Reducing the overwhelm.

Reducing the overwhelm

I never wanted an iPhone originally.

Everyone who had one seemed to be glued to it. Googling. Social media. Just checking it.

Eventually I caved in. I liked the convenience of being able to check emails, store lots of photos, access social media and do phone banking.

Fast forward eight years and I’m pretty addicted. I feel a constant need to grab it, to check something. Sometimes I unlock my phone not even knowing why I did.

I’m ashamed to admit that my screen time has been way up there lately. I’m talking five to six hours A DAY. That’s a wake up call right there.

I admit that my stage of life is unique. I’ve often been ‘trapped’ under a feeding or sleeping baby, lying next to a toddler to get them to sleep, sitting up at 11pm or 3am feeding. I don’t always have two hands free for a book or have the energy to concentrate. I try to make the most of my screen time with getting admin jobs done, replying to messages, booking appointments, doing side hustles, writing etc but I’m still on a device.

Lately I have felt a sense of overwhelm.

Too much news.

Feeling like I should be watching every event at the Olympics.

Covid updates and restrictions.

Lockdowns.

Divide between people over vaccines and protests and not wanting to get into disagreements over it.

Feeling like I can’t breathe or cope.

I’m realising for myself that I need to reduce my input and noise. This particularly means less scrolling on social media.

This is not to shame or make you feel guilty about your usage. We all have different reasons.

I’m not deleting apps or going cold turkey or making a big statement about deleting it only to be back again next week.

I am deciding however, to take steps to reduce my phone usage. To leave it on the bench. To turn off notifications. To stop checking the dang thing every five minutes.

Because the world isn’t going to collapse because I haven’t checked or responded or been updated.

I’m hoping that with a little more breathing room, I’ll get back to who I am. I can take steps to reduce the overwhelm. I can remember to do the things that truly make me happy and bring me joy.

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Why you should consider becoming a member of your local toy library

member of your local toy library

You may regularly attend your local library, but have you heard about toy libraries?

There is often little known about them in the community and in parenting circles. If people do know of them, they aren’t always utilised or used regularly.

They are manned by wonderful, dedicated volunteers who are passionate about seeing families benefit from borrowing a variety of toys. Many council areas offer the service located in the library, although the cost, range, details and opening hours vary slightly.

Here are five reasons you should sign up for a toy library membership:

1. It is affordable. It only costs $35 a year for our local one. This allows you to borrow 3 items per child or infant and unlimited puzzles. Some are a little more or less, and others are free to join! When you consider how much a Fisher Price toy from Target or a lovely wooden one from Europe costs, it makes so much sense to borrow them.

At times I have had something on a wish list to buy, held off and found it at the toy library, and then realised it wasn’t something I wanted to purchase. It might have had too many loose parts, batteries always needed replacing, taken up lots of space, been noisy or simply kept the interest for a short period of time or stage of development. Rather than constantly buying new toys, or even second hand ones, you could buy a few favourites and borrow the rest. You could include this as part of your annual budget or even ask for it as a present idea for your child.

2. It is the ultimate toy rotation. Experts agree that regularly rotating toys at home is one of the best methods around. Children have a limited amount to see in their space and aren’t overwhelmed with options. One item in every cube or basket is there to play with. You can choose one from each category- puzzle, building blocks, duplo or lego, pretending, literacy or numeracy, music focus, etc.

Children make do with what they have, allowing their imagination and creativity to kick in. They rarely get bored with the toys out because they are swapped out for others every week or two. You can choose a few from your collection alongside some from the library. Regularly rotating toys keeps items fresh and kids excited about their play. You can choose items specific to their current interest, schema or stage of development and not have to spend huge amounts of money to do so. You can reborrow favourite toys throughout the year and watch your child delight in discovering it again.

3. The range is incredible. My first few experiences of the toy library was spent trying to convince my toddler to stop driving around in a little car so I barely went past the first lot of shelves. When I finally went kid free one night, I couldn’t believe how much stuff was there.

