Pamela Chan, BCFamily.ca
Your Royal Highnesses,
Here in British Columbia we followed the happy news that you welcomed your son into your family and that everything is going well. Congratulations!
Your experience resonates with me as our twins were born four years ago and one day before yours. My husband and I also got married in April; were a couple together before our children arrived in the third week of July; completed our pregnancy in a heat wave, complete with post-delivery thunderstorms; and, struggled with the “car seat leaving the hospital” challenge. In our case we stood in the hall of the hospital for some time as a nurse showed us the best way to roll receiving blankets and clip in our petite babies.
As you settle in as a new family, journalists tell us to watch your every parenting choice and purchasing decision. We’re told that members of the Royal Family know that everything they do “is aspirational.” Much has been made of your efforts to buy relatively affordable off-the-rack dresses and “recycle” clothes to multiple events. In economically tense times, an appearance of frugality within the highest ranks of the Royal Family appears to strike a cord with the general populace. Just as your purchases can support British businesses, your child rearing choices can draw attention to and highlight affordable options for families. (Even if you don’t really need to think in such terms, based on your level of affluence.) Here are some insights from British Columbia about keeping costs down when child rearing from someone living at and below the living wage level.
These days journalists are all over the details of your lives. This is how we know that your Search and Rescue salary is $61,888 per year. This amount is $10,000 below the living wage here in BC for a family of four with both parents working. If this were your sole household income it would be at the same level as the average family living in Abbotsford, BC, a community outside of Vancouver. Every parent’s situation is very different and so there is no one profile of a family living on a salary below, above or well above $70,00 per year. In some cases, like yours, there are other benefits.
Here are some general observations that help to achieve a more frugal approach to spending when a new baby arrives.
* Don’t Fall For Stroller Mania
We heard that you might be thinking of buying a stroller that costs well over $1,000. It’s just a rumour and hopefully whatever you buy won’t be that pricey. Unless you are planning to live almost exclusively in downtown London and walk everywhere, most strollers will be sturdy enough to manage the wear and tear from daily usage. (Sidebar: it’s not recommended to jog with a baby until he is 12 months old. A pediatrician can confirm this point.) Many strollers that cost under $500 are just as comfortable and well designed as costlier models. The BC-made Guzzie and Guss strollers, recommended by a local mum as an economic purchase, is a good example. Their product range includes a single that converts into a doubler stroller. Why buy a double in a few years when one will do? It’s not likely to be your choice but it’s worth mentioning that you can buy gently used strollers second hand.
* Second-Hand Clothing and Baby Items Help
Friends and relations who have children a little older than yours are great prospects for hand-me-downs. With a few people passing along clothes, baby items and toys, you won’t have to shop too often. You’ll mostly end up looking for a few key clothing pieces for formal functions and shoes. This practice makes economic sense and is a sustainable option. During the first two years you change clothing size every three months! That’s a lot of clothes. When you pass clothes along, one piece of clothing can be used by a number of children before it is permanently retired.
Families that aren’t in the hand-me-down stream can also check out offerings on Craigs List, swap meets for clothing and child items and use Free Cycle networks. You also never know what you’ll find at a garage sale or thrift shop.
* Follow Recall News
Sign up for recall notices and double check items you’ve received second hand. By the time an item is recalled children have been hurt and it really does need to be recalled. A family that relies mostly on second hand baby items, without knowing that some might be recalled and could be dangerous, is putting their baby at risk. An easy way to check for a recall is to type in the official name of the product online along with the word “recall” and see if anything shows up.
* Reign in the Nursery Decor Spending
An African nursery theme sounds fun; however, there’s no need to be spending a lot to decorate the nursery. We used peel off stencils of cute African animals in our nursery and switched to different pictures when our twins were two. The first 24 months fly by and you don’t want to lock yourself into a theme that needs an overhaul in a few months. When you do want to make a bold statement, check out show homes in surburban areas. You often find inspiring examples of murals painted directly on the walls and creative uses for Ikea type furniture. Bloggers will also illustrate how you can repurpose older pieces of furniture such as armchairs.
Our most important purchases that had a direct impact on our babies were bedding supplies (see related ) and custom made drapes with blackout curtains for a tricky corner window. We moved from our downtown flat and chose the new curtains using fabric from a fabric store. (See related. ) The more content your baby is to sleep in a darkened room the happier you and the baby will be.
* Support Local Businesses
Local UK product producers and craftspeople selling on Etsy provide lovely alternatives that are often made well, created with organic materials and affordable. Families here in BC support local businesses directly or by shopping via social media sales and group buying sites such as Groupon.
If you really aspire to promote British businesses, you will have more than enough options from which you can make a choice. There’s no need to be buying a product designed in New York and made in China. A locally sourced product also has a better ecological footprint.
* Eat Locally
Avoid industrial organic foods (commonly purchased for babies and children in organic food stores) and, when possible, buy your produce and food at local farmer’s markets and from local sources. Think of all the unnecessary lost leaders and expensive processed foods you avoid at the supermarket when you go to the markets instead.
If you cook for recipes you can avoid unnecessary purchases. Buying in bulk and taking advantage of good supermarket sales helps – as does having a chest freezer. Some families bulk buy food together.
