Clothing children for less.

NCT nearly new sales – These happen around the country and are a great way to find cheap clothes, toys, books and equipment for children, especially under 5s. I came away from my last NNS with several huge bags of lovely quality things for a fraction of the price I would have paid elsewhere. NCT members can get into the sale 15 minutes earlier than the general public, and sale volunteers are often allowed a quick shopping break between setting up and opening the doors to shoppers, so if you have some time, it’s worth volunteering to grab superb bargains. It’s also pretty fun to volunteer at a sale, and it’s basically a few hours out without your kids, having a laugh and meeting other parents, then coming home to your family loaded with bargains. Our local NCT branch provides lunch free of charge to all volunteers too!

Ebay clothing ‘bundles’. Whilst you probably wouldn’t buy a big bundle of assorted clothes in your dress size for yourself, this works well for children’s clothes, as kids move through the sizes quickly. Search for ‘bundle’ then age and gender of your child. It’s much cheaper buying clothes this way as you save on postage and packing. If you buy a big collection of clothes and don’t want or like all of them, You could swap some with other parents, or sell them on.

School table top sales. Even if your child is not of school age yet, school jumble or table top sales often have parents selling kids clothes, toys and shoes for a fraction of the new price, without the same level of competition found on ebay. Go along, support your local schools, have a look around, grab bargains. Win win! If your children are at school and they don’t run sales, maybe you are the motivated parent they need, to get involved and organise a sale!

Gumtree, and facebook selling sites. These have largely replaced the newspaper classified adverts of previous decades. Look out for your local gumtree site, and search facebook groups for ‘baby equipment’ or ‘childrens clothes’ in your local area. Facebook selling sites are also sometimes referred to as ‘facebay’, so try searching for that too!

Freecycle. For freebies, join a local freecycle group, or search for freecycle facebook pages related to your local area.

Charity shops. To get first pick of the bargains, volunteer to help out once a week! A recent discussion amongst my fellow mums was polarised between those who preferred to go to charity shops in well heeled areas to buy expensive brands, and those who preferred charity shops in poorer areas for sneaky super-bargains. I quote ‘If you shop around here, they don’t know what Boden is, so if you do find any it’s 99p along with the Primark and George stuff!’

Friends and Family. Talk to your friends and family about your interest in saving money on clothes for your children. Friends or siblings with older children may be very happy to help you out by passing on outgrown clothes, and those with children smaller than yours may be happy to take your un-needed items off your hands!

Saving money on laundry

Some months ago, I ordered //ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=GB&source=ss&ref=ss_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=reformedspend-21&marketplace=amazon&region=GB&placement=B00BU3YVGA&asins=B00BU3YVGA&linkId=TJKINFBIMICFMLTM&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true“>ecozone washing balls. At the time, I was more motivated by trying to reduce Mini RS’s eczema problems than by saving money, and I was a bit skeptical that they would actually get our laundry clean, but we have used only these for our washing for over 6 months now. This includes ALL of our washing – stinky teenager socks and t shirts, semi-destroyed-by-explosive-nappy baby clothes, everything you can think of. They have performed far better than I was expecting. Our clothes smell clean and fresh, I have used ecozone stain remover on the toughest marks, which has also performed well. We have saved lots of money on washing liquid and conditioner, and Mini RS has far fewer issues with her skin too. I have been using the 60 degree wash cycle, and I think the washing balls work better at higher temperatures, but that was due to advice from a plumbing and heating engineer who remarked that lots of people end up with nasty smelling mouldy washing machines due to not washing at a high enough temperature to kill bacteria, even with regular washing powder or liquid. So, my two top laundry budget suggestions are – try ecozone balls, and, controversially, wash at 60 degrees to preserve your washing machine and kill bacteria.

Saving money on food

We like to eat well in the RS household. We don’t eat very much meat, as Mini RS is almost pathologically averse, at home teen is vegetarian, processed and lean red meat probably lead to bowel cancer, and it’s expensive. We do eat lots of seeds, fruit, vegetables, and such, which aren’t always that cheap either. By shopping around, we get some pretty good deals.

Avocados. Around a pound each in the supermarkets, 3 for a pound on our local market stall, which is also a good cheap source of strawberries (Mini RS has a particular love of these and is no great respecter of seasonal eating), dates, sharon fruit, bramley apples and lots of other bargains.