We can borrow from hundreds of puzzles, dress ups, puppets and sensory play. There are dolls houses, animals, musical instruments and cars. Board games, literacy and numeracy activities. Fine and gross motor, plastic and wooden, imaginative play. There are walkers, activity tables and jumperoos. Big items for parties can be reserved for a small fee like coloured balls, Little Tike cars, basketball rings, wobble boards, even jumpy castles! I have seen a small crate filled with reusable cups and plates. I love wandering the aisles slowly on the evening my local is open, browsing the hundreds of items free to borrow. It excites me about the possibilities of play awaiting my children.

4. You don’t need to own as much. Seriously, if you borrow every week or fortnight, there is no reason to keep as many. This saves money and space in your house. Downsize to keep the favourites.

For example, we had a Tupperware shape sorter in our collection for four years. We didn’t use it that often but I thought it was a useful one to own. One day it hit me- we could donate it, instead opting to borrow a range of shape sorters throughout the year that would stimulate our children’s interest and develop their skills. I realised how many items like this we had that I simply did not need to keep myself.

This has enabled me to get rid of dozens of toys recently and be fussy about the ways that I let into our house.

5. Reduces environmental impact. By utilising our local toy library, we buy less items and send less into landfill. We consume less. Right now, if humans stopped making and purchasing toys, instead relied on borrowing, donating and sharing the ones we have, I’m sure there would be plenty to go around. We just do not need to own it all ourselves. It’s crazy!

If not for the money saving or space saving reasons, please consider your carbon footprint and the impact on the environment when more toys get made. The plastic cost that takes so much to produce and thousands of years to break down in landfill. The trees that fell to produce beautiful wooden toys. The people who often work in terrible conditions factories to make items for children to play with. We can reduce this unnecessary burden on the environment by simply consuming less.

In closing, I wish I had known more about toy libraries when my eldest was a baby. I knew they existed but didn’t think I needed it. I simply didn’t know how much they stocked, the range for parties outdoor equipment, and for engaging older children too.

I now go there every week or two, sometimes with a baby, toddler and preschooler in tow, other times for some rare alone time to browse and borrow. Ours is open late one day a week and for this I am so grateful. I’m still in awe of how many items there are on the shelves. There is almost no reason to go out and buy toys or games when we have such wonderful resources at our fingertips.

If you haven’t signed up to become a member, I strongly encourage you to check it out! It has enabled us to save money, reduce our environmental impact and owning less stuff all at once. The more of us who can sign up, the better resourced these libraries can become.

Memberships can be purchased for a family member as a gift idea, especially when you’re running out of ideas. Grandparents can benefit from signing up too, rather than feeling pressure to own and store lots of toys themselves.

It has been a game changer for our family, and hope it can be for yours too.

12 money saving tips for parents

Not all bad news: one story of saving money during the pandemic

Children are expensive, no doubt about it, but they don’t have to be extravagantly so. I often read articles that attest to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that it takes to raise a child from birth to eighteen. I believe that with intentionality, goal setting and some savvy habits, you can raise wonderful children at a fraction of the cost.

1. Stop before buying new.

When pregnant, it can be tempting to go out and buy all the things. These add up, especially if you want matching items, brands or colour schemes. It pays to ask around with family and friends to see if they are getting rid of baby gear (especially bassinets, cots, change tables, high chairs etc.). When we were expecting, we were kindly given lots of things. We gratefully took it all, and tried it out to see if it was ok before heading to the shops. After trying to manoeuvre a very stiff pram for six weeks, hubby and I agreed that we needed to invest in a new, easy push one. We did the same with a baby carrier as there had been lots of improvements in the ten years since the old one had come out.

While you need to take care with buying some second-hand things for safety (like carseats or cot mattress), other items like a baby bath can easily be found for free. Search Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree or Pay it Forward sites to find things that others want to get rid of.

2. Opt for gender neutral.

It is popular these days to do the gender reveal party and buy specific items and colours ready for that baby. If you plan to have more children, try not to get too carried away buying one colour or type of item. Find things that can be used for both genders, with the exception of clothes.

I would recommend the same with ordering personalised products for your child. Doing so limits the life of the product and prevents it from being reused with their siblings or donating it later on. Do they need a backpack with their name printed on it, or a towel? Can you buy a set of labels to put on drink bottles and lunch boxes rather than buying a personalized set? This is as much an environmental consideration as a financial one.

