Your pre-school price plan
Before your first baby arrived, spending upwards of £600 on a designer buggy seemed like a good investment, didn't it? So it comes as something of a shock to realise the same amount will barely buy you a month's childcare in a good nursery, or a term at pre-school.
But before you consider sending your offspring up chimneys to help pay their way, it's worth taking a look at the minor financial miracles that some mums have pulled off to allow them back into the workplace (without having a toddler under their desk).
We switched our mortgage
"We managed reasonably well until baby number three came along and going into a full-time job just became impractical. I gave up my job and we switched to an offset mortgage, using our savings and current account balance to reduce our monthly payments and ease the cash flow while I was a full-time mum. Now I work from home so I'm still a stay-at-home mum - but trying to earn as much as possible!"
Amanda, mum to Charlotte (10), Annabel (7) and Callum (5)
We squirrel away Child Benefit
"The government gives you £20 a week child benefit for the first child and £13 for every additional child. We obviously didn't have this before the kids were born and were in a lucky position not to need it for every day expenses, so we figured if we put it away in a savings account, we wouldn't really miss it. It's grown into a sizeable pot already and sometimes it is tempting to look at it and think, 'what could we spend that on?' but so far we've resisted! As far as I'm concerned, it's there for any education or unforeseen fees we might need before both children are in full-time education."
Max, mum to Alfie (6) and Finn (3)
We save hard
"My husband and I are quite good at saving money because our priority has long been to try to pay off the mortgage as quickly as possible, even before the kids were a twinkle! We're also not particularly materialistic so second-hand toys and books from the library are no problem for us. It means we've been able to put a lot away. We've spread our investments for the children's education pretty wide - a combination of cash savings, a shares ISA, donations from parents and, of course, adding to the Child Trust Fund (started with a £250 voucher from the government), which they can't touch until they're 18."
Celia, mum to Jonty (3), Benedic (2) and Jemima (7 months)
I make use of government help
"I'm fortunate that being a copywriter it's easy to work from home, so when the children were born I worked around their daytime sleeps and at night. But, eventually, it all got a bit hectic and I needed a bit more time, so I took the youngest to a childminder who accepted Childcare Vouchers and we took the maximum salary sacrifice we could from my husband's salary. Now she's three, we send her to nursery four mornings a week, taking advantage of the government's policy to provide five sessions of pre-school a week for free.* So I can work and not have to pay any childcare, which works very well."
Charlie, mum to Freddie (6) and Anna (3)
We hold on to our bonds
• Interested in becoming a childminder? Check out The National Childminding Association
• Looking for a nanny-share? Take a look at Nanny Share
• Want to know more about bonds? Check out National Savings Bonds
• Thinking about an offset mortgage? See how Barclays can help
• Want information about childcare vouchers? Check out Childcare Vouchers
• Want to know about pre-school government help? Find out more at Directgov
"When my sister and I both had our children, our father insisted on buying a £3,000 national savings bond for each of them. He didn't specify what we were to use them for, but for maximum interest it's wise to leave them for their full term, traditionally about five years. In the end we didn't need it for nursery care, as I could stay at home, so it's been left to accrue for their university education instead. It's actually a family tradition and our grandparents bought bonds for us, too. It feels good to know the money is quietly there, working hard for us and the kids when we need it."
Meer, mum to Oliver (11) and Grace (9)
I became a childminder
"I didn't want to leave my daughter with anyone else after she was born so I decided to look into becoming a childminder in order to earn money and look after her at the same time. It took about three months to register, which included a rigorous inspection and interview by Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills, the non-ministerial government department of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England) but it's really been worth it. I've been there for her crucial early years and now she's six, I can pick her up from school and be around for her in the holidays too. It's been a win-win situation for me."
Esther Coomer, mum to Sophie (6)
"When my first son was seven months, it was time to go back to my job as a magazine editor but I couldn't face sending him to a full-day nursery as he was so little. I loved the idea of a full-time nanny but, at £8 an hour, it was so expensive. So I got chatting to a few of the mums at a nearby mother and baby group and it turned out one of them was looking for some help in the mornings with her two little girls and I suggested we nanny-share, alternating between houses. Not only did it help with the weekly outgoings, but my son developed a lovely relationship with the girls and it was a nurturing, fun environment for all of them. I've since had another boy and four years on, I'm still nanny-sharing for the post-school pick up. It cuts my childcare costs right down and the boys have a great social life!"
Lauren, mum to Eli (4) and Gabe (3)
* © DIRECTGOV June 2011. Sourced from www.direct.gov.uk/en/Parents/Childcare/DG_181206
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