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How parents can save money on childcare essentials

Parents  Lola Sharples, 4, peels a potato as she helps her mother, Louise, prepare dinner in the kitchen of their home in Clitheroe, East Lancashire, Britain, March 1, 2023. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Parents are paying more for childcare as costs jump across the board. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters (Hannah Mckay / reuters)

With staple products such as formula milk surging in price and household bills increasing across the board, many parents will be looking for ways to cut costs.

Here are some tips from consumer body Which? on what to do if you’re struggling to pay for childcare essentials.

1. Shop around for formula milk

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.

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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.

Read more: Inflation: From milk to bread, what is driving the surge in food prices

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.

The cheapest was from Kendamil, with 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 tended to have the best prices.

close up of 5 year old blonde child with mouth open about to take a bite of an apple
The Healthy Start Scheme can help to pay for healthy food such as milk, infant formula, fruit and vegetables. Photo: Getty (taonga via Getty Images)

2. Take advantage of the Healthy Start Scheme

The NHS Healthy Start scheme provides extra help to pregnant women and families with young children who are both on a low income and 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. You can also use the card to collect Healthy Start vitamins for pregnant women, and vitamin drops for babies and children up to the age of four.

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 the tenth week of pregnancy up until your child is four, provided your family's monthly take-home pay is £408 or less and you're on universal credit or certain other benefits.

Which? recently found that over 200,000 families are missing out on these vouchers — so it is worth checking if you’re eligible.

3. Look for second-hand baby products and clothes

Buying baby products second-hand is an effective way to save money — especially clothing items that babies might grow out of quickly.

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 secondhand.

It’s worth considering how much you need a certain item before purchasing so that you’re not buying products you won’t use.

Which? previously surveyed parents on the best and worst baby products, ranking items from most to least useful. Many parents felt they could live without items such as nappy disposal bins, bottle warmers, and baby food blenders.

Buying baby clothes second-hand is an effective way to save money. Photo: Getty
Buying baby clothes second-hand is an effective way to save money. Photo: Getty (Cecile Lavabre via Getty Images)

4. Find the cheapest supermarket

One of the easiest ways to cut the cost of food shopping is to shop at the cheapest supermarket.

Every month, Which? analyses the prices of popular groceries at the UK’s biggest supermarkets and often finds big price differences. In March 2023, Aldi was the cheapest supermarket, with a basket of groceries costing an average of £72.54. The same or equivalent items from the priciest supermarket in the analysis, Waitrose, cost £92.55 — that’s £20.01 more.

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. Many other restaurant chains offer discounts over the school holidays as well.

5. Try reusable nappies

The cost of nappies can quickly add up. However, spending more 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.

Read more: UK’s cheapest supermarket revealed

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.

It's also worth searching for nappies for sale on local websites or marketplaces.

6. Access childcare support

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 can take some digging, but it is also worth looking for cheap or free childcare options. You might be able to access charity playgroups — for example, those run by the YMCA or the NCT — or local authority schemes such as before- and after-school care.

Mother With Son Trying To Keep Warm By Radiator At Home During Cost Of Living Energy Crisis
If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills — or are concerned about keeping up with payments — you should get in touch with your energy supplier. Photo: Getty (monkeybusinessimages via Getty Images)

7. Get help with energy bills

Everyone will have felt the impact of rising energy bills over the last year — and the worry may have been compounded if you have young children and think the house isn't warm enough for them, or you're anxious about how much cooking a meal is going to cost you.

Read more: Supermarket value ranges soar in price with milk and cheese 20% more expensive

If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills — or are concerned about keeping up with payments — 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 be able to get you set up with access to its hardship fund.

You could also speak to Citizens Advice for direct support.

Don’t do anything unsafe to keep a baby warm. Which? found that some ideas being suggested on social media sites, such as using a hot water bottle, are hazardous and should be avoided as you run the risk of making your baby too hot or even burning them.

Watch: How to save money on a low income

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