Despite working as much as possible, mother-of-one Leah Callaghan, 39, never uses her stove to cook and lights candles at night to conserve electricity.
She and her partner Stewart, 40, who works full-time, say their “life has been turned upside down by the rising cost of living”.
The couple, who live in Shropshire, have a two-year-old daughter named Nolah and are struggling to make ends meet this Christmas.
It comes as millions of people need support due to rising energy bills and food prices.
Leah says the rising costs have made her feel “humiliated” and that she “lies up at night” worried about money.
She said: “We only left the heating on at night for the little one to have her bath.
“We don’t flush the toilet every time now because I almost had a heart attack the last time the water bill came.
“We use candles to light up the room in the evenings just to save on electricity and luckily that generates some heat as well.”
In October, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that half of UK adults are struggling to pay their utility bills, mortgages and rent.
Leah says her household bills have increased by £400 since the summer and she’s been forced to change virtually every aspect of her lifestyle.
To save money in the kitchen, Leah and Stewart rely solely on their air fryer to cook food and have to give up the oven all together.
To combat rising energy costs, they’ve sold off the belongings they don’t need.
Leah said: “Our bill was £65 when we first moved in two years ago.
“Now it’s £180 a month and we all know it’s only going to get worse. Council tax was £120 for a while and now it has gone up to £160.”
Just before Christmas, the couple is “sickly worried” about energy costs when the whole family is at home.
They’re hoping for a full Christmas dinner, but reckon they’ll have to save some cash by buying a chicken instead of a turkey.
Leah said: “I sometimes lie up at night just going through my banking app and wondering how we’re going to live on what we have when bill after bill comes in.
“We just chase every payday. It feels humiliating and leaves you feeling, ‘What is this?’
“I feel so bad because I would love it if Nolah had so much more and that we did so much more together.”
Leah works part-time as a recruitment consultant while Stewart is a full-time gas surveyor – they earn £1,300 and £2,200 a month respectively.
Together they make too much to qualify for Universal Credit help.
Their rent and bills are £1,850 a month and by the time they’ve paid for food, petrol and childcare they’re out of cash.
Leah said: “We rarely have any spare money so we often have to use our credit card to make ends meet, so we regularly sell our stuff around the house.
“I’d say we’d be lucky if we had £20 to spare.”
Both have been working since they were 16 and have never claimed benefits, they only receive £87 in child benefit.
The couple have had to drastically limit their grocery shopping and also where they buy it from.
Grocery inflation hit 12.4% between January and November, meaning some items are seeing their highest prices in years.
Leah says she is “so depressed” and is now in shock when she sees the prices in stores.
The family moved into their rental property two years ago.
Her plan was to save enough for a down payment on a house.
“We absolutely can’t save that money right now, so we’ll probably have to look for somewhere else to stay,” Leah added.
Both Leah and Stewart’s mental health has been severely affected by their money struggles.
They’re both on antidepressants, and Leah says her anxiety has gotten worse too.
She had hoped to have a second child but now says it’s “impossible” because they can’t afford it.
Recent research by Action for Children found Leah and Stewart are one of thousands of working families facing “turmoil” this Christmas.
To launch their annual Secret Santa campaign to help at-risk children, the charity commissioned a Savanta ComRes survey of 2,700 working parents and their children in the UK.
Almost all (98%) of the working parents surveyed said they had worried about money in the past six months, with more than half (53%) worrying often.
The study also shows that a fifth (20%) of working parents worry they won’t be able to afford presents this Christmas.
Melanie Armstrong, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “For most of us, the Christmas season is a happy time, but as our shocking research shows, there will be children across the UK who are going to be faced with a very different Christmas this year.
“Instead of enjoying a safe and happy time, many children will wake up on Christmas morning with no gifts, food or warmth.
The charity’s frontline workers provide basic necessities such as hot meals and proper winter clothing, and provide emergency assistance to keep homes warm and help families pay the bills.
The charity is asking those who can to donate this Christmas and beyond.
Melanie added: “With your help, we can be a vital lifeline for even more children across the UK.”
What help is there for struggling families this winter?
Millions of households got a £400 rebate on their energy bills from October 1st.
Households have already received a £66 rebate on energy bills in October and November.
There will also be a £67 payment in December, January, February and March.
Households with pension balances or low incomes can qualify for the £150 warm home rebate scheme.
If you are pregnant or have a child under the age of four, you may be eligible for Healthy Start vouchers to help pay for basic necessities such as milk or fruit.
You can request free school meals for your child when you use certain benefits, including Universal Credit.
British Gas has confirmed it will give its most vulnerable customers £750 in grants to help with sky-high bills.
For the full list of aids available this winter, check out our guide.
Plus, here are five ways struggling families can get free money to pay for groceries this Christmas.
https://www.thesun.ie/money/9942122/working-mum-cost-living-energy-bills-christmas/ I’m a working mom – I can’t afford to use my stove and use candles to save on electricity