Frugal parenting

Frugal Parenting

Kids need a lot less than we give them, and restoring old furniture and using good quality second-hand clothing and toys make sense both financially and from an environmental point of view.

We all know about the financial impact of having kids. In fact, many parent-to-be wait until they feel financially ready before embarking on the parenting journey. For others it happens a little more by chance and the financial worries are very real. With growing environmental awareness, we also have to look at the impact of our parenting decisions on the planet as well as our pocket.

Babies come with a full list of requirements; nappies, bottles, prams, clothes, furniture and more the lists are endless. But is this huge financial out lay necessary and are there ways to save both money and lessen the impact on the environment?

Here are a few ideas that I hope will help with both:

Use cloth nappies

We live in a throw-away society but we need to be reminded there is no such place as ‘away’. Stuff does not magically disappear and our enormous ever-growing landfills are testament to this. It is estimated that each child using disposable nappies will contribute two tons of non-biodegradable waste to the land fill in the two-and-a-half years they are in nappies.

I think that this figure is very conservative, as of the 70 women from across South Africa that we asked in an online poll 75% said that their children were not potty trained at this age.

Fortunately, the alternatives are easier than the terry toweling squares that our mothers had to use for most of us. Modern cloth nappies are shaped like a disposable nappy with no folding needed at all.

Washing machines also mean that a lot of the hard work in washing them is no longer an issue. Cloth nappies can save you as much as R9000 per child, including all the washing costs. If kept and re-used for subsequent children, the savings are even greater.

There are some wonderful South African brands of cloth nappies available now including Mother Nature, Bio-Baba, Earth Babies and Stegi.

Breastfeed where possible

Breastfeeding might be natural, but it does not always come naturally. So few of us have actually seen a mother breastfeeding before we have to feed our own babies that we have no example to follow. Many mothers experience problems and a quick solution is to use babyformula. The resources required to produce formula and the disposal of the cans and containers in which it is packaged need to be borne in mind.

Breastfeeding saves a lot of money and it is worth investing in a good lactation consultant. The money spent is well getting it right. Nurses in the hospital often give differing advice, so have the number of a lactation consultant on hand and phone before the birth so they know about you and if you have problems they can come as soon as possible after birth to help. Joining a La Leche League group can also provide enormous support as it is a group for mother to mother advice.

Find your local La Leche League group at

Use natural laundry products

Normal laundry detergent is very harsh on the environment, rivers and wild life. Consider a natural/eco-friendly alternative of which there are quite a few brands available in South Africa such as the local and bio-degradable Triple Orange (see

As an added bonus all of these are a lot kinder to babies’ and small children’s skin, which is very sensitive to the chemicals used in most detergents.

Use secondhand where possible

Baby furniture, clothes and toys are very expensive and have a short life, so much of them land on the rubbish dump relatively soon after being purchased. Look at using pre-loved or buying secondhand.

Restoring old furniture and using good quality secondhand clothing and toys make sense both financially and from an environmental point of view. We also need to re-think what we need, as any piece of furniture sold for babies is only useful for a short time. For example, rather buy a chest of drawers which can be used all through the child’s life and using the its top to change baby on, rather than buying a compactum.

Fewer, good quality toys are ideal: kids need a lot less than we give them. It is often hard to avoid being given a lot of un-wanted plastic toys. It is worth it, even at the risk of appearing rude, to ask for specific items or to ask family and friends to buy natural toys, which can be more expensive but are made from better quality, non-toxic natural materials. Nature also provides the greatest toys and learning for free! Mud can amuse kids of all ages for hours.

Many people are a bit snobbish about secondhand items and they can also be hard to find but try setting up a swop or second hand sale with friends or through a parenting group or nursery school. There are some South African auction-type site, and even though they aren’t as large as overseas sites, they are still worth trying. Some websites such as offer places to advertise secondhand products.

Consider a sling

A huge expense and a lot of deliberation for most families goes into which pram, chair, swing etc to buy. There are so many options, styles and gimmicks available, and which we are led to believe one “has to have” for baby to be happy, yet what all babies want most is to be held — babies are born pre-programmed to want to be in the safest place, their mother’s arms.

Research shows that with all our modern devices such as car chairs, swing chairs, bouncy seats, prams, cots and so on, a baby today may be held as little as 20% of the day.

The problem is that no parent, no matter how dedicated, can hold a baby for 24 hours a day and so all these convenience devices have been created. Many of these devices have fancy features like automatic rocking or music, all designed to mimic the movement or company a baby would get when close to mother. But no device can replace or provide the close contact, love and feeling of security mom gives and they cannot teach the baby about the world.

Looking at non-western cultures around the world, we find that babies are carried against the mother’s body in various soft cloth carriers. Mother has her hands free and baby is where it wants to be, close to mother.

Choose a sling or baby carrier that can be used from birth to toddlerhood. It can be used for more than one child and when its life is over the cloth is biodegradable. Depending on the style of sling/carrier there many be small plastic or metal rings or clips left, but this is much less than all the other non-biodegradable and unnecessary devices.

If you do feel the need for some of the commercial devices why not consider buying secondhand? Though they do have a limited life span, they can be used for two or more children before they eventually end up on the rubbish dump. They are mostly made up of synthetic materials, metal and plastic so have no chance of biodegrading.

Make your own baby food

The money you save on expensive glass jar food can be used to get the best quality fresh or organic products that you can afford. If you do use the occasional jar, please recycle the glass!

When researching weaning for my second child, I came across baby-lead solids which is about letting children feed themselves finger food and exploring what they do and don’t want to eat. It involves minimal spoon feeding, besides what the child eventually does for itself.

The fact that they just choose what they want from a variety of what the family is eating anyway also makes one ensure meal times are more healthy and no fuss with extra baby food or puree.


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