How to bring up baby without breaking the bank

Having a new baby is costly but, with proper planning, you can minimise the expense

A new baby doesn’t mean your personal finances have to be on a cliff-edge. Photograph: iStock

A new baby doesn’t mean your personal finances have to be on a cliff-edge. Photograph: iStock

 

So, you’re having a baby? That means life is going to change and your personal finances will have to change too. Babies cost money but, if you plan right, they needn’t break the bank.

Kit

Before your first child, you know nothing. You want to be prepared, to look like you know what you’re doing, and you want the best for baby too, of course. Marketers are highly attuned to this and so what they are selling is not so much equipment as the illusion of preparedness. From wipe warmers to bath thermometers, it’s easy to spend a fortune of unnecessary kit.

If babies could talk, they would tell us they don’t need much. Apart from food, clothing and nappies, they only need somewhere to sleep and a way to get out and about.

Borrowing or buying items that are pre-loved will bring big savings while saving the planet too.

Hot wheels

How do you spot a first-time parent? Well, apart from the vacant stare of someone who hasn’t slept in weeks, it’s their spanking new, top-of-the-range buggy – nay, “travel system”.

This Transformer-type vehicle promises to morph into every form of transport your baby will need until they can drive themselves. And it probably comes with a chassis strong enough to take them into space. High-end prams and buggies can retail for over €2,000, more for twins.

Beware the social media influencer perambulating in full hair and make-up with this hashtag-gifted item. New babies are hard work. An expensive pram rarely makes the difference.

Before you part with your cash, ask friends and family or online groups for recommendations. They are likely to have pre-loved items they want to shift, and even if not, they will have experience of what works – and what doesn’t.

If you have your heart set on a specific model, browse your local online marketplace and you’ll find a family down the road flogging theirs for a third the price. For example, a brand-new Out’n’About Nipper 360 double buggy retails at about €499. You can find a pre-loved version with a few knocks from €200. Charity shops in well-heeled neighbourhoods can be a jackpot for cut-price baby gear too.

For sleeping, you will need a Moses basket or a cot. As the former is quickly outgrown, some parents use a cot from the get-go. If you are borrowing or buying second-hand, the HSE’s advice is to buy a new mattress that fits the cot correctly and meets safety standards.

When it comes to car seats, the advice is not to buy second-hand unless you’re completely sure of its safety history. Accept one from family or friend if you are sure it hasn’t been involved in an accident. The Road Safety Authority website has useful guidance on the right car seat as your child grows.

In general, babies grow so fast you won’t need much of anything over any three-month period. Buy a wardrobe full of 0-3 month clobber and they’ll have outgrown it before it’s worn.

Money in the bin

When you have your baby, prepare to spend a small fortune on disposable nappies. Wicklow County Council estimates that children use 5,000 nappies until potty-trained. With individual nappies costing up to 26 cent each, that’s about €520 a year. Add nappy sacks, wipes and bin charges to dispose of the 1,750kg of domestic waste generated and you’ve got the price of a staycation right there.

Enter the reusable cloth nappy. Proponents say investment in cloth nappies and wipes for a first child, including machine washing, breaks even in a year. Reuse them on a second child and the saving continues.

Not-for-profit organisation Cloth Nappy Library Ireland allows you to borrow and trial 10 reusable nappies for three weeks for just €20. Converts can then choose to invest in 25 reusable nappies at €12 to €30 each, depending on the brand. Second-hand reusable nappies are available for about 60 per cent less.

One disposable nappy fewer is one fewer in landfill and money back in your pocket. If you are not yet ready to go the reusable route, be kinder to your pocket at least by shopping wisely. A nappy from a German discounter can cost four times less than the big brand. Don’t put your money in the bin.

Benefits & credits

If you care for a child, you qualify for child benefit. This is €140 a month for each child and is paid on the first Tuesday of every month. After you register your child’s birth, the Department of Social Protection will send you a claim form.

Children under six are entitled to free GP visits too, including home visits and out-of-hours urgent GP care. You’ll need your child’s PPS number to register at gpvisitcard.ie

Parents who are married or in a civil partnership and are jointly assessed for tax can avail of the Home Carer Tax Credit if one of them works in the home caring for a child. The credit is worth €1,600 if the home carer’s own income is under €7,200.

A reduced tax credit applies if the carer’s income is between €7,200 and €10,400. It is estimated that as many as 60,000 families are failing to claim this credit. You can apply online using Revenue’s myAccount service.

Single parents can claim the Single Person Child Carer Credit. This will reduce the amount of tax you owe and generally goes to the person who lives with the child for the greater part of the year. It’s worth €1,650 and you can’t claim if you are cohabiting. You are also entitled to a €4,000 extension in the standard rate band, increasing it to €39,300.

Parents of a child who is permanently incapacitated, either physically or mentally, can apply for the Incapacitated Child Tax Credit. This is granted if it’s expected the child will not be able to maintain themselves when over 18. Your child’s doctor must make a declaration to this effect. This tax credit is €3,300.

Childcare

Childcare is a moot point right now as working families slog through lockdown without any. One thing they are not missing, however, is the cost. Fees for full-time childcare exceed €184 a week, with Dublin and surrounding counties averaging over €200 a week, according to Government-funded organisation Pobal.

The first real relief is the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme, which provides three hours of free pre-school education for two years until primary school. Your child can start in the September of the year they turn three. The State pays the preschool directly.

You still have to pay for before- and after-school care. ECCE runs for the school year only, so 38 weeks, not 52. Come the holidays, you are back to arranging and paying for full-time care again.

The National Childcare Scheme contributes something towards cost and it comprises two types of subsidy.

The first is a universal subsidy where all families with children under three in Tusla-registered childcare (and those over three not yet in the ECCE scheme) can receive 50 cent off the cost of every hour of childcare used up to 45 hours a week – so that’s €22.50 per week or €1,170 a year. It’s not a lot. This is available regardless of family income.

You are eligible for the 45 subsidised hours if you (and your partner, if you have one) are working, studying or training. If you’re not, the maximum number of hours will be 20.

The available hours include hours spent in school or preschool. So, if you are entitled to 45 hours and your child is in the ECCE scheme for 15 of them, you can claim for 30 hours of “wrap-around” care, if it is provided by a Tusla-registered provider.

There is also an income-assessed subsidy for families who have children aged between 24 weeks and 15 years and reckonable income of less than €60,000. Reckonable income is calculated on your family’s net income, your child’s age and educational stage, and the number of children.

For example, there is a multiple child discount of €4,300 for families with two children under the age of 15.

Parents who have children in after-school care can apply for the subsidy. So if you pay for your 12-year-old to go to a Tusla-registered minder or club after school, you can claim for this.

A parent of a child in primary school deemed to qualify for 40 subsidised hours a week will receive discounts off 12 hours of out-of-school care a week during term time – but 40 discounted hours a week during school holidays.

Subsidies are paid directly to the provider. You can apply at NCS.gov.ie. Those without a MyGov ID can apply by post.

One thing that is entirely free for babies is a library card. Sign your child up from birth for a lifetime supply of free books. Many libraries host baby book clubs, summer reading clubs, arts and crafts mornings and book clubs for grown-ups too. It will save you money – and it may just save your sanity.

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