What I learnt from maternity leave – and how you can benefit from my mistakes

Authored on
08 Sep 2022



I’ve got some breaking news for you: babies are expensive. But the real expense of having a baby isn’t the endless supply of nappies, or the £1,000 prams that some feel compelled to buy, or the various gadgets you order when sleep-deprived in the hope they’ll buy you an hour more slumber. It’s in the cost of maternity leave. It’s the lost earnings, the reduced pension payments, and slashed bonuses from taking time off.

Some of these factors you just have to accept as part of the payoff of having a kid and taking time out, but some of them can be mitigated (at least partially). I’ve now been back from maternity leave for six months, after 11 months off. So, here’s what I learnt in my time off (in the hope that it might help some of you).

How do I stop a career break ruining my finances?

Get the money side sorted before you start your maternity leave

Clearly, the really clever thing to do is work out what maternity pay you’ll be entitled to before you even get pregnant, but that ship may have sailed. In which case, ask HR for all the information you can get your hands on. Check if you get enhanced pay and when you become eligible for it, as some companies require you to work there for a year or two.

I discovered that had my baby been due a week later I wouldn’t have been able to get my company’s enhanced pay – so be smarter than me and plan ahead. Whether you get enhanced pay or not, it’s a good idea to work out what you’ll have coming in each month – and any months where you won’t get any income, so that it doesn’t come as a nasty surprise. It means you know how much you’ll need to save to supplement the leaner months.

Use your KIT days

‘Keeping in Touch’ or KIT days are where you work a day during your maternity leave and you get paid for a full day’s work. They don’t affect your maternity pay and are a really good way of boosting your income, particularly when your paid maternity pay has run out at the end of your time off.

Many companies have a relaxed attitude about how much work qualifies for a KIT day, and often just a few hours will suffice. Aside from the financial benefits, they’re also a really good way to remind yourself what your job is, and that you used to do something other than sing nursery rhymes all day.

Claim child benefit

You can claim child benefit from the day your baby is born – although it’s unlikely to be the first task on your list. Either you or your partner can apply, and it has a double benefit: first, you get paid £1,100 a year for your first child. Second, it can give you National Insurance credits, which ultimately help towards your state pension. The NI credits are particularly needed if your maternity pay is very low, but also if you don’t plan to return to work straight away and want to take a career break.

Child benefit is a little bit tricky if either you or your partner is earning more than £50,000 a year, as the amount you’ll actually receive starts to get reduced. And if either of you earn £60,000 or more, you aren’t eligible for any of the benefit. But even if you don’t get the benefit, it could still be worth claiming for the National Insurance credit. Yes, the Government has made it brain-achingly complicated, but don’t let that put you off as it’s potentially a lucrative one to claim (but maybe outsource it to someone else if you’re suffering particularly bad baby-brain).

Facebook Marketplace is your friend

Before having a baby, I was a bit sniffy about second-hand stuff for babies. I’m not sure why, maybe I had images of everything being tatty and stained. But now it’s my best friend, and probably the single best way I cut costs while on maternity leave.

However minimalist you aim to be, babies need quite a lot of stuff, much of which they only use for a few months. Rather than buying all of it new, you can get some absolute bargains second hand and in very good condition. It’s also a great way to de-clutter and make a bit of money back once your baby has grown out of stuff – my husband is bemused by how often someone appears at our front door waving a tenner and waiting to buy some other random baby item.

Talk to your partner

Every couple has a different way of managing their finances, and there’s no single right way. But you need to make sure that you’re both aware of the financial implications of having a baby and that you’ve worked out how to share those costs. For my husband and I this was a bit easier as we have combined finances already, so we just accounted for the fact that our joint income was going to be a lot lower during my time off.

But for couples who have entirely separate money still, this will require a bit more discussion (and potentially negotiation) of who pays for what while you’re off. But it’s much easier to have that chat ahead of time, before you’re actually on maternity leave, so that everyone is aware of what they need to pay for.

These articles are for information purposes only and are not a personal recommendation or advice.