Surviving Maternity Leave Financially

I am extremely fortunate to be living in Australia as a mother on maternity leave but also to have a decent job with several weeks of maternity leave pay and a husband with a good job. This means that we can afford for me to have a whole year off (most unpaid) which I know is a big luxury compared to many other families and also the situation in other countries such as the US where maternity leave pay is rare. Here in Australia though we like to compare ourselves with families in Europe with far more maternity leave pay and better conditions than ourselves! But I really am grateful for what we have here already.

Despite the bit of help from my workplace and from the Australian government (which gives 18 weeks paid leave at minimum wage), my going on maternity leave is a significant reduction in our regular family income. On top of this having a new baby and doing activities that mothers on maternity leave often do can create some potential new expenses we didn’t have before.

Despite this i have managed to 6 months post birth to have never used the ATM and to have not had to ask my husband for any spending money. However my husband does pay our rent, mortgage, bills, food etc out of his wage. But I have bought most baby items we needed after the birth as well as all my own social expenses, clothing, mobile phone bill, even a new $500 mobile phone from cash.

So where did this cash come from? From selling items around our home in our effort to become more minimalist. I even managed to put quite a bit of this cash onto our house mortgage, as well as almost all of my maternity leave pay.

Here are some tips that i think will help those of you also on extended maternity leave or even permanent stay at home mums.

1. Beware of the Coffees!
There is nothing lovelier than coffee with other mummy friends. And I personally have found that my baby is way better behaved and entertained when i’m out of the house with friends in different environments. But all that coffee (and lunches potentially too depending on what your friends are like) can really add up!
I have cut this cost down a lot by only occasionally buying coffee when im out with friends and a lot of the time bringing my own coffee in a thermos that looks like a water bottle. We often go to cafes with a separate play cafe area when is a bit away from them main area and i’ve never ever been told off by the wait staff for drinking out of this bottle and not buying anything. This though might depend on where you go. So if that situation isn’t the same for you, perhaps suggest to your friends to either have homemade coffee at each others houses, or for them to get take-away and take it to a park/playground where you can drink your homemade coffee in a thermos in peace.

My husband and I got a really great expresso machine for our wedding which makes cafe quality coffee so it is never hard for me to convince everyone over to my place on a regular basis 🙂 Having lovely coffee at home also makes my less lovely thermos coffee out more bearable.

This is what my thermos looks like.

2. Buy your essential baby items before you have the baby while you still have an income from your work
Try to buy essential items like clothing, your pram, carseat etc before you baby comes. Most people will do this anyway but if you can stock up also on clothing for when your baby is a lot bigger than a newborn. While you won’t necessarily know what season your baby will fit into a size 1 etc. you can be pretty sure that items like singlets, and longsleeve sleepers will be used regardless of the season. For ideas on what really is a minimalist essentials baby list check out my posts on both the newborn stage and 6 weeks to 6months stage. I got most of the clothing from a charity store for next to nothing anyway but it still does add up when you are talking so many different baby sizes needed.

3. Sell unused Baby Items to Fund New Items When you Need Them
While you may want to keep some things for subsequent children, if something is cheap and readily available 2nd hand (such as bouncy chairs and baby baths) don’t waste storage space storing these items, sell them on to help fund things you have worked out you really need now. One thing this has been particularly useful for is baby carriers. I personally use woven wraps and have ‘swapped’ ones that were better at the tiny baby stage for ones that are better now that i have a 10kg 6 month old. I didn’t lose much money doing this, sometimes losing no money at all for what i paid for them originally by buying 2nd hand to begin with and finding the best market to sell these items on, usually speciality facebook groups.

4. Be open about your financial situation with your friends
If you are quite close to your other mummy friends who are you spending most of you time with during maternity leave, be open about wanting to spend less money and even save money during this time. Chances are at least some of them will be in the same position and be quite happy to do activities that cost less money. Sometimes people feel peer-pressure or don’t want to miss out so will go along with the group doing things they can’t really afford, so will be probably relieved that someone has spoken up. You don’t even need to be strapped financially to have this conversation. If you are like us, aiming to have our house paid off and be debt free in an extremely short amount of time, then most people will be understanding of this too, and often might be inspired to try to do the same.

5. Find free activities to do with your baby (and friends)
Yes you can just stay home, or just visit your friend’s houses on a rotational basis. But it is also nice to get out and do some activities or do something more than just chatting and drinking coffee once in a while. There are often lost of free activities run by libraries, local councils, health centers, churches etc that may be available to you to try. Some of these that I personally enjoy are baby storytime at the library, nippy gym (which is free for us since my child is still under 1), going to the park to use the swings or having picnics there with friends, going for walks. There is also regular get-togethers organised by our local community health center and while some of these activities do involve coffee I will usually go just for the social element and bring my own (see above). Some of my friends and I have also introduced activities into our local get-togethers at each other’s houses including cooking, craft and practicing babywearing using woven wraps.

6. Have a small savings Account with Money to Last the Whole Time of Your Leave
Rather than have to ask your partner for money during this time which is easy to lose track of, set aside while you still are working a small pool of money that you both agree to that is for all your activities, clothes, entertainment etc while you are on leave. You can always add to this by selling items if necessary once you are on leave. But this way you can keep a track of your spending overall and know when you might need to pull back if things are going a bit much. It might also feel a bit nicer to not have to ask your partner for money if you were previously used to having your own income before. This will probably only work if your leave has a set end date and you aren’t just becoming a full time stay at home mum (SAHM). If you are a SAHM then perhaps have a pool of money to last a set amount of time such as 6 months or 1 year. The longer amount of time this is meant to last then the better idea you will have of how much you are really spending. Ideally this pool of money shouldn’t be used for every day expenses such as groceries and bills. Have a separate shared bank account for these things.

7. When you Need to Buy Items go 2nd Hand Where Possible
This one is kind of obvious at least to me, but so many people don’t really do this for the full spectrum of items they buy for their lives. When you do need to buy things look at charity stores, ebay,, facebook buy/swap/sell groups etc. This is particularly useful for ALL baby items, but also clothing for yourself. No doubt you will want a few items of clothing post birth as you’ll no longer fit into your maternity clothes and may have found that many of the clothing from before the pregnancy are now either no longer fitting either, terribly out of fashion (next time chose more timeless pieces!) or not breast-feeding friendly. Get what you can at charity stores for this. T-shirts or singlet tops with stretchy necklines will be your favourite pieces if you are breastfeeding! No need to have a lot of expensive ‘nursing tops’. If you are shy of feeding in public, then get a scarf.


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