Becoming a parent seems like a counterintuitive thing to do if you are concerned about the future of life on Earth and/or trying to save your pennies to reach financial independence (FI). Having children inevitably means bringing new consumers into the world who are going to eat up its finite resources and contribute towards climate change – and cost you a great deal of money in the process.
And yet, for Mr Rixon and I, thoughts of starting a family, living more sustainably and escaping the daily grind each began to grow at a similar time, and became entwined. Then, when our little darlings/horrors arrived we had all the inspiration and motivation we needed to hang onto our FI goals and green ideals.
Our children are still very little, and the challenges are inevitably going to change and grow as they get bigger. But here are a few things I’ve learnt so far about green parenting, saving money and reaching FI.
There’s no need to buy very much new stuff
For such tiny beings, babies accumulate a huge amount of paraphernalia. It’s tricky to work out what’s going to be useful and what isn’t and very easy for your home to quickly fill up with plastic junk. Thankfully, you can get hold of almost anything baby and toddler related second-hand for a fraction of the original price, or in many cases free, through social media networks, websites like Gumtree, Freecyle, Freegle and ebay, charity shops, second hand sales such as the NCT Nearly New sales, and of course, from friends and family.
Some things, you may not even have to buy at all. Our local library and a local charity both offer a toy library service, but if there isn’t one available in your area, then you could try signing up to an online toy swap scheme such as Whirli or Toy Box Club. Using what you already own is always the greenest option, so I recommend rotating toys so that some are in storage at any one time (and are greeted with delight when they come out again). The contents of the recycling bin can also make fabulous toys, as little ones love nothing better than junk modelling.
It’s never too early to start saving for the future
We decided to begin saving for our daughters’ futures right away by opening Junior ISA accounts for them shortly after they were born. As of the 2021/22 tax year, you can invest up to £9,000 a year into a JISA without paying any tax on the interest, making them good long-term investments.
JISAs also have the advantage that anyone can contribute into them. While you may be committed to cutting down on new stuff, it can be hard to explain this to friends and family who want to shower your kids with gifts on special occasions. However, they may feel more comfortable giving a small, handmade or second hand present if they have also made a financial contribution towards their future.
A potential downside to a JISA is that children can withdraw the funds as soon as they turn 18 and potentially squander the lot. But, fingers crossed, by giving them some financial control early on and teaching them about the value of money, they will choose to spend it wisely. You can find out more about JISAs on MoneySavingExpert.
It pays to investigate free facilities
When Gwendolyn was a baby I spent a good deal of my maternity pay on baby yoga and music sessions each week. It didn’t seem like much money at the time, but it quickly started to add up. Then, as she got a bit older and Josephine came along, I discovered that there were plenty of free or low-cost subsidised activities available locally. Sadly, these activities have been suspended following the Covid-19 pandemic, but there was a time when we had a different play group to go to every day of the week. These groups took place at the local primary schools, children’s centres, church halls and libraries and while my health visitor told me about the children’s centres, I only learnt about the other places through word-of-mouth. Most of them had an outside space and included a sing-along session at the end.
I don’t know when these groups are going to reopen but in the meantime we are really making the most of our local parks. We are lucky to have five parks within walking distance, and during our daily lockdown walks we also discovered lots of little play areas and open spaces tucked away behind housing estates, which tend to be less crowded. I really don’t miss soft play centres!
Kids may be little but they’ve got big ideas
Rather than seeing our children as an obstacle on our path to a greener lifestyle, we’re doing our best to involve them in the journey, with the hope that they will grow up into little eco warriors some day. This may be a simple as letting them help take out the recycling or making our own soap at home, but as household consumption is responsible for 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, little actions really can make a big difference.
Explaining the reasons behind our actions is a bit more of a challenge, so I rely on resources to help drip feed the ideas. For example, we are big fans of the ‘Tee and Mo: Help Our Little World’ song (‘We may be little, but we’ve got big ideas…) and game on the (free) CBeebies Playtime Island app, which encourages recycling, reusing, mending and switching off unnecessary lights!
Children won’t want to save what they don’t know or love, so we spend a lot of time outdoors, hunting for bugs, climbing trees, building nests and so on. A few days ago, my girls were sitting in the garden near the birdfeeder when Gwendolyn remarked, “I love watching the birds; it’s better than TV!” She came in a few minutes later and asked to watch Paw Patrol, but nevertheless, it was a wonderful moment.
Some of my favourite books to help nurture a love for the natural world in little ones include Phoebe the Bee, The Extraordinary Gardener and the Flower Fairies books, and for eco inventors in training, Izzy Gizmo and the Invention Convention is a must.
One wonderful way to introduce kids to the natural world and empower them to help it, is to take part in citizen science projects. These are campaigns that use members of the public to gather data on different species or habitats and include the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, Butterfly Count and Nature’s Calendar. They could also pledge to become Planet Protectors through a brilliant new campaign from Friends of the Earth.
It’s important to remember that we are not alone in our endeavours to live more simply and sustainably. Reaching out to other parents with similar aims and values through groups such as Parents for Future can help keep the momentum going, get inspiration and feel strength in numbers.
One thing that gets my goat is the amount of plastic tatt that comes attached to kids’ comics these days, but a petition started by an inspirational young environmentalist to ban it reminds me that we can all use our voices to call for positive change.