Store cupboard and specialty foods – we shop at Approved Food, and keep an eye out for useful bargains. Tiana coconut oil for 50p instead of 7.99, rice milk for 50p instead of 1.79, organic vegetable juice for 50p a litre instead of 4.99, dove farm gluten free flours for 33p instead of 2.00… it’s not all crisps and chocolate at Approved Food! It’s best to check the site regularly as stock changes often, but it has saved us quite a bit on good quality stuff in the past year.

Costco – not cheaper across the board but good for buying some wholefoods or hard to find items such as quinoa in bulk (10.99 for 4.5lbs), Munchy Seeds for 5.99 per 475g tub rather than 8.49, big bags of chia seeds, dried berries and more. At home teen loves coming with me for the massive slices of pizza served in the food court (1.69), baked potatoes larger than Mini RS’s 2 year old head, and cheap drinks. They also have a good supply of children’s books and cookery books at prices cheaper than Amazon, and cut price branded disposable nappies.

Lidl. Great for fruit and veg, bread, meat and milk at reasonable prices. They have a small range of organic meats and gluten free foods now too. Also great for low price specialty cat foods, for example low calorie food for neutered cats at 1.79 for 800g. Their champagne and dishwasher tablets are particularly high quality and cheap, (although probably best not to combine these two examples) and the milled linseed cereal topping, vegetable crisps, olive oil and granola are cheaper and tastier than branded alternatives.

Buying dried beans and pulses and soaking them is much much cheaper than buying them in cans, and we have saved lots on hoummus by buying 2kg bags of chickpeas from Asda and making our own. To get the chick peas soft enough, put a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda in the soaking water overnight per 500g of chick peas to stop the calcium in hard water infiltrating them and turning them into tiny rocks that will never cook soft! Cooking them in a //ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=GB&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=reformedspend-21&marketplace=amazon&region=GB&placement=B0040GJ4Y8&asins=B0040GJ4Y8&linkId=Z35ZOUUWFJFXS5K4&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true“>pressure cooker takes cooking time down to about 10 minutes, which saves fuel and time.

Save money on eating out by developing food allergies!

In addition to saving lots of money on infant formula by being a keen breastfeeder, Mini RS has saved us lots more money over the past year by developing an anaphylactic peanut allergy. How, you ask?

As a toddler, she is very keen to try whatever is on our plates in preference to her own food. It is surprisingly tricky to find anywhere to eat out or order takeaway that can guarantee no cross contamination from peanuts, and even trickier to stop her sampling any food that any of us are eating. Unless we eat standing up so she can’t reach. This makes her cry.

Locally we can eat safely at Wetherspoons, or McDonalds. While I have in the past had nice meals in some branches of Wetherspoons, our local branch is not one of them. It is dark and dingy, the food is either half cooked or burned or altogether missing, the whole experience so depressing it just isn’t worth it. Our local McDonalds manages to make nasty junk food even worse by serving it cold, overcooked and chewy. I once asked them what fish was actually in the fishfingers, as it was so chewy it was unrecognisable. Hake, apparently, in case you were curious.

So, it you want to break an expensive can’t-be-bothered-to-cook-let’s-get-takeaway habit, try eating with a peanut allergic toddler and save yourself lots and lots of money! if you don’t have an allergic toddler to hand, pretend you do. By the time you have finally singled out a place that it is safe to eat at or order from, you will have long since given up and cooked your own dinner!

Top money saving tip for new mums – make your own baby milk!

Today I am wondering how much money Mini RS has saved our family by being utterly committed to breastfeeding. I failed completely at breastfeeding my two older children when they were born. Pre-eclamsia, premature births, hospital stays… it did not work out. This time after a remarkably textbook pregnancy and full term straightforward delivery, I was briefly keen that this time, breastfeeding would work out. I say briefly, as after the first few days of sleep deprivation and agony as Mini RS chomped away at me for hour upon hour, barely pausing to nap, my enthusiasm had distinctly waned. Mini RS was not so easily deterred. Before her birth, I was determined to breastfeed for 6 months. 3 days post-birth it was very much a lets-take-this-one-day-at-a time scenario. Before long we were established in our routine, the painful days were over, and I was appreciating the convenience of being able to feed her, comfort her and keep her quiet anywhere, anytime. Mini RS will soon turn two, and shows no signs of self-weaning yet. She has been eating bits and pieces of real solid food for the past 18 months, but is still very keen on breastfeeding and has several feeds a day and long feeds at night.

