Pregnancy walk around the city

I can honestly say I did zero financial planning before going on maternity leave with my daughter three years ago. In retrospect, I spent more time on other baby-related details than financial planning. It’s easy to spend more time on your baby shower and buying a laundry list of items than creating a budget while on maternity leave.

I took about 12 weeks off of work and I felt the impact of my reduced salary faster than I care to admit! My lack of financial planning was a big mistake that could have been easily avoided by taking a little extra time and effort.

Not all employers offer paid maternity leave, and laws pertaining to paid leave vary from state to state. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 12 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through private employers. The Family and Medical Leave Act, also known as FMLA, gives all parents 12 weeks of leave. Depending on the company, that leave can be paid or unpaid, but this is a federal law.

If you’re pregnant, it’s helpful to inquire about the length of your leave time in advance. Also if you’re planning to adopt or foster children, it’s important to get specifics on the leave policy and benefits. Some companies, like Quicken Loans, offer the same leave benefits for adoptive and foster parents.

I recently talked to Linda Villarosa, a benefits specialist at Quicken Loans as well as a career mom fresh off of maternity leave, to find some helpful financial tips to share.

Know Your Money and Time

Villarosa said the single-most important tip is to know exactly how much time off you have and how much money you’ll be paid while on leave.

“When I talk to our team members planning for maternity, the majority of them want to know how leave will impact their salary,” she said. “You have to know how much money you have to work with to cover your bills and baby-related expenses.”

She suggests making sure you fully understand your company’s policies prior to welcoming your new addition to the family. Know how much paid sick time, personal days and vacation days you have saved. Proper planning can allow you to use your banked time to earn a full salary.

Villarosa said her team schedules maternity meetings with every expecting parent to review their due date, company policies, salary figures and any outstanding questions. Touching base about this information also applies to those adopting or fostering children.

“We offer parental leave and short-term disability that is paid out based on how long the team member has been with our company,” she said. “So ask plenty of questions in order to plan ahead for the loss of pay while you’re home.”

Save Your Money

Whether you’ll receive a partial salary or no salary at all while on leave, an emergency fund can be a valuable tool. Set a goal of saving two to three months of income for unexpected maternity expenses. Also consider automating weekly savings to help your emergency fund grow quickly.

“It’s hard for some people to adjust financially while on leave when it comes to their major monthly bills,” she said. “I suggest trying to save or pay the big bills like your mortgage or car note ahead of time. That way it will be easier to manage the smaller monthly bills during leave.”

Start As Early As Possible

Pam Servatius, an audio-visual manager, returned to work last month after recently being on maternity leave for 12 weeks. She began cutting back on her household expenses shortly after learning last year that she was pregnant.

“I think there are a lot of little things you can implement early on to help save before and after maternity leave,” said the mother of two. “For instance, I trimmed back on my weekly food costs by packing a lunch instead of spending money in the cafeteria.”

Servaitus estimates that making her own lunch daily saved about $250 to $300 each month. And while she was on maternity leave, she and her husband cooked extra food for dinner some nights to have leftovers for lunch the following day.

“Also, I signed up for online coupons for stores like The Gap, H&M and Old Navy to save on clothes before my daughter was born,” she said. “Most of the coupons I get in my email are for 40% off, so I ended up saving a lot of money on my daughter’s clothes.”

Look Everywhere for Savings

Servaitus also took advantage of mom-to-mom sales in her area to buy gently used baby items for a fraction of store prices. I planned ahead to get in on some of the big sales in my area because every six to eight weeks, my kids go through a growth spurt.

“I don’t mind haggling at mom-to-mom sales to get more stuff for less money,” she said. “And I have friends who join Facebook parent or neighborhood groups to learn about hand-me-down items and sales. Motherhood has taught me that using a variety of money-savers really can add up in the long run.

“I think you have to be creative in finding free offers and savings among your circle of friends, too,” she said. “Think about hitting up your friends who’ve had kids recently to see if they’ll share their baby stuff with you.”

Reduce Out-of-Pocket Medical Expenses

Be sure to review your health insurance policy early to understand which services and costs are covered for prenatal care, labor, and delivery and for your newborn. This will help reduce out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Your family’s new addition will come with plenty of expenses that impact your household budget, so it may be beneficial to create a monthly spending limit for baby-related costs. Try not to lose sight of your investments and long-term financial goals.

Lastly, don’t forget to continue saving for your new baby expenses even after your leave time. If you have other financial tips to share, please leave them below.

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