Since giving birth to her son Myles, Mandi Naismith has started scrutinizing her spending. “We used to order in dinner and I’d go to bingo on a whim,”says the Guelph, Ont., mother of one. “Once I found out I was pregnant, I’d think twice about it.” Cutting back on entertainment expenses wasn’t the only thing Mandi and her partner, Gord Weaver, did to squirrel away money before Myles’ arrival.
“We increased our savings, switched long-distance plans and lowered my RRSP payment,” recalls Mandi. Even with their cost-cutting efforts and regular deposits to a savings account, however, she admits that once the baby arrived, they weren’t prepared for all the expenses of parenthood. “We’ve really had to cut out a lot of frivolous spending,” says Mandi. “But it’s been worth every single sacrifice to spend time with Myles.”
Like Mandi and Gord, many couples may be stunned at the expenses involved in raising a baby — from buying baby gear, such as strollers, cribs and car seats, to the ongoing costs of clothing and diapers, explains Carol Crill Russell, vice-president of research at Invest in Kids, a Canadian non-profit organization focused on parenting and early childhood development. In addition to extra expenses, many couples must get by on less income after baby arrives. “Seventy-five percent of couples are both employed before the first baby arrives,” says Russell. “The government maternity benefits don’t cover a complete salary for most parents, so virtually every couple, from high earners to low, will experience a drop in income.”
Parents who learn to reduce their living expenses, however, can buy more time at home with their children and save a little money. Whether you’re trying to get by on less during a parental leave, reduce your work to part-time or stay home full-time, try these expert and parent-tested tips for stretching your dollars, trimming expenses and saving your pennies.
Before zeroing in on cutting everyday costs, take a hard look at your big- picture finances, suggests George Boelcke, a financial consultant and author of It’s Your Money.
Consolidate debts, cut down to one credit card and call your credit card company to reduce your limit to help curb overspending. While lines of credit can make financial sense if you pay them off each month, Boelcke says “watch out for revolving lines of credit that become permanent loans — you’re never paying it off, you’re just paying interest.” Need to buy some breathing room? “Refinance your mortgage to include some other debts, like credit cards.
Other options: stretch the term — if you have a 15-year mortgage, refinancing over 25 years will give you a lower monthly payment. Or talk to your bank about paying interest only for a while.” Save on transportation costs by getting rid of your second car or buying rather than leasing if you’re in the market for a family vehicle. “Leasing never builds equity,” says Boelcke. “Your goal should be no payments. So finance a two- or three-year-old car. The hope is you’ll still be driving it for a few years after the payments are done.”
1. Give cheap diapers the day shift.
Many moms recommend buying no-name diapers for daytime and saving pricier brands for night sleeping, when high absorbency is more important. Using no-name brands or using cloth diapers during the day can mean more money in your pocket. Kelly Yeats figures she saves hundreds of dollars a year by using cloth diapers during the day and disposables only at night. “It requires an initial investment up front—about $150 to buy the diapers, which are waterproof with Velcro attachments—but saves tons of money in the long term,” says the Halifax mother of Emma, three, and one-year-old Molly. “We also use washcloths instead of disposable wipes, which saves money and the environment too.”
2. Order online coupons.
“Receiving coupons has been the biggest way for us to save money,” says Naismith. “If you go to websites, such as Huggies and Pampers, they’ll send you samples and coupons.” At save.ca, you can select coupons for household items, including baby food, and they are mailed to your home within about a week. “I’m also involved in some coupon trains at Trading Post and the Canadian Coupon Club where you pick and choose the coupons you want and then contribute coupons you don’t. I save between $20 and $50 a month.”
3. Canvas your friends.
Seek out gently used gear from other parents. “Things like Exersaucers and bouncy chairs aren’t used for long, and I think a lot of people are quite happy to lend them out,” says Lisa Summers, a Toronto mother of two children, ages five and two, who works in public relations part-time so she can spend more time watching her kids grow up. She also regularly hits garage sales in the hunt for bargains. “I rarely buy new toys since plastic washes very well,” she says.
To make second-hand toys sanitary, wash hard toys with soapy water, rinse thoroughly and then dry, says Robert Macgregor, professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Toronto. Wash soft toys in the washing machine using detergent, then place in the dryer or freezer to kill any lice, ticks and bedbugs that may have infested the toy’s stuffing.
4. Find fun on the cheap
“Find low- or no-cost entertainment,” says Summers. “There are a lot of things you can do with kids without paying a lot.” Instead of shelling out for high admission prices at local attractions, her family seeks out new neighbourhood parks to play in, “collecting leaves and bugs and running around.” They take advantage of the free municipal pools in the summer and the skating rinks in the winter. “We spend virtually nothing on entertainment. We visit Riverdale Farm in Toronto to pet the animals and go to the Royal Ontario Museum, which has free admission on Friday nights. It’s a great way to introduce the kids to music, the arts and history.”
