Category Archives: Thrifty tips

Baby Stuff: My Metaphorical Luxury Car

In the past 5 years I’ve had and so far, successfully cultivated 2 babies.  I had a baby girl in the British winter and a baby boy in perennial Asian sunshine.  I suspect that I’ve spent the equivalent of a significant luxury car on items for and related to them, not least because for the reasons just mentioned there was little opportunity for hand me downs from one to the other.   Anyway, I’m not writing this to stop you making my mistakes, because frankly, I quite enjoyed making the mistakes and I don’t want to deny anyone the pleasure.  Maybe, though, just maybe, there will be something in here that will help you get a few more miles to the gallon for your own personal metaphorical Ferrari.

  1. The Transport

I can safely say, if I had my baby time again, with regard to prams and buggies, I’d still have very little idea what this little minefield is actually all about.  My experience was, at 5 months pregnant, me and (fake willing) husband went to the Baby Show at the NEC.  We had an open mind, an open wallet, an open boot coupled with the naïve glow of soon to be parents who have no idea what they are letting themselves in for.

We bought ourselves a Maclaren XLR travel system.  Whilst the sales lady did her pitch about attachments, suitability from birth, safety specifications etc., the following things were running through the pre-parental Wilsons minds.  Dad:  Don’t Maclaren make racing cars?  Me:  the colour is called CHAMPAGNE!!  Within days our ride arrived in several packages that my stepmother was able to assemble for us.  We were entirely happy with our purchase.  That was until we experienced the phenomenon that is ……. “other people’s prams”.

So shortly after our purchase, it became evident that the pram of choice for mums of a certain genre (ie mine) was the Bugaboo Bee.  This is the high spec Lexus of the buggy world.  It is pricey, but stylish, in a range of nice pretty colours, of which I believe a champagne “type” is available.  On chatting to owners, allegedly it is also great at turning, easy to collapse and light, with a massive shopping basket.  None of these traits particularly out trumped my Maclaren, but I do admit to feeling a bit left out, like someone in the 70s with a Betamax video.

Then I saw someone with a Phil and Teds.  What a beast!  It looked like one of those long nosed racing cars with (sort of) actual car wheels.  Later that year on a park walk in the snow, it showed its merits when that mum got home in time for Neighbours while the rest of us just about made it back for Panorama.

Then there was Posh Spice in Heat pushing an I-Candy.  This one was so SHINY!   In my simple world shininess out trumps most other features in most product categories.  That was my first experience of true buggy envy.

The thing is though, from what I can see, most kids end up in a Maclaren at some point, so maybe we didn’t do so badly.  I just wish it had been more shiny!

  1. The Clothes

Baby clothing is soft and cute.   It is also an area of potentially gargantuan wastage.  With my first born, I had a baby shower in July when it was sunny.  I accrued 23 short  sleeved rompers in sizes covering 0-6 months.  No exaggeration.  Holly’s 1st – 6th months (September – March) required significant sleevage.   It is with this in mind that I massively encourage secondhand acquisition of baby clothes because it will be highly likely that some will be barely, perhaps even never worn.   The problem arrives however when a baby reaches the weaning stage and is exposed to the phenomenon that is ORANGE FOOD.  Orange food stains everything forever.  Make hay while the food is white.

The second point on clothing is on the subject of outfits.  Many people will say not to bother with these because all you need for the first few months are sleep suits.    Are you kidding?  Have these people never seen a little baby girl’s feet in soft pink tights?  Have they never seen a baby boy in a teeny AC DC t-shirt?  My case rests on this final point.  My baby Holly, probably the cutest in the world, lost out at the Chertsey Bonny Baby contest to a little boy dressed in a tweed suit.  That happened.

  1. The Accessories

I read something recently about how big the universe is, which is infinite.  I think that this is also true of the number of available accessories for babies.  With this in mind I am going to focus on just 2:  Slings and Changing Bags.

Slings:  For me, there was a distinct difference in sling usage across 1st and 2nd babies.   First time round it was to look cute, second time around it was to be able to leave the house.    So I guess what I’m saying is you can’t go wrong with a sling.  It’s either cute or essential.  And, though mine rarely did, I’ve seen babies asleep in slings for HOURS… (even in soft plays).

