Maternity leave: Learning to live off one salary when a baby comes along

newborn in mums arms

Maternity leave … some of us are fortunate to get some cash flowing in, some of us aren’t, and some of us are extra lucky to be paid by our employer and the government.

Being self-employed, no work equals no money

When I went on maternity leave, my husband and I were living off one salary until the government pay kicked in. With a baby, and all the accompanying expenses, on the way.

And I don’t need to tell most people that the government pay doesn’t cover the mortgage or rent, bills, groceries, appointments, clothes, formula and everything in between. It may cover some, but definitely not all.

I easily could have worked right up until my due date. But at 34 weeks, my doctor advised me to slow down. I had a deadline of 36 weeks. Beyond 36 weeks, we were lucky if the baby kept cooking, and resting would help. Try telling that to a type A control freak who can’t say ‘no’ to anything she’s asked to do.

So, there we found ourselves; one income, lots of bills and lots to buy

When my son arrived, my husband and I took on two distinct roles. For the time being, he was the breadwinner and I was in charge of, essentially, everything else.

Thankfully, we have two nephews older than our son, so clothing was one expense largely taken care of. But even with hand-me-downs, there are still gaps to fill. And that requires a shopping trip. Our grocery bill has also risen substantially when you factor in extra food, nappies and wipes.  

My husband never questions me, yet I still often feel the need to justify my purchases, even though I’ve gone back to work. And I still don’t know why I feel this way.

When we got married, we made a decision: whatever money comes in is joint money, regardless of who earns it. There are also no specific roles in our relationship. My husband cooks, cleans, does the dishes and the laundry. With our son, it is as much an even playing field as possible. Whoever isn’t putting him to sleep is making our dinner.

However, there have been certain jobs that we have each fallen into. While I’m generally the one organising my son’s life, my husband is the one who largely handles the finances. Perhaps this is why I so often feel the need to explain my purchases.

So, how do we deal with this dynamic?  

Dad on phone with newborn

1. We talk about our spending

While we never ask each other permission to spend, we hash most expenses out together. Even though my husband has taken on the role of managing our finances, I’m still aware of our major expenses. We sit down a couple of times a month to discuss it all and if we know of big expenses coming up, we delay those that aren’t necessities. We’re also pretty open about what we want to purchase and we’ll factor that cost into that month’s spend.

2. We write things down

We note every expense in a very handy budgeting app on our phones. This is useful in getting a handle on all of our major expenses – it helps us see where we have wiggle room and where we need to tighten the reigns, especially during those months when I wasn’t working.

3. We reduced costs

Since our son arrived (and our expenses increased) we’ve reduced our internet plan, negotiated discounts for utilities and refinanced our home loan.

We cook a lot more. Takeaways add up and while it’s now harder to cook every night, we try our darnedest to do so. For our son, while cooking can be a bit more time-consuming than those exceptionally convenient little pouches, it’s cheaper, healthier and more environmentally friendly.

We also stock up our freezer so when we’re both too exhausted to cook, we can pull something out rather than be tempted by easy home delivery options.  

Saturday nights have become food and movie nights on the couch. Pre-baby, a Saturday night may have cost us $150 when factoring in dinner, drinks and transport. Post-baby, we are mostly at home which means our socialising spend has plummeted (as has our social life to some extent but that’s a different story).

4. We save

I try to buy in bulk as much as I can. You wouldn’t believe the amount of wipes we have stored under the cot! And under our bed, you’ll find 50 cans of diced tomatoes, 30 tubs of tomato paste and a dozen cans of corn kernels. Not to mention the toilet paper rolls. We also have a money box for coins (who said they’re just for kids?) and we never spend a $5 note. Both are deposited into our bank accounts every couple of months.

5. We treat ourselves

Importantly though, we don’t ignore the need to treat ourselves. Date nights are essential and we try to do something different each week. We also don’t deprive ourselves, or our son for that matter, of new things when needed.

Having these conversations and plans in place means we have absolute confidence in each other when it comes to our money. We trust that if something is bought, it’s necessary, and we never question each other’s expenses, helping with that tricky financial dynamic while I get a handle on being a hands-on working mum.

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