How to bring up baby without racking up debt

Few first-time parents will get through their first year without shelling out the guts of €4,000, but it doesn’t have to be like this if you recycle, get practical and think outside the designer cot

When you are having your first child, it’s tempting – almost natural – to look at the most expensive options for everything. Photograph: Thinkstock

When you are having your first child, it’s tempting – almost natural – to look at the most expensive options for everything. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

There’s no getting away from it: babies are expensive. According to the latest worrying estimates Pricewatch has read, those tiny bundles of joy can cause a gaping, money-sucking black hole in your wallet.

The truth is there are very few first-time parents who will get through the first year of their new lives without spending at least €4,000 on their child – and when tax implications are taken into consideration it means they will have to earn about €8,000 to afford it.

And then there is the second year. And the third. And then the little darlings start school and we all know how much that is likely to cost. Although of course, they’re worth every penny. Honestly. But what if there were ways you could kit out your first-born without falling into bankruptcy. The good news is there are.

 

Borrow, borrow, borrow

No, not money. If you are lucky, you’ll have friends or family who have had children in the past five years. That means you have a pool of baby gear you can tap into for free. Just do it. It can be a good way to save on items that babies need but won’t use for long, such as Moses baskets or baby baths.

In my circle of friends and immediate family, one Moses basket is on its fourth baby, while clothes also make their way from baby to baby. Just do your bit and return the favour when your child starts to outgrow some of your baby stuff, and the circle will continue.

It’s also worth remembering that friends and family will often buy gifts for a first baby that verge on practical, so you could end up with a fully kitted-out nursery before you know it.

 

Dial down your expectations

When you are having your first child, it’s tempting – almost natural – to look at the most expensive options for everything. Expensive changing tables and baby bath units, cots that cost more than your own bed, a buggy that costs more than your first car . . . you get the idea.

There’s a niggling feeling somewhere in the back of your mind that because they’re expensive, they must be the best. In some cases that might be true, but for most baby products you could probably cut costs here and there. For example, do you really need a €280 bouncy chair? Or will the €50 version suffice?

By child number two you’ll know that anything you buy for your little bundle of joy will be chewed, drooled on and/or have banana mashed into it at some point. So once it carries all the safety certifications and does what you need it to do, having the most expensive one isn’t really necessary.

Watch out for baby events and sales in supermarkets and stores, especially Aldi and Lidl. That mystery aisle can often yield a gem or two, although you have to be up early and have you elbows sharpened to grab some of the more in-demand items.

It will save money for the things you really need to spend the extra on.

And consider that in Finland most babies sleep in a cardboard box provided by the state for their first few months, so sleeping in a less expensive cot won’t psychologically damage your baby.

 

Buy second-hand

There are some things the experts don’t recommend buying second-hand. The most obvious one that springs to mind is the car seat, and that’s for two reasons: one, car seats have an expiry date; and two, if a car seat has been involved in a crash, it needs to be replaced.

If you don’t know the history of the items you’re buying, it can be a bit of a gamble. Cot mattresses are another thing they recommend be replaced with every child. And it really is important that you listen to those recommendations.

But most other things can be bought second-hand, at a fraction of the cost of buying new. There are plenty of buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook, or check out forums aimed at parents – Mummypages, Rollercoaster and even Boards.ie have areas for buying and selling baby equipment.

If you are looking at buying from a particular retailer online, join its Facebook group if it has one. Ditto for signing up for newsletters (although, to save inbox meltdown, it’s probably best to have an email address specifically for marketing emails).

Companies will often send out emails to subscribers about special offers before they’re available in store, and you can pick up a few discount coupons that way too.

 

Use cloth nappies

Okay, bear with me on this one. If there is one thing that babies get through a lot of, it’s nappies. And most children will be in nappies until they’re at least two, possibly three years of age.

If you spend about €30 a month on nappies, that’s more than €1,000 by the time the average child is toilet-trained. That’s a lot of money to be throwing in the bin, and that’s before you take into account the additional bin charges.

You can cut that back by using cheaper own-brand nappies, such as Aldi’s range, but cloth nappies will still be a significant saving, especially if you plan to use them for more than one child.

Up front, you spend a little more. But if you’re smart, you can not only save money, you’ll also get a bit back when you sell on what’s still serviceable. Some nappies hold their value better than others, especially hard-to-find prints, but Facebook groups are a good way of building your nappy stash at a knockdown price.

The cheapest option is still a set of flat nappies, such as terry cloth, and wraps. But cloth nappies have moved on considerably since our mothers were dressing us in plastic pants and boiling terries to get them clean.

Modern cloth nappies have cute prints and colours, and range from all-in-ones (convenient to use) to pocket nappies that can be stuffed with bamboo or hemp inserts to make them more absorbent, to fitted nappies with wraps.

If you aren’t sure if it’s for you, the Cloth Nappy Library has loan kits you can hire, from newborn to toddler size. And if you want to go for cloth but can’t afford the upfront investment, you can rent a long-term loan kit from the library for a small fee for six months. These kits won’t have the most up-to-date nappies, but they’ll have everything you need to move to cloth for a while.

Even taking into account water charges and detergent, it can still work out cheaper. Over the months, I’ve washed far fewer vests and trousers due to leaky nappies than I anticipated, so it all balances out.

Reusable nappies aren’t for everyone. The biggest argument against them is the idea of having to deal with washing dirty nappies. If you have a good system – a nappy bucket with a net, or a wetbag – you need never touch the nappy once it’s off the baby.

The make-or-break point won’t be the newborn days. Oh no, it’ll come far later, when you’ve managed to get yourself into the routine of using the nappies, invested quite a bit in building your stash, and have committed yourself. And then you’ll start weaning, at which point, your mettle truly will be tested.

At some point, you’ll probably find yourself standing in Ikea, trying to figure out which cheap spatula would make the best implement to scrape the nuclear nappies clean before they go near your washing machine. (Hint: not the white one).

If you’re feeling really committed, you can also try washable wipes. You can buy some, made usually with fleece and bamboo, or simply pick up some cheap facecloths and throw them in the nappy wash when you’re done. That can save a couple of hundred euro, depending on your baby wipe brand of choice.

 

Sling it

Baby wearing is in at the moment, and for very good reason: if you have a clingy baby, it frees up your hands to get on with things while soothing your child. Also, there are some places where your carefully chosen buggy just won’t go. But there’s a dazzling array of carriers out there, from woven wraps and ring slings to half buckles and soft-structured carriers. If you don’t know your Tulas from your Danús, this can be an expensive mistake to make.

Expert advice is invaluable; and there is plenty of help out there. If you want to try before you buy, you can rent slings from your local sling library.

They even hold local sling “meets”, where you can try some out and get one-on-one advice about how best to use your chosen sling before you end up being shamed online for not using it correctly, a la Ryan Reynolds. Check out Baby- wearing Ireland for more details.

If you are close to a local retailer, some offer sling consultations too, such as Snugglebugs in Naas, Co Kildare; Seahorse Slings in Cork; and Baba Me in Newry, which has trained babywearing consultants on its staff.

It’s also a good way of working out what doesn’t work for you or your child, or trying a sling for a short holiday.

Of course, you might find out that your child hates being carried in a sling or baby carrier no matter what option you go for. The good news is that there is a thriving market for pre-owned carriers, with Facebook groups doing a roaring trade.

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