How to Prepare Financially and Save for Maternity Leave

Being pregnant is an exciting time.

You might spend your free time planning the theme for your nursery or compiling a list of possible baby names.

And if you’re not pregnant yet, you might be eager to start your family.

But:

Preparing for a baby involves more than decor for a nursery and baby names.

You must also prepare for the weeks that you’ll be out of work -- possibly creating a period of tough financial times.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) says that certain employees can receive a guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.

To qualify, your company must have at least 50 employees, and you must work for the company for at least 12 months.

But just because you’re able to take 12 weeks off doesn’t mean that you’ll get 12 weeks of paid leave.

The truth is:

Many new mothers have a tough time financially after giving birth.

Lost income can be a huge blow to your finances, especially if you’re single. Low you can prepare and save for maternity leave.

Does Your Employer Offer Paid Maternity Leave?

Before all else:

Ask your employer or your benefits manager about paid or partially paid maternity leave.

Depending on the company, you may be eligible to receive several weeks of paid leave. This allows you to recoup and bond with your newborn without worrying about a paycheck.

If your employer offers paid maternity leave, it may not be for a full 12 weeks, though. The company might only offer six or eight weeks of paid maternity leave, or only two to four weeks of leave.

Either way, some income is better than none. It can help ease the burden of being out of work.

And:

If your company doesn’t offer paid maternity or only a few weeks of leave, see if any unused paid vacation, sick, or personal time can count toward your maternity leave.

Let’s say you have two weeks of unused paid vacation and one week of unused paid time off.

You might be able to combine this time for three weeks of paid maternity leave.

This can reduce what you’ll need to save to replace your lost income.

Short-Term Disability Insurance

Unfortunately:

Some companies can’t afford to offer paid maternity leave.

But while the company might not offer maternity leave, it might offer short-term disability insurance.

These policies replace some of your income while you recuperate from a temporary injury or illness. And fortunately, policies also extend to a pregnancy.

There’s a few things to know about these policies.

Start date

Coverage doesn’t usually kick in until two weeks after giving birth.

So you’ll likely be without income for a couple of weeks.

Partial paid wages

Many short-term disability policies only pay a percentage of your income.

Typically:

You get about 40 percent to 60 percent of your regular wage. Some policies even require that you use all of your paid sick days before receiving benefits.

If you have a short-term disability policy, contact your insurer to see how much you’re eligible to receive for maternity leave.

This way:

You know what to expect financially and you can prepare accordingly.

Most policies pay benefits for up to six weeks with a normal pregnancy and up to eight weeks with a cesarean section (C-section).

Pre-existing condition

Be mindful:

Short-term disability insurance considers pregnancy a “pre-existing condition.”

If you sign up for a policy after becoming pregnant, coverage won’t extend to this pregnancy.

To receive benefits, you must get a policy before you conceive.

If you’re a couple, understand that short-term disability policies don’t cover spouses.

So if you’re a husband with a policy through work, your wife will need her own policy to receive benefits.

Strategies to Save for Maternity Leave

Sometimes, paid maternity leave and short-term disability just aren’t enough to cover expenses.

Whether you’re looking to supplement your maternity benefits, or you won’t have any maternity income, here are a few tips to plan for time off.

1. Estimate how much you’ll need

Knowing exactly how much you’ll need for maternity leave can be tricky.

Start by writing down all expenses that you pay throughout the month (rent, mortgage, utilities, loan payments, credit card bills, groceries, insurances, etc.) Don’t forget to account for miscellaneous expenses.

Keep in mind that the amount you need to get through maternity leave might be less than what you actually earn.

Your take-home pay might be $3,500 a month, yet your expenses might add up to $2,000.

Assuming that you won’t receive any paid leave or disability benefits, you would only need to save $4,000 for two months of maternity leave, rather than $7,000.

Ideally:

You should plan for at least two months of maternity leave, in the event that you need a C-section.

If you’ll receive paid leave or short-term disability after giving birth, find out how much you’re eligible to receive, and then compare this with your monthly expenses to determine what you’ll need to save.

Using the above figures, if you earn $3,500 a month and short-term disability pays 50 percent of your regular wage, you’ll receive a benefit of $1,750 a month during maternity leave.

In this scenario, you only need an extra $250 per month to cover your actual expenses.

2. How much can your partner contribute?

If you’re having a baby as a two-income couple, it might be easier to deal with lost income.

Single women might not have the same safety net.

They might have to save alone in the months prior to giving birth, and they might not receive any financial help while out of work.

If you’re in a relationship and expect your income to drop while on maternity leave, run the numbers to see whether your partner’s income is enough to compensate for your lost income.

Even if your partner can’t cover all of your expenses, they might be able to cover a percentage, reducing how much you need to save.  

3. Get a comprehensive health insurance policy

Contact your health insurance provider to learn about your maternity benefits.

  • If you’re already pregnant: You can’t modify your benefits or switch to a more comprehensive health insurance policy.
  • If you’re not pregnant yet: See if you can afford a policy with a lower deductible, office visit copay, and coinsurance. If so, enroll in this policy during open enrollment season.

A policy with more coverage may reduce the out-of-pocket cost of labor and delivery.

4. Open a dedicated maternity savings fund

Once you know how much you need to save, open a dedicated savings account for maternity leave.

This account should be separate from your emergency or rainy day fund.

You’ll want to keep your rainy day fund intact, in case you have unexpected expenses after having the baby.

Divide the amount you’ll need for maternity leave by the number of months until delivery, and then set aside this much each month.

For example, if you need to save $4,000 in five months, put aside $800 a month until you have the baby.

Of course, coming up with extra cash each month can be difficult.

Here are a few ideas to increase your savings:

  • Temporarily reduce or stop making retirement contributions, and then redirect this money to your maternity fund. Resume normal contributions once you return to work.

  • If you’re early in your pregnancy, get a part-time job while you still have the stamina. Or, earn money with a side hustle.

  • Save any free money or windfalls you receive. This can include a tax refund, a work bonus, or gift money.

  • Open an online high-yield savings account for your maternity fund. These accounts earn a higher interest rate, allowing you to maximize your savings.

5. Use a baby registry for the big stuff, too

Some people hold off on putting larger, more expensive items on their baby registry.

However, if you need to save up money for maternity leave, the less you spend on big stuff for the baby, the better.

Not to say you’ll spend nothing on the baby.

But if you include a high-priced item on your registry (stroller, swing, car seat, or even a crib), close friends or family members might chip in and buy it for you, along with other items the baby needs.

Final Word

For those fortunate enough to get paid maternity leave or income from short-term disability, a few weeks off from work might not cripple their finances.

Some mothers, however, aren’t as fortunate.

Losing 6 to 8 weeks of income can be stressful.

But if you prepare and come up with a savings plan early, it might be easier to keep your head above water until you return to work.

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