How to survive your unpaid maternity leave: Plan ahead!

The bad news is that according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, paid maternity leave is still not standard, even at the best US companies: Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of the best employers for working mothers provide four or fewer weeks of paid maternity leave, and half (52 percent) provide six weeks or less.

The good news is that if you start planning early on in your pregnancy, you should be able to ensure your financial stability even during those unpaid weeks of maternity leave.

Suite101 provides some guidelines on how to plan for those first precious weeks with your baby.  They point out that, although saving money can be a daunting task if you are among the 41 percent of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, it is most definitely possible with a bit of forethought and planning.

Most companies provide up to 12 weeks of maternity leave, though this is usually unpaid. The first thing to do is find out from your Human Resources department exactly how much time off you can get and how much of it will be paid. Even 50% of your paycheck is helpful. Also, some companies will allow you to use any your sick days and vacation time first.

Draw up a careful list of how much you have been spending every month (rent, bills, groceries, eating out, insurance, car payments, and all the miscellaneous items), and compare it with how much money is coming in. Calculate how many paychecks you’ll be missing when the baby arrives, and how much money you will need to have saved to pull you through that time period.

You can start saving money by cutting back on the things that are non-essential, such as eating out and weekly manicures. Put this money into your savings.  If you’ll be receiving any extra money for birthdays, tax refunds, or a bonus at work, Suite101 suggests putting that directly into your savings account as well.

Lastly, when calculating how much time you’ll be taking off to care for your  new baby, err on the side of caution.  You may find that you wish you had more time with your little one. It is always easier to return to work early, rather than trying to extend your maternity leave. You can also find out if there is an option to start back part-time, or even work from home for a few months. This way you can ease back into the working world while still maximizing your bonding time with your precious baby.

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