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Money Diary: A 28-Year-Old Disabled Woman On Benefits In Emergency Accommodation

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 am a 28-year-old living in East Sussex. I stopped working two years ago due to my fibromyalgia getting worse, and various mental health issues.I currently receive benefits and am in the process of my PIP (personal independence payment) appeal after it was denied. I got made homeless three months ago and have been in emergency accommodation provided by the council for the past three weeks. The council covers this rent. It’s extremely expensive and the private property management is raking it in, especially because the property is in such bad condition (mould everywhere, things not working, doors not locking properly). I’m here while I bid on properties on the council list. It’s an extremely stressful time, hence the going to bed so late and lots of TV. Also, where I’ve been housed is very far from my family and friends, so I’ve been pretty lonely.I have noticed my spending being quite erratic during this pandemic in general and when I’ve been feeling depressed I tend to online purchase. I’m actually really grateful as while doing this money diary, I was more careful with my money overall. I don’t buy coffees out so I am glad I save money in that way. I’ve just started driving but only spend about £10 on petrol a week. I have about £1,200 in debt but I recently paid off the last £400 of my other debt, which feels amazing.”Industry: Unemployed/disabledAge: 28Location: East SussexBenefits: £650 per month (currently £750 per month due to the COVID benefit increase but this could be cut any day).Number of housemates: NoneMonthly ExpensesHousing costs: £1,100 rent. This is covered by the council.Utilities: The electric is on a top-up meter, usually £40 a month. Water, council tax and internet is included in the property.Phone bill: I use VOXI Unlimited £10 deal for people on benefits, it’s a lifesaver.Savings? £3,400Other: Spotify: I use my dad’s account. Netflix: I use my sister’s account.Day One9am: Wake up around 9am after finally getting a good night’s sleep! I’m staying in temporary accommodation provided by the council and my neighbours are really noisy and are drug addicts who have been having wild parties, so I’ve been struggling to sleep.9.15am: Make a cup of spearmint tea and do self body massage with sesame oil. This is an ayurvedic practice which helps people with anxiety. I’ve felt a lot better since doing it and it only takes five minutes each morning. I follow this up with a hot shower.10am: Follow a free online meditation and qi gong session on IG.11am: I finally start getting ready for my day by making a cup of cacao with hot water, cinnamon and coconut sugar. I love having a cup of cacao each morning instead of coffee, it contains high levels of magnesium and iron which is great for fatigue. Since I contracted long COVID last year I go through phases of extreme exhaustion. I find drinking the cacao gives me energy and is my nice little ritual for setting up for the day. I put on nice music while I chop the cacao and prepare my drink.11.20am: Sit at my laptop and write out letters for my PIP (personal independence payment) appeal. I applied for PIP last year because of my various health and mental health conditions but it got denied as I didn’t have enough evidence. So I’ve spent the past week trying to get letters from my doctors and counsellors to support my claim. It feels like having a part-time job, trying to speak to benefits people and get these things!12.45pm: Cook some lunch in my soup maker. My cooker in this emergency accommodation doesn’t work, despite me complaining for the past month, so a local charity gave me a Morphy Richards soup maker. Honestly the best invention – I can’t believe I never had one before! I put some frozen peas, roughly chop a leek and courgette, add some stock and garlic cloves. You just turn it on and in 20 minutes it’s cooked and blended all by itself.1pm: Eat the green soup with a slice of gluten-free toast topped with guacamole.2pm: Go for a walk into town. I spied some of my favourite shampoo and conditioner on special offer in Waitrose, which is about 35 minutes walk away. I like going there as it gives me an excuse to get a good walk in! I don’t do a big shop there, usually just anything reduced or that I can’t get anywhere else. I tend to do my shopping in about three different places, getting the cheapest stuff from each one. I get the shampoo and conditioner plus decaf tea bags, coconut yoghurt and eggs. £13.303pm: Come home and drop my stuff off and have a quick cuppa. Chat to my family friend for a bit on the phone, then walk to my car. I drive to Lidl to get a hairbrush I saw they had on offer. End up buying some Choc Shot and a lentil dal too. £6.474pm: Decide to drive to Asda as I’m out anyway and it’s only two minutes away. Get some tins and packets of soup and curries. When I’m in a lot of pain, I don’t have the energy to cook so find these really helpful to have in the house so I can just pop one into the microwave. Get a new mug too for £1, and some vegetables. £17.076pm: Cook myself a strange