How I saved money on maternity leave, or my top 10 tips for hoarding, washing, and visiting posh parts on Mondays

Walk into a supermarket and you’ll immediately be hit by advertising promising buy-one-get-one-free, discounted and half price offers, to the point where it can even feel, well, like they’re acting a tiny bit desperate. The odd thing is that we know the supermarkets are out to make extra money out of us, but we’re going along with it. So what do you do if you really need to save money on your shopping, long-term? My top ten tips for hoarding, washing, and visiting posh parts on Mondays are below, but first, some rules, if you want them.

1. Some don’ts and won’ts. Don’t buy stuff you won’t use, even if it’s on special offer. Don’t buy stuff you dislike just because it’s cheap. Don’t buy stuff you won’t have room to store even if you use it all the time.

2. Don’t take my word for it. I’m not an expert, I’ve just done this before. Get some advice from experts like Martin Lewis. You can see his 30 tips for supermarket shopping here including the downshift challenge, where you find the item you usually buy and downshift to a cheaper one. (If you usually buy branded baked beans, go for own brand, for instance.) His advice on how to stop spending is here. Scroll down to print out his Money Mantra card.

3. Get into the list-making habit! Do the basics. Make a menu, make a shopping list, know your budget, know what you need to buy regularly, follow Martin’s Money Mantra!

4. Quadratic equations anyone? Do a bit of maths. ‘Can you get it for £1?’ is a good rule of thumb when scanning the shelves, but then you’ve got to ask if £1 represents good value. Offers aren’t always good ones. Is it worth buying two – when you end up spending more – in order to save 20p, for instance? And work out how much something is by volume – the shelf ticket usually tells you. If your bottle of hand-wash is £2 for 500ml and therefore 40p per 100ml, that’s cheaper than the 150ml bottle for ‘only’ £1. On the other hand, a bar of soap is cheaper still.

5. Want Christmas dinner for 10p? You’ll have to work at it! We probably have to accept that we’re not going to beat them at the game they play, unless we’re very savvy and put a considerable amount of time into it, like teenager Jordan Cox. He managed to buy Christmas dinner for 10p but he put time into doing it. Supermarkets save us time by putting everything we want to buy in one place. You’ll have a different (and more interesting) experience shopping on the high street, but it will take longer. How much do you cost per hour? Is it worth spending time and money travelling across town to a different supermarket, or spending ages online, in order to get something £2 cheaper? On the other hand maybe wandering the high street or doing lots of treasure hunting online is worth it because it’s fun.

Bearing all that in mind, here’s how I saved some money during my maternity leave: my top ten tips for hoarding, washing, and visiting posh parts on Mondays.

Put your hoarding habit to good use. We happened to have a carnivorous bathroom cabinet in the house we lived in when I was pregnant. Before I stopped earning my usual wage, I spent some money each month on buying extras that I would use during the year. Stuff that I knew we would use, that would last and that I had cleared a space for. (And it was definitely worth shifting some junk to make room for it.)

Shower gel store. Here’s an example. I worked out how much shower gel we got through in a month. I figured I would need ten for the year. Using rule number one above, I wanted shower gel that agreed with my skin. I’m not talking really posh stuff, but I didn’t want to itch all year round. Using rule number 4, I worked out which sensitive shower gel came in big enough bottles that it represented value for money by volume. Then I waited until it was half price. By the way, I also noticed that going to the shops for items that have run out – particularly things like shower gel, toothpaste, toilet roll, tampons, milk, bread – encourages impulse buys, so organising it in advance kept those costs down too.

If it’s worth it, spend time online. I used My Supermarket to compare prices: www.mysupermarket.co.uk and also the individual supermarkets’ websites. Easy to get carried away with that though.

If it’s worth it, go and get it. But only if it’s worth it. Because we lived in North London, I could get the bus to almost any supermarket. In fact, even better, my usual bus routes took in almost all the major supermarkets. (Asda was the only one I had to take the tube to get to.) That meant that if a huge box of washing powder was half price in a shop I didn’t usually go to, it was worth me finding out about it online and going down there on the bus. Consider the time, travel or delivery costs and also whether you want to haul a big box back to your house on the bus when you’re preggers.

Make the most of essential ranges. Most supermarkets have essential or basic ranges. Here’s the trick: work out what you’re likely to cook regularly (something you like to eat and preferably something that you know how to make without looking at the recipe). For example, if I know I’m going likely to make chilli once a fortnight, and have the room for it, I can get twenty five cans of kidney beans and twenty five chopped tomatoes in the basics range, plus some frozen mince. Check the use by dates of course.

Put regular items on order. I noticed that when I go to buy regular items I often end up with impulse buys. It isn’t necessarily cheaper to shop online, because it’s tempting to put extra in your trolley. Supermarkets try to sell us stuff through our computers too and also there’s often a delivery cost on top. To avoid this, make a list of items that you use all the time. Create a shopping list online and treat this as a regular, fixed order. While I was on maternity leave, I did this for bulky items like nappies, baby wipes, toilet rolls, water, and cat food and could therefore add a fixed amount for those things to the monthly budget. We still get the nappies and baby wipes this way (from Amazon). This tip works for buying vegetables and milk too. With anything that you get regularly, if you arrange a fixed delivery, you can avoid impulse buys. Our Abel and Cole delivery saves us money this way.

Allow for impulse. As an addendum to the last paragraph, we know we’re going to add the odd bar of chocolate here and there. Be aware of it. Don’t worry about it. Decide in advance how many impulse buys you’re allowed – that is anything not on your shopping list (or how much you’re allowed to spend on them). Go back through your shopping basket (virtual or actual) and whittle it down.

Use your freezer. I found this hard. Our freezer was small. It’s difficult to cook when you are breastfeeding, nappy changing and solo-in-charge of a baby because your partner is at work or just because. My son is nearly three, I now have a bigger freezer and I’m just about getting the hang of it. In the end I got some books on cooking for the freezer – this one for instance  – and some tupperware. When we’ve got time, we have a cook up and freeze some meals to use later in the week OR we cook two of the dinner we’re preparing. Clearly a freezer also makes it easier to store essential items like bread and milk, which in turn helps stop impulse buys.

Everything for sale. It is very hard to know what you need to buy for your kid and what is superfluous, so I read Babynomics  and that certainly gave me some ground rules. It seems like you’re suddenly thrown into a world where everything is new baby-wise, and where everyone is trying to sell you something. So, make the most of Freecycle, ebay, gumtree, NCT Nearly New Sales and jumble sales. (I could add learn to knit and make stuff yourself, but I failed miserably to do that!)

Go to a well-to-do area on a Monday and have a rummage in the charity shops. Apparently they’re most likely to put new stock out on Mondays and well-to-do area means there’s a better chance of finding something designer. I kitted myself out with suits for returning to work by shopping this way and managed to get lots of smart gear for the price of just one new outfit.

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