Beat the baby budget blues
Everyone knows babies are expensive: the average spend is £10,261 in their first 12 months, according to LV=. But while this is much less than the £17,459 a year required to put a student through university, it can be a real test of families' money-saving skills - especially as most find themselves on a reduced income in their baby's first year.
"Your baby will cost you more than you can imagine," says Philippa Gee, managing director of Philippa Gee Wealth Management. "Start saving the second you know you're pregnant and shop around for the best deals on everything from your gas to your mortgage."
But even with the most streamlined finances, when your baby puts in an appearance it can be tough to make the budget stretch. Gemma Minty, 24, from Doncaster, had her first baby, Ashton, in July 2012, taking maternity leave from her job in a letting agent.
"You do have to tighten your belt to cover all the costs associated with bringing up a baby," she says. "It's not easy living on maternity pay, and I've learnt where to get the best deals on everything from Ashton's pram to his nappies."
Although some employers are relatively generous when it comes to maternity pay, the statutory amounts are pretty modest. Statutory maternity pay is paid for up to 39 weeks, giving new mums 90% of their average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, followed by the lower of £135.45 or 90% of average weekly earnings for the next 33 weeks.
On top of this, you'll receive child benefit at the rate of £20.30 a week for the first child and £13.40 for any that follow (although, as of this month, households where at least one person earns more than £50,000 will have the benefit effectively reduced or stopped altogether).
Become a savvy shopper
Living on this isn't easy, so it's essential to be a savvy shopper, especially when it comes to buying baby essentials. One key item you'll need is a travel system. These are designed to be flexible, with many turning into carry cots, pushchairs and car seats, so think about how you'll be moving your baby around.
However, Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser at the parent charity NCT, warns that the one thing you mustn't scrimp on is a car seat. "If a car seat gets dropped or is involved in an accident, this can compromise its safety. It's definitely worth buying new, but shop around," she says.
Gemma picked her travel system up from eBay, paying £200 for a brand new one that converts from a pram into a pushchair and car seat. "I always look on eBay to see if I can save money," she says. "There's loads of new stuffand it can be much cheaper than the high street. I'd have paid £500 or more if I'd bought it in town."
Somewhere to sleep is another essential. But although the stores would like to see babies switched from a Moses basket to a crib to a cot, mums disagree. Gemma bought a Moses basket, but Ashton outgrew it in weeks. As these can easily cost £50 plus, it's worth holding off on this purchase and seeing if you can borrow one from friends or family or simply using a cot instead.
As for baby clothes, it's relatively easy to keep costs low. "Babies grow so quickly you can struggle to get them into all their clothes before they've outgrown them," says Barbara Cockburn, 38, mum to nine-month-old Jack. She also found items such as scratch mitts, sleep hats and socks a waste of time. "Babies wriggle and these things come off," she adds.
New clothes can be picked up cheaply. "Primark and H&M have some lovely clothes that are reasonably priced, but I also go to shops that sell discontinued lines. These are great quality but much cheaper," says Gemma.
Second-hand clothes are also worth considering. Because babies grow so quickly, these are usually in good condition as they've had such little wear. Charity shops, nearly new sales and other mums are good sources.
Frances Cassell, 33, mum to Millie, aged two, and four-month-old Thomas, says: "Most of Thomas's clothes are hand-me-downs. I've got a network of mum friends and we're always swapping clothes as the kids grow out of them."
Frances spent a lot less the second time round. "You buy a load of stuff the first time that you soon discover you don't need," she says. "With Millie, we bought everything and we bought it new but we haven't done this with Thomas. It makes no difference to the way he's brought up; it just means we have more money to spend on the things that matter."
Among the items Frances ditched were a baby monitor costing £50 and a steriliser at around £30. "If your baby cries, you'll hear them," she says. "And we sterilise all Thomas's bottles in a saucepan of boiling water."
Family and friends
Friends and family can help stretch the budget. New babies receive plenty of presents, but many new mums find they end up with duplicates and much more than they really need. A little direction is unlikely to offend and can help with your budgeting. "Put together a list and ask friends to buy from it," suggests Barbara, who used this strategy with her work friends and received a play mat she wanted for Jack.
As well as all the one-off purchases, there are plenty of regular outgoings when you're bringing up your baby. At around £6 for 48, disposable nappies are one of the big costs.
Buying in bulk, or when a shop has a special offer, will help; or you can make savings by going for own-brand nappies. Gemma buys all her nappies, wipes and lotions from Aldi. "I pay £3.75 for 48 nappies, and the quality is just as good as the big brands," she explains.
Feeding is another expense that can be trimmed. Although it's not always an option, breastfeeding in the first year will save up to £450 in powdered milk. When your baby gets on to solids, making your own food in bulk and freezing it can help to keep the costs down.
It's also worth exploring whether you can increase your income. You may be entitled to benefits such as child tax credit and working tax credit. Duffrecommends visiting the gov.uk website. "There are all sorts of benefits on offer and this site can help you work out what you're entitled to," she explains.
There are lots of other ways to top up your income. As a self-employed virtual PA, Frances was able to fit her work around her children, grabbing time while they slept or after they'd gone to bed. She also became an eBay fan. "When Millie was little I used to go to car boot sales and buy designer clothes to sell on eBay. It was easy and I made about £100 a week," she adds. "Some of my mum friends have set up their own businesses baking cakes for other mums. Whatever you do, it has to fit with your kids."
What it all costs
|EXPENDITURE||HIGH STREET||SHOP AROUND|
|Pram/pushchair combo||£350||£150 (eBay)|
|Moses basket/crib||£50||Nothing if you borrow one|
|Car seat||£200||£37.50 (Amazon)|
|Baby clothes||£790||Buy second-hand or swap with other mums|
|Milk||£250||Nothing if breastfeeding|
|Food||£310||£60 if homemade|
Where to shop?
High street stores: look for buy one, get one free offers and special promotional events. Their baby and parenting clubs will also give you more offers and savings.
Discount supermarkets: Aldi and Lidl are crammed full of cheap nappies, wipes and food, and also run special promotion weeks for other baby essentials.
Charity shops: many mums give their outgrown baby clothes to charity shops, which can also be great for cheap toys and books.
Cash and carry: if you're lucky enough to have a card for a store such as CostCo, use it. You might have to buy in bulk but you'll get big savings on nappies and so on.
NCT nearly new sales: open to both members and non-members, these are great for second-hand baby clothes and toys. Go to nct.org.uk.
Ebay: offers on brand new kit as well as used baby gear, and a good place to sell unwanted items.
Amazon: a good site for research on baby items, as well as great deals.
Freecycle: an online network where people advertise items they don't want, including baby kit, for free.
Child tax credit
A scheme started in 2003 that sought to replace a raft of other tax credits and benefits, the payout depends on the number of dependant children in a family, and its level of income. The amount of credit is reduced as income increases. It is payable to the main carer of a child, usually the mother, and is available whether or not the recipient is working.