Here in America, there is no promise of paid leave for new parents. In fact, the U.S. is just one of six countries, and the only rich country, with no national paid leave (see image below). As a first-time mother to 3-month-old twins, I find this terribly troubling. The first few months of motherhood are such a blur. Besides everything involved with caring for newborns, my own physical recovery from the pregnancy, delivery and emergency c-section, necessitated time off from work. I am fortunate to have been able to take paid-leave; however, this is not the reality for the majority of women.
Source: New York Times
For most women, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the extent of benefits they’re provided. FMLA guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without losing your job or healthcare benefits if your company has a certain number of employees. In my opinion, this doesn’t cut it.
So, what are new parents left to do? How do you plan for welcoming a child to your family and the significant financial obligations? Here are a few tips:
- Understand benefits available to you: Piece together the puzzle of benefits so you can get as much paid time off as you need. This might mean combining sick days, vacation or PTO days, short-term disability and structured maternity/paternity leave your company might offer. My husband was able to combine 4-weeks of paternity leave with 6-weeks of PTO time he had accrued. (Because of COVID, he never took any time off!)
- Think through future expenses: News flash: 6-pound babies come with lots of stuff. Strollers, car seats, diapers, formula, toys, etc. (and with twins, it’s double!) The actual delivery can also be expensive. (FYI: the national average for a complication free vaginal delivery is $15k before health insurance). Unfortunately, costs only increase with time. The USDA says that middle-income families will spend ~$230k by the child’s 17th birthday (not including college). So, build out your budget. Borrow items where it makes sense and plan, plan, plan.
- Build up a sinking fund: A sinking fund is a place to put money for planned expenses, outside of usual expenses. Start putting away money to cover costs while you are on unpaid leave. Consider investing the money in a low-risk bond fund so that you’re able to earn slightly more interest than a savings account pays.
- Watch your spending: Cut costs where possible. The more you save now, the easier things will be while you’re on leave. If at all possible, don’t cut back on those retirement fund contributions. Your future self will thank you.
Parenthood is rewarding, exhausting and at times, stressful. Do what you can now to help reduce the financial stress. Have other ideas of how to plan for unpaid maternity leave? I’d love to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.