What would you do with a year off? We asked a new mum about her experiences and what she had found out there in the “mum community”.
Not that parental leave is really “off” – with all the work that a newborn brings! But there are plenty of options, and as usual, money has a lot to do with fuelling those options.
For some mums, it is a time to dial things back for quality time with baby and to cut expenses. “It can be cheaper to live on maternity leave,” said Katie, who returned to work after 11 months with her first child, Max. Many of the work costs like transport, parking, lunches out or clothes (which get dribbled on anyway) get left behind.
For others, it means taking advantage of the freedom. “Having a year off work is potentially a great time to go travelling,” Katie said. For some friends in her coffee group, it was a time to splurge and head overseas with their new arrival. Travel costs for such little ones, after all, are lower.
For Katie and her husband, though, who are both originally from the UK, the plan was to keep their lifestyle steady.
“I didn’t see it as a holiday,” she said. “But we wanted to enjoy the life we had lived before having a baby. Looking at our daily expenditure and my husband's income, we had to see what we wanted to do to maintain our current lifestyle.”
The couple had a bought a house in December, and Max was born the following April. “A big fat mortgage and a new baby was definitely a challenge,” she remembers.
Since they were the first of their circle of friends to start a family, everything was new. They needed to get their heads around the leave situation here in New Zealand. The second parent can get two weeks of unpaid leave.
“The legislation entitles you to 12 months off if you’ve been with the employer a year, although you can still negotiate with your employer,” she explained. “A year off seems to have been standard in my coffee groups.”
Luckily Katie’s the planning type, and running the numbers in their budget for their base expenses helped. They did a practice run on one income, and found that they could in fact maintain their lifestyle by saving ahead of time and then dipping in as needed when the baby arrived.
Much of the decision making was driven by the goals that she and her husband have set:
So given these goals, Katie always intended to focus on her career. “We could’ve gone another six months,” she said, “but we couldn’t really get ahead on the one income.”
Eleven months had rolled by, and her little guy had said his first words and had taken his first steps. “Max was ready for day care, to burn up all that crazy energy that he has,” she said.