So, for two years we have not bought formula, or cow’s milk for Mini RS (she is not keen). This has probably saved well over  £500 in milk, bottles, and sterilizing equipment. This is in addition to providing obvious nutritional and health benefits for Mini RS, providing lots of nice bonding moments for the two of us, and saving Mr and Mrs RS all the effort of preparing and cleaning bottles. So, well done Mini RS! Your contribution is appreciated.

In these shoes?

Buying good quality shoes for the family, without paying full price.

The reformed spendthrift family have used various strategies to reduce the amount spent on footwear this year, while still buying good quality shoes and boots.

The smallest member of the family, now 18 months, has worn well fitted Clarks and Startrite shoes, Mr RS has solid DM boots, and Mrs RS has bought Nike running shoes, sandals and boots. Not all of our cash saving strategies have worked. Buying several pairs of baby shoes for £3 each in Primark was a bad move. Ankle slicing jelly shoes, trip hazard sandals, and baseball boots that fell off at each step were all a waste of money. Buying a pair of cute biker boots in a bigger size as an M&S sale bargain was also pointless. Mini RS has solid calves, too large for the boots now her feet are the right size. We also have H&M ‘sale bargain’ Ugg type boots she can never wear safely as they are enormous and unwieldy. She is amusing and alarming as she lurches precariously around the house in them, her usual co-ordination defeated. She loves them, naturally. I have to keep hiding them from her.

Once Mini RS was a confident walker, and desperate to run around outdoors, ‘proper shoes’ were needed. The RS family hit our local Clarks, where the only shoes in the right size were wincingly expensive at around £40 and not very practical. Fortunately, we had a Brantano voucher (from an offer at the 99p store) so bought Startrite shoes from Brantano’s sale for £20.

We invested £6 in a Clarks foot measure, available from the Clarks website, and measured Mini RS at home 6 weeks later. Her next pair were bought online in the Clarks sale for £14, reduced from £40.

6 weeks on, her shoes are tight again and the sale is finished. At present Mini RS loves her wellies, and puddles, but we can’t put off the shoe buying for much longer!

Mr RS was persuaded 26 months ago to ditch the shabby stinky running shoes, replaced every few months, in favour of solid DM Chelsea boots. These lasted a full 26 months of every day wear, and look fine for all occaisions. They have been worn to work, to a funeral, at two weddings (including our own), casually with pyjama shorts and a panama hat (yes, really), summer and winter. Sadly, after 26 months loyal service, they are a bit worn and cracked. Mr RS fancied a bit of a change but was persuaded a direct replacement was the best solution. He was taken aback to find he had spent around £100 on the first pair, back in those heady pre-baby, dual income days. However, Mrs RS felt very strongly that only identical boots would do, so the extended RS family took up our devices and scoured the interwebs. 30 minutes later we had discovered a site selling the same boots for £69.99, then Mr RS found a voucher on a voucher site for a further discount. The boots arrived 2 days later, around 35% cheaper than the original pair.

Mrs RS can not be allowed into a shoe shop, particularly in boots season. Mrs RS has trained her husband and older children to steer her away from such places, to prevent her handing over all the money in exchange for unwearable painful footwear.

Mrs RS mostly wears Crocs, despite her son’s assertion that ‘those holes are where your dignity leaks out’. Well, joke’s on you son! I have no dignity left to leak out! Ha! And I bought them in Lidl.

About the reformed spendthrift

First, a little context. I was never wealthy, and I’m far from destitute. I suppose I could fairly be described as pretty solidly middle class, from a middle class background. As a child we had camping holidays, in the UK or cheap parts of Europe. We seemed to live in a series of unheated do-er uppers, then move as soon as the doing up was done. I remember some cold, cold winters and some awful decors. However, we ate pretty well, we had pets, music lessons, trips to garden centres, a car, and those camping holidays, so we were far from impoverished. My professional parents had Oxbridge expectations of me, but then split just as I started GCSE’s so that was the end of that. With all of us focussing on our own social lives, living my first and their second adolescence, things got messy. At 19 I was a mum, married to a bipolar addict I met whilst he was homeless, complete with dogs on string and a leg cast from an accident he deliberately caused whilst drunk and angry. At 24 I was a widowed mum of 2, half way through a computing degree. At 34 I was a grandma, and software development manager. At 40, I am grandma to two, mum to three, and remarried. I am, for a while, a stay at home mum on a tight budget, missing my retrospectively pretty generous salary and amazed at how much of it I spent without thinking. So. I have lived, and spent, and wasted, and reformed, and learnt a lot along the way. Some of it might be useful to others, so I will publish bits of it and see.