It was the first day of my Mother’s group. We were exhausted and shell shocked…dark circles under our widened and bewildered eyes. We all looked slightly haunted…was it supposed to be this hard? Really? Did ANY of us know what we were doing? How could these little cornerstones of our universe never sleep, always cry and cost so damn much? And why did we feel so guilty for even thinking these things when we knew we were so fortunate to be Mothers?
The nurse/leader started. ‘Let me tell you what this group is about. It’s about providing information and support for you and your babies. It is NOT about complaining how expensive it is or how hard it is to make ends meet.’
We were all stunned into silence. It was like being back in school and being admonished for something ‘You may think of doing/saying.’ And I started to fume. Why shouldn’t we discuss how financially hard it was? This was a main stressor for most of us here…surely we could use it as a forum to discuss money saving ideas? But no. The instructor barked…and so I switched off. I have no real memory of those meetings except I always left frustrated and generally with baby poo on a jacket because that’s when my daughter would always consider doing a poonami. Ultimately I had to learn on my own, the hard way, how much it cost to be a parent.
So…I now share with you the 15 money saving ideas I have tried and tested over the last 4 years of being a Mum. I can assure you they work despite being very bad at practising a lot of them, because when I do, my bank balance smiles at me. A little wistfully, because we both know I’ll falter again…even though I know it’s worth doing.
1. Keep a budget
*Groan*. Yep, I know. I’ve started with the worst first. I know budgeting is painful and time consuming. But you can’t monitor your money unless you know where it is coming and going. Even if you only do it for a few weeks you’ll be surprised at some of your expenditures. My budget is my frenemy. But the bitch doesn’t lie.
Check out www.moneysmart.gov.au for free budgets and calculators.
2. Do your grocery shopping online
So you are still reading after that first awful point? Good on you. Yes, Coles and Woolworths are slightly dearer per item for online shopping than if you bought the same thing in the store. And yes, unless you get a ‘delivery saver’ or spend over a certain amount or shop on a specific day you do have to pay a delivery fee. But I still believe online grocery shopping saves time and money. You can breast/bottle feed at 2am and do your grocery shopping one handed. (Trust me, you’ll learn how.) There is a specials tab so you can instantly see your savings store wide rather than look for the mystic red labels in store with a screaming baby. You get a running total so you can see exactly how much you will spend…do you really need that bottle of champagne? Of course you do, yes, for champagne the answer is always yes. But you can cut back on the non essentials like beer for your husband.
3. Plan your meals
*Second groan.* I know. But it works. And it is made easier when you do your grocery shopping online because you can literally see what’s in front of you that you can make into a meal. I have two meal staples every fortnight-a meal of sausages and a pasta dish. We generally have scrambled eggs somewhere in there too on the CBFC (Can’t Be Fucked Cooking) days. I also have at least 2 meals a week that hubby can cook and all the meals need to be prepared, cooked and on the table in 30 mins. Otherwise the temptation for take away is just too great. And that costs both your wallet and your health.
4. Avoid post pregnancy weight loss gimmicks
Seriously. They cost hundreds a month. The weight loss magic pill doesn’t exist. If someone says they ‘Have a guaranteed way to lose weight, please pm me’, it’s going to be a pyramid type scheme. Really unbiased weight loss source there…not.
You know what you have to do-diet and exercise. Not that easy? No, it’s not. Not that simple? Yes, it is.
If you don’t have time to exercise…compensate by eating healthier, eating less and walking the pram more. Take stairs. Garden. Just. Keep. Moving. Our cavemen ancestors didn’t turn to each other post birth and say ‘Hey, I’m going on those meal replacement shakes to lose my baby weight! And our biological makeup hasn’t really changed much since then.
5. Sell stuff you haven’t used/worn for 12 months…and recycle
Yep, eBay, Gumtree, Mummy Facebook groups can assist you to get rid of baby stuff quickly. You don’t have to pack it up and put it into your garage…it’s just gone. Not sure what to hold onto in case you have a second Bub? I sold everything that relied on technology. Sterilisers, baby monitors, swings, breast pump. The reason being there will be further advancements even within 9 months…and if you don’t store them correctly they won’t work again anyway.
When your friends offer you their second hand baby clothes, take them. You’ll save a fortune. But you’ll soon learn which friends give you the clothes in good condition, and those who use you as a St Vinnies bin for anything torn or stained. Smile sweetly, say thank you, take them all and if it’s in bad condition-throw them out. If they are in bad condition you won’t use them and that’s OK.
6. Watch and learn how financially ‘comfortable’ people live
My Grandparents are financially comfortable. They weren’t always…they started off living in their parent’s garage as newly weds. My Grandmother’s engagement ring is a band with diamond chips. Because it was all they could afford-no one got a personal loan or had credit cards after World War 2. My Grandfather started a share portfolio in his mid 40s…and through experience is exceptional at judging the markets. But he still lives in a modest two bedroom house in the country. My Grandmother has only recently stopped darning his socks. They are financially aware…and are now comfortably retired.
