Sharon from North London kindly shared her story with us during our Christmas Appeal. We caught up with her again this week to find out how she’s been getting on over winter.
It’s been a challenge how much the energy prices have gone up. I’m careful with the heating, and the boys have got into a good routine of switching off lights, and turning things off at the plug. We have the heating on for an hour in the morning, and in the evening for about two hours. On the days when I’m working from home, I try not to put the heating on at all. In the afternoon, the sun comes right into the living room, and that provides a bit of heat. And I’ve started going for a walk to warm up, and when you come back home the place feels a bit warmer.
I’ve managed to save £40 off my last bill, by keeping an eye on the little things. But what a relief that the Government have announced in the Budget that the Energy Cap is going to stay. I was worried about that – thinking ‘if the price goes up, I’m really going to be in trouble!’
Relying on credit cards
I’m using my credit card a lot more now. I’ve never been a big credit card user; I’ve always tried to keep it for emergencies. But at the moment it’s my safety net. Last month I had to use it to travel to work. I’ve used up all my savings over the last couple of years to cover essentials, and now I’ve nothing to fall back on.
I get paid in a week’s time, and I’ve got £70 left to last me seven days. I’m just hoping that nothing unexpected crops up!
It’s there constantly, on your mind. Today I must have thought about my budget 10 times! Last year I wasn’t doing that. But now, even a small thing like if somebody invites you out for a coffee at work, I have to weigh up whether or not I can go – and I’ll make an excuse, say I’ve got too much work. I cut back on things for me, not on things for my kids.
Connecting with other single parents
But thank goodness there’s Gingerbread! Nobody really understands what it’s like for single parents – a lot of the people around me are in couples, or their kids have grown up. But with Gingerbread, at least you’ve got other parents you can talk to. I’ve found two Gingerbread members who only live 10 and 20 minutes away from me, and we meet up when we can.
And we’ve got a really good WhatsApp group for local Gingerbread members. We can talk about money worries, things that you can’t share with your children. It’s a very active group – people are always putting in suggestions. Right now, we’re all looking at Magic Bags – the surplus food you can get from Morrisons. You can get a grocery bag for about £4 which is brilliant. We’ve all downloaded the app!
It feels like the government doesn’t understand the impact of the cost-of-living crisis
I’ve always thought my income was ok – it’s not in line with the commercial sector but on paper I don’t earn badly at all. But because of the cost-of-living crisis, we struggle. We’re not poor enough to be entitled to welfare support, but we’re not rich enough to get by without using credit. I don’t qualify for any help, but I can’t afford to get by.
There are people who are much worse off than we are, but that doesn’t mean we’re not struggling – it shouldn’t be a race to the bottom. We all need help to get through this – the Government should do more to help single parent families.
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Read our Single Parents in 2023 Report