‘I still spend so much time on the kids – that needs to change’

My Money is a series looking at how people spend their money – and the sometimes tough decisions they have to make. Here, Sarah Dahia from Australia takes us through a week in her life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sarah was born in the UK and now lives in Sydney, having moved from Fiji for her children to be educated in Australia.

Her husband Mahen is in Fiji, unable to travel due to the business and Covid-19 travel restrictions. Sarah and Mahen have barely seen each other during the last year.

Sarah’s daughter Sophie, 19, is at university while son Ganesh, 21, is taking a break from study and working long hours as a kitchen hand. They have a rescue dog called Libby and two cats called Susie and Jacey.

Sarah has always been a stay-at-home mum while also helping Mahen with his shoe business. Now she is getting government assistance of A$530 (£300) a fortnight and looking for work. At the moment they have a six-month mortgage holiday due to Covid-19. Sarah says she doesn’t know how she will manage when it ends.

With the stress of Covid-19, separation, upset children and unsure income Sarah says her already shaky mental health has taken a bashing. She referred herself to an organisation called Flourish, run by Western Sydney Health. It is a support organisation designed to prevent people not fitting into the mental health system from falling through the cracks.

Over to Sarah…

My Mondays are always the same. It is Ganesh’s only day off so I make time to be with him, doing whatever he needs. Today he is very tired from a bad work week so we do some shopping for his new den, then he takes the rest of the day to relax while I work out, do housework and cook whatever he likes for his one evening at home.

I do my shopping at our local market, which is open Friday to Sunday. With Covid I have decreased my Aldi visit for pet food and non-perishables to every three weeks so we already have everything we need for the week.

For breakfast I have muesli and a homemade cappuccino. Lunch is spicy chicken and potato soup made of leftovers.

After lunch Sophie and I walk our dog Libby. Spring sprang last week, but the wind is a cold southerly this afternoon so we all hide in a sunny sheltered spot for chatting and doggy cuddles. Home for hot tea and homemade cake for all. I bake at least once a week, cheaper and tastier than bought.

Ganesh and I make dinner, his choice of homemade hamburgers with a vinaigrette slaw of fennel, red capsicum, spring onions and carrot.

I have a long video call with Mahen, then a comfortable evening with my book. I devour free e-books from the library.

Total spend: A$0

My Money

More blogs from the BBC’s My Money Series:

  • UK: ‘My mum’s advice saved me from lockdown anxiety’
  • Sweden: ‘My house looks happy’
  • US: ‘Our alternative quarantine holiday’

We’re looking for more people to share what they spend their money on. If you’re interested, please email [email protected] or get in touch via our My Money (World) Facebook group, or if you live in the UK, please join our My Money (UK) Facebook group and we’ll aim to contact you.

Treat myself to reading the news in bed before feeding the animals. Use the cross trainer and eat breakfast of a chicken salad roll and cappuccino.

I have to taxi Ganesh to work until his driving test (two more weeks!) as he worries about Covid on the bus. Sophie comes along to spend the last of her extra Covid youth allowance on a haircut – a treat as usually done at home – and an inner ear piercing.

Have to rush to drop her home and pick up Libby to get to my Flourish meeting. Walk Libby with a case worker. Flourish has been an incredible safety net and makes a huge difference to me. We meet twice a week, setting and checking goals for me to improve my mental health. It is comforting, highly effective and free, for which I am profoundly grateful.

Bed sheet changing, then a late dinner of lamb, last night’s salad, couscous and herb dressing. A long chat with Mahen. Collect Ganesh, cook him beef and noodles then book and bed with the cats.

Total spend: A$0

No workout this morning. Breakfast of chicken sandwich and homemade cappuccino.

I forgot to fill the car last night (39 litres of diesel costs A$42.83, and usually lasts two weeks) so do that and head into the city. I have to select leather for shoe designs I drew for Mahen last week.

It takes me all morning Skyping with Mahen to choose my two samples plus another 14 which should last him until Christmas. Fondling soft sheep skins is heaven, but I am dirty and tired from hauling cow hides so I take the quick toll road home. Tolls cost A$16.60 one way but the cost goes to Mahen’s business.

Dinner is chicken and kale Caesar salad. We eat lots of chicken – perk of Ganesh’s job. Great, but I would rather he received a higher wage.

Chat with mum, then collect Ganesh from work and Sophie from the gym before bed.

Total spend: A$42.83 (£24.20)

Treat breakfast of berries, custard apple, chocolate digestives and cappuccino. Cheered by the arrival of my new A$7 earrings ordered in June. Love buying from China – low prices and such slow post that it feels like a present when the goods arrive!

