Having a baby or growing your family through adoption or permanent care is an exciting time. You make many complex decisions. Your costs can rise and your family income may reduce.
Some of the decisions you make now could lock you into higher energy use and costs into the future. You could be thinking about moving or renovating. You may be purchasing new appliances and things for your baby. You might want a larger or second car.
This guide has some practical tips on how to reduce your costs and impacts without blowing your budget.
As you prepare your home for a new child energy.gov.au has lots of information on how to make more efficient choices. We also have the rebates and assistance that are available from the Australian, state and territory governments.
Having a baby can make you look at your home in new ways. 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
If you are planning a major renovation or just upgrading a family room, Your Home will provide helpful advice.
If your home was built before 1970 it may contain lead-based paints which can be hazardous if disturbed. If you're renovating, protect yourself from the dust from lead-based paint. The Lead alert facts: Lead in house paint fact sheet has the precautions to take and how to dispose of waste containing lead.
If you're renovating a home built before the mid-1980s it may contain asbestos cement (AC/fibro) sheeting. Generally if not disturbed this is not a health risk, but seek professional advice before renovating and about removal. You can contact your local council or state health authority for advice.
Painting and decorating
Pregnant women should avoid exposure to oil-based paints, old paint that may contain lead, and some latex paints that contain mercury. Most water-based paints are safe but check the label for contents that could be harmful. Choosing paints with low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) can improve indoor air quality. Paint 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 second-hand items can help to save money and reduce waste. Many good quality baby products are safe to buy second-hand. For safety reasons it's not advisable to buy second-hand car seats and older cots and cribs. These may be unsafe, damaged or fail to meet current mandatory safety standards. Recalled products can be sold second-hand, so check before you buy. For tips on choosing and using infant and nursery products safely, you can view the keeping baby safe videos.
Going to the library can be a great outing for families. Libraries provides variety without the need to purchase large volumes of books, music or movies. Toy libraries are available in some locations.
A baby shower doesn’t have to involve excess ‘stuff’. You could ask for gifts like re-usable cloth nappies or donations of second-hand items. Or, you could have a shower without presents, where guests could record their 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.
Energy use at home
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.
Choose energy-efficient appliances. The price tag doesn't tell the whole story when weighing up the cost of a new refrigerator or washing machine. Some appliances that have cost less up front may end up costing you far more in energy costs over their lifetime. Think of the running costs as a 'second price tag'. Many electric appliances sold in Australia have an Energy Rating Label to help you compare how much electricity they use compared with other appliances.
Stand by power can amount to 3% of your power bills. If your appliance has a little light on or clock it’s using power. Switching off electronics that are on standby mode can save money.
Heating and cooling
Don't heat or cool rooms that you're not using. Turn heating and cooling off or adjust it when you're out of the house.
Monitor temperatures in your home and adjust them when necessary. Over-heating and over-cooling a baby can have serious risks. Thermal stress (over-heating) has been implicated in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SUDI and SIDS).
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 at least 60°C. It needs to remain at that temperature for a minimum of 60 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.
Washing and drying clothes
Running your washing machine with a full load using cold water is most efficient. Front load washing machines are more efficient than top loaders. They use less water and detergent and wash more gently.
Clothes dryers are big energy users, particularly if you use them all the time. Use an outdoor clothes line when you can. It's free, and the sun provides natural sterilization and bleaching. You could also use an indoor clothes rack, particularly in winter in a room you are already heating.
The daily routine
With these tips you can meet your baby's needs while ensuring your household's bills don't go up.
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 veggie patch). To save your back, transfer the water into a bucket or invest in a greywater hose.
There are plenty of green cleaning options to avoid nasty chemicals around baby. You can also find advice and recipes for cleaning using natural products like bicarbonate of soda and vinegar.
Store chemicals and other hazardous waste safely. Or remove them from your house before your baby becomes mobile. Contact your local council for information on disposing of hazardous household waste.
Planet Ark’s ‘Recycling Near You’ is useful for finding out about what is recyclable in your area.
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 minimise your impact on the environment.
CSIRO research shows that Australians are throwing away over one billion disposable nappies each year. Each of these takes up to 300 years to decompose.
A decision on cloth versus disposable nappies may seem like a clear choice, but each option has environmental 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.
Using cloth nappies isn't always the best environmental 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 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 over time than disposable options.
Choice estimates a baby will use about 6500 nappies from birth to toilet training so it's well worth considering your options. Cloth nappies are available in many styles from traditional terry towelling squares to fitted modern cloth nappies with Velcro or snap closures. You could use cloth nappies for some of the time, but use disposables when you travel. There's no single answer that suits every family.
There's little difference between the environmental 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 environmental 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.
Changing or buying a second car
If purchasing a new car choose a fuel-efficient model. This can save you thousands of dollars in running costs and reduce your environmental impact.
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’ll save can cover trips by taxi 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. Many children love catching the bus, while pushing a pram can be a great way to get some incidental exercise into a busy day. 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.
Lead alert facts: Lead in house paint Australian Government
RecyclingNearYou Planet Ark
E-waste recycling TechCollect
Having a baby Australian Government
Our services Australian Government
Raising Children Network Resource for parents, from pregnancy to newborns to teenagers.
Starting a family Australian Government
Your Home Australian Government
ACT Parent Link ACT Government
NSW Pre pregnancy planning Family Planning NSW
NT Territory Families Northern Territory Government
Qld Parents and families Queensland Government
SA Parenting SA Government of South Australia
Tas Child Health & Parenting Service (CHaPS) Tasmanian Government
Vic Health and social support Government of Victoria
WA Parenting Government of Western Australia