Tuesday, 29 September, 2020

My Money: ‘Poor in money but rich in friends’



Image copyright
Joy Sterling

Image caption

Joy Sterling and her daughter, Sophie

My Money is a series looking at how people spend their money – and the sometimes tough decisions they have to make. Here, Joy Sterling from South Gloucestershire records her spending over a week and shares tips for saving.

Following an accident in 2016, Joy was forced to change her lifestyle and spending habits. Over to Joy….

I live in South Gloucestershire with my 16-year-old daughter, Sophie and our 11-year-old, mad-as-a-box-of-frogs black labrador, Bailey.

In 2016 I had an accident. Fractured skull (bleed on the brain), cheekbone, eye socket and wrist. Three ops on my right wrist have left me with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. The brain damage has left me with short term memory issues, cognitive issues, attention deficit disorder, and I don’t process or retain new information.

I already had fibromyalgia, slipped neck discs, and HMS (hypermobility syndrome) diagnoses, but the accident (and subsequent brain damage) was the one to send me fully into disability land.

I lost both my job and home after the accident, as the home came with the job and I was made redundant.

The last few years financially have been, well, not great! I had two new dresses for Christmas and I swear it was my best Christmas ever!

One benefit of not having money is that I really do appreciate every single little thing.

Image copyright
Joy Sterling

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Joy’s food shop

I receive disability allowance (£125 a week), child tax credit (£62 a week) and housing benefit (£151 a week). My rent is £910 per month, plus bills.

For the last three months the Discretionary Housing Fund paid 6 weeks at 100% of my rent shortfall and then 6 weeks at 50% but said they won’t pay it any longer than that. It’s just finished.

This was the only property I could find that would allow housing benefit recipients, pets and Sophie could walk to school. I don’t get Personal Independence Payments, I pay tax and insurance for a 14-year-old car. Dreading the MOT next month.

We’re both vegetarian.

I’m not that great at keeping tabs on spending as I forget things from second to second. Hopefully this diary will get me on track rather than always being too scared to check the bank balance.

Joy’s week: Haircuts, halloumi and riding with Lowen.

Breakfast: I don’t do breakfast.

Sophie doesn’t go to college on Mondays so every few weeks I do a ‘big’ shop at Aldi if I remember. I can push a trolley around but struggle with the lifting, so she does all that.

A five minute walk away from home is Sainsbury’s and Lidl. Always have to pop into Sainsbury’s for forgotten (or unavailable at Aldi) items. I would go in Lidl but don’t always have the patience to wait three days to be served. Standing still hurts and I start to get panicky having people close to me. Thanks, brain injury!

Bread flour is currently on offer for 50p at Aldi. I can get two large loaves and six pizza bases from one bag. I used to make bread daily pre-accident but they’re fewer and far between these days.

Aldi £30.60

Sainsbury’s £12.30

Lunch: Umm, forgot. Do this often, never feel hungry, but did have a pain aux raisins at some point.

Back to Sainsbury’s to collect yet more things I’d forgotten (another £6.45).

Image copyright
Joy Sterling

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Veggie pasta

Dinner: One of my favourite easy meals: Veggie pasta. I use frozen Mediterranean vegetables, put them in a dish with a drizzle of olive oil, in the oven for 15/20 mins. While that’s cooking, I boil pasta.

The pasta gets added to the roasted vegetables with a tin of tomatoes, grated mozzarella and a bit of cheddar on top, back in the oven for 15 minutes or until cheese has melted. Added pea shoots, sometimes add baby spinach.

We get four meals out of it and costs approx 55p per serving

I give Sophie £10 for bus fare.

And nipped into Poundland to buy bird seed. A blackbird keeps hopping into the garden and I feel bad there’s nothing for him to eat. Can’t afford a proper bird feed holder but I found a flat colander in there which can perch on garden box under tree, together with some dried worms. Total cost £3.

Total spend: £62.90

8:30 Sophie bought me a filter coffee machine for Christmas. Think it was about £23. No frills, but you can set the timer so we always wake up to fresh coffee.

