As the end of May approaches, I have a few things on my mind. Firstly, Sam’s quarter-of-a-century birthday is coming up and I need to remind Arlo to get him a present. I need to look into car insurance again (am I going to get inundated with spam if I write this here?) But overriding all thoughts is the countdown toward the unpaid three months of Statutory Maternity Pay and that I really need to get my arse into gear and start looking at childcare options for when I am due to go back to work in October. We are hurtling towards this point of my maternity leave far too quickly, I’m sure Arlo was three weeks old yesterday.
Under the new Tory cuts, we no longer receive tax credits – we are literally just over the cut-off bracket (they count it on your earnings for last year, when I was in full time employment and therefore earning a full time salary). As of July, these two cuts combined leaves us approximately £600 shorter per month. This is a huge amount of money for our household, but we always knew this was going to be the case and whilst I’m nervous to see that money go, I am grateful that we have been able to receive some financial help up until now. Whenever I find myself about to have a moan about how meagre SMP is, especially for a London household, and especially for someone who was not financially prepared for this sudden ‘career break’, I stop and remind myself that we are lucky to have a maternity pay policy at all and the right to choose 39 weeks paid leave. Without this, I would have been back at work a few months after Arlo’s birth.
The next few months will be a good test to see how and if we can pay all our immediate bills on just Sam’s wage – this part is always hard to budget for seeing as Sam’s job is commission based. It is by no means a long term solution, and I need to get my thinking/working cap on. In what seems like an almost miraculous feat, somehow I need to earn enough after tax and paying for childcare to keep our budget balanced. From my talks with people at baby groups, this seems to be an issue for a lot of returning-to-work mums. Especially tricky if you are not long into your career and therefore not commanding a salary that can cope with the extortionate childcare fees.
I gave myself until June to start thinking about it all, as I wanted to try to enjoy maternity leave as much as possible without worrying about the future. Needless to say, this was impossible not to think about. Even more so when it seems to be the one question everyone under the sun enquires about, ‘What are you doing about work?’. It’s like when I was at school and the only question relatives could think to ask you was, ‘How are the exams going?’
To look at our figures for this period of maternity leave, it doesn’t seem like they would add up. This is the worry that plagued me whilst pregnant whenever I wondered how we would cope with our finances. Yet somehow it does add up and we do cope. Together, I think Sam and I probably provide good budgeting sense. Sam’s idea of shopping is to load up the trolley with things we need, and then at the last minute, decide they are not necessities and swiftly remove them from the conveyor belt. Whereas I am more inclined to buy and make up for the purchases elsewhere by selling things online or pour over our spreadsheets and juggle our budget. Sam is most definitely the frugal one. But I do the household budgeting, I know when the big bills are coming up and plan for how we will meet our payments.
I have been earning money since I was twelve and got a paper round. At fourteen I got a job as a sales assistant in a pharmacy and worked after school and at the weekends. I continued working there on and off for eight years, during school and university holidays. So the three months of non-paid maternity leave will be the first time in many years that I have not been bringing in any money. I am not sure how I will fare with this situation, it will be strange to ask Sam for money and feel the need to justify my purchases to him. I want to work and to be independent (but that is another post in itself).
I can’t handle the thought of not being in sole control of my finances. We don’t have a joint account, we pay bills out of one account and keep any other money separate. I’d never owned a credit card until recently. We signed up to 0% on purchases for 13 months because we just couldn’t afford all of the baby things we needed for Arlo’s arrival, plus the minor repairs and cooker installation we needed for the house before we could move in. We have a plan in place to pay off the debt well before the interest free period is up. The thought of racking up debt we can’t afford on a credit card scares the hell out of me.
I just want to be able to provide for Arlo as best I can. Up until now this has been by spending every day with him, breastfeeding on demand and helping him grow. I am grateful that I have been able to do this. But soon things will change and the best way for me to provide for Arlo will be to join Sam in the making-sure-we-can-afford-to-live responsibility. So bring on June, a month of spreadsheets, calculations and the daunting task of visiting nurseries and childminders. I can’t wait.