1 November 2016

Reducing the cost of living with a new baby

I was contacted by "Jenna" last week asking for help with a major life change. Jenna is a nurse, five months pregnant with her first child, who is in the process of simplifying.  She wants to take maternity leave and reduce her family's cost of living by 30 - 40 percent.  I'd like to help her if I can. Just as a side issue, when I was on my last book tour, this topic came up more than any other.  Some of the people I met wanted to tell me about their mostly successful changes to single income simple living, and others were about to do it and wanted reassurance.  I was very happy to give it because I think this way of living is a bold liberation from a life of continuing consumption.

This is part of what Jenna wrote:

"My husband and I are focused on debt reduction, we are very conscious about our purchases and I have swapped to home made cleaning products. In the last week there has been some significant political change with regards to maternity leave, which if passed will affect me. As I am the main income earner for our family I need to balance the (income) needs of our family, with the personal desire to stay at home for the first nine-months of my babes' life. The only solution is to be very brave and look to reduce our cost of living by about 30-40% and more if possible.

This means that I am jumping from a few small steps (good household budget, extra mortgage repayments) to adopting more of the amazing things that you have recommended over the years (for example - better management of food, reduce wastage, stockpiling). And the truth is that I am really scared. I am scared to go from dual income no kids, to maternity leave where a proportion of income that was previously available is no longer available. (Please don't mistake my tone - I have always been exceptionally grateful to live in a era where maternity leave is paid, available, and generous to Nurses - I never took for granted the opportunities, and I understood that the Government wished to change things - but this has happened rather suddenly, and I was unprepared).

The reason that I wanted to write to you is because I don't think making this change would have been at all possible before I read your blog, I don't have anyone in my life who has committed to this way of life. My friends and family live purposefully and with much joy - but they are not in the same place or situation and don't quite understand. I also wanted to thank you for making me feel (even though I am truly scared) that change is possible."

And yes change is possible, for all of us, so let's get to it. Jenna, I won't comment on debt reduction, mortgage payments or budgeting because it sounds like you've got all that under control. You will need an emergency fund and that is something you should start straight away. I'll just say this, and I'm sure you already know it, keeping your money on track, staying within your budget and paying down debt is vitally important. So is working well with your partner. You both need to work towards common goals but acknowledge that you might do the same job in different ways. As long as things get done well and on time, that should not be a problem. Respect your differences as much as you celebrate what brings you together.

Please note: clicking on the linked words will take you to another post in this blog on the subject.

There are a number of smaller measures you can look into that will help you keep to your budget and that's what we'll focus on here. I don't know what expenses you have but I presume you use electricity, maybe gas, you have at least one phone, the internet, you have insurance of some kind. What ever it is, go over all your accounts and see if you really need what you're paying for. If you have more than one phone, you may be able to get rid of one. There was a time not too long ago when most families had only one phone and that was a land line. Unless you have a medical condition, people don't need to be able to reach you 24/7 on the phone. If you can retire a phone while you're working in your home, that will be just one small saving you can make

ALL savings are worth your time and effort. They might be small savings but they add up to create large savings over time. And that's how you should look at it. Don't think that not buying a bottle of water today will save you $3. Instead, think about not buying water for a year, which would save you over $300 a year if you bought two bottles of water a week.  All of us think that $3 isn't much, but you should look at the cost of the continuing behaviour instead of the cost of the individual product. Remember, ALL savings help you live the life you want for yourself and your growing family.

Cook from scratch, make as much as you can for yourself and recycle. Be an active shopper, find your best supermarket but buy as much as possible from farmers markets, local butchers and green grocers. Menu planning, either the popular way many people do it, or your own version of it, will help you avoid wasting food as well as save money on groceries. There are many threads on the forum that will help you plan your menus. Stockpiling is another way of saving money and making sure you have food in the house during times of financial hardship or community disaster. Like menu planning, there are different ways of stockpiling, but you build it up slowly as you see specials and sales. If you don't have a large freezer, it may be a very worthwhile investment especially when stockpiling meat specials, leftovers and cook-ahead meals when you return to work.

Always check your fridge and vegetable bins before you shop. Store your food properly when you return. If you waste any of this food it's the same as throwing the money it cost to buy it, out the window. Run your home like a small business - you want to get value for money for everything you buy and you don't want to waste anything you've already bought. That not only includes groceries and food, it also includes water, electricity, phone and internet usage.