5. Take advantage of financial assistance
“We signed up for the Child Tax Benefit in the hospital and we get an allowance of $700 each month to help feed our family,” explains Jolene Thiessen, mother of three children aged two, five and eight, in Brandon, Manitoba. The Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) is a tax-free monthly payment made to eligible families to help them with the cost of raising children. Call 1-800-387-1193 or visit cra-arc.gc.ca.
Thiessen also joined the Manitoba Healthy Baby Prenatal Benefit for pregnant women with a net family income of less than $32,000. “It gets you up to $81 a month to buy healthy foods for your diet when you’re pregnant.” Contact your regional or provincial public health department to find out what programs are available in your province.
6. Try a toy trade
There’s no need to hit Toys R Us every time Junior tires of his latest toy truck. Follow the lead of Ria Ryan, the Fort McMurray, Alta., mother of Abigail, five, and Ella, one, who started a weekly toy swap with two other families. “We meet for a playdate and I give about five toys to friend number one, she gives five to friend number two, and I receive five from friend number three. This way we don’t have to buy new toys when our little ones get bored with the ones they already have,” says Ryan.
7. Cut out unnecessary extras
“New parents should sit down, prepare and examine a list of their basic monthly expenses to decide where even small amounts of money can be cut,” says Russell. Just think, that daily $4 morning latte on the way to work is costing a whopping $1,040 a year. Looking for ways to cut out all unnecessary expenses, Jane Simon and her husband, Derek, cancelled their cable TV and relied on the newspaper and radio for news after having her second child, daughter Morgan, three years ago. “We haven’t restarted the cable in three years, and I’m not sure we ever will,” says Simon. “It’s easier to keep track of the kids’ viewing on TVO than to let them in on the 147-channel universe!”
8. Shop second-hand
At the Salvation Army thrift shop in Kingston, Ont., Sherri Hoover, a stay-at-home mom in Perth Road, Ont., often scores brand name clothes in good condition for her two children, Brittany, 13 and Nolan, four. “I go about once a month,” she says. “Second-hand stores are awesome; my kids have tons of Old Navy, GAP and Tommy Hilfiger clothes which I buy for $2 or less. My son jumped through shoes like crazy, so I found most of his shoes at thrift stores and yard sales. The doctor told me kids wear shoes for such a short time that they don’t shape to their feet.”
9. Hit the local library
Jo-Anne Locke, a Brampton, Ont., mother of four children from one to six, is a big fan of the public library, where she checks out books for the kids instead of buying them new at the bookstore. “I love the library. They have fantastic free programs for the kids that we go to three times a week.” Locke also saves a bundle by borrowing videos from the library instead of renting them from the local video store. “We rent movies every week, and we used to spend $50 a month.” For information on free programs for babies and toddlers as well as video rentals, contact your local public library.
10. Make your own baby food
Breastfeeding will save you at least $1,000 that you won’t be shelling out for formula during your baby’s first year. Yeats makes her own baby food; she purées one cooked vegetable in the food processor, freezes it in ice cube trays, stores it in zip-top bags in the freezer, and then microwaves it when Molly is ready to eat. “It’s cheaper and I know exactly what she’s eating,” says Yeats. “I like her to get mostly organic food, and it’s easier to purchase organic fruits and vegetables than to find organic baby food.”Find a cheap workout. When Diane Peters was shopping around for a gym membership to get into shape after her son Leo turned one year old, the Toronto writer got a sweet deal at the local community centre. “It’s $50 for three months and they have treadmills, a weight room and a pool, and babysitting for $2,” says Peters. “I’d looked around for a gym membership and they were $45 a month, you had to sign up for a whole year and babysitting cost $8 an hour.” Peters also does no-cost activities: “I do yoga at home and I run around the block which is free.”
11. Start a babysitting swap
When Peters and husband Tom want a night out, they don’t have to fork out money for a sitter. The couple and their neighbours swap babysitting during the day so one mom can run errands while the other minds the kids, and then at night so couples can get some time alone, knowing the kids are in good hands. “I put Leo to bed, and then a neighbour will come over and we’ll go out for dinner to a restaurant nearby,” says Peters. “If we were paying a sitter, we probably wouldn’t even go out because it’s hard to justify spending $30 on top of dinner just to hang out together.”
12. Save for education
When Sherri Hoover’s four-year-old son, Nolan, was just a few months old, she started contributing $25 a month to a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP). “We have been contributing to one for our daughter for 10 years,” says Hoover. “We want them to get a post-secondary education and the chance of us being able to write a big cheque when they turn 18 seems slim.” When your baby is born, registering him for a social insurance number will make him eligible for the federal government’s Canada Education Savings Grant, which pays the equivalent of 20 percent on the first $2,000 in annual contributions to a child’s RESP. Visit hrsdc.gc.ca for more information.