Here in BC some families make strategic trips over the border to buy food. This is a more controversial option as it weakens the opportunities for local food suppliers.
Vegetable gardens are exciting learning opportunities for children and create a relatively inexpensive way to access healthy food. There is a growing interest in opportunities for families living in smaller homes to access garden plots nearby. City websites provide information about accessing plots and getting on wait lists. A local gardening book called Just Ask Wim and From Seed to Skillet are truly inspiring and are available in local libraries.
* Buy a food processor and wok
Making baby and toddler food at home is a breeze with a good food processor on hand and a well made wok. Food processors are expensive but can appear on sale at places like Costco from time to time and can be used for family cooking and for years to come. There are a number of recipes books about cooking for your baby and toddler. Canadian published The Baby’s Table is an option worth checking out.
* Can you Ever Have Enough Books?
Children enjoy looking at books from an early age. Source out old copies from your collection languishing at your parent’s home, encourage hand-me-downs and gifting of books from family and friends and don’t forget your public library. You can find books and music CDs at the library that you might want to try out but not necessarily own.
* Support World, Folk and Other Non-Mainstream Musicians
I discovered Puntamayo CDs in a fabric store in Port au Prince, Trinidad, of all unexpected places. (Right now we’re enjoying African Playground – a disc you’ll want to have in your collection.) Buy lots of Puntamayo CDs and put them on your gift list for birthdays and Christmas. Puntamayo promotes worthy musicians and their discs are packed with fabulous songs from around the world. You can also borrow their CDs from the library.
Local festivals are also ideal places to discover music that appeals to children and musicians who might otherwise not cross paths with you. In general city sponsored events provide free opportunities to enjoy family focussed opportunities.
* Shun Boarding School
Before you know it Prince George will be 8 and you’ll be under pressure to send him away to school. Why not do a thorough shake-up and consider a different option? A local, independent day school is half the price of a boarding school and would still provide strong programmes like IB. For a priceless end to your child’s school career, why not send him to an IB United World College? (Here in British Columbia we can access these types of programmes in public schools and economically disadvantaged youth can apply to UWC schools with help from a scholarship.)
* Avoid Class Overload
You might be tempted to enroll your first born in everything from mommy and me yoga classes to a handful of classes per week. Put the brakes on your temptations and head outdoors. There’s a growing movement to introduce children to outdoor education and lifestyle opportunities. Which do you think will be more meaningful – a romp through the forest or being indoors in a class? We heard the Middleton family like to walk through the Lake District. The ideals of Forest Nurseries and related outdoor movements will resonate with you.
If you keep your eyes open, you can find local opportunities that are either free, volunteer supported or relatively inexpensive. Meet-up.com groups provide opportunities to go on outings together outdoors. Regional libraries post events listings on their websites. Local nature organizations (or Stewardship groups) are relatively inexpensive (EG $15/year/family) and run year long events. Regional park organizations run free events for families and local businesses, such as greenhouses, run free or relatively inexpensive classes for children that make a connection to the natural world.
* Take date nights at home.
You’ll be expected to attend official functions and friends will ask you out. During the first few years go easy on yourself with your social calendar. Ask family and friends to drop round and discover the pleasures of a quiet night in. Your budget will thank you and you’ll feel more rested. Here in BC some families are setting up Babysitting co-ops so that parents can take turns going out in the day and the evening.
Garden at Highgrove – home of HRH Prince Charles
* Take Advantage of Free Resources
A tour of Windsor Castle or Althorp’s art collections, or an investigation of garden design at one of the royal properties, won’t cost anything. In London alone there are endless opportunities to hug trees in public parks. Enjoy your free (or relatively inexpensive) walkabouts.
* Volunteer and Give Back
In reference to Princess Diana’s special focus as a mother, volunteering matters. Children will remember early volunteer opportunities years later. They receive infinitely more benefits than the person they help and their lives are enriched from these experiences. You can even find “green” volunteer opportunities for your family.
* Before You Recycle – Reuse
You might be surprised what you can make at home if you dig around before buying craft supplies. Packaging, boxes, egg cartons, pretty papers, jars and similar items can all be reused.
* Aunties [and Uncles too] Aren’t Babysitters
The cost of hiring nannies, childcare or daycare can be prohibitive and babysitting offers from close family and friends does help. Every opportunity a friend or relative has to form a special bond with your child is priceless, but as noted on the Savvy Auntie site, aunts are not babysitters. “Aunts are not babysitters. Auntihood is a choice. Every boo boo we kiss, every little hand we hold, every harmless secret we keep is a gift. Aunthood is a gift for children, parents, and for those of us who are childless by circumstance, biology or choice. (Savvy Auntie.com)
With a healthy inheritance and other perks, your family won’t experience the financial challenges many BC families do living on a living wage. However everyone can benefit from a scaled back approach to life – including your child.
Slow living and peaceful, less stimulating moments are the fabric of a healthy early childhood.
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We’ll never be royals. Living in Vancouver means lowering your expectations.
Many Vancouver families are mortgage poor. See Global BC report (6 minutes in).
Daily Dish Archives: Pamela Chan, BCfamily.ca