dinner of venison meatballs from the freezer, chickpea pasta, red pesto, spinach and vegan cheese. It’s not actually very nice but I can’t be bothered to cook something else so I have it anyway. Watch some TV while I eat. I don’t like watching this much TV but I find it makes me feel less alone in the flat.7pm: My friend’s hosting a free vocal workshop so I go to that. It’s nice to see others’ faces, even when it is via Zoom. Her sound isn’t amazing though so I leave the meeting early.8.30pm: I get a text from my neighbour downstairs so I go and sit in their flat for a while. We made friends when I first moved in here about a month ago and every few nights I go and visit them for a chat. They are helping me with my council applications and stuff, and even though they aren’t the sort of people I would normally hang around with, it’s nice to have some company.10.30pm: Get home and have a bowl of coconut yoghurt and blueberries. Get into bed and watch TV for a couple of hours, then turn it off and try to sleep. I’m tossing and turning and can hear my neighbours loudly which disturbs me. I’m up until 1am, when I finally drift off.Total: £36.84Day Two3.30am: Wake up from a strange dream and have to pee urgently. Get back into bed and sleep again quickly.8.30am: Wake up without an alarm but feeling groggy and tired. Have a shower and wash my hair.9am: Have a cup of spearmint tea while beginning my qi gong practice for the day. I usually do anywhere between 10 and 45 minutes of qi gong each morning. I discovered it in the first lockdown and it helps me manage my symptoms so much. I follow live free IG classes on @hayoufit. I used to do HIIT and lift weights but since my illness got worse I’m unable to exercise in the same way as before. It’s hard slowing down when you’re used to sweating hardcore at the gym each day.9.50am: Make a quick cup of cacao with rice milk, coconut sugar, turmeric, black pepper and ground ginger. I don’t watch the news anymore. I found it was making me so incredibly depressed and I had got in the habit of scrolling first thing on my phone to catch up on news apps, so I rely on hearing important parts from my family. It feels so much better to have a break. I know if it’s something that is going to change, my family will let me know.10am: I tune into another IGTV live, this time a sound healing, meditation and ecstatic dance. I only discovered this recently but I’m loving the community it has and the feeling of just a little bit of dancing each morning!11am: Get a call from my support worker at a homelessness charity. She helps me liaise with the council. I tell her that my cooker still hasn’t been fixed and she promises to follow it up with the property management.11.25am: I start getting loads of texts from my mum. We haven’t spoken in a year for reasons I won’t go into but she’s trying to worm her way back into my life. She tells me my uncle is in hospital with COVID and my great auntie died last week from it. I feel angry and triggered that she’s trying to speak to me yet again, and I find a quick 10 minute meditation online to get me back into a calm space.12.30pm: Reheat the pea and leek soup from yesterday and have it with a slice of gluten-free toast and hummus while watching Superstore (bingeing this hardcore right now! America Ferrera is great). Have a decaf tea and write some of this money diary.2pm: Someone from the council calls me and goes through some paperwork with me which takes over an hour. I feel exhausted and drained afterwards but I splash my face with water and go outside for a walk.4pm: Call various people as I go for my walk and force myself to keep going despite the light rain. I can’t bear to be in my little bedsit right now, I need a change of scenery big time. While I’m out I get a call offering me a council flat but it’s not in the right location near my family, and it doesn’t have a bath – baths really help me manage my symptoms. Tell them I’ll think about it and let them know by tomorrow.6pm: Arrive home around 5 and prepare my dinner. I look up the location of the flat and if there are shops nearby etc. It seems pretty isolated so the jury is still out.6.15pm: Do my online yoga class. This is one of my non-negotiables for the week. It’s a mix of vinyasa flow and yin yoga to completely calm and relax at the end and the teacher is one of my friends. I’m lucky enough to still be using my staff online login for the studio I used to work at, so I get all classes for free. I’ve been doing this for a year and they still haven’t noticed. I would feel bad but they were probably the worst employers I’ve ever had so I feel like I deserve the classes in a weird way.7.30pm: Cook a quick and simple dinner. I cube some celeriac and cut parsnips and toss these in olive oil and mild curry powder. I roast these in the oven with a vegan burger and serve it with hummus on the side. I used to be a professional chef but since my health conditions have got worse, I find it hard to stand and cook meals for long periods. Also, the hob doesn’t work in this flat so I’m finding it hard to think of meals that only use the oven or microwave! This is actually quite yummy though, and I make a mental note to make it regularly.8.30pm: