shorten its term. Andrew receives the highest rate of disability benefits, some of which are surrendered towards a Motability lease car.
During the Covid-19 pandemic Laura has worked from home much of the time: the money spent on tram tickets has dropped, but the number of bacon butties has increased dramatically. Their family holiday in June was cancelled; and the closure of soft play and trampoline parks over the summer restricted the number of activities suitable for Andrew. But Laura feels lucky in that she has a garden and spent a lot of the summer outside as a family, even camping in the garden in a Freecycle’d tent.
Laura started her blog on Monday 19th October 2020.
Over to Laura…
The day starts with organising breakfast for our cat, myself, and then our son (in that order). I’m happy to eat own-brand cereal, but Andrew has shown a marked preference for a particular brand and this is a battle not worth fighting at 07:00. The minibus arrives to take him to his special school at 08:30, a daily service provided as part of his educational support; his day will only cost £2.40 for lunch.
The postman delivers a toy that we bought online to put into Andrew’s Christmas sack. It was a special offer that Rik spotted on HotUKDeals, saving £20 off the current shop price. Later a courier arrives to collect a large parcel that we sold on eBay yesterday, generating £145 for Andrew’s piggybank. Other auction items didn’t sell, so they will be taken to a local charity shop at the end of the week.
Our meals tend to follow a pattern, so Monday is “pie night”. The pies were bought as part of the weekly supermarket shop, but we treat ourselves to fresh chips from the local takeaway at £1.30 for a huge portion to share between us.
Total spend: £3.70
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Routine is important for Andrew to understand what will happen and what is expected of him, so Tuesday starts exactly the same as Monday (as will Wednesday and Thursday). His uniform has no specific school badges so we can buy – and replace – his uniform cheaply. We probably spend more on batteries for his favourite musical toys than we do on clothes for him.
Once the school bus has departed, I make a coffee for Rik who is now getting up. I’m a lark where he’s an owl – it is a pattern that suits us, as our son varies in his need for sleep and can often demand attention in the early hours. So I get our son off to school and Rik will take care of him when he comes home. I make a large mug of tea for myself, and shut myself into the spare bedroom to start work.
An after-work, midweek shop for fresh food at the supermarket sets us back £8.23 with two photo frames adding £4.50 to our spend. Dinner tonight is homemade chilli con carne and rice. Rik made a large chilli last week and froze half for another meal; chilli always seems hotter after being frozen.
Total spend: £12.73
As for many, working from home has become my norm rather than a chance to escape from a busy open-plan office. My head of department is very protective of the team, and recommended we change to home-working one week before Boris announced lockdown back in March. I try to liven up our team’s daily call by having a different background every day; I’m currently working through a selection of television shows from childhood, so today my video feed features Hong Kong Phooey.
Today feels like a very low-spend day but, on checking online banking, I find that direct debits totalling £30.49 have gone out for my mobile phone and for union membership. I then remember a late-night birthday present purchased on eBay on Monday (£13.99), and pre-ordering a special meal to collect on Thursday (a definite splurge at £13.72 for just one person!) Writing this blog is forcing me to think about all the ways in which money leaves our hands.
Total spend: £58.20
Tonight our son will stay overnight at respite, so he gets onto his minibus carrying a small suitcase of clean clothes and toys. We receive a direct payment from Children’s Services to fund these breaks, which we choose to spend with Together Trust so that Andrew can stay at one of their houses; the funding buys one night of respite every two months – £458.
Whilst Andrew is at respite, Rik and I would normally go out for the evening, perhaps ten-pin bowling, perhaps a meal; but Covid-19 has made such outings virtually impossible and certainly less relaxing. As our family holiday was cancelled earlier this year, we have treated ourselves to a night away at an AirBnB cottage about 10 miles from home (£117 from savings). We take our favourite takeaway food to reheat that evening and a few bottles to drink – total cost £19.99.
We spend a relaxing evening re-connecting as adults and taking photos of the starry night before sleeping in a different bed – the only chance we will have do so in 2020.
