As a money blogger and personal finance journalist, my number one tip for managing money is to keep a spending diary.
So during lockdown, when money is tighter than ever for many of us, a spending diary can be particularly useful.
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I’ve been keeping a lockdown spending diary since March 21, just after the schools closed and our lives were turned upside down for the foreseeable future.
Swapping spending diaries for the first month of lockdown with Lynn, a fellow money blogger at Mrs Mummypenny, has been fascinating. We’re both self-employed, living outside London in four-bed houses, with children of similar ages although I’m catering for two kids and a husband while Mrs Mummypenny has three boys.
We swapped spending diaries once before, but this time I’ve loved seeing how another family has coped financially during coronavirus. Where do we spend the same amounts – and what is completely different?
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One of the biggest changes during lockdown was the disappearance of entire spending categories. Childcare – zero. Petrol – zip all. Holidays – both of us had trips abroad cancelled due to lockdown.
Sadly, other expenses increased.
Bigger household bills
During the first month of lockdown, my household bills were way higher than Mrs Mummypenny’s, and accounted for twice as much of my monthly spending. Check out how our spending divided up in the pie charts, mine above and Lynn’s below.
My total was driven up by our hefty Council tax bill, at just over £300, and an oil delivery for just under £400.
We rely on heating oil rather than gas to heat our house and have to top up our oil tank a few times a year. I was forced to order more expensive oil in a hurry when our tank ran low at the start of February. When I saw that the pandemic was causing lengthy delays to oil deliveries, and oil prices dropped 17%, I spent nearly £400 at the start of April ordering a 1,000 litre top up.
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Big mistake. Oil prices have plummeted since, so if I’d held out longer, the same amount of oil now costs half the price, at just under £200.
In contrast, Mrs Mummypenny’s local authority didn’t take any Council Tax for April, and Lynn only pays just over £90 a month for gas and electricity from Octopus.
Neither of us faced any mortgage payments during lockdown – our family was lucky enough to clear our mortgage after moving from London to Suffolk, while Mrs Mummypenny has taken a mortgage payment holiday due to coronavirus. However, Mrs Mummypenny did have £27 debt repayment, while we don’t have any debt.
Stripping out Council Tax and the oil delivery, our household bills shrink to just over £200 a month. This covers electricity, water, TV licence, broadband and landline, three mobiles, life assurance and a tenner across data storage, an oven insurance plan and the account fee for our NatWest Reward current account.
In comparison, Mrs Mummypenny spends three times as much on broadband, phone and TV services (£47 a month including a Virgin package and Netflix subscription versus our £16 monthly bill at Plusnet) and four times as much on mobile phones (nearly £100 a month with EE versus our three SIM only deals totalling less than £25).
We both pay for life insurance, while Mrs Mummypenny also has an income protection policy.
Forking out for food
After bills, groceries was the biggest category for both of us, and our totals for groceries plus eating out/snacks were almost identical. Mine included £40 worth of food bought for my mother, while Mrs Mummypenny spent just over £50 treating her boys to Dominos pizza and fish and chips.
Our spending totals might be the same, but during lockdown my food shopping has changed completely: where I shop, what I buy and how much.
I am used to pottering down to the supermarket several times a week, topping up yellow-stickered bargains from the reduced shelves with fresh food.
But since we’ve been self-isolating, I haven’t been inside a supermarket. The £15 spent on 23 March marks the last time I nipped to the Co-op.
Instead, we’ve relied on food we already had in the house plus three Morrisons deliveries, two of which were slots booked before lockdown, and the last was nabbed from what must have been a cancellation.
We’ve also benefited from local suppliers: milk and sometimes bread delivered three times a week by Keith the milkman, plus food and veg boxes from Carl at Hadleigh Market every Friday, and a leg of pork delivered by Jo from the Greenacres pork stall.
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Suddenly, all four of us are at home for every meal, rather than the children eating school dinners and my husband taking packed lunches to work. We’ve also spent much more on comfort food: biscuits, crisps and chocolate. I can no longer take advantage of reduced-price food, and many of the cheaper brands I normally buy are out of stock. For example, it’s been a godsend getting bread from the milk man, but at £1.65 a loaf it costs three times what I’d normally spend at the supermarket.
It’s also hard to meal plan when you don’t know exactly what will show up in deliveries, or even when you’ll get another delivery.
As a result, our food spending has been high, at nearly £108 a week for our family of four.
While we are getting by with rare supermarket deliveries, Mrs Mummypenny has gone the other way, relying on a couple of bigger Aldi trips plus a bunch of smaller top up trips for treats and alcohol, and three recipe boxes from Mindful Chef.
On the plus side, at least I don’t have to budget for school dinners right now, and neither of us can spend anything in restaurants, pubs or cafes!
Counting the cost of self-employment
For both of us, work expenses were the third biggest category.
Mrs Mummypenny may have spent a bit more, but the breakdown was similar.
We both pay small regular amounts each month, whether for software subscriptions and a Times subscription (mine) or a podcast hosting subscription (Mrs Mummypenny’s).
Both of us paid other bloggers for help, whether Mrs Mummypenny’s virtual assistant or my SEO work.
We also had a few less frequent expenses, whether Mrs Mummypenny’s mail tool and social marketing course, or my annual payment for a receipt scanning app.
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Household expenses and cleaning
Mrs Mummypenny spent more than four times as much as I did on household costs, but then she did have emergency expenses in changing the locks and repairing a tap, alongside buying new bedding, pool chemicals and contact lenses.
