This is a five part blog series focused on the financial aspects of having children. Specifically, the issues one should consider prior to bringing a child into a family. This is part three, Are You Going Back to Work. To read the first, Having the “Serious” Talk, click here. To read the second, Budgeting for a Baby, click here. The last two blogs will be published at one week intervals.
The decision to go back to work after having a baby is a personal one, and often depends on many factors. Maybe you want to work because you enjoy your job, or maybe you have no choice but to work because it’s the only way you can survive financially. Or perhaps you want to stay home and you’ve spent the past few years shoring up your finances. Whatever you decide, know that your decision isn’t etched in stone. Women, much more so than men, tend to move in and out of the workforce to accommodate children. So whatever you do this year might not be what you’re doings two, five or ten years from now.
If you don’t plan to return to work:
- Find out if you employer will pay you for any unused vacation/sick time.
- Be up-front about your plans and remain on good terms with your supervisor and colleagues in the event you change your mind about working or need a reference in the future.
- Pay down debt where possible.
- Try to live on one paycheck before you leave work, which can help you cut non-essential spending.
- If you have federal student loans, a deferment or forbearance request can give you a six-month reprieve from paying them.
- Continue to save for retirement—you can establish and contribute to your own IRA (traditional or Roth) based on your spouse’s earnings under the spousal IRA rules.
- Keep your professional skills up-to-date by taking occasional courses, networking, reading trade publications, and so on, and be on the lookout for new opportunities.
If you plan to go back to work:
- Confirm your maternity leave with your employer. In cases of adoption, does your company offer leave? Is the leave paid leave? Can you extend your paid time off with unpaid leave? Can your partner take paternity leave? Make sure you know your rights under the law—the Family and Medical Leave Act requires 12 weeks of unpaid for certain employees.
- Talk to your supervisor about your current job responsibilities and plan for your leave as much as possible. Who will handle your work when you’re out? What can you expect when you come back?
- If you’d like to modify your current schedule, think about your ideal work arrangement, then request a meeting with your supervisor to discuss your well-thought out proposal. Would you like to work full-time, but with two days telecommuting from home? Four longer days instead of five regular days? Part-time? Flex hours, like 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.? Every parents situation is different in terms of partner availability for child care and outside child arrangements. Sometimes, a flexible work arrangement can mean the difference between being able to stay in the workforce or having to leave it, so it doesn’t hurt to ask. And clearly, flexible work arrangements are the wave of the future as more women (and men) request them in order to balance work and family. If your boss has concerns, propose a trial period, for example 3 or 6 months, where both sides can come back to the table and evaluate how things are working.
- Start researching child care options now. Compare facilities, quality, cost, and availability. At work, contribute to a dependent care flexible spending account (if available) so your child care costs won’t become part of your taxable income.
If you return to work, try to keep everything in perspective as best you can. Working outside the home with young children requires a significant amount of mental and physical stamina. For some people, it’s the hardest, busiest time of their lives. At work, you may face supervisors who are skeptical of your dedication to the job or assume you can’t or don’t want to take on challenging, high-level assignments, which can limit opportunities for raises and promotions.
At home, women in dual-earner households often face primary responsibility for a seemingly endless to-do list of household and child-related chores. If you’re married, make sure your spouse is an equal partner in these responsibilities and that you’re not trying to “do it all”. Encourage open communication and realistic expectations. Even then, be prepared for times when it’s hard to balance everything. In those moments, take comfort in the fact that you are providing for you and your child’s financial future and doing the best you can.
Finally, remember that no arrangement is permanent. You might stay home for a while and then decide you want to go back to work, or vice versa. Try to keep an open mind and be flexible when facing the realities, financial and otherwise, that come your way.
Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy all those moments with your child that you can’t put a price on!!