Cutting the cost of raising a child
Bringing up kids is never cheap. In fact, according to the Child Poverty Action Group, it will cost you £75,233 to raise a child to the age of 18.
But there are smart and simple ways you can save on both day-to-day expenses and big-ticket purchases.
Whether you’ve just found out you’re pregnant, or already have a newborn, toddler or teen, we have tips to help you save money, budget, cut costs and plan for the future.
Sort out your finances
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.
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.
By saving this spare cash, you'll have some help towards future big purchases or a buffer during parental leave.
Make sure you use a savings account that gives you the best interest with the right level of flexibility. You can use Which? Money Compare to weigh up hundreds of accounts.
3. Save wisely for your child’s future
Are you planning to put a little money aside each month to build up savings for your child? While every little helps, it’s worth shopping around for an option that will make the most of your family funds.
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.
4. Apply for benefits and support
There are a range of benefits and financial support available 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.
You may also be entitled to child benefit, which is a monthly payment for each child you have. It pays £21.15 a week for your eldest child, and £14 a week for each additional one. There is no upper limit for the number of children you can claim for.
Some of these benefits are dependent on your income, while others are available to all new parents.
Cheap and free baby products
5. Stick to the essentials when shopping
As easy as it is to get carried away with online shopping when you’re 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.
6. Do your research to avoid overspending
Simply put, spending more money on baby products 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 the:
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.
7. Save on nappies and toiletries
Whether buying nappies and formula for your baby, or toiletries for yourself, 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.
8. 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.
In England, the Baby Box Company offer freebies like a baby box, nappies and other useful items to parents that watch free parenting videos and take a quiz.
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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
Before buying something in a shop or online, do a quick search for in-store offers or voucher codes.
The My Mothercare scheme, for example, offers a 20% discount code on maternity clothes when you sign up.
11. 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.
12. 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 NCT 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.
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.
13. Tell people what you need
Family and friends are likely to bring gifts for a new baby, 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 and 20% off when you set up a ‘Baby Wish List’.
14. 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.
Cut your day-to-day expenses
15. Cut childcare costs
If you or your partner decide to go back to work, you may need to consider your childcare choices.
You could send your child or children to a nursery, childminder or consider getting a nanny or an au pair.
The options vary in costs but you may be able to claim tax relief and free childcare from the government.
Find out more: 13 ways to cut your childcare costs
16. 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 may be possible to extra cash from the comfort of your sofa by, for example, reviewing music, testing games or taking part in online surveys.
Find out more: 50 ways to make money
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. Reduce household bills
You could save hundreds of pounds a year by switching to cheaper energy, broadband and mobile deals.
This is especially important on parental leave, as you or your partner are likely to be at home more, doing a lot of washing and using more electricity, water and heating. This can quickly raise your monthly bills.
As dull as the prospect of switching suppliers sounds, it doesn’t need to take that much time – and the extra money in your account each month will be truly worth it.
- Which? Switch: find the cheapest energy deal for your needs.
- Which? Switch Broadband: discover the best broadband offer for you.
- How to haggle for the best mobile phone deals: one quick call can save you a lot over a year.
20. 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 of nappies/wipes/formula from one retailer. Find out which supermarket loyalty cards are worth it.
21. Plan budget-friendly date nights
When you and your partner may 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 mid-week movie night instead.
22. 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.
Get your paperwork in order
23. Register the birth or you’ll be fined
You need to register your baby’s birth at your local registry office within 42 days. If you miss this deadline, you could be fined £200.
Once you register the birth, which takes around half an hour, you will receive your child’s birth certificate.
24. Consider life insurance
If you're the major earner in your household, you should consider life insurance to protect your child’s future.
You don’t have to pay over the odds for it, as there are plenty of options you can pick from that might suit you and your situation.
Did you know, for example, that two single-life policies may offer much better value than a joint one shared between you and a partner?
Find out more: What is life insurance?
25. Make a will
It might be the last thing on your mind as you adapt to life as a parent, but making a will is really important when you have children.
By writing a will, you can appoint guardians to look after your children if they're under 18 when you die.
If you and your partner aren't married, they won't automatically inherit anything if you die without a will. Step-children also won't inherit anything from your estate if you don't make a bequest for them in your will.
Find out more: will writing for new parents