Organise yourself with routines before the baby arrives. If you've got the washing done and a decent stash of meals in the freezer, it will make you feel more relaxed and you'll enjoy your baby and this new stage of your life much more. If you can't manage to organise yourself every day, that's okay too. You and your family will survive even if housework is left undone.

When you leave paid work it will be your job to save money and organise your home to be the safe and comfortable haven you'll need it to be. Use the time you have now to start on that process. Start living on one income now so you can ease into it and work out how to make the most of what you've got and get the best value for money. I'm sure you'll have family and friends offer you furniture and clothes. Take everything you're offered. There is a strong tradition of older mothers passing on baby paraphernalia that is no longer needed. Take advantage of that and don't buy anything new for the baby until you know you need it.  Most new mums are offered a lot of pre-loved clothes and nappies. If you're asked what the baby needs, ask for cloth nappies. They'll save a fortune and you won't be contributing to the mountain of nappies already in land fill.

Rediscover your library. If it's been a while, you'll find a nice variety of media available like books, DVDs, comics, magazines, talking books, the internet, games and music CDs. This will provide you with some cheap entertainment. You'll be kept busy with your baby in the first year but keep up your contact with family and friends.  Instead of going out, invite them over for a meal or coffee. You'll probably find that other parents prefer this kind of outing rather than going to a pub, concert or party.

No matter what you do, retain your own identity because it's easy to become lost in motherhood. If you raise your child with a strong sense of who you are while being tender, gentle and loving, you'll make a fine role model. This is going to be a big change but it's entirely possible if you're strong enough to walk your own path and be who you want to be.

You'll have to be self-reliant, go against what your friends and family are doing, be self assured, take risks, learn a lot, develop your skills, change in more ways than you expect to, build your confidence and self respect and in the end, you'll find yourself living the life you want to live. Not everything will go according to plan but I'm sure that won't put you off. Learn from the lows as much as you learn from the highs and keep your growing family close. Good luck with your changes, Jenna, and be kind to yourself.

I'm sure other readers will offer their take on this too.  There is a thread on the forum for this topic now, please click here to go there.


  1. Thanks Rhonda, even though I have been following your blog for years I was still able to pick up some pointers from this post. As I focus on one or two changes at a time, it is easy to forget other changes that can be made, so this post was a helpful reminder to me.

  2. Good morning Rhonda, thanks so much for writing about this subject. I have two dear co-workers who are just entering this phase of their lives as well and are feeling the same way as Jenna. I will be passing on this wonderful post. Have a great day.

  3. Hello,Rhonda. I am fairly new to your post but bought, and read today, your e-book - The Simple Life. As I was reading about what all can be accomplished in one day at home, it brought to mind a blog I read here in the U.S. of a woman with 8 children who accomplishes more in one hour than I do all day. She is very frugal and sews, gardens and homeschools. I thought you might be interested in her blog - theprudenthomemaker.com. I LOVED your e-book, by the way. Thank you for inspiration to the rest of us "older homemakers." Cate <><

    1. Another one who thinks 'The Prudent Homemaker' blog is fantastic.

    2. Me too....pick and choose what works for you. It makes you think a different way.. A thing to remember when menu planning/cooking that simple is best....presentation or the setting can make a perceived plain dish special.
      All the best Jenna

  4. Great post Rhonda, commercially we are told we need so much for babies however babies need very little in the way of stuff. One of my close friends and I were very young wives and mothers and we had all sorts of ways to save money and live simply. I loved those days when my children were young and life wasn't complicated.

  5. I would add one more thing, please. Breastfeed if possible. It is better for the baby, cheaper, and you'll get your figure back quicker and heal faster from the birth. And, it will guarantee that you will rest when you need to because no one else can feed the baby so you will HAVE to sit down and do it... :) It saves time because "dinner" is always warm and ready... And, the baby will experience less sickness because of all the good nutrients from Mum.. Obviously I am an advocate! Best wishes and joy with the new little person!

  6. It bothers me when people says "You can't afford childern" yes you can. I find lot of items they try to sell you for your baby isn't necessary. Used items are dime a dozen. The other day I went to our local clothing give away and I got a nice bag of perfect good clothing for my grand daughter. I bet even at the big box chain store I would of paid between $75 nad $100 us dollars.
    But the best is to enjoy your babies and children they grow up quickly.

