Money Diary: A Student Mum With No Maternity Pay, Living On Her Partner's 13k


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 we're with a PhD student in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She has an expired stipend on unpaid maternity leave, which means her partner currently supports both of them, and their 6-month-old baby, on his PhD stipend of £13,000 a year. Because she is in the unfunded writing-up period of her PhD, she is not entitled to statutory maternity pay as PhD students don’t pay tax or receive payslips. She is not entitled to Jobseeker's Allowance as she is on maternity leave, nor income support as she lives with her boyfriend. She does, however, get £82.80 a month in child benefits.

She has some money saved up from a few jobs she did before the baby arrived, and some inheritance from her grandma. The family live in her nan's old house in the suburbs of Newcastle, about three miles from the city, which her mum is renting out to them at a cut price. The couple left London when her partner started his PhD as they could no longer afford to rent there and having few friends outside of London did seriously decrease the amount they spent on going out. They also stopped smoking when she fell pregnant.

They feed their dog a raw meat diet, having tried for over a year to find a dog food that didn’t make him very sick. They don’t think he should have to suffer on low quality food because they don’t have enough money, so when they lost her income the couple cut back on other aspects of their lives. Sometimes, if they really need or want something, they will put it on their credit card because they know that one day, they'll be earning enough again to pay it off.

At the beginning of each month, they fill up the fridge and freezer, which is about £80. She makes meal plans each week using recipes from Anna Jones, Ruby Tandoh and Ottolenghi and they shop in several different supermarkets to get the cheapest deals they can. This week she spent about double what she usually does as she shopped for Christmas presents, bought a highchair and winter clothes for the baby and the dog.

Industry: Academia… but I’m currently in the childrearing business
Age: 28
Location: Newcastle
Salary: A big fat zero! My partner is on £13,000
Paycheque amount per month: £0 for me, but my partner gets £1,100 pcm
Number of housemates: No housemates per se, but I do live with one boyfriend, one baby and one dog

Monthly Expenses

Housing costs: £300 in rent to Mum
Loan payments: £0. We don’t earn enough to pay back our student loans
Utilities: £150
Transportation: Petrol £45. Bus about £20 for me, my partner maybe £40
Phone bill: £15 a month for me, £30 for my boyfriend
Savings? I put £0 in at the moment, but I have a pot of about £10,000 from inheritance and pre-maternity freelance work that I am dipping into when I have to
Other? Food £120, Dog food £60, Credit card bills £100 each, Charity £8 to Mind

Total: £988

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Day One

6.30am: Wake up early because I have a tiny baby and this is my life now. While my partner walks the dog I dress her up in three different outfits until I settle on one that is loosely based on Little Edie from Grey Gardens. This is entertainment, but not as I once knew it. Unlike tequila. however, this is completely free.

8am: We eat breakfast and Little Edie and I get a lift to playgroup at 9. Playgroup is in a huge room like a school gymnasium full of screaming toddlers and more brightly coloured whizzing plastic toys than you ever dreamed of. I have some nice chats with other mums about laundry, baby poo and how our skin no longer fits us. At the end, all the kids get given a snack of cheese crackers, raisins, grapes and marshmallows. Little Edie gingerly licks a grape. Not bad for 50p.

12pm: We eat lunch at home. Breast milk (for her), pitta, hummus and carrots. Little Edie can’t get enough of the hummus. I then sneak up to bed with L.E. for a nap. She takes pity on me; we sleep 'til four and you can’t spend money when you’re asleep.

4pm: Little Edie and I take the dog for a walk. In spite of my nap, I am convinced I am going to collapse from tiredness so we head to the Greggs near our house for a coffee. Greggs is closed so I end up with a cartoned latte from Tesco and a bag of chocolate buttons. Oh, and some hand sanitiser, because I picked up a dog poo on the way down. £3.29

7pm: Me and my boyfriend make spaghetti bolognese for dinner.

Total: £3.79

Day Two

8am: We are up and breakfasting again. Today, baby is dressed in a long-sleeved T-shirt and a pair of dusky blue dungarees which lend her the look of a Land Girl. I share my granola with her. She shares it with the dog.

9am: I am currently two dress sizes bigger than I have ever been before (thank you Land Girl), desperately skint and due to go on holiday to visit my BFF in the US next year, and as a result of these three things, I am selling a huge chunk of my fabulous wardrobe on eBay and Etsy. And boy are those bidders getting some bargains! I receive two payments – £5 for a pair of Acne jeans (don’t) and £10 for a limited edition adidas bomber jacket. Paypal and eBay take around 15% in fees, so I’m up £12.75.

