The cost of raising a child is nothing to sneeze at, but for many expecting couples, it's the financial consequences of maternity leave that have them rattled.
How soon to go back to work for additional income is the top fight pregnant women have with their spouse, according to a new NerdWallet survey of 604 pregnant women and 613 mothers with teenage children. Among the women surveyed, 31 percent of pregnant women and 30 percent of experienced moms cited it as their most frequent fight. Other common fights revolved around related issues such as whether to leave work to spend more time with the child (18 percent of expectant moms and 17 percent of experienced moms) and the cost of child care (14 percent of moms in each category).
"Having a baby is a wonderful event," said certified financial planner Harriet J. Brackey, co-chief investment officer of GSK Wealth Advisors in South Florida. "Being pinched for money at the same time isn't exactly what you want."
As a result, duration of maternity leave is also the topic most pregnant women want to know more about, with 49 percent having questions pertaining to either staying at home or going back to work immediately, according to NerdWallet. A little more than a quarter of experienced moms said they wished that as a new parent, they'd received advice "to stay home as long as they can with their child," while 6 percent said they wish they'd been told to head back to work ASAP.
The good news if you're expecting? You've got several months' notice to figure things out and make a few financial changes that could make the decision easier.
Start by exploring policies to see how long you can stay home on paid leave, said Brackey. U.S. law doesn't require employers to offer paid maternity leave, although under the Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees are entitled to 12 work-weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a newborn child. It's common for workers to cobble together paid leave through a combination of short-term disability policies, paid time off from the company and unused vacation days, she said. Three states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—also provide for some paid family leave for residents.
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Then take a hard look at your budget. "Are both salaries important to cover all the expenses?" asked certified financial planner Victoria Fillet, founder of Blueprint Financial Planning in Hoboken, N.J. That answer, and your ability to sock away extra cash as a "maternity emergency fund," will be key factors in how much unpaid time off you can afford to take, she said. Resist the urge to have your regular emergency fund do double duty for maternity leave savings, she added—that way, other unexpected financial expenses like car repairs or health care won't force you back to work earlier than expected.
Reduce what expenses you can now so that living off that reduced income won't be such a jolt after giving birth, said Elizabeth Scheiderer, a certified financial planner with NCA Financial Planners in Cleveland. "You don't want to stay home at a rate of 19 percent on your credit card," she said.