Speak to my friend on the phone for a hour. Then I start receiving texts from a family member who I haven’t spoken to for ages, telling me someone we know is in hospital with COVID. I feel incredibly anxious and stressed, and watch crap TV ’til way too late, trying to distract myself.1am: Still can’t sleep. Force myself to read until I drift off around 2.30am.Total: £0Day Three9.30am: Wake up about five times in the night from different nightmares. Feel like I’ve been hit over the head. Welcome to fibromyalgia lol. I have a shower then make a spearmint tea. Follow along a live IG meditation and qi gong. Quickly make a cup of cacao but don’t have time for breakfast.11am: See my CBT therapist over Zoom for our session. This is our second session and she’s helping me to explore thought patterns I have about my illness. It’s taken over a year to get this course and I’m very aware that I only have seven sessions left. I always feel drained afterwards. It is tiring talking about yourself for a long period of time. I don’t feel super supported by her yet but maybe we will get to know each other better and that will change.12.30pm: FaceTime a friend for a quick chat while preparing lunch. I’m in so much pain today that I can’t stand to cook so I heat up a packet dal in the microwave but I really don’t enjoy it. I make a makeshift dessert by mashing half an avocado, cacao powder, protein powder and agave. It’s like a thick chocolate mousse and fills me up.2pm: Get a call from the council and tell them I don’t want the flat because there isn’t a bath. I then do some proofreading for a friend’s newsletter and Instagram. Help her design a couple of posters. This only takes me around 30 minutes and she’s giving me healing sessions in exchange for the help ad hoc.3pm: I snack on some oatcakes and miso soup and my friend calls me from Greece. We spend a good hour catching up and she gives me some great advice. I feel much better after chatting to her. I then go for a 20 minute walk by the sea to clear my head and get out of the house, but it starts raining quite heavily.5pm: Do an online restorative yoga class, where you lie and hold poses for up to 20 minutes. I go into a deep relaxation and feel so much better while doing it.6pm: The class finishes and I cook dinner while chatting to a different friend about holistic treatments (god, I really talk to way too many people sometimes). She is a herbalist and homeopath, and she’s sending me remedies for my depression and long COVID recovery.7pm: Eat my dinner, which is homemade lentil and carrot soup with some rice cakes and rose harissa paste (imho the best condiment).8pm: Chat online to a Brazilian guy who is a friend of a friend. Also chat to my neighbour downstairs who sweetly offers for her boyfriend to come up tomorrow to clean my shower for me. Because my back prevents me from bending down low all of the time, certain things become difficult!9pm: Chant some mantras by candlelight. Try to relax my overactive brain.10pm: Watch the first episode of It’s A Sin on Channel 4. One of my friends has a small part in it so I’m watching for him, but I get gripped.11pm: Have a shower and get into bed with my tens machine stuck on my back and a hot water bottle, and watch a few episodes of Superstore on Netflix before going to sleep around 1am.Total: £0Day Four8.30am: Wake up DYING for a pee. Wanted to sleep in but I decide to get going for the day. After my shower I do one of Katie Brindle’s free qi gong classes.9.30am: Make some scrambled eggs and cacao. Drink the cacao while doing a meditation on YouTube. When I get out of the habit of doing meditations, my mental health really struggles.10am: Do the IGTV live girl’s sound healing and dance.11am: I feel inspired so I write a couple of Instagram posts and plan to do a short live later on. I have a few thousand followers but I’m trying to build my audience so I’m posting more regularly and interacting with more people now. I want more followers so when I finish my book (two years in the making so far lol), publishers will be more likely to sign me, the more followers I have (sad but true).12pm: Do 30 minutes of an online yoga class. I’m still tender after a bad pain day yesterday so I take it easy and spend a lot of time in child’s pose.1pm: I reheat the leftovers of yesterday’s sweet potato and lentil soup and have it with some rice cakes.2pm: Go for a walk and do my IG live by the sea. Feeling so much better today, I wonder if it’s because I didn’t do much yesterday. It’s really hard to find a balance between doing too much and too little with a chronic illness.3pm: I pop into my downstairs neighbour’s on my way home and stay chatting for an hour. Her boyfriend comes upstairs with me and helps me clean my shower as I haven’t been able to bend down properly to do it. I’m so embarrassed but they are very insistent so I let him get on with it. We chat with the young boy who lives next door to me, he’s found mould all along his walls and windows. He’s told the council but despite him having a newborn baby, they won’t help. Him, his girlfriend and the baby are all staying in one tiny room and he tells us how he’s been fighting with her a lot. He’s only 19.5pm: I reply to some texts then cook an improv pho in my soup machine. I put stock, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and miso in, with Chinese cabbage, carrot and broccoli. I cook this and put some meatballs in the oven. I serve a big bowl of this with chilli sauce and eat while watching Superstore. It’s very filling and was quite easy to make, plus you can get lots of garlic and ginger in your system.7pm: I’m meant to do my friend’s online dance class but I log onto Zoom and just don’t feel in the mood so after about 20 minutes I slyly log out. Does anyone else do this? I find it so much harder to stay in things when I’m at home compared to being in an actual studio!8pm: Chant some mantras and then watch an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. It’s a million times better than the USA version. I’ve been watching RuPaul since the first season came out and it’s blown my mind the way it’s got so popular. I miss the cattiness and realness that it used to have, and the UK version gives me some of those vibes.10pm: Buy a cheap tapestry wall hanging thing from eBay that my friend sends me to cover up some holes on my wall in the flat. £5.111am: Trying to get to sleep but the neighbours begin to play a Michael Jackson album at full blast. I’m on the phone to the police ’til 3am until they finally stop, but nothing happens.Total £5.11Day Five9.30am: Wake up after six hours’ sleep feeling like absolute poo. My head is throbbing. I have a quick shower.10am: My women’s group has our weekly call, this week’s theme is dream work. We meet weekly on Zoom and each week a different woman takes the workshop lead. Next weekend, me and my friend are leading a self-love meditation for Valentine’s Day.1pm: Finally eat breakfast: scrambled eggs and a slice of gluten-free toast with a cup of decaf Earl Grey. Try and nap but I can’t so lie about and watch some TV on my phone. Make lunch of roasted broccoli, falafel and hummus.3pm: Call my old friend who I catch up with once every couple of weeks and go for a walk as the rain has lifted. I’m so deep in the conversation that I forget where I am and go further down the beach than ever before. I go way past the big Tesco I had planned to stop at so I double back on myself to get there. I am really craving greens despite the rain and cold so I get some salad, cucumber, courgettes, a sweet potato, bottle of water and a drink for my neighbour, which she pays me back for. £5.596pm: Get home absolutely knackered after doing 15,000 steps. Make a bowl with grated carrot, salad leaves and cucumber, a drizzle of tahini and soy sauce. Eat it and then pop a quick soup into the soup maker: cauliflower, cannellini bean, coconut, celery, garlic and stock. Pop it on and go downstairs to give my neighbour her drink. End up sitting at hers with my neighbours next door to me for an hour, having a moan about the noise last night.8pm: Come back upstairs to eat my soup while watching another episode of It’s A Sin. Chant mantras by candlelight.10pm: Watch TV in bed ’til 12am. Lie in bed reading and trying to drift off but I feel super anxious so don’t sleep until 2am.Total: £5.59Day Six10am: This is the longest lie-in I’ve had in a LONG time. Feel so grateful I’m actually getting eight hours of sleep despite the craziness going on around me. It actually feels like a Sunday now.10.30am: Have a quick shower then make some oats and cacao. I play a little guitar as I always feel a bit more awake and inspired while drinking cacao so like to practise playing then. I’m not great but I do enjoy singing and playing,11.30am: Do my favourite yoga teacher’s class on Zoom. She’s in the middle of a chakra series and today is the third eye chakra. It’s all about listening to what your body needs and I feel good not forcing myself into positions just because I can. My hypermobility means I can do most poses but then I’ll be in pain afterwards, so it’s a balancing act.12.45pm: Straight after the yoga I make an easy pho in the soup maker again, this time with a boiled egg. I watch a documentary about Katie Price and her son while eating, and it makes me cry.2pm: Call my dad to plan to meet up tomorrow. I tell him I’m worried that my windscreen wipers aren’t working properly and he tells me to go to Halfords and get new ones as it’s raining all week.3pm: Drive to Halfords about 10 minutes away and ask a guy to come out and check the wipers for me before I buy anything. He quotes me £30 but when he looks at them he says they are actually fine and just need a bit of cleaning. So glad I won’t have to spend that money unnecessarily.4pm: When I get home I start watching a film and doing some colouring but my mind can’t relax properly. The film is too intense and my brain can’t handle it right now so I put music on instead. I find sitting in silence makes anxiety worse for me so I always like a bit of background noise. Sometimes I just search ‘healing anxiety music’ on YouTube and go with what they have.5pm: I log onto a free healing session on Zoom that my stepmum told me about. It’s good but I don’t have the patience for the whole two hours and log off after about 90 minutes.7pm: Have some salad with tahini, then reheat the leftover