It is no secret that starting a family costs money, and for many new parents there is worry about how to afford all those essential baby items, especially if they are reduced to a single income. To help you make your money go a little further, here are some top money-saving tips for mums and dads.
Before baby arrives it's a good idea to work out exactly how much you have to spend, and how much the essentials are going to cost. The Money Advice Service has a useful 'baby costs calculator' so that you can find out the rough costs of the things you'll need. Then you can take a good, hard look at your income and expenditure, to work out on which items you might be able to spend a bit more and those that you may need to buy cheaply. You'll also be able to see where you might be able to cut back on your own non-essential spending.
Whether you are just considering starting a family, or you are well on the way to meeting your new family member, a savings account will help you to set aside the money you need for baby stuff. A cash ISA allows you to save £5,760 tax free, or if you have already used up your allowance, a savings account is the alternative. If you are already expecting though, it's wise to make sure that you can access your money whenever you need.
You might be surprised just how many freebies are available to you when you have a baby. From free antenatal classes, prescriptions and dental care for expectant mums, to samples and money off vouchers, if you know where to look you could save a bundle. Search for baby and toddler clubs (the likes of Sainsbury's, Tesco, Boots and Babies R Us all have them) for discount vouchers and other helpful tips and products. And check out the Bookstart scheme, which provides a free pack of books for little ones, Kidstart, which earns cashback for your child when you shop.
In some cases, first-time parents are entitled to a one-off payment of £500 thanks to the Sure Start Maternity Grant, while if your household income is lower than £16,190 a year, the NHS's Healthy Start scheme can help out with free fresh fruit, veg and formula. Take a look at the website for further information.
If you're struggling for spare cash, don't rule out buying second-hand. Though it's not advisable to choose a used car seat or pushchair, since it could compromise your baby's safety, toys, clothes and other equipment is readily available thanks to mums and dads whose kids no longer need them. Look for local sales advertised at nursery schools or in local papers, consider the likes of Freecycle, or take advantage of the generosity of friends and family who might be throwing good quality items out.
For those who are employed, it's essential you find out exactly what maternity or paternity pay you are eligible for, and how much time you can take off work. For mums, you'll need to have been employed continuously with your employer for at least 26 weeks, at least 15 weeks before your baby is due. Provided your weekly earnings are equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions, you'll be entitled to 90 per cent of your wages for the first six weeks, with a further 33 weeks paid at the statutory maternity pay rate. New dads may be entitled to two weeks' paternity leave on full pay. Again, the Money Advice Service has all the information you need on maternity and paternity rights should you have any doubts.
Every child in the UK aged three or four is entitled to 15 hours of free nursery education each week for 38 weeks of the year, and even some two-year-olds may be eligible if mum and dad are on a low income. It could mean you can take a part-time job until your little one is of school age, so take advantage of what's on offer.
When and if you decide to return to work, childcare can take a big chunk of your wages. But you may be entitled to childcare vouchers via your employer, so check with the HR department as to what and how the scheme works. You could save up to £1,800 a year on childcare costs if both parents are working.
Share a nanny
For many parents, going back to work is more of an essential than a choice, but sharing a nanny could help cut the cost of leaving your little one at home. The idea is that two or more families in the same area can hire a nanny, who will then either split their time between those families, or look after all the kids at the same time.
Benefits and tax credits
Anyone responsible for a child under the age of 16 is eligible for child benefit provided by the government. For the eldest or an only child, the rate is currently £20.50 per week, while any additional kids will be paid at £13.55 per child.
You may also be entitled to claim child tax credit. This works via a system of 'elements', and you may be eligible for just one or more than one. For more information visit the government website.
Save for the future
The cost of having kids doesn't end with the baby phase, and if it is at all possible, you should consider putting a little money aside each month. A junior ISA allows you to save up to £3,720 tax-free for your child or children, and there are also standard children's savings accounts on the market. It might be a tough ask at the time, but it could go a long way to future costs like school trips or further education.
Are you a parent? How have you managed to save money on raising a family? Leave your comments below...