My youngest sister has just had a baby (a beautiful girl – I love being an Aunt; wonderful baby cuddles but no sleepless nights!) and we were talking about how long she will take off for maternity leave. She is self employed so has flexibility, but obviously will need to ‘top up’ her very basic maternity allowance…
I knew, even before I was pregnant, that I planned to take a whole year off work and to use my holiday entitlement to either increase the length of time I had off or use this for the months 10-12 when Statutory Maternity Pay ceased. Once I found out I was pregnant with twins this plan was solid – there was no way that I would even consider returning to work any earlier.
My husband and I had savings that were earmarked for my maternity leave, something that many of my friends did not have. I knew my then full-time salary as a manager would be missed; our bills and outgoings were likely to be going up as we were moving to a bigger house, a little further away from family and friends, and my finances were no where near enough to get us through…
We used my full nine month pregnancy to top our savings up; watching what we were spending did not seem a hardship as we had tried for many years to have a family and I would do anything needed to ensure I could take my full maternity leave.
Statutory Maternity Pay is currently 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks followed by £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.
I do think it’s great that we receive any maternity pay (a close friend who lives in America is amazed by the fact that we can take up to 9 months ‘paid’ leave!) but I would have struggled to survive on under £140 per week without savings and I am very aware that not everyone is in the position to be able to save the huge amounts needed.
Which brings me onto savings ideas! It’s so easy to get carried away during pregnancy and to buy everything cute and pretty that you see – in hindsight I would not have found out the sex of the babies that I was carrying; all this actually did was encourage my wild shopping spree, buying every cute boys outfit that I laid eyes on!
My first top tip is don’t wash every single item of clothing before you have your baby. Yes, advice tells you to wash those teeny tiny babygrows and I certainly would wash a few, but once those sales labels have been pulled off you can’t take them back…and you will, most likely, have brought far more than you will actually need or the incorrect sizes. I had so many clothes that were hardly worn (I chose in the end to keep the boys in babygrows rather than outfits – far easier for a twin mummy!), if at all, but could not be returned as they had been washed.
My second tip is to bulk buy nappies, wipes and any baby toiletries that you need, even while pregnant – you will use them all and when they are on special offer, grab them!
Obviously take a look at your general spending and try to cut down – I swear by online food shopping; use a list, try to plan and clear out anything in your basket that you don’t really need before hitting that buy button! Honestly, you can save so much this way, try it!
Another easy hit is to look through your direct debits; renegotiate TV and internet plans, call your gas and electricity providers and make sure you are on the very best plan, cancel any unused gym plans etc. It’s not rocket science and there’s nothing new here, but it amazes me how few people actually do this – try it once a year and look at what you can save. Better in your pocket than theirs…
There are so many ideas and advice websites on the internet. My favourite is the Money Advice Service, a government run scheme with advice to help families get their finances in hand – take a look, it’s not just for maternity leave help but pensions, mortgages, general savings and so much more…
Without the extra pounds and pennies saved here and there I can honestly say that I would not have been able to take quite so long off – I ended up taking 18 months before returning to work and yes it was a struggle at times, but I don’t regret my choice for one moment.
For free and impartial money advice visit www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk