When you’re bringing up kids, you’re taking on the hardest and most important job there is. You’re also taking on up to 2 decades’ worth of additional household expenses – and that’s worth taking a moment to consider. Raising an average child (and we all know yours is anything but “average”) can cost over £70,000 – and potentially a lot more if you’re on your own and have extra childcare costs to deal with. Worse still, you might actually have to cut down your working hours to deal with the extra responsibilities you’re accepting.

That’s why it’s so important to take full advantage of the help on offer for UK parents – with a few smart “money hacks” thrown in along the way. Let’s take a look some of the top ways to cut costs and save cash.

1) Child Benefit, the Tax-Free Childcare scheme and 30 hours of free childcare

The first thing you’re going to want to look into is the kind of financial help you qualify for. There are a few basic flavours of childcare support, from tax relief to specific benefit payments and more. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Child Benefit

This is generally for people with kids under 16, and comes in at a flat rate of £21.15 a week for your first child and £14 for additional ones. If your child studies past the GCSE level, you can generally keep claiming until they’re 19. Watch out for the High Income Child Benefit Tax Charge, though. This’ll knock 1% off your Child Benefit for every £100 you or your partner earn over the £50,000 threshold.

  • Universal Credit

If you’re claiming Universal Credit, you could qualify for the “childcare element” of the payment. There are some rules on who’s eligible for this, of course. You and any partner need to be in work, for instance, but you could qualify for a claim of up to 85% of your childcare costs.

  • Free Childcare

In England, parents of 3 and 4 year old kids can get up to 570 hours of free childcare a year. This works out at about 15 hours a week for 38 weeks for kids aged 3-4 (Scotland allows up to 600 hours of early education or childcare a year). What you can claim depends on a few factors, like the benefits you’re getting. If you’re in work in England, for example, you could qualify for an additional 15 hours of free childcare (30 hours a week in total). Again, though, there are some hoops to jump through – and if either you or your partner makes £100,000 a year you won’t be able to claim at all.

  • Tax-Free Childcare

Tax-Free Childcare can get you quarterly payments of up to £500 per child of 11 or under, to a maximum of £2,000 a year each. You set up a special account, and for every £8 you spend on approved childcare costs, the government pays in £2. Tax-Free Childcare counts for things like childminders, nurseries, after-school clubs and home care agencies. As always, there are rules about who qualifies. You can’t claim Tax-Free Childcare if you’re on Universal Credit, for instance.

2) Kids’ saving accounts

With the big government schemes dealt with, let’s talk about how to save money in other ways. With interest rates at a record low, it’s not a great time to be a saver right now.

That said, you can sometimes get a much better deal with a children’s savings account. These specialised accounts can be ideal for parents looking to sock a little cash away for their kids’ futures.

Watch out, though  - there are often hard limits on how much you can save in one. Junior ISAs are also worth looking into. You can set aside up to £9,000 each year in one and the interest’s tax free.

3) Reuse, reduce, recycle... rent?

It’s good advice in general to cut down on waste, but when you’re bringing up kids it’s practically essential. From eco-friendly reusable nappies through to hand-me-down clothes and pre-owned toys, there are loads of ways to get more for less.

Sites like Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree are bulging with parents looking to offload stuff their children have (literally or figuratively) grown out of. Children grow fast, and not everyone has a kid sister to pass clothes down to. Hop online and grab your family a few bargains instead of paying full price on the high street.

While you're at it, did you know it was actually possible to rent toys? Ideal for kids with short attention spans, sites like the Toy Box Club will actually rent you high quality items from early-learning puzzles through to portable play pens for a monthly fee.

Older kids aren’t left out, either. If your console’s gathering dust because the games cost £60 and your kids only ever play the first level, check out sites like Boomerang Rentals for a low-cost alternative.

4) Get cashback on your family spending

Let’s face it, no matter how frugal you are you’re still going to be reaching into your pocket to cover your parenting costs. Why not make that cash work a little harder by signing up to a cashback site like TopCashBack? Register your payment card with the site, then earn a little back every time you use it at a qualifying retailer. It could be worth as much as £300 over a year!

5) Square up with the taxman

If you know RIFT at all, then you know we’re all about making the most of your own money. For us, that starts with making sure you only hand over the tax you owe. Depending on the work travel and other expenses you’re paying for, your tax refund could be worth thousands of pounds – but you’ve got to make some noise to get it.

RIFT are the UK’s leading tax refund specialists. We’ve been putting cash back in our customers’ pockets for over 20 years, and we’ve got the expertise to protect your money and you. Get in touch to set your claim rolling, and cover the cost of your family’s Christmas with RIFT.