Cutting the cost of raising a child
Bringing up kids is never cheap.
In fact, according to the Child Poverty Action Group, it cost couples £160,000 and lone parents £193,000 to raise a child to the age of 18 in 2021, thanks to rising inflation and benefit cuts.
But there are smart and simple ways parents can save on both day-to-day expenses and big-ticket purchases.
Whether you’ve just found out you or your partner are pregnant, or already have a newborn, a teen or a child somewhere in between, we have tips to help you save money, budget, cut costs and plan for the future.
1. Work out a family budget
Getting to grips with your finances is the first step to ensuring you can afford the things your family wants and needs.
Look at your bank statements over recent months to work out how much money is coming in and going out. Identify your essential spending – such as mortgage payments, rent, food, utilities and nappies – and look for areas where you could cut back.
A lot can change in a short period when you have a child. As they grow, and if you have more children, you’ll need to recalibrate your budget to suit your new needs.
Our guide on how to plan an effective budget will help you manage your family finances. Alternatively, if you’re expecting and your income is about to change, use our guide on how to budget for having a baby
2. Boost your savings
Once you’ve created your budget, you can try to find ways to cut your spending and perhaps save a little money each month to build up savings for you or your child.
Saving this spare cash could help towards future big purchases, or could act as a buffer during parental leave.
It’s worth shopping around for a savings account that will make the most of your family funds. See our guide to finding the best savings account for more.
You also have a number of choices of children’s savings accounts: from Junior Isas and children's savings accounts to investments or premium bonds. You could teach teenagers good saving habits by opening up one of these accounts for them.
Whether you want a nest egg in case of a rainy day, or you’re saving towards university fees, find out which option would be the best way to save for your child.
3. Apply for benefits and support
There are a range of benefits and financial support available for you, as well as to help with the costs of having a new baby or looking after a child.
For example, if you’re expecting a baby, you can get free NHS dental care and prescriptions while you’re pregnant and for a year after your baby is born.
You could also be entitled to the Sure Start Maternity Grant, which is a one-off £500 payment to help towards the cost of having a child.
If you’re pregnant or have a child under four years old, you can receive Healthy Start vouchers to spend on milk, infant formula, and fresh or frozen fruit and veg.
Some of these benefits are dependent on your income, while others are available to all new parents.
You might also be entitled to child benefit, which is a monthly payment for each child you have. It pays £21.80 a week for your eldest child, and £14.45 a week for each additional one. There is no upper limit for the number of children you can claim for.
4. Stick to the essentials when shopping for new babies
As easy as it is to get carried away with online shopping when you or your partner are awake with pregnancy insomnia at 3am, resist the temptation – your house will end up cluttered before the baby has even arrived.
Instead, make a shortlist of essential baby products and think about when you will actually use them. Here are the key things to think about buying before your baby arrives:
- Baby car seat: You won’t be able to drive your newborn home from the hospital or birth centre without one, so this is an essential pre-birth purchase. Find out which option would be best for you and your baby with Which? advice on choosing the right car seat.
- Pushchair or pram: To be suitable from birth, a pushchair must recline completely flat or come with a carrycot – see what else you should consider when buying a pushchair. A sling or baby carrier can also be a relatively cheap alternative or complement to a pushchair for getting out and about with your baby.
- Cot bed, Moses basket or baby crib: To help you decide what’s best for you, we have separate tips on each of these sleeping options – read about choosing the best cot bed, Moses basket and baby crib to find one that suits your home and budget. If you’re often on the move, a travel cot might also be worth the investment.
- Nappies: You’ll need to change your newborn’s nappy up to 12 times a day. Buying in bulk can often work out cheaper, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve stocked up for the first few weeks. But don’t go overboard, as the type of nappy your baby needs can change quite quickly.
- Feeding essentials: Depending on how you’re planning to feed your baby, there are also breastfeeding essentials you may want to have ready, while a breast pump can help you to express and store milk. Meanwhile, baby bottles and sterilising equipment are needed for expressed milk and formula feeding.
5. Do your research to avoid overspending
Simply put, spending more money on products for babies and children doesn’t guarantee better quality. That said, it can be hard to know exactly how much you should expect to pay for certain items, and even trickier to identify products you should steer clear of.
For those big buying decisions, Which? Baby and Child reviews can help you find the products best suited to your needs and budget.
Check out our guides on:
Doing the research before you start shopping can also mean you’re more sensible about how much you spend in one go. Spreading out expensive purchases throughout pregnancy (rather than panic-buying the lot in week 39) may help you manage your cash flow better.
6. Save on nappies and toiletries
Whether buying nappies and formula for your baby, or toiletries for older kids, there are ways to save.
You can usually buy non-brand for cheaper prices, and there’s often little difference between products. For example, see our advice on the best disposable nappy brands.
Ditch the disposables and try reusable nappies and baby wipes if you really want to get your money’s worth.
You should also do your research on the best places to buy other essential items. See our analysis of the cheapest places to buy toiletries.
7. Collect free baby stuff
You’d be surprised at the number of baby freebies you can get your hands on.
In Scotland, parents are given a free baby box full of essentials, which you can apply for by speaking to your midwife.
You should also keep an eye on websites like Latest Free Stuff, which rounds up freebies retailers are offering in exchange for signing up to newsletters or liking them on social.
8. Join clubs for discounts
The Boots Parenting Club hands out extra Advantage points when you buy baby items and offers free gifts at key stages of your baby's development.
Alternatively, members of the Asda Baby & Toddler Club are alerted first about discount events in the supermarket.
9. Look for discount codes
To get even more bang for your buck, look out for discount codes to save on the items you really want. You can do this as your child grows up, as discount codes are for all sorts of products, not just baby products.
