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Can you afford maternity leave?

By Alexandra Cain
Money

Amber Daines is among a tribe of mothers for whom the luxury of a full year off work just isn't feasible.

During Daines' pregnancy, she and husband David Ungar saved $20,000, which covered doctors' fees and a few months off work for Daines when her baby was born.

“When I was pregnant four years ago, my media training and PR consultancy was less than a year old so I had very limited cash flow. My husband was also making the transition from running a small business to a new job in a big corporate career,” says Daines.

“Between us it was not really possible to save as much as we needed for me to have a whole year off work to be with the baby. I worked until a week before the birth as Ezekiel was early, then picked up some casual writing and small PR jobs when my son was two months old that helped keep my hand in and the money flowing.”

New research by Suncorp estimates infants cost their parents $206 a week – or $10,712 a year. So it's no wonder many new mums have to continue working for as long as possible into a pregnancy, and then resume work pretty soon after the baby is born.

Latest available research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that of women who return to work within two years of having a baby, 73 per cent returned for financial reasons, with 30 per cent basing their decision on the need for 'adult interaction and mental stimulation'.

Can you survive on one wage?

Experts say there are many ways imminent parents can plan financially for their offspring.

Stuart Barry, a financial planner with Tas Ethical and a father of four, says it pays to assess whether you can actually afford kids before conceiving.

“Do your homework before you fall pregnant and work out if you can actually survive on one salary, factoring in concessions like the family tax benefit,” Barry advises.

It's also important to do your sums and work out whether the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, which delivers families up to 18 weeks' pay equivalent to the minimum wage after a baby is born, or the Baby Bonus will leave you better off financially. The Department of Human Services website has a calculator that can tell you which one is the right choice.

The Family Tax Benefits A and B are means tested government assistance programs for families.

“Think about trying to survive on one wage in the lead-up to falling pregnant,” says Linda Fitzhardinge, the founder of Women Building Wealth (www.womenbuildingwealth.com.au), a financial community for women.

“It's a good way of giving you a reality check about what life will be like with a baby and gives you the chance to put some lifestyle changes in place before the big event, not to mention the chance to save some money before the baby arrives,” she says.

Childcare vs staying home

Fitzhardinge says it's also important to be realistic about whether it makes financial sense for one parent to go back to work after having a baby, given the high cost of childcare. “Also have a discussion about which partner should go back to work. Increasingly, it's the father that is staying at home to raise the children because the mother earns more,” she says.

But, says Barry, don't forget there also are mental health benefits to going back to work that should be taken into consideration.

“Even though the cost of childcare might mean the family is not much better off if one parent goes back to work, simply interacting with other adults and getting out of the house can have significant, albeit non-financial benefits,” he adds.

Prepare early

It's an idea to do any necessary upgrades or repairs to your home before the big event. And a good tip, says Barry, is to buy a car with enough seats to hold all the members of the family you're planning on having. He and his wife bought a car big enough to carry all six Barrys when his firstborn arrived, to avoid having to buy a bigger car down the track.

Indeed, just setting up a nursery can cost thousands by the time you factor in a cot, pram, change table and bassinet, just to name a few of the necessary items required to bring up a baby. If you want to save money, try eBay, along with begging, borrowing and stealing from family members. Sites such as freecycle.com, where people offer items such as baby paraphernalia for free, are also extremely useful for new parents.

“The major areas to save on are always secondhand baby furniture and toys. Accept any hand-me-downs and look for online kids wear sales. And only buy as you need,” says Daines.

Published: 04 September 2012


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