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Babies and budgets

About this guide

Having a baby or growing your family through adoption or permanent care is an exciting time and one where you have to make many complex decisions. It's also a time when your costs can rise sharply and your family income may be reduced.

With all the exciting plans to be made, it may not be front of mind that many of the decisions you make at this time could lock you into higher energy use and costs into the future. For example you may be deciding to upgrade your car or purchase a second car, move house, renovate or decorate or buy new appliances or things for your baby.

This guide gives some easy, practical and realistic steps that you can take when deciding how to care for your child. It also provides tips on how to reduce your costs and impacts without blowing the budget.

Getting ready

Preparing your home for a new child is a rewarding time for parents that also involves making lots of important decisions. To help you as you prepare your home for baby, Your Energy Savings has lots of information on how to take practical action to save money and energy when moving, building or renovating as well as rebates that are available from the Australian, state and territory governments.

Woman with checklist for baby

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Moving house

Having a baby can make you look at your home in new ways. You may even decide that you need to move in order to be in a more comfortable or functional home. If you decide to move house, Your Home will take you through the process of choosing or building a new home, explaining what to look for and the important questions to ask.

Building and renovating

With a new baby on the way you may decide that you need to renovate to make your home more comfortable or functional. There's so much to consider when renovating, sometimes it's hard to know where to start. Whether you're planning a major renovation or just upgrading a family room, Your Home will help you get the most out of the process. You'll find helpful advice on creating a renovation that meets your needs and provides the best value for money, now and for a long time to come. Also see our guide to simple renovations for renters and homeowners for smart, energy-saving design ideas.

If your home was built before 1970, it may contain lead-based paints which can be hazardous if disturbed. If you're doing renovations, you need to take care to protect yourself and your family from even small amounts of dust from lead-based paint. The Lead Alert—Six step guide to painting your home and Lead alert facts: Lead in house paint factsheet has information on precautions to take and how to dispose of waste containing lead.

If you're renovating a home built before the mid-1980s, be aware that it may contain asbestos cement (AC/fibro) sheeting. Generally if not disturbed this is not a health risk, but make sure you seek professional advice before renovating and about removal. You can contact your local council or state health authority for advice.

Painting and decorating

Most parents enjoy decorating the baby's nursery but there are some decisions to make, and some things to avoid.

Expecting parents decorating room for baby

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It is recommended that pregnant women avoid exposure to oil-based paints, old paint that may contain lead, and some latex paints that contain mercury. Most water-based paints can be used but always check the label for contents that could be harmful. Choosing paints with low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) can improve indoor air quality. Painting should always be done in a well-ventilated area to minimise breathing in fumes. Wear protective clothing and gloves and never eat or drink in the painting work area.

Shopping and baby showers

Buying things for your baby can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of getting ready, but also one of the most expensive. The easiest way to save yourself some money is to avoid buying unnecessary 'stuff'. The main questions to ask are: What do I really need? What can I get second-hand or from friends?

Think about holding a non-traditional baby shower. You could ask for things like re-usable cloth nappies or for donations of second-hand items. You could have a shower without presents, where guests could be asked to record hopes and dreams for your child in a special book. You could also have a book shower and ask guests to bring a copy (new or used) of their favourite children's book.

Buying second-hand items can help to save money and reduce waste. There are many good quality baby products available and most are safe to buy second-hand. However, for safety reasons it's not advisable to buy second-hand car seats and older cots and cribs, as these may be unsafe, damaged or fails to meet current mandatory safety standards. If you buy or are given second-hand electrical items, it's advisable to have them checked by a qualified electrician before use. Surveys have shown that recalled products still end up for sale second-hand, so it's also useful to check before you buy. For tips on choosing and using infant and nursery products safely, you can view the keeping baby safe videos and download the free iPhone app.

Going to the library provides a great outing for families and provides variety without the need to purchase large amounts of books, music or DVDs. Toy libraries are available in many locations, and good second-hand toys are readily available. Most babies are as intrigued by toys you can make at home such as a jar filled with rice or a cupboard full of pots and pans than any toys

Energy use at home

Having a child means many changes in your home. Some of these changes you may be expecting—like the mountains of nappies and changes to your routine. Some of the changes you may not be expecting. Did you know that having a baby can lead to a 25% increase in household energy consumption? There are many reasons for this—you may have more people home during the day leading to increases in heating and cooling, you may want to keep the temperature more controlled for baby, there may be extra washing and drying and so on.

Woman stacking dishwasher

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You may want to take a fresh look at your energy use at home and try some of our tips to reduce your energy bills.

Appliances

Choosing energy-efficient appliances and running them efficiently can help reduce the impact of rising energy use. The price tag doesn't tell the whole story when weighing up the cost of a new refrigerator or washing machine. Many appliances that have a less expensive purchase price may end up costing you far more in energy costs over the lifetime of the product. If you look at the running costs like a 'second price tag' it could help you decide which appliance to buy. Many electric appliances sold in Australia have an Energy Rating Label to help you compare how much electricity the product uses against other appliances. You can also calculate what the running cost will be over the life of the product.

Switch off your hidden energy costs. Did you know that home entertainment systems and electronic gadgets are quietly adding to your power bills? Up to 10% of the electricity used in your home is consumed by gadgets plugged in but not in use, like your TV, mobile phone charger, portable music docks and stereos. If it's got a little light on or clock—it's using power. Switching off electronics that are on standby mode can save you quite a bit of money over the course of a year.

