Reducing the cost of living with a new baby

1 November 2016
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.