How To Take Maternity Leave When You Live Paycheck To Paycheck
When I found out that I was expecting, I started looking into my company’s maternity leave policy right away. Why? Well, because I did not know the details. Of course it was listed as a benefit in my hiring paperwork. But who looks at that stuff if you are not pregnant or if you are not planning to start a family (my pregnancy was semi-unplanned in that I suffered from fertility issues).
So what did my company offer? Well it wasn’t horrible (given that I do live in the United States, in a state that does not mandate paid maternity leave); but it was not fantastic either. I was eligible for:
- 8 weeks of short term disability (STD) since I was having a c-section, at 50% of my base salary
- 2 weeks of company paid maternity leave at my full salary
- 1 week of parental care leave (something that is available to both men and women) at my full salary.
This works out to 11 weeks of leave; one week shy of the full 12 weeks that FMLA* allows.
On top of that, one of those weeks of STD was a mandatory waiting week. So I really would only be receiving compensation for 10 of those 12 weeks.
Short Term Disability (STD)
At my company STD is paid by the employer. This is good for your regular paycheck. However it is a slight disadvantage when it comes time to collect on your claim (STD is insurance); since the payout is subject to taxes. If you paid into STD after taxes were withheld, then your STD benefit is not taxable. But this is not the case if your employer pays your STD premiums.
So not only would I be limited to 50% of my salary, but it would be subject to taxes being with held. What I would be left with in the end would be enough to pay my rent and have pocket money. That’s it.
On top of all of that, I discovered that my STD payouts were weekly (which was ok) and would be sent in the mail to my house via paper check (which was not ok). I naively figured that because my regular payroll came in through direct deposit, my STD money would too.
So what ended up happening was that my checks would be printed/sent on each Friday; but I would not receive it in hand until the following Tuesday at the earliest. Some checks came as late as the following Thursday. Not a good set up since my bank would not clear the money until the following business day. Ugh!
When you first have the baby, the baby is covered by the same health insurance that you are covered by. However, that is only temporary. At some point you will need to formally add the baby to your health insurance policy (you may need to wait for the birth certificate to arrive, to prove that the child is yours). You will then be billed for additional premium costs. I was not interested in this though, since adding my baby would add another $250 to my monthly healthcare premium.
So instead I applied for welfare benefits. My income was just low enough where my son qualified for state-sponsored healthcare for children (CHIP).
Do not think that just because you work full time, that you do not qualify for government subsidies. The only way you will know is if you apply!
Food & Shelter
Rent is my biggest monthly expense. Therefore, what I would do is squirrel money away to put towards that so that it would not take such a huge portion of my STD benefit. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to save much…a little bit shy of $150. But hey it was something. A bit late in the game I discovered the Digit app, which made saving easier in that it would do it for me.
For help with food, I applied for food stamps and WIC. I only got a meager amount in food stamps ($16/month); but again, it is something. WIC is invaluable though. WIC’s income guidelines are a bit higher than welfare’s (at least in my state). You can use your disability income levels for you application (you just need to wait until your claim pays out…which would after the baby is born). If you are breastfeeding, WIC will give you a bigger food voucher. In my case I am bottle feeding. So WIC covers the monthly cost of my baby’s formula. I did have to switch to their approved formula (so from Enfamil to Similac), but fortunately for me, he had no adverse reaction to the switch. I also receive a voucher for a few foodstuffs for me…like cheese, milk, eggs and cereal.
For all other monthly bills, call whoever you can to set up payment arrangements. For electric and gas, if you are on budget billing, they can possibly readjust your budget amount due to your change in family size. For other recurring bills, look into other ways to save. For example, I was able to apply a referral credit to my cell phone account that slashed one month’s bill by 1/2. Then for my cable bill, I called to renegotiate my plan. The customer service rep gave me a one month credit for changing plans. All of these credits and readjustments were set to occur in the same month that I was on STD. So make sure that you call ahead of time…perhaps 1 month – 2 weeks before your due date.
Have A Baby Shower & Make a Registry
Having a high risk pregnancy, having a baby shower was not a high priority. However I am so glad that I did in that I had most of the major baby items gifted (i.e. car seat, crib, stroller, etc.) and also received a good amount of clothes, bath items and diapers to keep me set for the first month with the baby…and beyond. Of course, it is important that you don’t go overboard on spending when it comes to your shower; or you’ll defeat the purpose.
There are many different options to go with when it comes to making a baby registry. I only went with two…Babies ‘R’ Us and Amazon. Amazon will send you a welcome kit when you complete the building of your registry online. You also can take a 10% discount when you get within 60 days of your baby’s arrival date (sign up for Amazon Prime, and that becomes 15% plus you get free shipping).
Maternity leave is tough financially…even when you do not live paycheck to paycheck. However no price can be set on the time that you’ll spend with your baby. So take your time…fully examine your options. If there is any way possible that you can take the time off, go ahead and do so without any guilt or regret! 🙂