    Coffee is on

  7. I would like to add that you might want to consider breastfeeding your baby. As you are a nurse, I'm sure you're aware of all the health benefits to you and baby already, so I won't go into all that, but from a purely financial standpoint, breastfeeding makes much more sense if you are able to do so. I nursed both babies, so never bothered pricing formula, and was flabbergasted when a friend told me how much their family spent per week on formula for their baby--it's expensive and gets used quickly.

    Don't spend a lot on newborn-size baby clothing--they only wear it for a month or so, less if you have a big baby (mine never fit into some of their newborn stuff at all).

    Consider babywearing instead of investing in a stroller. Some folks get carried away buying super expensive carriers, but a simple wrap, ring sling, or mei tai (which I loved) can be made at home or found relatively inexpensively.

    Shop at consignment shops and thrift stores. Baby clothes are almost always in good condition, as they are out grown well before they are worn out. I was able to easily find used clothing for my kids until about age 2 for my son, 5 for my daughter. After that, the clothes get worn out more. (Luckily I have a friend with a son a year older who gives us her hand-me-downs--which we pass on to another friend when we are done with them.) If you have a freecycle group in your area, you can sometimes score baby clothes or other items on there as well.

    When it comes time to feed baby solids, much cheaper and easier to make your own baby food than buy it in jars. No need to complicate it, I used to just steam a little veg plain (whatever we were having, once things had been introduced at appropriate ages), mash it up, and feed them. When they got a bit older we just smushed up or cut very small some of our dinner, they were stealing it off our plates anyway. :)

  8. I would add that if Jenna doesn't have anyone with babies to pass on their second hand gear, garage sales are a great source and also sites like buy, swap sell.

    Living on one income now is brilliant advice, it will give you practice at living on less and build up savings.

    One thing I didn't work out until the second baby was that you don't need to buy things like baby wipes for changing baby, and tissues for the table. I bought 10 very cheap face washers and used to add drop of lavender oil to a bowl of water in the morning and soak the washers in this. Squeeze them out so they are just a bit damp. You can keep the cloths in an old ice cream container and just throw them in the nappy bucket with the nappies. Similarly at the dining table just use old washers (a cut up and hemmed old towel is free!)


  9. The BEST way to save money is, as you say, 'Menu Planning'. When you go to the trouble of menu planning, you can purchase and use, down to the last onion and potato, exactly what you need, without wastage. Of course you still need your 'stockpile' but, for week to week savings, it is the best.
    When my hubby and I go on holidays, we go for self contained accommodation. I do a menu plan, we shop on the way to our destination and we have a terrific, affordable holiday. Menu Planning - do it!!

  10. I would add to Rhondas wise advise that if things are tough you do not need pay tv or two cars, walking is good exercise after baby comes and if the shops are close enough you can put baby in the pram and walk to do your chores and save at the same time, you can also shop around and reduce how much you spend on internet or even cut it right out and use the internet at the libruary for free, good luck Jenna.

  11. This is such an important post. It's amazing how little babies really need. Media and marketing would make us believe they need so much more then they do.

    A warm safe place to sleep, a clean bottom (Im a big time cloth convert) soft fresh clothes that you can pick up second hand with ease, a few muslin wraps, a couple of cottonblankets and I am a huge babywearing fan. A sling or a carrier is amazing for getting out and about. Each baby we have had we have realized we needed less and less. If only I knew then what I do now!

    Local face book Mums groups care a fantistic resource. So much gets given away or sold for next to nothing. Same as church playgroups. Often they are attached to an op-shop and mothers will donate their gently used items through there.


  12. If you are breastfeeding save money and do not buy an expensive nappy bag. I found a nice backpack that had enough room for spare change baby clothes, nappies, water bottle and snack for me was the best thing. Nappy bags can be big and heavy a back pack carried on both shoulders is lighter and when you need to carry baby you don't have to worry about the bag

  13. Yes Jenna, do contact your bank now regarding loans and mortgages to request a reduction of fortnightly payments. They are very happy to reduce payments for a set period of time,particularly when you have been in front of payments) then later when working again, you can pay over and above what you should be. For unexpected expenses consider using the credit card, and paying off later when you have a second income once again. Enjoy the addition to your family, congratulations.