It really is the little things! Favourite is an Italian blend from Aldi and was on offer this week for £1. I could cry if I start to think about how much money I wasted on takeaway coffees pre-accident.

9:45 It’s annual haircut time. Wish I was joking!

Money’s too tight to mention. Before my accident it was a regular thing, every six to eight weeks to get roots touched up. And sometimes just a blow-dry before an evening out (now it’s “What’s an evening out?!”). On the plus side it’s really grown and I prefer being brunette. Every cloud! (£26)

Image copyright
Joy Sterling

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Annual haircut time

11:00 Hannah arrives. We’ve been friends for 30 years. Our twenties were a riot. Then we had children, and behaved ourselves. We do a 10 minute dog walk, a quick cup of tea and she’s off.

Lunch: Peanut butter on seeded bread toast. Usually slice banana on top, but not yet ripe.

12:30pm I make a Victoria sandwich for Pen using a hand mixer and the bowl on my lap. Mess everywhere. And I forgot to whip the cream so it dripped all down the cake!

Pen is an old clubbing friend and we came across each other on Twitter a while back. As luck would have it, he’s a computer whizz and has been giving me website design lessons for cake. He’d do it for free but I like to pay him in cake. It’s my currency post-accident.

The plan is to hopefully try and generate some money from adverts on my blog although it’s a slow process trying to type.

So far the blogs are about my accident and everything post-accident with a few one-handed recipes as well. If you’d like to have a nosey you can find them at ahwellnevermind.com. I made £4.86 from ads last week. Watch out Richard Branson, I’m coming!

3:00pm That’s me done. Chronic brain fatigue and pain time. Grab an apple and rest.

Total spend: £30.86

I’m tired. Woke at 4:00.

I haven’t washed the previous day’s dishes (and Sophie wasn’t here) so I moan (to myself!) all the way through it.

Have about five seconds use of my right hand before pain is excruciating. Dishwashing takes forever, also get pain in left hand (due to the slipped neck discs) which involuntarily releases.

Oh! to have a dishwasher.

I put a washing load on and hang it on the airer. My dirty laundry basket is halfway to the ceiling but I don’t have a tumble dryer.

Heart-stopping moment when the washing machine won’t start. The instant panic of “I’ll have to wash everything by hand forever!” because no idea how I’d pay for a new one.

11:15 I fill the car with £20 petrol (dead on – skills!) that will last (hopefully two weeks) and off to visit my cousin, Carmen. Her dog is pleased to see me and the feeling is mutual.

Image copyright
Joy Sperling

Image caption

Joy and Carmen’s Dog

The plan was to pop round for an hour but her sofa is comfy and I stayed for three and a half. The pair of us could chat the hind legs off a donkey but it takes its toll (I get tired from talking – I know! How’s my luck?!).

As soon as I’m home it’s back on bed for an hour’s rest. Headache kicks in.

Dinner is bean casserole that I’ve taken out of the freezer. No energy to cook.

Every night at 7:55pm my phone goes off to remind me to take meds. And every single night I hear it and think “Oh! Who’s texting me?” Every. Single. Night.

Total spend: £20

My Money

More blogs from the BBC’s My Money Series:

I’m out of bed at 8:00, feeling like death, banging headache but Thursday mornings are my favourite time of the week.

My friend Imogene goes to the MS centre for a dive in the oxygen tank on Thursday mornings.

Her son Lowan (aged 10) has disabled riding lessons and his school is in the opposite direction. I get to the stables, manage to have a good 20 minute chat with Imogene and then take him to school.

She did have someone who she paid to do it but they left. Imogene lent me money when I was in a complete fix a couple of years back (DWP stopped payments and rent was due) so I’m paying her back.

I love it! I’d do it for free anyway.

Image copyright
Joy Sterling

Image caption

Joy and Lowan

Those 15/20 minutes I’m driving Lowan to school are so much fun. He’s got the most infectious laugh. When the sun is shining it’s a beautiful drive along the Portway, under Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Lunch is defrosted homemade vegetable soup that I make usually every Monday with any veg ‘on the turn’ and add a bit of onion and garlic. Try hard not to waste anything.