Changing Bags:  I’ve been a fan of bags for about 85% of my life, so the nappy bag purchase was one that excited me.   5 years on, I still remain disappointed by the offer. I have never felt nappy bag envy and it’s a negative sentiment I longed to feel.  I settled for the closest thing to a happy place, which was a polka dot Cath Kidston, both practical and pretty.  I’m now just in the market for any old big bags so the moment has passed for me, but for future bag loving mummies, I hope the industry doesn’t disappoint you too.

  1. The Toys

In 2009, I lived in a house that didn’t really contain any toys other than the odd teddy and promotional Andrex puppy.  Now, in 2015, my home is 67% toys.    The ratio of plastic to wicker has reversed in plastic’s favour dramatically.  I hereby present you with two points of interest:

a) The fickleness of babies.

When Holly was born I was given a “Taggy”, a square of fluffy material surrounded by tags of other material in many lovely shades and textures.  The giver told me her children LOVED them.  Holly refused to acknowledge its existence.  “But Holly, it’s a TAGGY”, I would say to her, but no, zero interest.  It was similar with Sophie Le Giraffe, the must have toy designed to miraculously soothe teething babies.  Holly eventually did bond with a toy.  She was 2 years and 5 months by that point and the objective of her still begrudging affection was a singing Barney dinosaur.  Ben, after the obligatory offers of the Taggy and Sophie, settled on sucking the very existence out of the legs of a small blue Mothercare snuggly.

I could not have predicted either of these two outcomes, nor are they the same as any other kids I know.  You’ve just got to work it out.

b) Three toys that seem to delight ALL toddlers

These are the IKEA cooker, the IKEA circus tent and the Little Tikes red and yellow push along/sit in car.    Everyone I know who has a toddler has these as do most local businesses that need to provide a toddler distraction area.  If one of the cars appears on any of the secondhand selling sites out here in Malaysia, it goes within seconds.  It’s a while since I’ve toddled, so I have no idea why they appeal, but believe me, they do.

  1. The Memorabilia

Over the past 4 years, I have accrued the following:  2 bracelets, 4 sets of cufflinks with foot and handprints of each child, photos from 6 professional photo shots, footprints on ceramics and baubles, 4 large IKEA boxes of first shoes/rompers/hospital bracelets and a growing box of every greeting card that I have either sent to them or them to me (via Daddy).  Whilst this is saving memories of things I could never forget in a billion years either way, I still love every little bit of it.

And so, to conclude, I would say shopping for babies is like Dorothy trying to get home from the land of Oz.  I can tell you how to do it, but you’ve just got to work it out for yourselves.  So, when bargains come along snap them up, afterwards pass ‘em on… but mostly jump in, rev it up and enjoy the metaphorical ride.

Contributed by our guest blogger Jackie Wilson. Jackie has worked extensively in marketing for brands including Twinings, Del Monte, Kingsmill and Cathedral City.  She is now living the ex-pat dream in Malaysia. She’s mum to two lovely children and is combining looking after them with some freelance writing, most recently for Bonda, the magazine for Malaysia’s equivalent of the NCT and ABWM Mag (Association of British Women in Malaysia).  Her Malaysian journey is chronicled at or if you’d like to get in touch she can be found at

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Lewisham Toy Library – OR Why being Cheap made me richer

I’m cheap. Very cheap. Many of our food containers are former jam jars or takeaway containers. I have been known to wash paper plates for reuse. I love Lewisham markets for the sheer volume of food you can get for 10 quid.

And to give that some additional weight – I think my wife and I have spent less than 100 pounds on clothing and toys for our two year old son. Ever.

Which is why, when we first moved to Brockley, my wife Googled ‘Lewisham Toy Library’. I’m glad she did, because being a member has enriched our lives beyond the satisfaction of saving money.

