Go online to get best budget and baby tips


From financial planning to cheap and creative play options for kids, the internet is a modern-day treasure trove of resources and advice for harried and cash-strapped parents

FROM BUDGETING advice to free fun, the internet can offer an enormous wealth of information for cost-savvy parents. Some of the go-to websites for parents should include the websites of the National Consumer Agency and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs), which offer lots of advice on various subjects from savings and pensions to managing your bills and eating well on a budget.

Other websites may prove useful to parents looking to shop for their kids or those seeking tips on arts and crafts or free fun activities to keep kids occupied without breaking the bank.

Irish parenting website rollercoaster.iehas become a hugely popular resource for parents, which, alongside advice on pregnancy and new parenthood, offers some sound advice on budgeting too. It is good on money-saving tips, with sections on back-to-school expenses and funding, such as clothing and footwear allowances, as well as useful advice on budgeting and cutting costs in the “Money and Work” section.

Some of the most useful budgeting information comes from the users of the site themselves. One discussion thread entitled “Healthy Budget Weekly Meal Plan” reveals that experience really counts when it comes to staying within the confines of the weekly food budget. It’s the mums themselves who post some of the most useful comments on the site, offering shopping and cooking tips to other parents. Some of the posters are bloggers elsewhere (such as the author of the cleansheets.ieblog) and offer some really useful tips such as:

Always use a list – go through your cupboards first and see what can be used up and then make your list to complement these ingredients

Always make a rough tot up as you go around the supermarket so that you don’t get any nasty surprises at the checkout

Make a meal plan – this way you can plan your meals better, saving money and preventing wastage in the process

Cook larger joints of meat such as chicken and ham and portion them up in ziplock bags for use as lunch ingredients – this works out cheaper and tastier than pre-packed sliced cooked meats

Shop online with stores such as Tesco, who show a running total as you proceed through your purchases.

The National Consumer Agency website ( nca.ie) is a great resource and not just for parents, though some of the sections can prove particularly useful for families. The site suggests completing a financial health check and provides a budget planner tool ( nca.ie/nca/ budget-planner) into which you can enter various incoming monies and outgoing costs.

Sections are provided for the likes of wages and children’s allowance, as well as outgoings such as utilities, car expenses, insurance and, more particularly in this case, childminding, babysitting and other child-specific costs.

Completing such a questionnaire allows parents to see just how much they are spending on essential and non-essential items. The website also provides a spending calculator with which you can tot up day-to-day expenditure, which may result in some surprising reading.

In parenting terms, the site has useful budgeting tools such as the baby budget planner ( nca.ie/nca/baby-budget) and the back-to-school budget planner ( nca.ie/nca/back-to-school-budget), which outlines various costs including books and stationery, uniform expenses, transport costs and voluntary school contributions.

It offers reasonable advice such as buying stationery in bulk with other parents and putting a small amount of money aside each week in anticipation of the new school year.

One way to use the internet to save on your new arrival is undoubtedly to shop for used baby goods online. Sites such as adverts.ie, gumtree.ie, donedeal.ieand ebay.ieoffer incredible bargains to price-conscious parents who can purchase top-quality items at about a third of their original prices.

Many parents want to buy everything new for their precious bundle, which means that many items are used only for a short period and are in great condition. I recently bought a wooden playpen for €70 on adverts.iefor a fraction of the price new (approximately £151 (€187) ex-delivery). The playpen was in perfect condition as it was virtually unused by the original owner, whose baby had refused to sit in it!

Offers of baby items on sale on adverts.ieat the time of writing include a Quinny Buzz travel system complete with buggy, carrycot, footmuff, car seat, Isofix car base and all the accessories for €400. Such a set new could set you back anything between €800 and €1,100. Over at donedeal.ieyou can get a brand new high chair still in the box for a third of its original value; or a Mamas and Papas cotbed, changing table/dresser and wall shelf for €375 – less than half the original cost new.

In the colder months it can be a challenge to keep kids occupied without spending money on indoor pursuits such as the cinema, bowling or play centres. The internet again comes up trumps with a myriad of cheap and free resources for parents, providing lots of ideas for art and craft activities, downloadable printouts and ideas for indoor play.

There are a huge number of crafty parents running inspiring blogs on creative activities to do with children. Many of the ideas involve minimum cost as they employ found objects, natural materials, basic art supplies or household items.

Learn how to make homemade play dough on instructables.com: it only takes some flour, oil, salt, cream of tartar and food colouring, and in minutes you can make stuff that is much cheaper than the shop-bought variety. It’s also less brittle and more pliable and can last for months in an airtight container.

Websites such as creativewithkids.comand kinderart.comhave some great ideas for cheap and cheerful crafty activities to do with your kids. Sites like these also offer suggestions for indoor play, help parents frame an activity and keep the play going for longer. Activity Village (activityvillage. co.uk) is another great resource for parents with lots of printable colouring sheets, word searches, calendars and craft lessons.

It might take a bit more parental involvement than a trip to the activity centre, but using these resources can save you money while giving you valuable time with your kids.