Our £60 on household items was mainly cleaning products, plus the £19 I panic spent on a fingertip oxygen monitor in case any of us caught a bad case of Covid-19.
On the other hand, Mrs Mummypenny doesn’t have a cleaner, whereas I have continued paying our cleaner even though she hasn’t been able to come during lockdown (£112). I think she will more than earn her money afterwards!
Scrimping and splurging on children and fun money
Normally, we both spend ton of money on our children. Clothes, school uniform, school shoes, haircuts, school trips, sports, classes, dinner money and childcare. Days out and family activities also eat a chunk of our normal monthly budget.
From her lockdown spending diary, I can see that Mrs Mummypenny has stripped spending on kids, leisure and fun money to the bone, at just under £55.
Football and other sports have been cancelled for her boys, so she only bought them a book, a basketball net and some sponge balls reimbursed by her sister as an Easter present. Her own fun money went on a film, kindle book, bargain 99p trial subscription to Audible, an £18 (!) box of fudge and a Grief Encounter donation.
Our total however was much bigger, at over £320.
On our side, some hobbies continue. Our music lessons, whether for my son on the piano, my husband on the bass and me on the flute, now take place via Zoom (£125).
We caved in to demands for electronics, topping up the children’s savings and pocket money to buy refurbished Nintendo DS consoles, games, a memory card and charger, plus Yokai watches (nearly £120 all in). I have also tried to encourage some exercise by ordering a baseball and bat!
Through gritted teeth, I’ve included my WeightWatchers magazines and subscriptions (switched from workshops to digital only) within ‘fun’ money (£36), while my husband paid a bit more overall for his Guardian and Apple Music subscriptions and a second-hand computer game.
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I was also given £100 birthday money and enjoyed buying treats including books, a cheese thermometer, gardening magazines and afternoon tea delivered by Tiptree. Meanwhile Mrs Mummypenny celebrated her birthday by spending £68.50 on clothes, whereas we didn’t spend a penny on clothing or shoes.
Lower car costs during lockdown
During the first month of lockdown, car costs evaporated for our family. We bought both our cars for cash, didn’t spend anything on petrol or repairs, and our annual payments for insurance, tax and servicing weren’t due.
Mrs Mummypenny didn’t have any petrol costs either but did spend more than £186 on her car loan, tax and insurance. Choosing a distance based ‘By Miles’ insurance policy turns out to have been a great choice during lockdown!
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This is Otto, turning cute up to 11. Beyond grateful we got our puppy in February. Makes us laugh, gets us out in the garden, drags us out for a (socially-distanced) walk each day and endures much stroking. I managed to think of food and worming tablets before lockdown, but we’ve just run out puppy pads. Newspaper has not been well-received #joyful
Few pounds on pets and presents
We both spent minimal amounts on pets this month – just flea powder for Mrs Mummypenny’s cat, Trev, and a some dog food for our new puppy, Otto.
Otherwise, Mrs Mummypenny spent £18 on a present of clothes, and we spent £50 on a couple of Mothers’ Day presents, my nephew’s birthday and a ‘get well soon’ gift.
Still saving something
Neither of us squirelled away huge amounts for the future during the first month of lockdown. Mrs Mummypenny set aside just over £120 using an automatic savings app, while a robo adviser account I’m reviewing siphoned off £66.
I also used time during lockdown to set up a regular £100-a-month pension payment, to be topped up with a lump sum before the end of the next tax year. Stockmarkets may have plunged at the start of the pandemic, but I’m still keen to stash money for the future.
Lockdown spending diary summary
Overall, it’s fascinating to see how the first month of lockdown has changed our spending.
Some spending categories have disappeared for both of us, but I’ve actually been less frugal than normal in some areas, such as contributing to the kids’ Nintendo consoles and accessories. I’ve also tried to support small businesses: nearly 20% of our total went to our cleaner, music teachers, a money blogger for SEO work and to the greengrocer and pork stallholder delivering from Hadleigh Market. Overall, we spent just over £2,360.
In contrast, Mrs Mummypenny has become more frugal during lockdown, slashing spending on children, leisure and fun money. Lynn has also faced lower bills, with no Council Tax for April and a mortgage payment holiday.
Adding those two bills back in would make her total spend a third higher than ours, rather than nearly a quarter less, at £1,793.
For both us, our biggest spending categories were bills, food and work expenses. Our top five categories accounted for 80% of Mrs Mummypenny’s spending (adding household and car costs) and 75% of mine (adding payments to our cleaner and leisure stuff for the kids).
I was surprised at how few ‘no spend’ days we had, despite being stuck at home. We only had three days with nothing going out of our account, while Mrs Mummpenny had five.
Once lockdown ends, our spending will definitely change. Car costs will rise once we have to pay for petrol and maintenance again. Lockdown has merely delayed rather than removed some spending – such as clothes, haircuts, dental appointments and holidays. I also spent some extra money well before lockdown started, stocking up on food, dog food, contact lenses and printer ink, all things that will eventually need replacing.
Overall, I am beyond grateful that my husband and I have been able to continue working from home, even if it’s been tricky juggling with home schooling. My regular work continues, and my husband’s new job started as planned, so we do have the money to cover our bills. Compared to those who have lost loved ones, NHS staff, frontline workers and anyone whose income has dried up, we are incredibly lucky.
Now – over to you. How has your spending changed during lockdown? Do share in the comments, I’d love to hear!
This post was sponsored by online pension provider PensionBee