I nip to Boots to buy some long-lasting ibuprofen. Supposed to last for 12 hours. Waking every night in pain is no fun. Let’s see if this will work. Cost £3.55

Return home and lie on bed. Can’t snooze because I get a text from Sophie. Can I get her from college? One day a week they go to a different campus and it takes her 2 and a half hours to get home on 2 buses, that takes me 20 minutes each way.

Dinner: Too pained and drained to cook. Send Sophie to our new local chip shop. We have battered halloumi and chips between us. Both have small appetites, couldn’t imagine ever buying a portion of chips each. They’re perfection – crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle.

I add baked beans and have yoghurt for dessert. £5.20

Total spend: £8.75

I wake at 03:18 and 06:38. Manage to eventually fall back to sleep both times. Bright full moon. Was I a wolf in a previous life?!

I remembered my friend Emma who is coming for lunch might not be able to eat certain foods. Went to Sainsbury’s for paninis, roasted veg couscous, hummus, cucumber and tiny pitta breads on offer (£4.55).

Lunch: Toasted cheese and mushroom paninis

Mid-afternoon I popped over to Boots and Poundland to buy moisturiser (£2.14 half price) and fudge (£1) as a little valentine’s gift for Sophie.

We eat couscous, hummus, salad, pittas and more halloumi (fried for a minute each side). Usually this is a summer dish but it’s easy to pull together, lasts for multiple meals and sometimes needs must.

Total spend: £7.69

Image copyright
Joy Sterling

Image caption

Pitta for lunch

I wake at 4:14. A whole week of this and it’s getting on my nerves now.

As Sophie’s boss is on holiday it’s a 7:30 wake up to drive her to work. She only earns £4.20 an hour for four hours. If I had the money I’d give it to her rather than drive.

Lunch: toasted hot cross buns, one day out of date. I’d put them in the cake tin but forgot about them.

3:20pm Wrist is swollen and throbbing but there’s washing to be done, a dog to be walked in Storm Dennis (because he won’t poo in his own garden, he’s so special) and dishes to wash.

5:00pm Made some pizza dough and left it to prove.

8:00pm pizza is in the oven. Tomato passata, grated mozzarella and cheddar with (defrosted chopped) basil.

Total spend: £0.00

Ah the day of rest. Storm Dennis was raging so we stayed in PJs for most of the day. Sophie chopped and prepared the veg for our meat-free roast.

I make either cauliflower and broccoli cheese or cheesy leeks as a meat replacement, with homemade Yorkshire puddings and stuffing.

The sun came out at 4:00pm, then we were straight to the rabbit field with Bailey. Spent a lot of time last year watching rabbits hopping around. Free entertainment!

5:00pm: I discovered how to make custard last week and it’s my new addiction. Was looking for something to make with leftover egg yolks after I’d used the whites in meringues. Oh my. What a taste sensation.

So even though I don’t want meringues I made some purely so I could make more custard.

Apple and blackberry turnovers using shop-bought puff pastry £1.45, dessert apple from fruit bowl that was going soft, and defrosted blackberries that I picked at the woods last year. I picked a LOT of berries last year. FREE FOOD!

Total spend: £1.45

Image copyright
Joy Sterling

Image caption

Bailey enjoys a walk in the woods

Weekly total spend: £131.65

How does Joy feel about her week?

I have got to stop running to Sainsbury’s for odd things! All those little bits add up don’t they? And I don’t realise. But that is two weeks’ worth of food I’ve bought, only need to top up with milk this week and the £26 haircut was a one-off so it’s not too bad.

Poor in money but rich in friends.

Busy week. Sometimes I can go a fortnight without seeing anyone.


We’re looking for more people to share what they spend their money on. We’re particularly keen to hear from disabled people about the extra cash your disability costs you. If you’re interested, please email



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