Ah the age old issue, how to survive maternity leave without going broke. I don't claim to be a financial expert by any means, however I've been through two year-long maternity leaves (yay Canada!) Here in Canada we have two options for maternity leave, 12 months or 18 months. The time is wonderful, but that comes with a huge hit to the financials. The time off is paid, but at a fraction of what your normal salary is. It is too easy to get in over your head very quickly. Here are a few tips and tricks I've learned during my time on leave.
1. Stock up on baby supplies while you're still working
Shop the sales and stock up little bits at a time. Diapers, wipes and bottle liners won't go bad, but do take up a chunk of the monthly budget. If you're a second or more time parent and someone asks what you'd like or need for baby, diapers and wipes always make great gifts.
Here are my tips - buy a variety of diaper sizes and tape your receipt to the diaper box. Many places will exchange boxes of diapers for bigger or smaller sizes as long as its the same brand. Sometimes you'll need a receipt and other times you won't. It all depends on which store you use and who is working the customer service counter.
Download an app like Checkout 51. You can get money back if you scan your receipt within 24 hours of purchase. So keep your eye on the app and pair with manufacturer coupons for the best deals. Also, use an app like Flipp to find the best deals or to price match if your local store does that.
2. Stock up on other household supplies too
Figure out what you use the most that won't go bad. In our household it's toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, baby Tylenol, Kleenex, canned goods, peanut butter, garbage bags, tampons or pads, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, body wash, tooth paste, prenatal vitamins, etc. These things can really add to the weekly grocery budget when funds are tight. It's much easier to stock up while things are on sale leading up to your leave.
Here's a tip - clean out your linen closet or a space in your home to keep everything organized and easily accessible. It's hard to use things if you can't find them.
3. Have a cushion
Like Survivor, expect the unexpected. A lot can happen in a year. Cars will break down, appliances will need repairs, unexpected bills always pop up. Also pay off your credit cards before you go on leave. It's nice to have a cushion fall back on.
Here's a tip - Things happen, I get it. We're not always in the best financial position when a pregnancy happens. Lines of credit may be a good option as long as the limit is low and you only use it in an emergency. Just knowing the money is there if you need it can reduce stress, even if you never use it. If you do use it, make a plan once you're back at work to pay it down. Make it a priority.
4. Use your points
Our local grocery store is Zehrs. They have a points system called PC Optimum points where you earn points on your purchases. You get double points using their credit card. You can also get extra points (and free grocery pick up) by being a PC Insider. This is not sponsored, but if you wanted to sign up as a PC Insider, use this link for $10 off your first two orders.
This has added up to huge savings for us. When not pregnant, I've always stocked those PC Points away for Christmas gifts, gift baskets for our wedding, or a massive haul of diapers during the "Spend Your Points" events. During my leave with the twins I started spending the points on every grocery shop. On average, I would receive $250 in free groceries every month. This is huge savings every month!
Here's some tips - I always load my points every Friday and shop their sales online. I've been using their grocery pick up service every week. Using grocery pick up hasn't just been convenient, but has also stopped impulse purchases. As a PC Insider I am sent emails often with $25 off a $250 order, $15 off a $150 order, or bonus points if you place an order by a certain date. I always take advantage of these offers. I also get 20% more points as a PC Insider. So that combined with using my PC Mastercard plus all the bonus points on weekly specials really add up.
Check other points systems, like Air Miles. They offer more than just travel options to redeem points. We got a brand new City Select by Baby Jogger stroller using points. That's a $500 savings by using points that were just sitting there.
5. Buy used
With the exception of car seats and personal hygiene items, everything for baby can and should be purchased used. Babies grow so quickly there's barely any use on baby items, toys and clothing. All of this can be purchased used either through Facebook Marketplace, second hand shops or consignment sales. Consignment sales are my favourite! Locally we have an OutGrow OutPlay sale twice a year and the KW POMBA (Parents of Multiple Births Association) sale.
If you`re patient and know what you`re looking for, the right item will come up eventually.
Here's a tip - tap into your network of girlfriends. Everyone who has children is guaranteed to have a basement or garage full of unused baby items. They will be thrilled to let you borrow it. Just make sure you return it.
