personal finance

'We've had to rein in our spending': how coronavirus has hit household incomes

The pandemic has hit many people hard: jobs have been lost, freelancers have had work cancelled, and many small businesses are struggling. For everyone, even those who carried on working, habits have changed and the credit and debit columns in banks statements look very different to before the lockdown started.

“A full spectrum of people are being affected,” says Guy Anker, deputy editor of “We’re hearing from people who have lost their income completely, while the self-employed are being particularly hit, with people such as those earning £50,000 and those at an early stage of their business and not making a profit, not eligible for government support.”

Lenders were quickly told to offer payment holidays to borrowers. There has also been financial help through the government’s furlough scheme and payments to the self-employed. And while people’s incomes have plummeted, others have worked through and made savings by not travelling or being forced to cancel holidays.

We asked people how they had been affected by the pandemic and how it had affected their spending.

‘I’m one of the 5% that the government can’t help’

Rebecca Emmett, 32, is a hairdresser and lives in Staines

Rebecca Emmett.
Rebecca Emmett.

“As I only became self-employed in October I’m one of the 5% that the government can’t help. I do feel it’s a bit unfair but I know they’ve done so much for others. I was paid weekly and haven’t earned any income since. Luckily I don’t rent a chair at the salon so I don’t owe any rent every month. I applied for universal credit but it didn’t come through for about six weeks. I just give most of the money straight to my landlady.

“I have a little bit of savings that will help me out until that comes through. It does play on my mind. It’s also really hard as my parents aren’t around. But I do have friends that would help me, if needed.

“I’m trying to be optimistic and remember that I’ll be inundated with work when the salon opens again. I’m definitely saving more. I usually pay £15 a day on commuting to work and I’m not spending money on lunch. I’m being very conscious with my outgoings. I’m spending money on things that are worth it, like books and plants.”

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‘Trying to find a job in this environment is tough’

Tafi Manoge, 40, is an agency social worker and lives in Milton Keynes.

“I was working on a social worker looking after teenagers in care homes and foster homes but my contract was terminated in February. They didn’t give a reason why. Trying to find a job in this environment is tough. A lot of places don’t seem to be hiring. I’m on a spouse visa, which means I’m not eligible for universal credit. I can’t receive any benefits.

“My wife is a social worker and she’s still going to work but money is tight. It’s definitely had a knock-on effect on bills and everything. Hopefully as soon as I start working again we can catch up with the bills. For now my wife has been paying.

“My spending has definitely changed since going into lockdown. I’ve been mainly staying indoors and not spending much apart from just groceries. We’re just taking it as it is and hoping that a job will come up soon.”

‘I’ve spent £500 more than I would usually’

Ruth Harrison-Davies.
Ruth Harrison-Davies. Photograph: Ed Sykes

Ruth Harrison-Davies, 32, lives in Huddersfield and is a senior account manager at ScribaPR

“I’ve spent much more than I would during lockdown. I have always been pretty frugal with money, and usually only treat myself to new clothes but since lockdown, I’ve spent hundreds more on clothes, accessories, bath stuff and nice smellies for my house. I also signed up to Bloom & Wild for fortnightly flower deliveries at £15. I wanted to be able to smell and see nice things while stuck inside, for my mental wellbeing, but I also wanted to be able to get dressed and wear nice, new clothes that made me feel positive.

“I’ve also got into the habit of supporting my local businesses, and now order from local restaurants at least twice per week. This usually involves a starter and main each – plus we will buy some wine or beers, whereas we’d eat out about three times per month previously. But I think it’s really important – if you can afford it – to keep those around you going. However, whilst I’m definitely spending more, I might be balancing some of it out: I’m not paying for PT sessions, which are £100 per month and petrol of about £60 a month.”

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‘Money seems to be going out hand over fist’

Paul Berry, 52, co-owns the Swan in Bampton, Devon

“It has been a difficult few months for us. When lockdown was first announced, we had to close the pub and furlough staff and we were unable to deliver food, as I am one of those who had been advised to shield for health reasons. Like many other businesses, we have made our way through it slowly. We were accepted for a government grant, which has been a big help. Our landlords have been incredibly understanding and we have been able to work with them to come to an agreement on payments. I wouldn’t expect anything for free.

“We recently launched our ‘The Swan at home’ contactless collection service to people in the local area and this means I can stay in the safety of the pub, where we also live, and have some money coming in.

“My wife and I have never been extravagant people. We have always lived within our means – we spend most of our time working, to be fair. Like many people across the country, we’ve had to rein in our spending and really only purchase essentials. What we’re worried about is what happens after this – what’s coming isn’t going to come cheaply in taxes.”

‘I was too scared to do overtime’

Julia Tugwell, 49, supermarket assistant, Crewkerne, Somerset

Julia Tugwell.
Julia Tugwell. Photograph: Courtesy of Julia Tugwell

“I’m contracted to work about 18 hours a week but usually do about 30 hours. Up until a month ago I was too scared to do overtime. I want to be in there as little as possible and so just working my contracted hours. I also work a few hours a week tutoring a young man but that has gone out of the window as well. I was earning about half the amount I used to. However, I’ve just started to work my usual hours at the supermarket. I’m still concerned but not as anxious. Seeing colleagues just get on with it helped.

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“It’s been tougher as I’m a single mum but I have some savings and I’m thankful that I have a secure job. A major amount of my income goes on rent and I’m still expected to pay that.

“My outgoings have dropped massively since the outbreak. I don’t have to pay for parking at work, which has saved me a little amount and my employer has upped the amount of discount we get so that’s been helpful with the food shopping. I don’t go out anyway. The vast amount of my spending goes on my rent. There’s been no major purchases since lockdown – money on non-essentials like clothes and shoes just isn’t happening.”

‘I was terminated without notice’

Kayleigh Johnstone, 33, works in PR and lives in Middlewich, Cheshire

“In March, the PR agency I’d been working at for the past five years emailed my termination without notice. It came as a complete shock. I did qualify for the government package, which was a small help, and I’m lucky that my husband is the main earner but right away this still left us with a deficit in income every month. We had to immediately look at our personal spending. We have cut back on Netflix, Amazon music, takeaways and alcohol. I’ve stopped my Slimming World subscription and we have dropped a brand level when shopping. We no longer have the freedom to buy non-essentials. For instance we would like to buy some plants and garden equipment but can’t justify the cost until I can secure work. The mortgage holiday and reduction in outgoings helps but will obviously not be a long-term solution.

The lockdown has been somewhat of a help in that we are no longer paying for my husband’s commute, which was £300 a month in petrol, and we are fortunate that my children’s activities and childcare are not charging us during this period.

“I am trying to see the positive by setting up my own business, Coz PR, a virtual PA service. Compared to many in this situation, I feel very lucky.”


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