Reduce Re-Use Recycle

I am a Corporate Social Responsibility consultant, which means that where possible I want to find options that encourage collaborative consumption. I’m a member of Zipcar, offer things on Streetbank with some regularity and use trains to travel around the UK. I don’t own a drill, because on average they get 8 minutes of use for their whole working lives and draw down on many resources that really could be better used elsewhere.

I also love this little gem of an idea which seems to be expanding across London – the Micro-Library in a phone box, the one below is on the corner of Tyrwhitt Road and Lewisham Way. We’ve exchanged so many books here I can hardly imagine what it would have cost us otherwise.


So joining any kind of Library (almost the original architect of the ‘new’ sharing economy) was a personal joy and professional obligation. And the benefits to our planet are enormous. The amount of plastic that is used for toys (and disposed of as landfill) is truly disturbing.

Packaging. What’s with Toys and packaging?

And please don’t ask me about packaging – the wasted plastic and other materials often pale in significance when you look at the amount of ‘air’ (empty space) that is shipped multiple times around the globe creating a surprisingly large carbon footprint. Some experts claim that plastic has a higher carbon footprint than steel, mainly because of the way we use things like plastic in toys.

You can find out more about the plastic problem at the Plastic Disclosure Project.


Other Benefits

But it’s the surprising other benefits that I find myself enjoying. Several examples from recent loans highlight the benefits of using the Toy Library:

  • Different Ability dolls – My son has barely enjoyed any toy more than the girl in a wheelchair that he zooms around at speed. Barriers be damned – I feel kinda sorry for the next person he meets actually in a wheelchair – suspect they are in for a fast ride!
  • Chinese Food sets – I would never have bought a set of plastic toys with pork buns, spring rolls and red-bean patties, but my son thinks they are normal food now!
  • Puzzles ‘Too Hard’ – I really like getting puzzles that are too difficult. Sometimes the boy steps up and can do them, other times they go back undone, but I know I’ve tried to keep ahead of his development. We have also maintained a stream of different kinds of puzzles which means he is always being stretched and having fun.
  • Costumes – I haven’t actually used this one yet, but the ability to get a Fire Officer costume (among many) for a party or other play at almost no cost seems like such a winning strategy.
  • Bells / Whistles Fire Truck – It made all sorts of noise and he loved it for a month. And then it went back. I would never buy it, but he gets to play with them at an age-relevant time and I don’t have to suffer the long term hatred of some of the most annoying noises known to humanity.

The toys also come with batteries, almost all of which are rechargeable. The Library decided that the landfill and other issues related to disposal and manufacture of batteries was simply too big a problem to ignore. (And I don’t have to buy batteries either!)

Being a member has also allowed us a good degree of sanity in terms of keeping our lounge room looking at least a little bit uncluttered and akin to an adult space.

I’m pretty relaxed about such things but yes, all toys are cleaned after each use!


Party Stuff

The Toy Library will even hire out party equipment (like tables and chairs) and big party-focussed toys at super-cheap rates.

Access and Costs

The Lewisham Toy Library’s Opening Hours are two hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and for five hours every second Saturday.

Rates for annual membership are as follows:

  • Recipients of Income Support – Free
  • Families / Carers – £24
  • Childminders (with Certificate) – £15
  • Groups – £50

Groups can loan 12 toys (up to 4 ‘large’) while other members can loan 5, for up to 4 weeks with options to renew and reserve. Of course late fees apply, but no other charges are made for loaning toys.

You can Benefit Too!

The first thing you can do is join the Library. Use it and save money or supplement your toys with carefully selected age-specific ones.

The second thing you can do is help the Library to remain viable. Unfortunately, due to massive reduction in funding from Lewisham Council, who have been our primary and most wonderful supporter [i], we need to find new funding sources . Anyone who has any ideas, or would like to be part of reshaping the future of the Lewisham Toy Library, please contact me –

When I say ideas, I mean:

  • venues with available space or space to share
  • possible partners (childcare centres and the like are an obvious possibility)
  • collaboration opportunities

We also need volunteers from time to time, including professionals to assist us with the management of the Library and its events.


In the interests of full disclosure, I am a Trustee of the Lewisham Toy Library, and currently a Group member, at least in part as a way to provide financial support.