10am: I mosey down to another playgroup. This one doesn’t give out grapes and so it’s free.

11.30am: After playgroup, I go and have a look in our local Barnardo’s. I pick up an Emile et Rose coat for the Land Girl for £3.29, on the premise that they cost £50 new and I can definitely eBay the life out of it once she grows out of it. I also pick up a beautiful wooden mid-century modern-style highchair for her. Though we already have a highchair, I justify this because when I go back to work, my mum is going to look after her, and so she can have our existing (boring plastic IKEA) highchair. It is £19.99 and the whole excursion goes on my credit card. £23.28

12.30pm: Land Girl and I eat pitta and hummus again for lunch.

2.30pm: One of my mum friends comes round for a dog walk. We while away two hours walking around the woods with our babies and dogs.

4.30pm: I remember I have a £30 ASOS voucher from last Christmas which expires in December. I spend it on an amazing jumper in the sale.

7pm: We add chilli and kidney beans to the bolognese and call it a chilli.

9pm: I breastfeed Land Girl to sleep and my partner goes out and grabs a bottle of wine. We watch Stranger Things and nearly crap ourselves 17 times. £6

Total: £29.28

Day Three

8am: Baby wakes up at 8 on the button and we dress her in this amazing little suit of matching leggings and cardi in pink candy stripe. You get bought the most AMAZING stuff for new babies and she's about to jump up a clothes size so I am cramming her chubby little arms and thighs into all my favourite 3-6 month outfits one last time before eBay comes calling. Today she looks like a roly-poly femme version of Dick Van Dyke in the dream scene in Mary Poppins. All she's missing is the boater.

11.30am: It’s Saturday and we hop in the car to Durham to see my mum perform with her choir at an event about food waste. Parking costs £1.80 but we are given some pumpkin stew for free so it all evens out. We then take the dog for a walk along the river. He bounds along the banks barking in a state of total hysteria. It is a few minutes before we realise he has never seen a rower before. People pay good money for laughs like that; alas, this one was free.

2pm: One of my oldest friends has cancer and has been told by her oncologist to try to build up her immunity. As any breastfeeding mother worth her salt knows, breast milk is full of immunoglobulins and antibodies and so she's asked me to throw some her way to help her as she goes through chemo. I would love to be able to give her something more but this is something I have in abundance that money can’t buy. I spend the afternoon plugged into a breast pump, thinking how lucky I am to be able to breastfeed my daughter; breast milk is like liquid gold, and all completely free.

7pm: Afternoon turns to evening, as is so often the case when you're lactating into a flask for your adult friends, and before long my mum has super kindly bought a takeaway for us and we are staying the night at hers. How good are mums?!

Total: £1.80

Day Four

8am: Had probably the most shocking night's sleep ever courtesy of my tiny tyrannical baby, who is now grinning at me angelically. She's wearing a blue-striped Baby-gro that makes her look like a 1920s gymnast. We need to walk the dog on our way back to Newcastle so we leave her in it and head to Finchale Priory. £3 for parking but access to the priory and surrounding woodland is free.

4pm: We tidy up and in a big pile of old papers, I find a birthday card from 2011 with £20 in it. Score! It’ll pay for the Christmas supplies I need to buy tomorrow. Tyrant Gymnast is faintly entertained by how happy I am about this discovery, side-eyeing me from her Jumperoo while the dog aggressively sniffs her breath.

Total: £3

Day Five

7.30am: Today, baby is wearing a pale pink velour tracksuit which is covered in cats and lends her the appearance of a Real Housewife of Beverley Hills meets crazy cat lady. I’m very into this look and wish it came in my size.

9am: Real Housewife has a massive exploding poo. I swerve the prohibitive cost of nappies, though, because we use reusable nappies. There are some start-up costs with them (I spent £100 on 12 with my last paycheque, and my mum bought us some too) but they are incredibly cheap in the long run, so for someone in my situation, they’re a godsend.