6. Sell used
Keep two clear bins in your baby`s closet. One for outgrown items you want to keep, and one for outgrown items you want to toss. Every time you swap out sizes, label and store the `keep` boxes and bring the `toss` bin to your local consignment sale or second hand shop.
Here`s some tips - for top dollar from the sale or shop ensure everything is cleaned, stain-free, all snaps snapped, sets together, and everything folded nicely.
One of my local second hand shops gives you 20% more if you take a store credit rather than cash. Luckily (or unluckily for me) taking the in-store credit works best for me as I always walk out spending more than what they will give me. This is an easy and inexpensive way to swap out sizes and keep their wardrobe fresh.
Invest in a tagging gun if you'll be doing the consignment sales. This will save you a significant amount of time! Also, collect hangers year-round. You're going to need them!
7. Tap into your local momma network
These gals are your new best friends. They know all the great places and what activities are free or discounted and when. Create a calendar if you need to or put recurring alerts in your phone. It is entirely possible to do an activity every day of the week for free or very cheap.
Here`s some tips - I love the EarlyON centres here in Kitchener. Their programming is all free and its so nice to go meet other momma`s. There`s also `Life with a Baby`which has activities like nature walks, workouts, and coffee chats. Check your local movie theatre to see if they have a Stars and Stroller event as well. Around here, Cineplex Odeon has discounted tickets on Wednesday afternoons for moms and babe`s. They dim the lights but don`t turn them off, reduce the sound and have changing tables in the theatre. Completely baby friendly. I also love the children`s museum (discounted rates on Wednesdays), the library and swimming lessons through the city.
Set up reciprocal babysitting arrangement with another couple. If you have a partner, they stay home with your kiddos and you go to the other couple's house while they're on a date, and vice versa once a month. Then you have dedicated kid-free time every month with your partner that's not going to cost you half of your date night budget. Don't have a date night budget? Go grocery shopping together, grab an ice cream, or find a quiet booth at McDonalds. What you do doesn't matter, what matters is doing it together.
8. Cut back and reassess
Cut back on the non-essentials. Do you really need cable or would an Android box with Netflix or Disney+ work? Android boxes make great Christmas or birthday gifts! If you usually commute for work, call your insurance company and let them know you will no longer be driving long distances every day. If you're going to be home all the time with access to WIFI, do you need 10 GB of data on your phone? Can you stop bi-weekly payments to your RRSP temporarily? Can you survive with one car? Can you pause your gym membership for a month or two until you're cleared to resume normal activity? If you have an older child in daycare, can you drop their days down or keep them home all together? Reassess everything.
9. Monetize your hobby
Love to sew? Crochet calms you down? Have a talent for taking pretty pictures? Love to write? Whatever it is that strikes your fancy, chances are you will naturally gravitate towards it once you get a handle on this whole motherhood thing. You have to have a creative outlet and a project that is more than just being a mom. Now see if there is a market to sell it. Many women-run companies were born while on maternity leave.
10. Batch cook
Yes, your grocery bill will be larger, but that will be offset by the amount of take out or fast food you won't be eating. Call your mom or your girlfriend who is a wiz in the kitchen and make it a day before you give birth. Have someone set up a Meal Train for those first few weeks home. Your friends and family, who are dying to help but don't know how, can sign up to bring you hot and fresh meals on a schedule. It's one less thing for you to worry about in those crazy first days. But don't forget the thank-you cards!
Here's a tip - Crockpot meals are perfect for those large freezer safe ziploc bags and they store well too. Then all you have to do is dump it into the crockpot in the morning and voila! Dinner is served.
Easily refrigerated items are best for leftovers. Chili, meatballs, lasagne, soups. All are great fresh and for tomorrow's lunch.
11. Personal Hygiene
Start thinking about what you do regularly for your upkeep. I'm talking hair, nails, facials, etc. There are hair colouring techniques your hair stylist can do to blend out your roots so you can go longer between appointments. Just be honest with your stylist. They won't be mad. I promise. Maybe you decide to do your nails at home rather than in a salon. Figure out what is important to you that you MUST upkeep and then figure out how that fits into your budget. Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays are all great reasons to ask for that spa gift card!
Bottom line, surviving and thriving on maternity leave is possible with minor tweaks. Have any other tips? Let me know!