A lady I worked with wore the same black bolero to work every day. Every. Day. I actually admired she could do this…clothes and shoes are my financial kryptonite. Then she confided she had multiple investment properties. She never revealed how many…but I counted about 6 throughout various conversations. When I look at buying more clothes online…I think of the lesson behind that black bolero.
7. Keep the catch up coffees to a minimum
Yes, you do need to get out and talk to other Mums to save your sanity and to keep the household functioning. It’s great for your self esteem when you talk to other Mummies whose straighteners are also gathering dust and are sporting the same chic ‘Mummy ponytail.’ But when you get out, keep track of the money. Pretty rare you’ll get a coffee and cake for under $10. Make the catchup a lunch and it’s closer to $20. Catch up three times a week and you’ve suddenly spent $50…that’s $100 a fortnight. Add a ‘Mummy catchup’ column in your budget and if you are at a risk of going over, take cash, leave the card.
8. Bulk buy anything on special (non perishables)
As a rule of thumb…if I buy three items, I want to be getting the third for free. Or have at least 50% in savings overall, whichever is the highest. Costco and Woolworths have the ‘buy more and save’ deals…but know your prices. Both Coles and Woolies cycle through deals on a regular basis. One fortnight they will have 50% off Finish Qantum dishwashing tablets and Cold Power laundry detergent…the next week it will be Coke Zero cans and cat food. Watch and save.
9. Use your credit card points for gifts
Now before you cringe…do you really think your little one will have any idea their Christmas presents came from the points you can cash in on your credit card? I saved over $250 on our kids Christmas gifts by doing this….and another $250 on buying vouchers for family members. That was a lot of champagne I could then buy for Christmas day…well the bottles that made it that far.
10. Find a good Doctor who bulk bills
You will be amazed at just how often you will need to take your child to the Doctor, especially when they go to childcare/school for the first 6 months. call my children ‘my biological weapons.’ (I don’t call them this when I go through an airport-I’ve noticed it makes people nervous.) When my daughter was 6-9 months, we were often out of pocket (yes, this was after the Medicare rebate) by approximately $150 a fortnight due to her recurring ear and chest infections. Thankfully we now have a good bulk billing Doctor so we save…but this does give you an idea how much medical bills can cost, especially over Winter.
11. BPay is your best friend
Set a BPay amount towards to your utilities each fortnight. It’s easier to budget and you don’t get a huge bill at the end. But allow/budget for extra costs at certain times of the year. For example, your water bills will probably be higher during the Summer and gas during the Winter.
12. Lay-buy is cool
Start lay-buying Winter clothes in Summer, and vice versa. Check each store’s terms and conditions for any charges, but if your credit card is high, lay-buying can potentially save you on any interest charges.
13. Baby, baby, let me sleep on it – online shopping.
Ohhhhhh, I feel like the biggest hypocrite writing this. The. Biggest. I can actually hear my friends justifiably laughing at me. But I’m writing it because I know how much it costs. When you are up late feeding the baby, depressed, insomniac, drunk (but preferably not while feeding the baby…) or just bored…try to avoid the online shopping. I’ve been guilty of the ‘I must buy it NOW or I’ll miss it out!’ So what if you do? Wait 12 hours and see if you still want it. Will it really damage you if you miss out on that cute jacket? You may pout…but I promise you’ll survive.
14. Buy your medication online
I know, I know, I just said avoid on-line shopping, but there are some exceptions to this rule – like groceries and medication. Baby and toddler panadol…QV wash, I should just buy shares. But instead, I’ve noticed I can save 20-25% off chemist prices. Check out www.pharmacydirect.com.au.
15. Shop around
Ok, I’m really bad at this too…I’m still loyal towards one of the major banks just because they were nice to me when I got divorced 7 years ago. It’s madness because I’ll walk around Target, Big W, Coles and other stores for hours hunting for the best value gifts and clothes for my children….but I won’t spend the few minutes it takes to pick up the phone and call around for a better home loan interest rate? WTF? That said, I will be looking around for a better interest rate for my mortgage this year…I have extra expenses now. Likewise, shop around for your insurance and utilities. Ask the right questions and you can save. Check out www.onebigswitch.com.au.
No one and nothing can truly prepare you for how much being a parent costs. And although my shoe budget is now 10% of what is was in my Double Income No Kids years, this is simply what we do for our children. So when a new parent says to me ‘Do they really cost that much?’, I do say ‘Think of an amount, then double it. But you can and will manage.’ And you can too. Let me know how you go, for me this is an ongoing lesson and I’d love to hear any other recommendations.
Just don’t ask me to give up my champagne. Ever. And we’ll stay friends.