3. Consider switching to cloth nappies and wipes.

This may be an unpopular suggestion but I’ve included it because I have used them since my eldest was one week old. I grew up with my mum using the old-style cloth nappies and remember helping her to fold them. Nowadays, modern cloth nappies are readily available. I spent money on a quality brand as I wanted them to last and be easy to use. I asked around for suggestions and was overwhelmed with all the options. My friend of three boys (including twins) used a particular brand and raved about them. I figured that if she could do it despite the craziness of raising three under three, then I could too!

They are still going strong after 4.5 years and I plan to use them with our third baby soon. It was a big upfront cost (around $600) but paid this while I was still working. I love not having to run to the shops weekly for nappies or to constantly fork out money for them. I am naturally home a lot more now so don’t mind putting on three extra loads a week. I don’t have problems with stains, and simply wash and line dry. Using cloth wipes at home save on buying baby wipes and are a lot softer on baby’s sensitive skin.

4. Op shopping.

I find buying new items for my children is expensive and limiting, especially for boys. Where I can, I try to check the op (thrift) store first before resorting to store bought. Almost all of my children’s shoes have come from op shops, and they wear branded ones for a fraction of the price that they would cost new. I do the same for clothes, books and toys. I love finding a bargain and am getting pickier with what I will bring home too.

Buying second hand reduces the impact on our planet and contributing to landfill. We can buy things off season and find unique items not sold in the stores. My kids enjoy browsing the racks and like to spend their pocket money sometimes. I love to donate regularly and keep a box by the door to put things we no longer want in.

5. Buy second hand and resell later.

One great way to save and even make money is to buy things second hand, and when you’re done, sell them on again. I often list things higher than what I purchased them for, especially if I feel like I got them for a bargain! Kids toys are brilliant for this. I regularly ask my four-year old if he has anything he’d like me to sell. He will round up a few things, I’ll take photos and list them, and he helps to collect the money from the person at the door or under the mat if we’ve been out. This is a great way to keep the clutter under control, only keep the toys that they really love and play with, and fund future toys. It is an easy way to teach kids about the value of money.

6. Swimming lessons.

Swimming is an important skill and one that we need to have, especially here in Australia. If you have a backyard pool, I would definitely recommend getting lessons for your child from a young age. However, if that is not the case, I feel like there can be pressure to enrol your child in lessons as a baby. Much of this is water familarisation. I took my baby for fortnightly casual swims at my local swim centre. This saved $10-15 each visit. Once he was older, I enrolled him in lessons with a qualified instructor. I don’t mind paying the term fees now that I feel like he is ready to learn and become independent in the water. Like much of parenting, this is a personal choice that noone else can make for you. It is worth considering whether there is an alternative to what seemingly everyone else is doing.

7. Reducing activities and classes.

Following on from swimming lessons, I feel that there is definitely pressure to keep your children busy and give them lots of opportunities to engage in activities from a young age. Many children and parents are tired from overscheduling. I would recommend waiting to enrol your child in organised sport until they show real interest or skill in a particular area. For most children, this will be once they have started school, some not until the age of seven.

Young children need time to play in their backyard, playgrounds and explore the local creek. They enjoy picnics, playdates and time at the beach. They want to climb trees, make cubbies and not be hurried or rushed. There is new popularity forming around creating a slower childhood. Not only is this good for children, it reduces time spent in the car and spending money on petrol, entry fees, registration, tuition fees, uniforms or costumes.

When you feel that your child is ready to start a sport or join a club, limit what they can do. They do not have to do swimming, tennis and basketball (and learn guitar) all at once. Decide how many nights a week you want to be at practice and games, and work back from there. Let them choose one sport or hobby, and you can always increase this. Schedule free time into their week that can be spent outside where possible. You don’t need to give them every opportunity that presents itself, and you are allowed to put boundaries in place to protect your time.

8. Find free, or cheap, activities.

Activities for young kids can definitely add up! With a little thought and planning, you can save money on the everyday activities and pick special occasions to splurge. I love meeting up other mums at the park. I’ll bring a thermos and coffee sachets to drink. We have play dates at each other’s houses. We go on little hikes and stop to look at the view together. We spend time at the library borrowing dozens of books, cds and dvds, and visit the toy library there too. I go to the beach and watch the kids chase seagulls, build sand castles, splash in the water and search for special shells. I look for discount vouchers (such as the Entertainment book) or special days advertised on social media (our local play café offers pay your age day which is great with young children!). Some churches have free play cafes too.