cauliflower soup from yesterday. I always make two or three times of soups and stews so it saves me cooking from scratch for each meal. I used to meal prep a lot when I worked and I haven’t got out of the habit.9pm: Watch the last two episodes of It’s A Sin. Utterly heartbreaking. Wonderful acting too, I’m so proud of my friend for being just a small part in a wonderful production. It really made me think a lot about how lucky we are to be alive in this time, and how much has changed in just 20 years.10pm: Hungry again so munch on a raw carrot and a couple of rice cakes with tahini. Take my probiotics and have a shower. I remember to book my place on a Valentine’s online workshop before the spaces fill up. £1111pm: Play some sleep meditation music off my laptop and read in bed for a couple of hours. My friend sent me an app with a free library of books that you can download onto your phone and read. I picked a mix of self-help and novels but my brain is exhausted so I read P.S. I Love You.2.30am: Why the hell am I still awake? My anxiety is through the roof tonight. I have to watch a TV show on my phone until I drift off, which I rarely have to do anymore.Total: £11Day Seven7.30am: I wake up about 7.30am after five hours’ sleep but despite tossing and turning I can’t get back to sleep. Eventually I give up and get going for the day.8.30am: After showering, I open the window before starting my qi gong and notice it’s snowing! Love it. It’s actually settling too, despite being so near the sea.9.30am: Make a breakfast of scrambled eggs and gluten-free toast, and a cup of cacao made with water and no coconut sugar. Trying to cut down my sweet stuff to nothing. I have such a sweet tooth and even one teaspoon of coconut sugar a day makes me crave stuff all day long.10am: Follow the girl’s free online meditation on IG again.11am: I was meant to drive to my dad’s today but I can’t face it in the snow so I walk to Holland & Barrett in town. Pick up some protein powder that’s reduced from £34 to £17, and a carton of Rude Health rice mylk. Pay using some of my card points (it covers 50p worth lol). When I get home I realise the protein powder’s only 300g so it’s actually not as much of a bargain as I originally thought. I might return it when I next go into town. £18.2012pm: Drive to a woman’s house nearby who is selling a couple of jumpers on FB Marketplace. I get both for £5, pretty good as they are from River Island and pretty much brand-new. FB Marketplace is addictive sometimes, I swear. I end up getting things I never knew I needed in the first place, just for the sake of it. £51pm: Come home and heat a packet of dal I bought from Asda at the start of the week. Then have a veggie burger from the oven.3pm: Go downstairs to my neighbour’s and we do some colouring together in those mindfulness books. Nice to get out of my flat! But makes me miss my family more. I get a text from my dad asking if I want to stay over tomorrow night and I couldn’t think of anything better. When picking up his text I drop my phone against my mug and it smashes the screen protector. Order one immediately online. £2.494pm: The boy next door to me comes downstairs too. They’ve had to take their little baby into hospital as he stopped breathing a couple of times and has a problem with his lungs, they think it’s from the mould in the flat. My heart breaks for them. Luckily within a few hours he’s home safe and sound.5pm: A friend who I haven’t spoken to for about three years calls me back. She’s been on my mind a lot recently so I reached out. We have a really nice catch-up and plan to meet up in summer/when we can. How many plans like this have you made? Kind of half-hearted as we don’t know if it will actually happen.6pm: Make a soup in the soup maker of peas, courgette, coconut milk and celery. Don’t have any bread or crackers left so just eat two bowls of that. Yummy but not very filling and I am getting very bored of soup now…7pm: Walk to the local Tesco Express and buy some coconut yoghurt, cabbage, ginger and leeks. They don’t have any nice yoghurt and as soon as I get home and try it, I instantly regret my choice. £5.218pm: Chant some mantras then have a shower and wash my hair after leaving it for a week. It takes so much energy to do basic tasks like this that I tend to leave it a little longer than others might.10pm: Watch a few more episodes of Superstore, then try to get an earlyish night. I’m going to my dad’s tomorrow to stay the night and looking forward to having a break from this room. I remember I’m almost run out of cacao so I order some online using my PayPal account. I notice I sold something on eBay today for £100, so feels like a win! £25.95Total: £56.85The BreakdownFood/Drink: £90.79Clothes/Beauty: £5Entertainment: £11Travel: £0Other: £8.60Total: £115.39Conclusion”I don’t think I did too badly this week, despite being quite down and wanting to buy things. I was probably more conscious of it because of this diary though, I might not have stopped myself otherwise!”Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Money Diary: An Electrician In Grimsby On 17kMoney Diary: A Project Manager In London On 46kMoney Diary: Criminology Student & Part-Time Carer