11am: My partner is working from home today and he gives me a lift to the Metrocentre to run some errands. For Christmas, we are making presents for our friends and families. One of the things about having very little money is that you have to be both creative and really well prepared for things like birthdays and Christmas. We normally put together a hamper each for our parents and siblings, and this year it's going to be a hands-on affair. A family friend had a glut of plums in early autumn so we washed out all of the jars lurking in the fridge – two-year-old caperberries anyone? – and made a huge vat of plum and cinnamon jam. We also picked several kilos of blackberries and stuck them in the freezer, and are planning on making blackberry jelly – but we used up all the jars in jam-making extravaganza number one! I shopped around online and found that Wilko do really cheap jam jars in packs of 12. I buy 24, as well as a few Kilner jars which we can preserve lemons in for the more adventurous cooks we know. The bill for these comes to £17.50 but that's not bad as it covers our two huge families – or the 29 people we are obliged to give gifts to anyway. (Yep. Twenty friggin nine. I counted.) I also buy a £2 scratchcard for my boyfriend because I a) love him and b) completely believe we could win £250,000 (we don’t). I use my 6-year-old birthday money. £19.50

11.30am: I go to TK Maxx and buy a card for a friend who is having a hard time, a hat for the baby and a coat for the dog. It is bitterly cold up north and he was our first baby, after all. I head home, having spent a further £15.49.

5pm: Pick up some discounted sausages in Tesco for the ultimate cold November night’s tea. £1.38

Total: £36.37

Day Six

7.30am: Today is cold and dismal and ought to be a pyjamas-on-the-sofa-reading-stories day. My daughter has been pooing green sludge though (who said motherhood wasn’t a glamorous gig) so I call the doctors and intrepidly brave the elements, wrapping her in her StarSnug, which makes her look like Maggie Simpson (a true baby fashion icon).

11am: After the doctors visit I sneak down to the charity shops again. On the sale rail I find a heavily beaded 1980s dress for £1 which I reckon I can get £40 for on Etsy. Am I a terrible person? Yeah, probably. £1

11.30am: The dog’s raw diet must consist of 80% meat, 10% bone and 10% offal. We’ve run out of offal so I go to the butchers and buy 176g of lamb's liver for 94p, which is an offally good deal if you ask me. £0.94

1pm: I eat vegetable soup and then take Maggie Simpson up for a nap. She sleeps for hours because she really is under the weather and I take the opportunity to get some shut-eye too, but not before reviewing an offer for a pair of Charlotte Olympias I have listed on eBay. Someone wants to give me £80 for them and while I want the money, the fees will mean I end up with £68 for a £400 pair of shoes. Zzzzzzzz.

6.30pm: Daddy’s back! For dinner he makes us lemony haddock, kale and adds flour to the leftover mash from yesterday evening to make potato cakes. Economical and delicious.

Total: £1.94

Day Seven

9am: Sick baby means a late awakening; she seems much better today though. I dress her in a rainbow-striped smock with matching leggings and she resembles my GCSE art teacher. I didn’t ever anticipate breastfeeding anyone who resembled my GCSE art teacher, but there’s a lot about life that I didn’t anticipate. We eat porridge for breakfast – I put mine in my mouth, and the Art Teacher puts hers mostly on the back of her head.

11am: It is time for Art Teacher’s swimming lesson. These have been paid for in a block of six on my partner’s payday – however, there’s an astonishingly high, non-refundable £1 charge for the locker. The cuts have been so severe in our borough that they’ve had to resort to daylight robbery at locker level. This is Tory Britain, lads. I pay up and go and get in the pool to sing "The Grand Old Duke Of York" and splash Art Teacher’s bum in the water. £1

1pm: I get a bus into town. My credit card is contactless (and therefore terribly dangerous) and Newcastle buses just installed an Oyster-like system, so I tap on for a return and it costs me £4.

2pm: When you have a baby, you are bought many things in duplicate and some that will never fit. You’re generally given the receipts for everything. So here’s what I do: I take them back to the shop, and shop for what I actually want. Today we’re in John Lewis and I have a £16 pair of bootees that will never fit the Art Teacher because she has enormous feet (for a 6-month-old). After about an hour of browsing, I swap them for an amazing pair of corduroy dungarees with little foxes on them that look so cute on her I might be sick. We also got bought two White Company dressing gowns for her, so I swap one for the next size up. It’s like shopping, but it’s free.

3pm: After my not-shopping, Art Teacher is thirsty and I take her to Newcastle’s worst-kept mummy secret – the feeding rooms in Fenwick. They are kitted out with lovely comfortable rocking chairs and you can breastfeed in there for free for as long as you like, which beats buying a coffee and being stared at by the other customers in Starbucks any day.

7pm: At home, we eat a stir fry and debate when is an acceptable time of year to eat your first mince pie. My boyfriend says December. I guess I’ll just have to eat all six of the ones I bought earlier then… £1.50

Total: £6.50

The Breakdown

Food/Drink: £3.78
Entertainment (predominantly dressing up my daughter in amusing clothes, and a bottle of wine): £6
Clothes/Beauty: £18.29
Travel: £4
Other: £60.61

Total: £92.68

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