It seems I'm now the mum of a toddler. How did that happen? Fourteen months have passed by in a flash and I'm suddenly realising that there's a whole batch of new mums coming along behind me that I can share some of my experiences with, so that's exactly what I want to use this blog post to do.
The press is full of articles about just how much it costs to raise a child here in the UK and it is true that compared to life before children our house now contains much more than it used to, but it is not necessary to buy everything on the lists that baby shops produce and there are loads of savings to be had if you know where to look for them.
To start off, it's key to remember that you don't have to buy everything new. Talk to friends and relatives that already have children. Are there things you can borrow? Or even things that they've finished with that you could buy from them.
Check out your local charity shops. It's worth spending a while looking to find out which ones are particularly good for kids stuff. Talk to staff about what comes in and if you're after something in particular ask to be tipped off for when they get big items like cots in.
Many local NCT groups run nearly new sales and they can be a great source of things for babies and young children. Do go prepared though as they can be a bit manic. It's worth going with a list of things that you're after and also jotting down just how much you're prepared to pay.
If there isn't much near you by way of charity shops or NCT sales then eBay is your friend. There are loads of things on there and for bigger items its is also possible to order your search results by distance from you so that you can go and collect things.
One key thing to remember is that many things are not required for very long at all. Little Miss C slept in her moses basket for just 10 weeks before moving into a cot. I'd guessed that she wouldn't be in there for long so I was hesitant to buy a new one with all the bedding. Instead I managed to find a couple of baskets for free on the local Freecycle list, bought new mattresses (about £10 each) and made covers for them with some fabric that I bought from Ikea of all places (who have a fantastic children's department). Total cost for the covers was about £15 - including fabric, elastic and thread. (My theory for having two was so that we could have on upstairs and a second downstairs which I found really useful.)
I did cave in and buy a couple of fitted sheets (from the same place as the mattresses) only to find that they didn't actually fit at all and in the end I just bought some very cheap pillowcases from Sainsbury's and used them instead - £1 for a pack of two IIRC. When I collected one of the baskets from someone of Freecycle they also threw in an old slightly broken stand that my dad managed to repair for me in just 5 minutes. So, the total cost for the two was £37. Quite a saving over what some stores are charging.
Before your baby comes along it is worth signing up for various loyalty schemes and mailing lists as companies are often very keen to attract new parents (or parents to be) as customers. The big supermarkets, Boots and Pampers all have loyalty schemes that include great discounts and in come cases freebies. The first time you see your midwife you are also likely to be introduced to the Bounty scheme - another one that is worth joining for freebies. If you look online some baby companies offer free samples to new customers - especially for nappies.
When it comes to consumables like nappies, wipes etc supermarkets often have promotions on baby goods and when these are on it is worth buying things in bulk as long as you are confident that you will use them before they grow out of them!
I'm not going to use this blog post to preach about whether breast is best or not, but there is no doubt that breastfeeding is significantly cheaper than buying formula, bottles and a steriliser.
For anything that you do decide to buy new make sure that you check out prices online first. Schemes like Kidstart can also be useful to help get cash-back on your purchases which makes the overall financial situation a little easier.
When there's a new baby friends and family are often keen to buy gifts and if there are specific things that you would like for your little one you can always ask. Family members could maybe club together to buy something big like a buggy, but remember that gifts don't have to be big. One of the most useful things that I received before Little Miss C was born was a basket full of toiletries from my mum. Practical and really touching that she's made the effort to put all this together for me.
Out and about
Slings or baby carriers are often listed as must-have things by many mums, but there are so many options out there that it can be difficult to work out which one to choose. Sling libraries (link to my local one in Harpenden) are popping up all over the country and they are a great way to borrow a range of slings (either for free or a small fee) so that you can find one that is right for you and your little one. It really is the case that they are all different and it is important to find one that works and is comfortable for both your body shapes.
Baby activities and classes
Once your baby is here the spending doesn't stop. There will always be things that they need and other things they you just think that they need. Once you have a baby you'll also suddenly find that there's a whole host of activities to take your little one along to too.
Please don't feel you have to sign up for all the classes that you hear about or that your friends attend. Many drop-in sessions are free or just ask for a donation for refreshments. Local SureStart centres or libraries often hold lists of baby and toddler groups as well as other activities. Also look out for posters at church halls, village halls or places like the Salvation Army. Libraries are a great source of entertainment for babies and children. Not only do they have loads of free books that you can borrow, but they often run rhyme time sessions for babies and story time for toddlers.
Remember that at the end of the day as long as they are clean, fed and warm enough then the only other thing they need is someone to love them and that doesn't cost anything.