  14. I think the most powerful piece of advice in this post is - start living on one income now.

  15. I too felt scared about dropping from two good incomes to one when we had our first child 6 years ago, especially with a Sydney mortgage. I was surprised how quickly we got into the flow of our new life and new income structure, I bet it will be the same for you as you are already thinking about the changes yourself. The best gifts from Family and Friends after the birth were home made meals, snacks and salads for my lunches, help with cleaning, walking the baby's to sleep and dropping off groceries if I had a particularly bad day/week...ask for these things over and above 'stuff' if you live in a warm climate you will be surprised how little babies need. A good pram, baby carrier, basic all in one onesies and your off and away for at least the first 6 months until they start crawling and eating. Meal planning, trimming away extra phones and cars, home made snacks for you and using a reusable take away coffee cup with a coffee from home instead of always buying one when your endlessly walking your baby will all help. You will find your lifestyle naturally changes and you just don't go out as much anymore! If you make some friendships with other mums of kids who are the same age and live close by and utilise free services like library storytime, you will find your days are full with house work, caring for the baby and enjoying this special time. Enjoy this fleeting time

  16. Another tip for baby is not to bother with purees at 6 months but to Google baby led weaning. I did purees with my first and she preferred the commercial ones to home made but a mums group put me on to baby led weaning for my second and it was easier and cheaper. Now I have my third, this time a boy, and I will do the same. And a mum passed on some bags of boys clothes to me for free and I am passing on my girls clothes to another mum who can use them. I could make money out of them but I'd rather help. Also Facebook groups are good for cheaper clothes and things.


  17. Hello from Fiji, Rhonda! I had my first baby earlier this year and discovered your blog during my maternity leave. I've enjoyed learning from you very much. This is my first time commenting because it is a post that is close to my heart! I agree with the previous commenters that babies do not need a lot of things. I compared online lists of "baby essentials" and trimmed it down to what I deemed to be sufficient for my baby. I think it helped that we do not have much here in Fiji but most babies I've met are healthy and thriving. I bought second-hand baby clothes (don't buy too many of the smaller sizes, because babies grow very fast), and accepted whatever my friends and family offered, whether hand-me-downs from their own kids or brand new gifts. I wanted to breastfeed my baby so I persisted even when I had very low supply for the first couple of days. I used a pump to boost my milk supply and asked the nurses at the hospital to teach me how to latch my baby on properly. It wasn't easy at first but all that effort was worth it in the end. I believe I have breast milk to thank for my baby's strong immune system and healthy weight gain. The savings from not buying formula are just a bonus.

    One of the essentials I did not mind spending money on was a set of good quality cotton muslin swaddling blankets. They're not only soft and comfortable, they're also very useful! I no longer swaddle my 9-month-old baby but I still use those blankets to cover up when I nurse her, or to protect her from the sun when we're out. It's also the perfect blanket for our warm weather here.

    I salute Jenna's courageous decision to stay home with her baby for the first nine months. Other people may not understand but that precious time you spend with your baby during the time it needs you the most is far more valuable than anything money can buy. I'm a working mother too and I wish I had the option to stay home for more than three months. All the best to Jenna and her baby!

    1. Thanks for your wise comment, Vanessa, I'm sure it means a lot to Jenna too. Showing solidarity with new mums and mums-to-be is a beautiful thing. BTW, I love cotton muslin swaddling blankets too. I gave a set each to both my DILs and they went on to discover how useful they are.


  18. Rhonda, once again I want to shout from the rooftops to those folks caught up in consumerism and don't have a clue how to get off that path, "..read 'Down To Earth Blog', Rhonda's words will change your life". There is so much sound advice here, and better lives ahead for so many if they could begin to heed your words. The comments written from the experiences from your readers are also wonderful, with so much there for new mums. Am putting a link to this post on my blog right now. :) Please give Gracie an extra pat from me. :)X

  19. I'd like to suggest two additional sites you might check out: https://buynothing project.org is a wonderful international organization. I belong to my local group. People exchange items. No money involved.
    Also this blog is written by a young woman with a new baby www.frugalwoods.com Jenna,you will be doing the most important job there is - being a Mother. Shirley USA

