Back in t’day when I had a blog about student life that no-one ever read, my most successful post ever was also one of my last, and it focused on budgeting. (My blog didn’t end because of the post about budgeting; it ended because I got knocked up and started this blog instead, in case you were wondering). When you’re a student parent, finances are often the top of your list of worries. Babies cost money and, unless you’re the heir to an empire, chances are as a student, you don’t have much.
I’ve always prided myself on my ability to budget; drilled into me from a young age by my parents. Despite the occasional tendency to say “Fuck it, I need retail therapy” in times of stress, and a minor obsession with buying Funko Pop Vinyls, I’m generally pretty good at managing my finances.
In light of that, here’s some of my top tips for budgeting! These all apply to student parents, but most of the points will apply to any student, and to most parents too!
- Be A Smart Shopper. There are so many supermarkets, that it can be hard to know which one gives you the best value for money. There are comparison websites out there that can tell you exactly how much your basket will cost at each different supermarket. If you haven’t got time for that, a little common sense goes a long way. Waitrose and Sainsburys are not budget supermarkets – ALDI and Lidl are probably the cheapest, with Morrisons and Asda both good for deals and cheap basics.
- Learn To Cook. No-one is suggesting that you develop cordon bleu chef skills whilst balancing parenting and coursework, but a few easy recipes can go a long way. Making a shepherd’s pie that will feed the whole family for a couple of days works out so much cheaper than buying a ready meal shepherd’s pie for one. Little things like scrambled egg on toast and chicken wraps make great, quick meal ideas suitable for the whole family!
- Hand Me Downs. We’re really lucky in having some very kind family members, who have handed down baby clothes for SB at every stage of her growth, saving us an absolute fortune on clothes. If you don’t have any friends or family willing to pass on their hand-me-downs, take a look on eBay and your local Facebook ‘free and for sale’ site – people are often selling bin bags full of baby clothes for a couple of quid, and there’s nothing wrong with the clothes other than taking up too much space!
- Free and Cheap Activities. It’s tempting to try and compete with the Facebook albums and blog posts we see of people’s expensive days out at theme parks, zoos and similar places – but your child can get just as much enjoyment from a free walk in your local park. Autumn is a great time to take them to the park – crunching through leaves and splashing in puddles make awesome memories!
- Think long-term. It’s a lot of initial outlay, but if you can stretch to it, using cloth nappies will save you money in the long run – if you have easy access to washing facilities. Consider the water and electricity bill before you make the decision – the extra washing could send your bills up and negate any saving you make on the nappies themselves.
- Meal Plan. This one is important for everyone, whether you’re a parent, a student, or neither! Make a list of the meals you’re going to eat for the week. Do one weekly shop where you buy everything you need, and stick to the plan – that way you’re not filling your freezer with “just in case” meals that you’re not going to eat!
- Know your “Best Before” from your “Use By”. We don’t feed SB anything that is past its “best before” date, but it’s still fair game for us (within reason). “Use by” is the one you need to obey strictly. “Best Before” is just telling you that it may not taste as yummy/fresh after that date.
- Babies don’t know brands. Why do you need the latest Bugaboo pram when a £99 Graco travel system is just as good? Babies don’t care; they can’t read the labels – and no-one stands there and thinks “Eugh, she hasn’t spent almost a grand on her baby’s pushchair, she clearly doesn’t love her child”, or “Wow, I wish I was like her with her expensive stroller!”. It just doesn’t happen.
- Don’t be fooled by the “must-have” products. I’ll do another post on these at some point, but you don’t need a special changing bag, or a top’n’tail bowl, or a £200 swing with MP3 player and air conditioning and whatnot. A rucksack, a washing up bowl and your arms/a £20 Argos bouncer do the job just as well. Companies love telling parents they they NEED this product or that product, but it’s just a way of squeezing as much money out of you as possible.
- Get what you’re entitled to. As a student parent, you’re entitled to extra student finance, including a Parent’s Learning Allowance and a Childcare grant to help cover nursery fees while you’re studying. The system is a little confusing to navigate, but it’s worth making sure you’re not losing out on any finance, as it can make the difference between keeping your head above water and drowning in debt. Make sure you’re getting child benefit and child tax credits too!
Some of these seem like pure common sense, but when you’ve just had a baby, common sense can fly right out of the window. These tips and tricks worked for us – we’ve managed to stay out of debt, and even out of our overdrafts for the most part (make sure you have a student bank account, for the interest-free overdraft!), by only spending money that we have. We won’t touch payday loans or credit cards with a bargepole, and I recommend that no-one else does either – they’re the beginning of a downward spiral into debt, which is stress you really don’t need when you’re already balancing studying and parenting.
Having a baby is expensive and time-consuming, and it’s understandable that you might be worried about finances – after all, you probably don’t have the option of working alongside your studies because of having a little one to take care of, and all of those nappies and extra expenses really hammer your bank account.
Set yourself a budget for the week and the month, and stick to it. Take bills into account – chances are, if you’re not living in student accommodation, your bills won’t be included – and try to keep a little aside for any just-in-case emergencies. You don’t want to be stuck without a washing machine with all those vests and sleepsuits to clean, nor do you want to be without a car if the public transport in your area leaves a lot to be desired!
Money is a source of stress for pretty much everyone but the rich and famous – but hopefully, these tips will help alleviate a little bit of that stress, and show you that it’s still totally possible to keep your head above water, raising a baby on a student budget.