Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How and Why I Took an Extended Maternity Leave

Last week, M.S. left a comment on this post that said: "I'd love to know more about how you and your husband budgeted the amount of money you would need to save to transition into a family and work less than full-time for a while after Henry was born. There is surprisingly little information out there for couples on this topic."

For as long as I can remember, I knew that I either wanted my partner or me to stay home with our child in the early years. It just seemed like it would be natural and healthy for their development. At one point several years ago, Matt said he might want to be the person who stayed home. 

When it actually came time to welcome Henry into our lives, it made the most sense for me to stay home. I was finishing up my time as a Montessori teacher, and I was gearing up to follow my big dream of starting a national network of high-performing, authentic, dual-language, public Montessori schools in diverse communities nationwide. Matt was working as the Director of Knowledge Management for KIPP Houston. KIPP is a national network of college-prep schools for economically-disadvantaged children. He was/is happy with his job and wanted to continue with it full-time. 

When Matt and I were preparing for conception, we started a separate savings account called "Lima Bean". I set up an automatic transfer every month, and I also contributed extra money whenever we had it. Further, I started an account called "The Dream." (I use INGDirect, and it's really easy to set up sub-accounts). I put all of the money I earned from separate projects into that account (e.g., revenue from Purposeful Conception, my book advance, educational consulting, etc.). 

When Henry arrived at the end of February, I took three months of unpaid maternity leave under FMLA (the Family Medical Leave Act). At the end of those three months, I went back to work for the last three days of school. Then it was my summer vacation. The school district took a huge chunk of my summer pay (to cover other stuff that's not entirely clear to me), but I did get a little pay over the summer. Then we started living entirely on Matt's salary. Matt makes a decent amount, but he works for a non-profit organization, so what we consider to be "decent" is significantly less than our Houston friends who work in oil. I explain how we live within a budget here.

In order to make it work, we had to stop contributing to our retirement account (I know, I know, it's a terrible thing to do but we didn't have much choice). We also stopped contributing to all our other savings accounts (Vacation, Future Cars, etc.). We also cut our personal allowance from $70 to $35 each per month. 

The initial plan was for me to stay home with Henry for the first three years of his life and to set up some kind of co-op system where I traded babysitting with friends in order to carve out time to work on my school. However, when I learned that Montessori recommends that children enter a community around the one-year mark, we changed our plans and decided to enroll him in part-time care at that point. It coincided perfectly with my growing itch to get out of the house and back into the working world. In April (when Henry was 14 months), I started working part-time. Matt took Henry to daycare in the morning, and I picked him up at 12:15. He slept from 2-4pm every day, so I would work on starting my school then (as well as on Friday mornings when Henry was at school and I didn't have to work). 

In the beginning of my maternity leave, we had trouble living off Matt's income, and we had to dip into "The Dream" savings account. Then, Matt got a slight raise, and it was easier to live within one income again. 

In January, we sold our house for $20,000 more than we purchased it for. We sold it ourselves, in order to save the $7,000 realtor fee. That was a huge boon. We were able to start paying for Henry's part-time daycare ($675 a month) and pay for a year of private Montessori school (which starts this August and will replace his daycare) for $10,900.

Now that I'm back at work part-time, it's much easier to make ends meet. Our financial stress right now comes from the fact that we bought a 1/2 acre of land (in the cheapest part of Austin) and are trying to build a house while interest rates are at an amazing low. We're also gearing up to try and conceive again, so we have to think how I can stay home with another baby and still make ends meet.

Every family has to figure out what works for them and what they can afford. Our situation has been absolutely perfect for us. That's not to say that it hasn't been stressful and difficult (honestly, I'm much happier working than I am staying home with an infant), but it's been just right for our family. I feel like Henry has benefited so much from having a family member as a primary care giver at home with him for an entire year, and I feel like he continues to benefit from spending half a day in daycare and half a day with me. 

Matt and I have had plenty of fights (er, difficult conversations) about how hard it is to live so frugally. He gets frustrated that we can't be as generous with our friends as he would like, and we both get frustrated that we can't go on extravagant vacations. Honestly, we try not to even get new towels. I try to keep us both focused on the fact that this is a very short chapter in our lives. If everything goes according to plan, I will be working full-time again by January 2014, and we will be in a mortgage that costs just slightly more than our rent right now. 