  20. Hi Rhonda and 'jenna' this is actually the first time I have commented in a very long time as I myself have been kept very busy with my own first baby this year! However he is now down for a nap and hopefully I have the time to send a detailed response to this close to my heart post.
    I can relate to Jenna very well, I commenced maternity leave in February of this year however due to working for a not for profit organisation I was by entitled to any paid maternity leave aside from the government 18 weeks pay. We made the decision to not commence this pay until July as that would mean I would them fall underneath the tax free threshold for the following financial year. I'm not sure how this time line will work for Jenna but it may be worth considering.
    Luckily my mum is a sewer so I had her make me reusable breast pads for the early days/ weeks when your supply is evening out. I bought a very soft flanel sheet from a local op shop for less than $5 and mum soaked it for a week and then cut circles from the fabric and paired them with a small amount of wadding and sewed them up. I have now passed these onto my sister to use. I also purchased from the op shop a strong but soft cotton sheet which mum cut and overlooked the edges off to make all the 'baby wipes' I have needed. I probably have about 80 of these which I keep in a wicker basket beneath the change table. I have a small squirt bottle with plain water and a drop of lavender Castile soap which I spray onto cloth before using- perfect!
    We accepted a quality second hand pram, basinette, cot, car seat, change table, clothes and toys from friends and family.
    I researched and purchased cloth nappies which I have very much enjoyed using. The original out lay was approx $500 however I have more than enough and the type I purchased will last your child until they are no longer in nappies and will last for all of your children.
    I think it is important to acknowledge that this path, the frugal one, is difficult in this new stage of life when so much uncertainty is present and you are learning so much and life is changing. It can be easy to think that if only I had the perfect /newest pram etc then the whole motherhood gig would be easier but that is just the crazy consumeristic lessons we have been taught coming to the fore.
    Although for me I struggled at the beginning I am now enjoying very much my time at home and am doing and will continue to do everything I can to keep staying at home. I could write another 100 pages on little tips I have discovered so please Rhonda if Jenna is interested let me know and I would love to exchange emails from one new frugal mum to another, is it hard to find many out there now xx

    1. Hi Alyce,

      I am wondering what brand of reusable nappies you purchased?


  21. I wish I'd decided early on to only buy or accept second hand clothes for my kids. One young mum inspired me by doing just that, her name was Sunny and she was the daughter of one of the founders of Earth Garden magazine or Grass Roots, I can't remember which one. She found such lovely clothes, often vintage and sweet items. I wish I'd done that with my first 30 years ago. I wasted money on clothes worn for a few months.

  22. There's so much great advice in this post, Rhonda! Menu planning once a week and cooking from scratch everyday are two things that I feel really help. I have always cooked much of our food from scratch but have become much more disciplined with menu planning since I left my job. It saves money! I think it's wonderful that Jenna wants to say at home with her newborn baby. That time doesn't come around again and it's so special. I hope it all goes really well, Jenna. Meg:)

  23. You really do not need all the bells and whistles for babies. If you get something you won't use, return it. I was a big fan of taking walks with my son in the stroller. Fresh air for him and exercise for me. Used "g" diapers which are a line of cloth diapers. Loved them then when done with them, sold them to a new mom on clothdiapertrader.com Check sites like that out to get swim diapers, cloth diapers and other things at half the cost.
    The library by us has story times for kids and other programs so take advantage of that if you can.
    Olive oil and Coconut oil are great for moisturizing instead of buying bottles of lotion for yourself or baby. Also, I heard this tip from a neighbor who got it from a mom at the day care she works at. If your baby has diaper rash and has a poopy diaper, use a paper towel/cloth/wash cloth covered in coconut oil to clean the mess. The coconut oil will not sting like a wipe may, gets the mess cleared away and the oil soothes and adds a barrier to protect their little tush.
    Best of luck to you!

  24. With regards to a lack of a support system...
    After a job relocation landed us in the high cost, conspicuous consumption NYC area I started to binge on frugality and sustainability Web sites, youtube videos and books. Finding like minded people across the globe allowed me to remain sensible without losing my mind.

  25. Wisdom-full!

    I continue to dream of having a single income family. Both my husband and I work while my 61-year old mom looks after my 2-year old little boy on weekdays and goes home to our home province to look after our grocery store.

    We'd want a second baby but my mom expressed her difficulty of taking care of another one in case she'll have another grandchild due to her physical age. Well, I come from this part of the globe where helping the extended family is the norm. Thus, the difficulty on living on a single income. I remain faithful!

    Every so often I visit your site, Amah Rhonda and get inspired all the more. Thank you for sharing your wisdom-full of experiences. May God continue to bless you with good health, peace of mind and heart and the joy of family and friends.


I welcome readers' comments. However, this blog never publishes business links or advertisements. If you're operating a business and want to leave your link here, I will delete your comment .

Blogger Template by pipdig