Becoming Penny-Pinching Parents

May 16, 2019 | Money, Parenting

Being a parent is no cheap deal, and I’ve moaned before (and well, every shitting day since I had a positive pregnancy test) about how quickly I found myself in unchartered seriously skint territory. That said, being dropped in the deep end meant that my baby-daddy and I had to quickly pick up some money-saving hacks to stay afloat; and this blog details some of the tricks and tactics we used to get by. There are a million parenting websites and blogs online sharing stories, experiences and schemes for cutting back on baby expenditure, so read around before you take my word on anything – I have no doubt there are much more frugal families better than us!

Just to make clear: not one of the references, names or links here are sponsored or gifted in any way. This is all just stuff that worked for me and my partner, and comes from our firsthand experiences. It may or may not work for you. 

I found it really frustrating, and quite upsetting, when pregnant and in the early days of motherhood that I was exposed to so many adverts for goods I couldn’t afford; I felt like I was failing my son. Hopefully this blog can be the antidote to some of the mad commercialism you have foisted on you as soon as you give birth!

Maternity Clothes

Having a bump adjustment at 6-months gestation meant that I went from zero to preg pretty damn quickly… and overnight, nothing I owned fit. Googling maternity wear left me feeling uninspired and even more scared of spending than before. The ranges seemed to be exclusively mumsy-type dresses or breton tops, but were pretty expensive despite the short period of wear, so I decided that maternity clothing wasn’t for me.

I found the most frugal way to accommodate my growing belly was to do a supermarket-sweep type run around Primark (other budget retailers are available) and buy the next size up in everything… or at least, get my babydaddy to, because this was ALL HIS FAULT. It worked out great: I still wear the baggy hoodies and nighties now, and they were perfect in hospital too!

Premature Baby Bits: Size 0 nappies, Tiny Baby clothes

Having a baby smaller than most meant that basically every baby clothing gift we’d been bought had to be shelved, as my son didn’t fit into newborn clothes until he was about 3 months old; and of course, most people buy the next size up anyway to avoid them growing out of things too quickly!

There are premature baby ranges in lots of clothing shops, but we relied on AsdaMorrisons and Boots for their thrifty ranges. There’s really no need to pay top dollar for tiny clothing when (you hope) it won’t last long. A few babygros and sleepsuits combined with some chunky blankets and the free hats we got given in hospital, and we were sorted until the newborn stage hit. Premature and tiny baby clothing can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back finance-wise for already terrified new parents, so if you can, consider giving away anything you’re not keeping for the memory box when your little’un has grown out of it. We listed ours on Facebook Marketplace as freebies and they went to a great home!

An unexpected expenditure of having a preemie prince for us was size 0 nappies – and that shit (literally) is pricey. The size below standard newborn 1s, size 0s are extra teeny and unfortunately not available to buy in very many places. They may well be better available now than they were back when I gave birth, but we could only find one brand of them – and on the rare occasions we could find them stocked anywhere, it was £2.50 for a 24-pack, which my darling son delighted in shitting through in less than a day. The only advice that I’d give here is that when people ask “can I bring anything?” you answer with “fuck yes, size 0 nappies” and rack up as many packs of them as you can as gifts. Your child’s premature pissing is the most expensive you’ll encounter, so get for free what you can. If you end up with spares leftover when your preemie hits size 1, perfect; donate them to another family in need.

Baby Clothes

I seem to spend my whole life willing my child to grow and do the next thing developmentally, then instantly regretting it when it happens – no least because it’s fucking expensive! 

My son’s wardrobe is almost entirely second-hand, through gifts, jumble sales, and charity shop buys (often the older the better, because lots of washing = super soft!). If you have one near you, check out your local swap shop for baby clothes. I use the New-U swap shop in Norwich, where you trade in old clothes for points and can then spend those points on other traded in items; with no money passing hands. This has begun a cycle for me of buy-grow out of-trade in, which means I don’t have to hang onto shit he can’t wear anymore and I can stock up on bits I like for him to grow into.

On the rare occasions I do purchase clothes new, I swear by supermarket ranges, Primark and Boots. Some are better than others for gender-neutral and no-bullshit designs, but all sit on a pretty even keel for value and price.

Baby Furniture

We didn’t buy much in the way of traditional ‘baby’ furniture, but that we did, we cheated at. Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree are full of second-hand furniture that can be easily revamped to fit your colour scheme and nursery. My boyfriend found a huge chest of drawers online for £35 that he picked up. Add a tin of paint, some cheap handles from eBay, and some baby-proofing clips from Wish (because who doesn’t want to browse absolute shite for 90p in search for an item that may or may not arrive in 6 weeks’ time?!), and you’ve got a unique piece of furniture that cost a fraction of the price of something new.

My Mum turned out to be an absolute FIEND when it came to charity shop shopping and bagged a play table, walker and loads of baby garden furniture and toys for next to nothing. Perseverance pays off with thrifting… it’s just I can’t usually be arsed.

Milk and Baby Food

Of course, the cheapest milk is titty milk, and I exclusively pumped for months with a £35 breast pump and a £5 pump bra (you DON’T need to spend a fortune on a ‘wireless’ pump, no matter what Instagram’s finest tell you) . To stock up best, grab a pack of breast milk freezer bags and have a freezer stash at the ready for when you need extra or decide to stop pumping. I used lots of different brands of freezer bags and found no difference in any of them, so reverted to the cheapest own-brand on offer in Boots or Superdrug.