[i] Poor Lewisham Councillors – I’ve seen the scale of the cuts they have to make and it’s terrible for them too. I think they’d like to do more for the Lewisham Toy Library.

A Bee’s Knees Activity in Battersea (for 0-5s)

One of the things that I’ve always loved about London is the fact that with a little imagination and an open mind you can easily find lots of new and unique adventures. It’s pretty easy to be the first to discover a wonderful new bar, restaurant, band, dj, theatre show….and so forth, which makes you feel like an urban Indiana Jones.

I did wonder whether all adventures would stop with the arrival of baby Fred, but am pleased to report that in many ways life continues, so I’ve been able to maintain my Indiana Jones-ness with a baby twist. Think of Harrison Ford with a baby strapped to his front, with a small patch of sick on his shoulder and you’ve pretty much got me.

I’ll stop the lame Indiana Jones analogies there, as it would be unfair to refer to the Bees Knees as the Temple of Doom. The Bees Knees is a new kids playspace at Battersea Arts Centre. BAC are great at pushing the boundaries of theatre. A couple of years ago I attended the One on One festival, a delightfully subversive theatre experience quite unlike anything else I’ve been to before or since. If you see that it is on again, definitely go and check it out. So I was quite intrigued to see what The Bees Knees would be all out.

The Bees Knees is a really lovingly put together indoor play space. There’s a man made grass hill up to a tower and drawbridge, with a room under the tower. For kids of all ages, it enables them to be little adventurers in a safe environment. I was half tempted to roll down the hill myself. There are also lots of toys available.

It’s extremely good value versus your typical soft play venue, as in the mornings you are asked to make a very reasonable donation of £2.50, whilst in the afternoons there are often workshops for the little ones, otherwise entry is free. Be aware though that access is only during the week, as at the weekends it’s hired out for private parties.

Once you’ve tired out your little bundles of joy, you can then pop over to BAC’s cafe where they serve good quality cafe grub, alongside some rather tasty cakes.

The whole of the BAC is very baby friendly, with a buggy park area, baby change facilities and a number of high chairs in the cafe. And not a pit of snakes in sight! A winner on all fronts.


PS. Do keep an eye out for the scary ravens. They’re perched on a shelf in the Bees Knees room and are surprisingly life-like.

Sure Start children’s centres provide great support for mums and babies

If you had asked me my views on bringing up children in London a few years back, I was anti the idea – the harsh urban landscape seemingly in conflict with and unsuitable for a wee baby – and my attitude towards London quite transient and short term. But when nature took its course and I found myself committed to my life in London, with a growing bump and soon-to-be baby,  I had to change my views and embrace my urban self and situation.

Surprisingly, a change in attitude has been relatively easy, thanks to the incredible ‘baby world’ that exists in London once you jump on the baby bandwagon. It’s like an underground world of yummy mummies and baby friendly cafes, daytime sing-alongs that take place in pubs, toy libraries brimming with colourful plastic, and babies perfecting their inversions in baby yoga – you name it, and you can most likely do it with your baby in London. Its a world that goes unnoticed by hundreds of thousands of Londoners who are busy commuting back and forth to work, to the theatre, to pubs, to raves on boats etc etc. I know, as I was one of them until not so long ago.

As an Islington resident, I have been particularly impressed by the council’s Sure Start children’s centres – there are sixteen of them in Islington borough alone – an incredible number! And all within a walkable distance from my home. Daisy and I have ventured out to a few of them. Baby massage at Hornsey Road is a particular favourite, with Alex sharing her magic on how to settle your baby and encourage a deeper sleep. Hungerford children’s centre have an under 1s ‘stay and play’. It is quite lovely, with mums and babies sitting in a cushioned play area, mums swapping feeding tips and sleep stories, and the babies coming into awareness of their own being as well as the existence of their baby neighbours. The staff at Hungerford are really friendly and supportive and each session ends with a group story time and an old school whirl-y-gig (a colourful parachute swooshing and swishing over the babies heads) which makes them gurgle with delight – delightful.