9. Lists for presents.

Create a list of ideas for your son or daughter’s upcoming birthday or Christmas. This could include ideas of clothing pieces and their current size, toys that you have wishlisted or seen in a store, money towards a bigger item (such as a trampoline) or an experience (to the movies, zoo, drive in, waterpark, bowling, etc). This doesn’t mean people must get something off the list and it won’t work for all families. However, if you have taken the time to put ideas together, and people insist of buying annoying plastic toys, I give you permission not to keep it. Quietly exchange it or regift to someone else. You get to choose what comes into your house. This saves you money on buying these items for your children.

10. Cap on present spending.

Once your child starts school, they will begin to get more invitations to birthday parties. While this is lovely, this also gets expensive. Decide on a limit for presents early on and stick to it, unless it is a close friend where you may want to spend more. I have a gift cupboard where I collect generic things throughout the year. They may be things on clearance or sale, or simply clever little ideas that kids would like to open for a present. Another idea is to have a standard idea for a girl and a boy that you give each time (eg a pencilcase filled with nice new stationery, a piece of sports equipment or a water pistol). Alternatively, a block of chocolate written with permanent marker (instead of a card) and a $10 note stapled to it.

This isn’t about being cheap, but rather acknowledging the huge amount of parties that kids are invited to these days, and putting a limit on how much it will cost you each time. As a parent hosting a birthday, you can make life easier for everyone by having a ‘fiver’ party. Each guest simply brings $5 in a card to put towards buying something bigger. It limits the stuff that comes into the house and takes the pressure off other parents to spend up big. I feel that either we can follow the lead of some people to spend huge amounts, or we can set a new standard of what is ok.

11. Public vs private.

Like everything else, paying for private is a personal choice. If you have certain preferences, paying extra is the way to go. However, if you are looking at ways to save money while bringing up children, this is an area to do it. We opted for public for birth. I wanted midwives through the group practice and was keen to have a student each time. The perks of staying in hospital longer were appealing for private but I couldn’t justify the money. I have had three public hospital births. Rather than staying in for four or five days afterwards, I have booked in nights away leading up to the birth so I am rested as much as possible. While there were some minor things that may have been different in private vs public, I do not regret my decision at all, and enjoyed coming home with a baby without a bill.

We have decided to enrol our children in public schooling for primary school for similar reasons. Whilst there are some amazing perks for private schooling, we deliberately moved into an area that has wonderful local schools. We are planning to move our children into a local private school once we have paid off the mortgage, and have their names down already. I don’t want the pressure to afford school fees and uniforms when I will be home looking after their younger siblings to start with. Once all children are at school, my capacity to work will increase and our income will go up. Our house requires more updates and renovations, so I am allowing some wriggle room to pay for that along the way. We know many families who are very selfless and put their children through private schooling from the start, and simply miss out on other things. I really admire this! We are going to do what feels right for our family and allows us to feel comfortable about our budget.

12. Choose inexpensive holidays.

Once you have children, it is not as easy to travel interstate and overseas. It is not impossible, and we have certainly done both, however it becomes a lot harder to do. Many families switch to camping while they have young children. Once you are set up with some gear, it is fairly inexpensive to do. We enjoy camping at caravan parks on powered sites, and also at national parks. Children love to ride their bikes around, meet other kids and roam the extra space. We have done easier holidays in cabins or AirBnb (the best one was with my parents – shared the cost and they kindly helped out with the kids!). We go away three or four times a year kid free once they are toddlers. This allows us precious time alone as a couple, lets us experience hotels again and helps grow resilience in our children to stay with other people.

In conclusion, I hope you’ve picked up a few tips to save money while raising young children. Whilst there can be pressure to provide your child with endless opportunities and experiences, know that this doesn’t have to be the case. Children want to spend time with you and know that you care, and don’t need all the things that we feel like we need to give them. Prioritise what your values are, align these with your goals and work to achieve them. Check in regularly with your partner or find a friend to be accountable with. Like everything in parenting, do what works for your family and you can make changes along the way as your situation grows and changes.

You’ve got this!

money savvy mamma