Formula wise, my son drinks Cow and Gate; but that wasn’t entirely a financial decision, as it sits at approximately the same price point as other leading brands too. We found that Cow & Gate was simply the milk most widely available, and knowing how scatterbrained I am, having something I could buy in the convenience store at the end of my road made sense. Unfortunately, you can’t accumulate or spend loyalty card points on formula (it’s a legal thing, but not one I agree with), so there’s no way of saving money on it – but hopefully cutting back the cash on other items means you’ll have it to spare for formula when you need it.

We buy own-brand supermarket baby food and when I see fruit or veg on clearance I buy it and make puree with a Fill n Squeeze machine. There’s often discount codes around for these machines (I got one through re-targeting adverts on social media… once I’d been to the site, they followed me everywhere!), so find one before you buy and don’t pay full price. The pouches can be frozen, cleaned and reused too, so don’t bin them or buy more.

For clean-up time post-meals, I nipped to Poundland and bought some baby sponges and mirrors and stuck these at each sink in the house. A pound shop shower curtain stuck under the high chair can save your carpets too!

Baby Toiletries

Our big purchases pre-birth (the pram, the car seat etc) were all gifted to us, and we chose items from Boots. This was kinda strategic, as we asked those buying for us to use our Boots Advantage Card, which immediately stacked up a shit heap of points for us. We used these for months on baby bath, eczema cream and medical supplies. Signing up to the Boots Parenting Club also meant we got more points on some purchases, and regularly receive money-off vouchers in the post.

Now we’re through our bonus stock of free points, we tend to buy baby toiletries wherever they’re on offer. Most of the big brand items are on sale in at least one supermarket on any given week!

Entertaining the Baby

I swear by the free sessions at my local Children’s Centre, and started attending with my son from when he was 2 weeks old. This included Bounce and Rhyme, baby sensory play, messy play, hire of a sensory room, baby massage classes, and singalongs at an old people’s home. The rotation of toys, supervision by qualified staff and the chance for him to socialise were really important to me, and not paying for it made it even better. 

I quickly sussed out what toys he liked at these free groups and then grabbed cheap ones (mainly from eBay) or attempted to make them. To this day, the toy most played with in our house is an old apple juice bottle with coloured rice in it!

My son is now almost a year old, and the only paid-for thing we attend is swimming – and that’s because I’ve nabbed a package that works out less than a fiver a session for both of us, and we have unlimited pool access. This is through our local council pool, and seems to be the cheapest in the area. 

We’re also keen library members and attend our local Children’s Library to play with all their toys/roll around on their brightly coloured carpets/dress up with all their costumes/chew their books a few times a week. That’s always free and we can stay as long or as little as we want, without worrying about the odd scream or sick.

I keep an eye on free events and activities coming up using local parents groups on Facebook and other social networks, and perusing my local Mumblr listings.

Entertaining Myself

I love to read, and of course, that’s a pastime I can do quietly while the little one is napping or in bed! In order to not pay upfront for books, I don’t keep any of mine. Instead I trade them at my local lending library, or on Bookcrossing

I’ve also found social media a comfort – particularly in the middle of night when I have just a phone and a sleeping baby for company. It’s a double-edged sword, sure, and it equally irritates me and makes me feel like a bad mother occasionally, but I enjoy reading news, nosing at other people’s lives and learning about new things.

Making Money

While still on maternity leave, making a bit of cash was necessary to fund the unavoidable expenses that came with looking after a little one. 

When my son turned 8 months, we had accumulated a fair amount of baby clothes that no longer fit and so bought a table to sell them on at a second-hand fair (in this case, a Mum2Mum Market local to me, but there’s lots of different such sales around). We organised everything by size and clothing type, then labelled up everything for 50p or £1 an item. The sale itself only lasted two hours, and in the final hour, we reduced everything to 3-for-£1. It worked brilliantly, we got rid of LOADS of clutter, and met some lovely new and expectant parents. Anything that hadn’t gone we either donated to a charity shop, gave away, or listed on Gumtree. The money made from selling old clothes went toward buying a walker and new, bigger clothes. (If you’re selling at one of these fairs, bag the cash and get someone else to hold your stall for the last 10 mins while you quickly run round and grab some bargains for your little’un!)

Early on (back in the ‘awww, look at him napping again’ stages when I actually had FREE TIME), I also did a spring clean of my old clothes and listed a load on eBay. I felt a bit differently about my body and knew I’d never wear some things again, so it was the right time to get rid.

I also signed up to a couple of apps that give the occasional money-off voucher or fiver in my Paypal. They take agesssss to accumulate (for me at least), but they’re free, so you may wanna consider downloading Sweatcoin (stacks up points for your steps as you walk around), Receipt Hog (gives you points for taking photos of your receipts when you spend money) and TopCashBack (accumulates cash back for money spent online through certain retailers). I’ve had at least £5 from each, and every little helps, right? 

The pressure to splash the cash on anything with the word ‘baby’ on it is pretty harsh and can begin right from your first check-in with a midwife with ads and information. This really upset me, when I needed to be calm, but using all of the above, we muddled through and found our way somehow… and continue to now. If one of these tips resonates with one person, this blog has served its purpose. 

Remember: your worth as a mother is not measured in the £s you spend on your child. You’re so much more than money could ever buy!