Most importantly of all, these sessions are either free or cost just a couple of pounds, making them accessible to everyone – great for those of us trying to stretch out our Statutory Maternity Pay. I’d say one of my biggest worries about having a baby in London, was that I didn’t know many other new mums in the area and was worried that it would cost the earth to attend baby activities and find some baby friends for Daisy (as well as new mum friends for me). But these children centres really do what they set out to achieve, so for those of us Baby Jumblers that live in boroughs that have continued to fund the centres, we are so lucky to have them.

For those boroughs that are no longer funding the Sure Start children’s centres or where funding has been reduced, I’ve heard that often, this means improvements in other areas and facilities. For example, whilst Haringey council has (apparently) reduced funding to their children’s centres, they have really ramped up their library facilities for children – so it’s worth fully researching understanding what your council does provide in the way of baby and children’s facilities, as these little communities are very accessible, and really help us new mum’s get to grips with our new world of mother and baby.

You can read more about the funding situation relating to children’s centres, and how many centres have shown a ‘picture of resilience and creativity’ when finding alternatives, in a piece of exclusive research completed by the national family charity, 4Children.

UK Formula Milk Shortage – Update

For us mums who are bottle feeding our babies, the current news stories about the rationing of formula milk in store are a big concern. The temptation is to stockpile, but that just puts more pressure on the system. The attached communication from Cow & Gate popped into my email box this morning. I thought I’d share as it provides a bit more clarity on the situation.

Baby milks product availability – Update from Cow & Gate

You may have seen news about the limits on buying baby milk this week and, as someone who has shown an interest in Cow & Gate, I wanted to get in touch with you personally to let you know what’s going on.

But before I go into the detail, I would like to reassure you that I, and everyone at Cow & Gate feel a very deep responsibility to make sure that parents in the UK who have chosen our brands can get them easily. I would like to sincerely apologise if you have recently found it difficult to buy our baby milks.

So what’s happening? In recent weeks and months there has been a sudden increase in demand for our powdered baby milk in the UK. As far as we know, the increased demand is a result of unofficial exports to China to satisfy the needs of Chinese parents who want international brands for their babies. In some parts of the UK this means that products meant for UK babies are being bought, in bulk, by these unofficial exporters from the shelves in retail outlets. This can lead to products being temporarily out of stock until the next deliveries arrive at the store.

We are working hard to resolve this situation and this is the number one priority for me and my team. To make sure that parents here get the baby milk they need for their children we have responded to this situation in the following ways:

  • Firstly, we have already increased, and will continue to increase, our production of baby milk for the UK. Extra supplies of baby milk are arriving all the time and we, and the retailers who sell our products, are working very hard to continually replenish the shelves in store. We are monitoring demand on a daily basis and responding swiftly where needed. This is the absolute priority for our business and will remain so until this situation is resolved.
  • Secondly, we have been working with the retailers who have now mostly introduced a limit of 2 packs of powdered formula that a customer can purchase at any one time. This is a precautionary measure intended to limit bulk-buying from retail outlets for commercial purposes.

I would like to apologise to parents for any inconvenience caused by this retail purchasing limit. We know that most parents only buy one pack at a time and so we hope that the impact of this limit on UK parents will be minimal. However I also know that there are some parents who will find it difficult, for example parents of multiple births, and we are putting in place special arrangements to help families who need more.

Finally, I want to reassure you all, we do not export baby miks from the UK as the powdered baby milk formula we sell here is made only for UK babies, and labelled according to UK regulations. The amount of milk we are currently supplying to UK retailers is comfortably enough to meet the needs of UK families and, together with the retailers, we are working hard to ensure that the milks we supply are reserved for UK babies. However, if you are finding it difficult to buy your baby’s usual milk, please try another local store or try re-visiting your usual store on another occasion because new supplies are arriving all the time. I invite you to get in touch with us if you are having problems – we are here to help by free phone, 24/7 on 0800 977 4000, email or live chat.

In the meantime, I am committed to keeping you informed of progress towards resolving this situation.

John Sykes
Managing Director, Danone Baby Nutrition UK