Some of you may have noticed a familiar face on Good Morning Britain this week; I was on there talking about the cuts to tax credits, and how they will affect single parents. While I was talking to one of the researchers, we went through my income and expenditure. I told him roughly how much my bills are each month, and he figured out that I have around £50 a week spare.
When he said that, I felt momentarily rich! Fifty pounds a week! How am I always so skint, if I have £50 spare every week? And then I realised: we had only spoken about the household bills that go out. Water, electricity, rent. So where does that £50 per week go? How is there only £2.50 in my purse right now?
Here is where my “spare” money goes:
- New clothes for S, who insists on growing. The £20 a month I get in maintenance is always used up with a little trip to H&M for new trousers, but sometimes – especially at this time of year – £20 a month won’t cover everything. New shoes, new socks, a new hat and gloves, a new winter coat. It all adds up.
- Insurance for the fridge and washing machine – since the thought of either of them breaking without my having a backup plan scares the bejesus out of me. I do not have savings into which I can just dip to replace or repair broken white goods.
- Fish oil capsules – I swear taking fish oil capsules every day is what kept me going through a traumatic pregnancy and tough first few months of motherhood. I can’t afford to have a breakdown, now I have a child. I can’t not buy these.
- Supplements: both S and I take daily supplements. When S came home from hospital she was presribed liquid vitamins for her first year, and since then I have kept them up. We call them her special things, and she takes one every morning. She may have a constant cold, but she is rarely properly ill. Similarly, I take a multivitamin every day because as a single parent, I can’t afford to be ill.
- Toucan Boxes: S loves arts and crafts, as all 3 year olds do. We get two Toucan Boxes per month, and she mostly does the crafts with her Auntie Af. We love them because they come with everything you need to do the craft plus instructions, and generally have better, more creative ideas than I am able to come up with. These are a luxury for sure, but we absolutely love them. (If you’d like a free box, click the link and use the promo code A1014)
- Trips to our favourite restaurant – it’s only a couple of blocks away and is in one of the oldest buildings in the city. S is best buddies with all the staff. Usually she’ll have orange juice and I’ll have a coffee, and we’ll share a teacake. It’s a nice little treat on a Saturday morning or after nursery and breaks up our day if we have nothing else planned.
- New clothes for me. Shock, horror: sometimes, single parents spend money on themselves. Not often, mind. The trousers I’m wearing right now are three years old; the hoodie is around 5 years old. But I’m self employed, and if I want to look like someone people want to hire, I need to look like someone people want to hire. That involves buying the occasional pair of shoes or smart top.
- Anything with Minions on it. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but S is somewhat obsessed with Minions; she loves them. Often I’ll just steer her away from shops that have expensive Minions products – but I can’t do that with every shop and enjoy spending a couple of pounds here and there on stickers or bubbles or something.
- Babysitting treats: Any time my sister takes care of S for me (usually so that I can attend a work-related event that ends after nursery pick-up time), I will leave her with some cash to treat S. This is not only because I want the time S spends with her auntie to be a special treat (rather than being dumped again so that mummy can work) but also because I appreciate my sister’s help; she looks after S so often for me, and does a great job of it. When she takes S to the shops to buy a nice cake for tea, I tell her to get one for herself also. I can’t afford to pay her to babysit, so she takes payment in cakes and roast dinners.
- Junk food and chocolate: yes, single parents do have treats. Sometimes we have a pizza. Sometimes we have a treat. Actually, fairly often. Probably more than we should. But so what? Life is short, and S eats more broccoli than pizza.
Here’s what my “spare” money is not spent on:
- Smoking – I have never smoked.
- Booze – In the summer I treated myself to some bottles of Corona as they were on special offer. They’re still on the floor in my kitchen.
- Debauched nights out – One evening a month, I co-host a local networking meeting in a pub round the corner. This is my one evening out; I usually have half a Coke while I’m there. Often one of my friends buys my drink for me, because they know I’m usually a little strapped for cash. I’m home by 9pm, without fail.
- Flat screen TVs – When I first had S, a friend came to visit us. She saw the tiny TV we were watching, and immediately gave us the massive, old TV from the garage she owned. It was one of the ones that has a big back on it, and it took two men to carry it into the flat. When that began to die, a very kind friend bought me a new TV. I could have died. It remains the most expensive thing anyone has ever bought for me.
While on the face of it, I have £50 “spare” per week – and many people who don’t claim benefits may be outraged by that figure – I hope I have shown here that actually, that £50 doesn’t cover a lot of the things many of us would consider to be essentials: new clothes, vitamins, insurance, little treats here and there. Yes, we could probably cut back on some of our luxuries – and we probably will have to if my income doesn’t increase before next April. But if you never have a treat here and there, life becomes fairly boring don’t you think?