Six money-saving tips for cash-strapped parents
Parents have been hit hard by the cost-of-living crisis, with prices for staple products essential for babies and young children going up alongside rising energy bills.
Consumer group Which? has compiled advice on what to do if you’re struggling to pay for childcare essentials.
1. Shop around for formula milk
Which? found the price of formula milk has risen by an average of 12% since February 2022.
By law, retailers can’t offer deals or discounts on items such as formula, feeding bottles or teats. Parents also can’t use loyalty schemes such as Boots Advantage Card points, Sainsbury’s Nectar Points or Tesco Clubcard points to bring prices down.
The composition of all infant formula and follow-on formula in the UK is strictly controlled under the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula (England) regulations. This means the core ingredients of all formulas are identical, so no one formula is better than the other.
Your child may prefer the taste of particular brands, but they won’t be missing out on essential nutrients if you swap to a cheaper own-brand alternative.
To get the best prices, shop around to find the cheapest deals. Which? tracked the price of the leading baby formula milk brands between February 2022 and February 2023 to find out, on average, where they are the cheapest and most expensive.
For example, the cheapest baby formula milk was from Kendamil, which had an average price across retailers of £1.19 per 100g. On average, Asda was the cheapest place to buy Kendamil baby formula. For most baby formula milk powders, Asda and Morrisons tend to have the best prices.
2. Use the Healthy Start Scheme
The NHS Healthy Start Scheme provides extra help to pregnant women and families with young children who are on a low income or qualifying benefits. It comes in the form of a card, which can be used to pay for healthy food such as milk, infant formula, fruit and vegetables.
Those eligible can receive top-ups of £4.25 or £8.50 a week depending on the age of their child.
The scheme is available from when you are 10 weeks pregnant or if you have a child under four, provided your family’s monthly take-home pay is £408 or less and you’re on Universal Credit or certain other benefits.
Look for second-hand baby products and clothes
Baby clothes can often be found for a fraction of the price in charity shops, car boot sales, online marketplaces, or via apps such as Depop and Vinted. However, it isn’t advisable to buy products such as car seats, helmets and cot mattresses second-hand.
It’s worth considering how much you need a certain item before purchasing so that you’re not buying products you won’t use. Previous Which? research found that many parents felt they could live without items such as nappy disposal bins, bottle warmers, and baby food blenders.
3. Switch to a budget supermarket
One of the easiest ways to cut the cost of food shopping is to shop at the cheapest supermarket.
Which? analyses the prices of popular groceries at the UK’s biggest supermarkets each month and for the past few months has found Aldi to be the cheapest and Lidl not far behind. Waitrose is always the most expensive.
Many supermarkets run schemes that offer discounted or free meals for children. For example, Morrisons permanently runs a ‘kids eat free’ offer with every adult meal over £4.49. Asda offers a ‘kids eat for £1’ scheme and Aldi hosts an Adult Breakfast Club for parents skipping meals to ensure their children can eat.
4. Save on nappies
Spending more on nappies doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a better product. Which? found several cheaper options held their own against bigger well-known brands in its testing.
While the upfront cost may be higher, reusable nappies work out cheaper in the long term, particularly if you use them for more than one child.
If you’re struggling to pay for nappies, there are currently 200 baby banks in the UK supporting families experiencing hardship and providing baby essentials, such as nappies, for free.
5. Use free childcare
The Spring Budget revealed plans to expand free childcare provision to working parents of children aged as young as nine months in England, but the changes won’t start being rolled out until April 2024.
In the meantime, if you have young children, it is worth checking your eligibility for Universal Credit and access to free education and childcare for two-year-olds. If you have children aged three or four, you may qualify for up to 30 hours of free childcare per week.
It is also worth looking for cheap or free childcare options such as charity playgroups run by the YMCA or the NCT, or local authority schemes such as before and after-school care.
6. Get help with energy bills
If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, you should get in touch with your energy supplier to find out what it can do to help.
Options could include changing the way you pay, or your provider may offer you help from its hardship fund. You could also speak to Citizens Advice for direct support.
Ele Clark, Which? money expert said: “Looking after a baby or child is a huge financial commitment – and it’s worrying that many parents are feeling the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.
“If you’re concerned about affording your bills, or are unable to pay, contact your provider or local council to see what they can do to support you. The Healthy Start Scheme can also alleviate some of the pressure by helping with food costs. For essentials such as nappies and formula, try a cheaper supermarket to find the best prices.”