Before buying something in a shop or online, do a quick search for in-store offers or voucher codes.
10. Ignore the name tag
Many products are branded as ‘for pregnancy’, from vitamins and skincare products to herbal teas.
But that doesn’t mean a standard version won’t work just as well. As long as you check the ingredients are safe, it’s worth seeing whether a cheaper alternative will serve the same purpose.
Other things can be adapted from their original purpose. Some maternity clothes can double up as breastfeeding-friendly outfits, while a breastfeeding pillow will earn its value both pre- and post-birth.
11. Buy second-hand or borrow
Baby products don’t wear out very quickly and often aren't used for long. You can often bag a bargain by shopping for things second-hand (not to mention doing your bit to save the planet).
Have a look at local selling pages on Facebook or your local National Childbirth Trust sales. If you have friends or family with children older than yours, ask if they have any products they’re not using anymore that you could have, buy or even borrow.
This tip also applies when you're buying things for older children, such as gifts, clothes or school equipment for teenagers.
Whatever you buy, just be sure to do your research and check it thoroughly for any safety issues. Be aware that car seats should never be bought second-hand, as it’s impossible to tell if they’ve been in a crash that has weakened the seat.
Find out more: your rights when buying secondhand goods
12. Tell people what you need
Family and friends are likely to bring gifts for a new baby, and again for your child’s birthdays as they grow older, so let them know what will be most useful for you.
Encourage them to bring items that would make a difference to your day-to-day life – for example, picking out a baby sling in lieu of the latest popular toy.
Amazon offers a free gift when you spend £20 on your ‘Baby Wish List’.
13. Keep toys to a minimum
Babies and young children are often happier to play with the wrapping paper and box than the carefully selected toy inside. So if you’re strapped for cash, make toys the first thing you cut back on.
Instead, try collecting a basket of everyday items like spatulas, hairbrushes and empty kitchen roll tubes for your baby. They’ll have a blast and your wallet will thank you.
14. Cut childcare costs
If you or your partner decide to go back to work, you might need to consider your childcare choices.
There are a few ways you can get childcare for free or at a discount.
Some parents in England will be able to get free education and childcare when their child turns two.
Children in England aged three and four can all get 15 hours of free childcare a week for 38 weeks of the year.
The government will contribute to what you’re paying for childcare with the tax-free childcare scheme. It pays working parents up to £2,000 a year towards childcare they’re paying for. It’s £4,000 for children with disabilities. Only some parents will qualify, however. You’ll have to be working for 16 hours a week and earning at least the National Minimum Wage.
Find out more: 13 ways to cut your childcare costs
15. Make extra money in your spare time
If money is tighter than it used to be while you’re out of work caring for your family, there are ways to boost your income.
It might be possible to earn extra cash from the comfort of your sofa by, for example, reviewing music, testing games or taking part in online surveys.
Find out more: best ways to make money
16. Adapt your healthy living activities
While pregnancy yoga or fitness classes can be great fun, it’s useful to know that you can continue most normal exercise routines throughout pregnancy.
If you already have a gym membership, it may make more financial sense to ask an instructor which equipment and classes can be adapted to pregnant women, rather than paying for additional sessions.
Swimming and walking are other activities that are gentle both on your body and wallet when you’re pregnant.
17. Cut down your food costs
Try to avoid shopping at ‘express’ stores, as convenience comes at a price. Consider larger pack sizes, to pay less per weight/quantity.
Plan meals for the week ahead and stick to your shopping list. If you can, batch cook and freeze leftovers for future meals.
You’ll be particularly glad of some pre-prepared home-cooked meals in the early days with a newborn, so fill up that tupperware and thank yourself later.
Making your own baby-friendly foods and freezing individual portions could also be more economical than buying pre-made jars and pouches.
If you don’t currently own a freezer, it doesn’t need to cost too much: read our advice on choosing the best freezer.
Whatever you’re buying, you may be able to save money by switching to another supermarket. Each month, we conduct research to crown the cheapest supermarket to help you make that switch.
18. Reduce household bills
The cost of living crisis will see many household bills skyrocket. There are still things you can do to keep costs to a minimum.
With broadband and mobile phones, for example, you can still save hundreds by switching to a cheaper deal. With energy, though, switching won't necessarily be as effective as it has been in the past.
Listen to the Which? Money Podcast's 'Ease the Squeeze' miniseries for more tips on saving through the crunch.
Find out more: how to save on your mobile phone bill
19. Get something back when you’re spending
Many retailers, restaurants, and supermarkets offer loyalty schemes that reward customers by giving you points every time you buy something. These points can then be used toward the cost of future purchases.
Loyalty cards for places like Boots, Superdrug and supermarket chains could come in particularly handy if you’ll be buying lots from one retailer.
Find out more: which supermarket loyalty cards are worth it.
20. Plan budget-friendly date nights
When you and your partner might need the occasional break from parenting duties, date night doesn’t need to be pricey.
Look out for similar offers on two-for-one cinema tickets if you fancy a midweek movie night instead.
Find out more: best ways to save money
21. Find cheap parent and baby activities
Activities specially designed for families, such as baby swimming or yoga classes, can be great fun – but they often come with a hefty price tag. For budget-friendly ways to get out of the house, have a look for free or cheap baby activities.
Your local Sure Start centre is often a good port of call. Many of them run baby sensory or massage groups, especially for parents with little ones.
Otherwise, have a look around for church playgroups in your area. While not always free, you can usually get in for just a pound or two – and the entrance fee often includes free tea and biscuits as well.
When your child gets older, try your local council website to see what youth activities it's running. You'll find lots for your child to do, often for free, especially in the school holidays. These range from sports clubs to places for older kids and teens to socialise together.