One of the best things about being pregnant for the first time is going shopping for baby stuff. Cute little singlets and sleepsuits, a cot, toys and blankets are a joy to buy when you are expecting. But sometimes there just isn’t a lot of money around, and that’s when you need to know how to do it on the cheap.

There are lots of ways you can save money when setting up for a baby and one of the simplest is going back in time to how they did it in the old days.

In my new book Mother’s Little Helper – an old-fashioned guide to raising your baby chemical-free I give 84 recipes for making anything from your own cleaning products to baby rice cereal to your own baby wipes. All using ingredients you can easily source at bulk food stores or health stores.

It wasn’t too long ago that new baby slept in a clothes drawer and when you went for a ride in the car, you just lay the drawer in the back of the car and got on your way. Today safety equipment alone can set you back a few hundred dollars and many families struggle to do that. Here are some tips for setting up for baby on a budget:

• Brand new baby clothes are fun to buy, but the reality is your baby will grow out of them very quickly. Don’t be afraid to buy second hand off Trade Me, many parents offer baby bundles of clothing and nappies and all you need to do is give them a good wash and dry in the sun. Try to aim for basics such as singlets, sleepsuits, and warm jumpers and cardies if it is a winter baby. You can still buy a few special things new but the basics can be bought very cheaply.

• Put out the hand-me-down alert. You may not have any new babies in your immediate family but friends, colleagues and distant relatives will know of people who have oodles of baby gear in their garage looking for a good home. And just think you are being a green citizen by recycling.

• Don’t go overboard. You really don’t need that many clothes for the first few months. If you are having a summer baby and clothes drying isn’t a problem three of each item should be enough. In the old days they had a rule of three. One on the baby, one in the wash and one on the line. For winter, stretch it to six.

• It is advisable to buy a brand new mattress. There are no conclusive studies but some people believe that old mattresses harbour mould which could interfere with baby’s breathing, so my advice is to spend the money on a nice new mattress which is clean for baby. But you can certainly buy a second hand cot and have a lot of fun doing it up. Do use safe environmentally friendly paints though.

• Go Op Shopping. Even if you have an aversion to second hand clothes, many Op Shops feature new clothes, especially hand knitted baby wear which you can get for a steal. Also craft fairs and markets often have good gear.

• Do a baby shower list. It’s nice having a shower but do you really need three playmats and four teddies? Think of what you really need and get one of your friends to co-ordinate the list by email. People are often relieved to know they are buying you a present that you need, especially if you know that money is tight for you.

• Plan to breastfeed. Most women do these days, but sometimes it’s just not as easy as it sounds. There are many courses you can do while you are pregnant to help you understand the techniques of breastfeeding and therefore ensure that you get off to a good start. Ask your midwife or doctor about one in your area. You’ll save a lot of money in the long run not buying expensive formulas if you can breastfeed for the first six months and we all know it is better for baby.

• Get handy. Mobiles to hang above the cot are expensive to buy but easy to make yourself. There’s nothing nicer than a hand knitted blanket made just for baby and basic knitters can usually master a small one. And there are many books and internet sites which give you information on making dolls or soft toys easily.

• Consider cloth nappies. You have to pay upfront but you save money in the long run. They can be time consuming with washing and drying, but perhaps your mum or a friend would be happy to help out with that for the first few weeks. Some mothers use a mixture of both cloth and disposable, saving the disposables for when they are going out and for night.

• Buy a second hand pram. They are made so well these days that many last for years so there is no harm in getting one off Trade Me. Do your research on the best brands and then start searching. No one is going to look at you walking along the road and say: “Oh dear, second hand pram.”

You might also like to read Shopping for Children on a Budget-10 Top Tips and For more expert money tips, check out our Grown ups: Family finances section.

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For more than 25 years Wendyl Nissen has been a journalist, editor, producer, columnist and commentator. Seven years ago, Wendyl gave up her stressful corporate career to work from home and in the process discovered that there was a domestic goddess lurking within. She now has six hens, a productive organic garden, cleans her house with baking soda and vinegar, bakes her own bread, and in her spare time experiments with her expanding repertoire of natural cleaning and beauty recipes. She has four adult children, a teenage daughter and a grand-daughter.

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