Heating and cooling

Don't heat or cool the rooms that you're not using. Turn heating and cooling off or adjust it when you're out of the house.

Over-heating and over-cooling a baby can have serious risks. Thermal stress (over-heating) has been implicated in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), so monitor temperatures in your home and adjust them when necessary.

If you’ve been away for more than a few days you may have turned off your storage hot water system. When you return and switch it back on, allow plenty of time for the water to heat back up to above 60°C and remain at that temperature for a minimum of 35 minutes to kill any bacteria that may have grown. It could take several hours for the water to heat before you can safely use it.

For more information visit Your Home—Hot water service.

Washing and drying clothes

The most energy and water efficient way to wash clothes is to run the machine with a full load using cold water. Front load washing machines are more efficient than top loaders, use less detergent and wash more gently.

Woman and child hang washing on line

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Clothes dryers are big energy users, particularly if you use them all the time. Using a 'solar dryer'—your outdoor clothes line—is the best way to dry clothes. It's free, and the sun provides natural sterilisation and bleaching. You could also use an indoor clothes rack, particularly in winter in a room you are already heating. Not everybody has access to an outdoor line and the weather doesn't always suit line drying, so some use of a clothes rack or clothes dryer may be necessary.

Using appliances efficiently can have a significant impact on reducing energy costs.

The daily routine

Once baby arrives on the scene, there are plenty of day-to-day activities to keep new parents busy. Here are a few tips to help you care for baby while making the best use of your time and resources. With a little preparation you can meet your baby's needs while ensuring your household's bills don't go up.

Bathing

Bathing a baby doesn't use a lot of water but all those baths add up. Remember that baby bath water is good for re-using on gardens (avoid the vegie patch). To save your back, transfer the water into a bucket or invest in a greywater hose.

Cleaning

If you're spending lots of money on various cleaning products for your house and are concerned about the number and level of chemicals in these products, try surfing the internet for 'green cleaning' to find advice and recipes for cleaning your home using natural products like bicarbonate of soda and vinegar.

You may wish to remove chemicals and other hazardous waste from your house before your baby becomes mobile, or ensure that they're stored safely and securely. If you're disposing of hazardous household waste it's best to contact your local council for information on how to dispose of hazardous waste. Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou is also useful for finding out about what is recyclable in your area.

Feeding

Save money and excess packaging by making your own baby food. Ice cube trays can be used to freeze food in small portions for later use. Heat food in microwaves in glass or in specifically labelled microwave-safe containers. Reducing food waste is another way to save money and energy.

Nappies

Australian CSIRO research shows that Australians are throwing away over one billion disposable nappies each year, with each of these taking up to 300 years to decompose.

Dad changing nappy

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A decision on cloth versus disposable nappies may seem like a clear choice, but each option has energy use and waste disposal impacts. The impact of cloth nappies comes mainly from the water and energy used to wash and dry the nappies. The biggest impact of disposable nappies comes from production and disposal.

There have been a number of recent life cycle assessments on the impact of these choices. Using cloth nappies isn't always the best choice—if you always wash them in hot water and tumble dry them they may even have a greater impact than disposables. If, however, you wash and dry them efficiently—generally washing full loads, washing in cool or cold water and line drying them as much a possible—the impact is far less than for using disposables. If you buy second-hand cloth nappies, or use them on a second child, and if you wash in an efficient front-loading machine, the impacts get even lower. Cloth nappies are also considerably cheaper than disposable options.

Choice estimates a baby will use about 6,500 nappies from birth to toilet training so it's well worth considering your options. Cloth nappies are available in many styles from the traditional terry towelling squares to fitted modern cloth nappies with Velcro or snap closures. You might want to choose cloth nappies for some of the time, but use disposables when you are travelling or for overnight stays—there's no single answer that'll suit every family.

There's little difference between the impact of biodegradable and non-biodegradable nappies. Putting biodegradable disposable nappies in the rubbish has the same impact as putting a non-biodegradable nappy in the rubbish. To achieve any benefit biodegradable nappies would need to be composted.

Out and about

Having a child is often a time when parents re-think their transportation choices, but this doesn't always have to mean buying a bigger car or an additional car. You can also choose not to use your car for every trip, and add in some active transport options to get you out and about.

Dad putting child in car seat

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Changing or buying a second car

Are you thinking about changing your car? If you do, try to choose a fuel-efficient car. A fuel-efficient car can save you thousands of dollars in running costs.

Are you thinking about buying a second car? If you can do without a second car you're likely to save thousands of dollars each year on car registration, insurance, loans and running costs. The money you save by not buying a second car can often cover trips by taxi at those times when you need more than one car. Even if you have a car, you don't have to use it for every trip you take.

Alternatives to the car

While cars provide an essential service for many of us, changing your transport routine to include walking, cycling and public transport has many benefits for the whole family. Cycling is also a good choice as children get older, using options such as a trailer attached to the rear of the bike, a tag-along or a child bike seat. Many children love catching the bus and really enjoying walking too. If you suddenly need to find a toilet stop, help is at hand.

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Making exercise a fun part of your family's daily routine by incorporating walking and cycling can improve health, save you money and is a great opportunity to spend time together!

Assistance for families