I've never wheeled Wyn round in a £1,000 Silver Cross pram. He's never had a cashmere babygro, nor Waitrose baby food. And those surveys, such as one by LV=. which tell you that the cost of a baby's first year averages £9,152? Well I've done my own survey – kept all the receipts, recorded everything since his birth in June last year – and the truth is that you can give a baby everything he or she needs and keep the cost down to the hundreds rather than the thousands.
Yes, I admit that in those first few weeks it was a struggle to remember to pick up the nappies and cotton wool I'd paid for, let alone the receipt. I have no idea how much we spent on those emergency missions to the shops, but things calmed down relatively quickly, and since then I have been able to keep track of my spending.
Last May, ahead of my maternity leave, I wrote about how I'm a bit of a cheapskate. and that I was going to resist all the attempts to part new mums from their cash. One reader remarked that asking an expectant mother for tips on having a cheap baby was similar to asking someone who didn't yet have a garden to give gardening tips. Few believed my prediction that with careful budgeting I would spend no more than £300 or so. I now realise that perhaps that was naive.
In the early days, suffering the common new mum's "is-he-still-breathing" panic, I impulse-bought a number of items. One was a baby monitor with a sensor pad. That was £40, but by the time it arrived I was calmer so I didn't use it for months. I probably could have found a cheaper – or even a free – one secondhand.
I've now learned to use eBay. Freegle and Gumtree as my first stops when I need a piece of baby gear. My Maclaren Quest pushchair was a bargain at £40 on eBay. I got an only-slightly worn version of a buggy that sells for £155 in John Lewis. My Mamas & Papas cot was £45 on Gumtree and looked as perfect as when the original owners shelled out £180 for it.
Other unexpected purchases in the early days revolved around feeding Wyn. I breast fed but didn't realise how much paraphernalia I would end up buying in a bid to stop it hurting. The sore nipple industry must be worth millions, with lotions and accessories costing at least £5 a time.
I reckon I spent £30 to try to put it right, only to have to give up after three months following an operation to drain an abscess the size of a tennis ball. Suddenly I was having to buy formula, at almost £8 a tin. I also needed to buy bottles – although I searched the high street to find where they were on half-price offer – and to run the steriliser, which added more to the costs. Once six months was up and he could have follow-on milk I switched, because retailers are able to offer deals and manufacturers can send you discount coupons. I also started weaning, which meant I needed a few more bits and pieces.
Early on, I discovered Poundland's small but amazing baby section. Poundland and Savers – Superdrug's sister shop – often stock Tommee Tippee gear. I bought packs of bowls for £1 instead of £2.99, sets of plastic pots to keep food in for £1 instead of £1.99, beakers, bibs and later plates. I ended up with about £20 worth of feeding equipment for a total of £8.
Poundland is also surprisingly good for baby food. Plum organic breadsticks, which were one of Wyn's favourite first finger foods, and which cost £1.99 in Sainsbury's were, well £1, while packs of Organix biscuits and raisins, which are nearer to £1.80 in other shops were also on the shelves. The only problem is that you can't guarantee what will be available when. If you see it, buy it.
That's the approach I've taken to everything: if it's on offer and you know you will need it in six months, buy it now. Wyn's winter and spring coats for next year are already in the wardrobe after I saw them marked down from £36 to £11 for the set in Marks & Spencer. Sainsbury's sometimes has 25%-off clothing days, which is the time to stock up on socks and Basics vests (three for £1.75 and excellent quality), even if you don't need them immediately.
I've had to buy very few clothes, though. I was lucky enough to be given hand-me-downs from a number of friends, and people still keep passing things on (thanks Graham for the latest batch). When Wyn was born lots of people were kind enough to send clothes as gifts. Some chose big sizes for him to grow into, but some sent newborn sizes. Where I could, I traded these up to get the same outfit in a larger size. It meant we had new things for later on,
and that the person who had chosen it was more likely to get to see him wearing it. Sainsbury's, Mothercare and Boots all let us swap items for larger sizes.
As people pointed out last year, I was able to go to NCT sales, despite not being a member, and actually did well by not being there during the members-only bit at the start as people start to mark things down towards the end: Wyn's winter coat was £3, instead of £5 as she really didn't want to take it home again. Another thing I hadn't cottoned on to last year was freecycling. Thanks to all the loans I've had from friends, I haven't needed much. The main benefit from signing up has been that I've received invitations for "bring and take" events. These are clothes and nappy swaps, and I've picked up some brilliant outfits for Wyn, as well as passing on things he's grown out of. I've also come back with a cot bumper and a parasol for the pushchair – both things I wasn't convinced enough to buy. The cot bumper has been great, the parasol will probably go to the charity shop. All of the clothes left over from these events, which are organised by various groups including the council, go to charity.
As well as a keen freecycler I'm now what the Americans would call an extreme couponer. Through joining every baby club going, from Tesco's to Hipp (forms are on its website) I have been inundated with vouchers. I usually make Wyn's food, but when we went on holiday at Easter I bought five different makes of meal for him so I could get money off each one. I can say that through vouchers, supermarket offers and Poundland, I have never paid full price for baby food and have only rarely paid full price for nappies.
My main nappies have been reusable. Having intended to use a £50 voucher from Haringey council to try a laundry service, I then decided it would be better invested in nappies I could keep. I didn't start until Wyn was three months old and was conscious that most nurseries won't use them, so I didn't want to invest too heavily. Through eBay, scouting out special offers, and nappy swaps I managed to get hold of 16 nappies and all the accessories needed for £105. I'm unsure if this is going to save me money, but I feel better when I look in the bin.
Of course, I didn't take into account things such as running the washing machine when I first tried to work out how much it would cost me to have Wyn. I also forgot that I would be at home throughout the day and using the kettle, lights, and other electrical equipment that was usually off all day. As a result our electricity bill has jumped.
The above is perhaps the fairly boring parts of having a baby, and I haven't told you about how Wyn and I entertain ourselves. I have avoided weekly music and activity classes that require paying in advance. For our singing and stories we tend to go to the library or children's centres – although spending cuts mean some things have been stopped and others now attract a charge. We do go swimming, which cost £70 for the term, but otherwise we hang out in the garden or at friends' houses. Without paying to join the NCT I've been lucky enough to meet lots of great mums nearby, and once there are two babies in the room they don't seem to mind that the entertainment is free. It has cost me a small fortune in biscuits though.
On the rare occasions that I do buy clothes for Wyn I always buy the next size up to maximise wear – I'm definitely one of those "you'll grow into it" mums. I found him a rocking horse on the street. I knocked on the door and asked if I could take it, and the woman said yes. It's a beautiful wooden thing. Charity shops have been great for toys and books. An activity pyramid that sells for about £13 in Mothercare cost £2 plus a few minutes to give it a wash.
In reality, babies can cost you nothing. Since Wyn was born I've not been to the cinema or theatre once and can count the gigs I've been to on one hand. We've rarely eaten out and when we do it tends to be lunchtime or early evening, when, handily, restaurants are often offering deals. While I've been off work I've had time to cook, so we don't spend on takeaways or ready meals. Dull? Not for a moment. Our gorgeous son has provided all the fun, entertainment and love I'd ever need.
But there is a rather expensive item I've left out from my budget. He'll soon be a toddler, running around our small flat. We're seriously thinking about moving to a house with all the huge costs that entails. That £1,000 first year bill may turn into £100,000 by year two.