For those of you who are thinking through this kind of stuff, too, my advice is this:
  • Start with the End in Mind: What is your ideal situation? Whom do you want to stay home with your child? For how long? What's the right balance between what your child needs and what you need? What can you make work?
  • Do the Math: Once you know what the ideal is, put a pencil to paper and start playing with the numbers. How much do you need to get by every month? Enter the numbers into a budget tracking tool, compare your expenses to your income, and see what the discrepancy is. 
  • Stick to the Plan: Once you have a plan that will help you get to your end goal, you have to stick to it (even when it's hard and your towels are eight years old).
Each of us can shape our lives into what we want it to be. We can even move to Paris if we want to! (As I write those words of encouragement, I recognize that they are coming from a very privileged place. Honestly, not everyone has the ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and carve out the exact life they want--that's why I devote my life to education. I want to help all people have choice and access in their lives.). 

But don't let the usual culprits hold you back from living the life you imagine. It's so easy to let fear scare us into following the trodden path.

If you want something for yourself, envision it, backwards plan the smaller steps that align with the end goal, and make it happen! 

And then be prepared to make adjustments along the way if you realize what you thought you wanted was slightly different from what you actually wanted.

Now, please share links to other places that talk about the difficult issues of staying home and budgeting for maternity leave. I'd love to read more!

Share |


Rachel said...

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you are so well-planned and meticulous in your finances also!

When the kids were young and my husband was the breadwinner, we really stretched on life insurance because it was very important to me -based of a traumatic experience of a woman close to my family who lost her husband far too young. If you didn't want to go that crazy with a 30 year policy like we did, you could get a short policy for surprisingly little while you are still so young.

Allyn said...

I think this is a fascinating post. I also think that it is really important that money issues can be discussed in an honest manner, especially among women (Meg at A Practical Wedding writes on this semi-regularly and I always love that). It's tough, but I find it fascinating.

My partner and I are both graduate students and expecting our first baby in November (thanks to so much I learned in the Purposeful Conception course! now we are waiting on Purposeful Parenting!), so it is annoyingly easy for us. I am teaching my own class this fall, so once the baby is born, Chris and I are going to swap the days we go to campus and use our days at home to take care of the baby and write, write, write (oh dissertation, what a love/loathe relationship). Then in the spring we will be doing daycare three days a week, with each of us staying home one day a week. We are taking out student loans to pay for daycare. I will admit that the University of Tennessee pays our tuition, grants us each a stipend, and pays for our decent, though my no means amazingly fantastic, health insurance (while it won't pay for our actual home birth, it does cover 80% of our prenantal care, which was surprising). But it's still two grad student salaries, so student loans it is!

Thanks for bringing up the topic! I am looking forward to seeing what others have to say.

Anonymous said...

I am the person who suggested this post and I am so thrilled that you decided to share this information. Your planning and processes are so informative for your readers.

Every family does indeed face different obstacles when making these decisions. However, it's truly great when people share their situations/criteria for decision-making to build the body of knowledge around this important life change.

Thanks for this post!


Elizabeth said...

I am staying home with our baby, and hope to be able to do so for 9 months. I had a temporary (and unfulfilling) job, so leaving it was not a problem, but our finances will definitely be tight until I find my next job.

My husband is a teacher, so his salary is tiny, but he gets great benefits. We have to rent out a room in our home & transform the basement into an apartment we rent to make the mortgage. I also had to put my (immense) student loans into forbearance, which just makes the balance bigger, but I'm not thinking about that. We did buy lots of life insurance just before our daughter was born, but it's very affordable ($80/mo for $600,000 of insurance for each of us).

Sara E. Cotner said...

Thanks for sharing your specific strategies, Elizabeth!

I've been thinking a lot about real estate as a way to generate additional income. If we had extra money right now, I would buy a rental property while the market is still inexpensive and the interest rates are amazing. Oh, well.

Marina said...

Saving pre-baby was the most important thing for me. We weren't logistically ready to have a baby when I was emotionally ready, so putting money into a baby account was how I channeled my baby urges. I was able to save enough to cover birthing at a stand-alone birth center and both of us staying home for 3 months. (About $15,000 total)

Now my husband has quit his job and is a full-time stay at home dad, which was more like plan B or C. We've cut out any "luxuries" (eating out, non-free entertainment, baby stuff bought new) and will be moving to a cheaper place. I'm really hoping we don't have to stop contributing to my 401k. We're squeaking by.

Related Posts with Thumbnails