Total spend: £594.99
As we’ve been away for the night, I’m not working on Friday and take the opportunity to get some supermarket shopping out of the way whilst Andrew is at school. We divide our weekly shop between two supermarkets – heavy, bulky or long-dated food, cleaning materials and toiletries are ordered online, but we prefer to select fresh food ourselves. Our online delivery will come Saturday morning and comes in at £45.60; the trip to the supermarket today costs £50.52, which does include some more batteries for Andrew’s toys and a Euromillions lottery ticket.
Rik generally visits his brother on Friday nights, it gives him a break from caring for our son and the opportunity to play computer games and discuss the merits of Pink Floyd (!) I spend the evening catching up with soaps and doing laundry. Dinner would normally be a takeaway pizza or kebab but, after the extravagance of our trip away, I decide the wiser choice is a freezer meal with some yellow-stickered new potatoes.
Total spend: £96.12
Woohoo, we’re millionaires…
Not. Maybe we’ll have better luck next time. We only buy tickets when the Euromillions prize exceeds £75m: our dream is to open an ultra-accessible theme park in the UK, similar to Morgan’s Wonderland.
The supermarket delivery arrives just after 09:00. Once again, I wonder why I booked an early slot on a day when I don’t have to jump out of bed. They cannot supply the self-indulgent cookies I ordered, so we start the day £1.00 in credit.
Andrew goes to a disability club on Saturday afternoons, provided by the local Council as part of the Short Break Service. Any organised activity with more than one autistic child can feel rather like trying to herd cats, so the ladies who run the session have my admiration. They always make the effort to mark calendar events, helping the children to make Mother’s and Father’s Day cards, Halloween masks, and so on.
A weekend review of online banking reveals a direct debit on Friday for £15.96 for insurance but no other forgotten purchases. I also find that a standing order into my Government Help to Save account hasn’t debited – worrying as that impacts the final bonus payment in 2022. A quick check determines that it is my error, I had mistakenly dated the standing order to end in summer 2020 after the first bonus; so I quickly reinstate it. Our other three regular savings accounts – for rainy-day emergencies, for splurges, and for a once-in-a-lifetime family holiday in Florida – are running more smoothly.
Total spend: £14.96
Sunday starts with a burst of energy – our local trampoline park runs a specialist ASD/disability session on Sunday morning with no music nor flashing lights (£7.50). Andrew loves the physical activity, here he can run and jump around in a safe environment. Because we all have disabled children at the session, parents are more tolerant of trampoline invasions.
Another Christmas present is ordered online, this time for Rik’s brother – another special offer found on HotUKDeals (£22.94). This puts me into a festive mood, so I decide to carry out a stock-take of the contents of our gift cupboard, which is looking quite healthy from various offers found during the year. I can never quite remember what we have, and should probably keep a list; but I do enjoy the surprise of rediscovering what we bought in the spring.
My final seasonal activity for the day is to cut out this year’s applique to sew onto Andrew’s present sack: every year one more character or feature is added, and we have decided to symbolise 2020 with the Grinch. Andrew is beginning to recognise the Christmas tree and decorations, and to understand that brightly wrapped boxes might contain new toys. However as soon as he has one new toy, he is happy for a while; and opening his presents has been known to take three full days.
Total spend: £30.44
Total spent this week: £811.14
How does Laura feel about her week?
Autistic episodes/meltdowns = 0
Items broken = 1 (by me)
We could save more money if we watched our spending on food more closely, and shopped around; we are choosing to prioritise free time rather than money, which is why most shopping is done online. Time and energy are limited commodities, which we focus on ensuring that our son has the best possible life he can – an education that meets his needs, toys and activities that are stimulating and provide sensory feedback, and making memories.
It is not easy raising a disabled child, we are fortunate that Andrew is – at most times – very happy. Over the next ten years he will become an adult; and I worry about the current lack of appropriate social care for adults with learning disabilities. We are already looking into deputyship to manage his affairs, and a trust fund to protect his money. We will never stop going into battle for him.