Maximise your maternity leave, and you won't have to stress about money when you become a mummy. Elyssa Campbell-Barr - author of Choosing Childcare - shows you how...
It's a dilemma familiar to millions of new mums: you want to spend as much time as possible with your little bundle of joy, but you also need to put a roof over your heads and food on the table.
So how can you make the most of your maternity pay and leave to do both? We asked mums and experts for their top tips and advice…
1. KNOW YOUR MATERNITY LEAVE RIGHTS
Maternity pay will be different for every mum-to-be (Credit: Getty)
Forget knitting booties and decorating the nursery – the first thing you need to do when you find out you're pregnant is work out how much maternity leave and pay you'll get.
Most employees can take statutory maternity leave, which lasts for up to 52 weeks. You'll be paid 90% of your average pre-tax weekly earnings for six weeks, and then £139.58 a week (or 90% of average earnings if lower) for 33 weeks, with the remaining 13 weeks unpaid. Some companies offer more generous maternity benefits, so check what's on offer at your workplace.
Freelancers, temps and others who don't qualify for the statutory package leave may be able to get maternity allowance. Depending on your circumstances, this could be worth up to £139.58 a week for 39 weeks, tax-free.
“It's important for women to inform themselves about their rights before they go on maternity leave,” advises Rosalind Bragg, Director of Maternity Action. “Unfortunately many employers don't have a good understanding of the rules or have out-of-date policies, so it's a good idea to get independent advice.”
Rosalind suggests that mums-to-be look at the Maternity Action website as a starting point, and call the charity's advice line or contact their trade union if they need more information.
TOP MUM TIP
- Claire, a nurse and mum of five: “I made sure in the qualifying weeks I worked weekends, night shifts and didn't take any holidays, which boosted my average earnings and gave me loads more maternity pay.”
2. HOLIDAY CLEVER
Don't forget your annual leave (Credit: Getty)
Did you know that in most jobs you'll build up annual leave during your maternity leave? So if your employment contract says you get 20 days' holiday a year, and you take a year's maternity leave, you can take those 20 days of 'accrued annual leave' afterwards. You can also add on bank holidays (normally eight a year), and if your workplace has other scheduled closures (e.g. over Christmas), you can add those too.
Some savvy mums save up their holiday entitlement while pregnant and use it before their maternity leave starts.
Most school and college staff don't get accrued leave, as it's normally offset by school holidays. For mums working in education, returning to work just before the summer break can be a cunning way of getting six weeks of extra leave on full pay.
TOP MUM TIP
- Kirsty, accountant and mum of one: “I took 11 months of maternity leave, then added eight weeks of holiday plus eight bank holidays. It works out that I'll be off for 15 months.”
3. SHARE THE CARE
Daddy day care (Credit: Getty)
Shared parental leave (SPL) was introduced in 2015 to give parents more choice over how to share their work and babycare commitments. After two weeks of compulsory maternity leave, you and your partner can choose how you divide the remaining 50 weeks. You can even take time off together.
To qualify for SPL, only one parent has to be an employee. The other could be employed, self-employed or an agency worker – as long as they work for at least 26 of the 66 weeks before baby's due date and earn at least £30 a week.
A few enlightened employers offer generous SPL schemes, giving new dads and same-sex partners several months' leave on full pay. Find out what the policy is at your other half's workplace so you can factor this into your post-pregnancy plans.
TOP MUM TIP
- Heidi, journalist and mum of three: “My husband took shared parental leave when our third kid arrived so that I could continue freelancing and we didn't end up starving to death or killing each other!”
4. A BIT OF KIT
Keep in touch with work (Credit: Getty)
While on maternity leave, you're allowed to work up to ten ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days, paid at your usual rate. KIT days aren't compulsory, but if you and your employer are both keen they can be a great way of keeping up with developments (and gossip!) at work and earning money during the unpaid part of maternity leave.
If you and your partner take shared parental leave, you can each work up to 20 paid ‘shared parental leave in touch’ (SPLIT) days, in addition to any KIT days you work while on maternity leave. That's potentially a lot of flexible, paid working time.
TOP MUM TIP
- Sarah, business analyst and mum of two: “I decided to do a phased return to work. I started by doing my KIT days every week or two when my son was ten months old.”
5. UNPAID PARENTAL LEAVE
If you can afford it, UPL is an option (Credit: Getty)
Many mums and dads don't realise they have a right to unpaid parental leave, as well as maternity, paternity and shared parental leave. If you've been with the same employer for a year (and if you can afford it) you can take up to four weeks a year (unless your employer agrees to more), to a maximum of 18 weeks for each child before they turn 18.
TOP MUM TIP
- Charlotte, physiotherapist and mum of two: “After maternity leave and accrued holiday, I'm taking three months of unpaid parental leave to bridge the gap until my eldest starts school (during which I also accrue annual leave!)”
6. GET ON TOP OF YOUR FINANCES
Money is no laughing matter (Credit: Getty)
For a lot of new parents, the biggest challenge of maternity leave is making ends meet with a lower income and an extra mouth to feed. So, before junior arrives, consider ways of reducing your outgoings.
Some economising won't take any effort – you won't have commuting costs and your newborn will probably sabotage your social life, for a while at least.
“It’s easy to save £100s without any noticeable difference to your lifestyle,” says Sally Francis, senior writer at MoneySavingExpert.com. “For example, switching energy tariffs could save you £300-plus a year based on typical use. Changing or haggling your broadband and TV to a cheaper deal could be another couple of hundred in your pocket. And some banks offer cash incentives of up to £150 to switch current accounts, or give you cashback on household bills.”
Remember you'll also get free dental care and prescriptions for 12 months after the birth, and you'll be bombarded with money-saving offers and vouchers through retailers' baby clubs. There's also an endless supply of barely used bargain baby clothes and equipment available from Ebay, Gumtree, Facebook selling groups, NCT sales, car-boots and charity shops, to see you and your little one through maternity leave and beyond...
TOP MUM TIP
- Fiona, website developer and mum of one: “We let out the spare room in our flat to make some extra cash while I was pregnant, before kitting it out as a nursery mostly using hand-me-downs and Ebay buys. We also ditched our gym memberships, switched to a discount supermarket and cut down on non-essentials such as coffees and takeaways.”
GET MORE MATERNITY LEAVE ADVICE...
- Maternity action
- Advice line: 0808 802 0029
Money Saving Expert