Today is rubbish bins, and tomorrow is market day so I tidy, check and sort things to use, put away or dispose of.

Start in the kitchen. Clear all produce from the fridge and cook any that’s old. Update shopping lists, clean and organise. Cook stewed apple, spinach, a large pan of soffritto for future meals and microwaved strawberries.

I apply for a post as a National Trust volunteer. Back for lunch of beef and veggie noodles to share with Ganesh (last of the beef and some soffritto).

Continue through the house, tidying and sorting. It has reached 32C today (third day of spring) so the fan comes out of winter storage. Pay the phone bill – A$105 of which A$40 will be reclaimed from the kids so really A$65.00. Drop Ganesh at work and buy milk and jelly crystals (A$5.05) to make up with the strawberries and some Cointreau.

Dinner is hummus, kale, chicken and roast capsicum on pitta. I chat with Mahen and my sister in the UK, then relax. A good day.

Total spend: A$70.05 (£39.58)

Up, a slice of toast with hummus, then drop Ganesh at work and hit the market. I finish just as it starts to rain.

I buy meat, fruit and vegetables and two wholemeal loaves for A$78.07. I seem to have bought a lot of meat, including 2kg of chicken thighs for tandoori, but the kids constantly ask for meat. The kale and lettuce are whole plants, so I store them in a bowl of water by the window. I still have some veggies left from last week, and a loaf and flatbreads in the freezer. We finished the last cake, so I will bake coconut cake and lemon biscuits next week.

Tomato sandwich, stewed apple, Greek yoghurt and honey for lunch. Then in the afternoon coffee and a yarn with my friend Jane – my turn to pay, A$9.60. Job applications for the rest of the day.

An oven full of tandoori, so I eat some for dinner with lettuce, spinach raita and rice. Strawberry jelly, then Skype and binge watching Liziqi on YouTube with the animals.

Total spend: A$87.67 (£49.54)

Pleasant start to the morning, drinking cappuccino on the deck chatting with Mahen (though it was mainly work talk). The jasmine hedge is flowering and the scent is almost overpowering.

We look at him coming home for Christmas, but at nearly A$10,000 with four weeks quarantine for two weeks at home it’s a joke. Maybe things will improve.

My homemade cappuccino has taken a while to perfect. Coffee bags come on special offer regularly, 28 bags for A$4.20. Make up one bag with one cup of hot water, add one teaspoon of instant and I get two coffees with real coffee flavour. Half a cup of hot full cream milk whizzed to a froth, topped off with coffee and powdered chocolate comes to about A$0.70, as opposed to A$4.60 for bought. I no longer crave cafe coffee, but can’t help reflecting on being reduced to this!

Feeling lonely and depressed, so I take Libby for a picnic and tell myself to grow up.

Spend the rest of the day distracting myself. Ganesh finishes at 11:00pm so I stay up to collect him, then the kids fight. Love family life!

Total spend: A$0

Not going to allow another bad day like yesterday. Father’s Day today with no father around.

I have a marinated veggie and hummus sandwich, and two coffees to prepare myself; then nag the kids into each mowing a lawn while I weed and sweep up. Feels like a major achievement!

Reward myself with an extra long bush walk and a bar of chocolate. There is always a A$1 special offer at Woolworths, this week it’s a Boost bar.

Life these days is either special offers or go without. Dentist, hairdressers, new clothes – it is possible to manage without them all. It makes me laugh all this psychology nonsense about how women over 40 shouldn’t have long hair. It’s easy to seem confident and look good with a short cut if you can afford a stylist regularly. No way I’m trying that on myself!

Total spend: A$1 (£0.56)

Total spent this week: A$201.55 (£113.82)

How does Sarah feel about her week?

I watch every cent, and it has been an easy week to save. No big bills and I am up-to-date. Buying from the market means we eat very well for the money we spend.

Unfortunately this is short-lived. Our bank gave us a six-month mortgage holiday when Covid-19 lockdown struck, but this winds back soon. I have squirrelled like mad but severe mortgage stress is about to start, with a A$1,800 (£1,016) monthly payment. Pressure is on for Mahen to send money back that he doesn’t have.

I am very grateful that we did have money at one stage. I have a lovely home surrounded by beautiful objects from my travels. But I am happy not to be caught up in a cycle of materialism and constant buying. Genteel poverty it may be, but there are worse ways to live.

Seems strange to see my life written down. I realise just how much time I still spend on the kids. That needs to change. They are adults now and I need to work on being there for me instead. Next challenge!

  • Unemployment
  • Coronavirus pandemic
  • Sydney
  • Money

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