Money tips from a new mum
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.
Lifestyle choices for a new family
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.
Navigating the new landscape
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:
- Paying off the mortgage
- A healthy emergency fund (in case they need to get back to the UK on short notice)
- Holidays once a year
- Saving for retirement
- Eventually moving to a bigger home in same area
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.
Katie’s top life hacks
- Find out your employer’s parental leave policy, and the government’s. This can vary widely by employer, and the government payment is linked to your present earnings. It’s worth figuring these out in order to plan ahead.
- Learn what the costs will be. “As soon as you’re pregnant, look at the financials,” she advised. That nine months gives you quite a bit of time to change house if you need to, to get financially ready, to make lifestyle choices and cuts if necessary. There are many new costs – “all these things that little people consume”.
- DIY baby food. Instead of shelling out extra for tiny jar food, she recommended going homemade. “Given that most kids throw their food on the floor anyway (at least mine does), making your own is a really good idea to cut costs.”
- Hand-me-downs. There’s always the urge to buy bright and shiny new things for a shiny new baby, but sharing the wealth of clothes, toys and baby gear from others can really stretch your dollars. “You can absolutely buy second hand without compromising on quality or hygiene,” she said.
- Set your return date early. Some parents put this off and struggle with the emotional side of whether it’s the right thing to put the child in day care. “It makes it emotionally easier if you have a date in mind,” said Katie. “My family thrived with that approach.”