Welcome to Women's Money Week!

WMW15 brings together the best and brightest in personal finance the first week in March to discuss money issues as they uniquely relate to women. It's about taking control of your finances and reshaping your financial future. Sign up for the email list to get the free 14 point checklist and stay up to date on the week.

Here’s the second round-up of #WMW15 Posts:

Coming home with a baby

I have countless birth announcement emails from friends. They’re all cuddling their freshly born babies, sleek hair framing a tired but smiling face (is that MAKEUP??), painted nails, even classy jewelry.

Me? If I wasn’t already flattened I’d have collapsed into a pile of jelly legged oh my GOD is that over, really? face haloed by a wild nest of hair that could substitute for Medusa’s wig. Hands clasping the new LB that had been too swollen to wear my rings for months. Elegant, not so much. But realistic.

A Guide to Saving for Maternity Leave

In my opinion as soon you decide to have children, (no matter how far into the future that day may seem), you should start setting money aside for the big day. Think of having a child like any other big financial goal in life. You know you need to save to buy a house, a new car or to travel on an exotic vacation, so why not save to expand your family?

The sooner you decide to save the larger that sum will swell. If you don’t earn a lot of money set aside a little bit each paycheck. You’d be surprised how quickly those numbers can add up over time. Set a big goal for yourself. Imagine you don’t know where you’ll work a few years from this point in time and whether or not maternity pay will be offered. You are married and want a family but you aren’t certain when. Start a savings account dedicated to financing your maternity leave.

Not Qualifying for FLMA

It might be Women’s Money Week, but paternity leave affects women too. FMLA covers family leave for men AND women, but few men take full advantage of it, even when they qualify. There’s a lot to be said about the sexism exposed by punishing employees who take all the leave they are qualified to take when they have a child (or are caring for a sick spouse, or other things that FMLA covers), but that’s not something I’m taking on today.

Today I’m going to talk about what happens if you aren’t covered by FMLA.

Maternity Leave – How Much is Enough

Planning for maternity leave sucks. When I found out I was expecting my first child I sat down with a calendar and mapped out the days and weeks until I would need to return to work.

My son was due in late October and I ran all sorts of calculations to determine the maximum amount of time I could spend at home. Since my vacation hours reset in the new year I wondered if I could take STD, a week or two of vacation, then maternity leave and take another two or three weeks of vacation after that.

FMLA Pays How Much?!

It comes as a pretty rude surprise to a lot of people that even if they qualify for FMLA, it’s not what they think it is.

FMLA itself is unpaid. Meaning, no paychecks. Meaning, no retirement contributions and no PTO accruing. Meaning also, your employer is not required to pay your non-salary benefits. If they provide health insurance, for example, they are required to keep up the policy but they are not required to pay for it. So, you might get a bill for your portion of the premiums during the twelve weeks that you are also not earning any money. Yes, this is legal. (Most employers simply deduct the amount owed from your paychecks after you return to work – but if  you don’t return, you might have to write them a check!).

How to Save Money (And Your Sanity) on Maternity Leave

So your beautiful bundle of joy has arrived and you’re brimming over with happiness.

Ten perfect fingers. Ten perfect toes. You spend hours staring at your baby, memorizing their every tiny expression and gesture. You wait by their side, anticipating their every need and want just so you can be close to them.

Okay, maybe that’s not actually what happens. In real life, this probably never happens. If your experience is anything like mine was, you walk around in a sleep-deprived haze desperate for a twenty-minute shower without interruption from your pint-sized problem-creator. You love your child but there are probably times when everything seems a little overwhelming – both emotionally and financially.

What’s it Like To Be a New Dad During Parental Leave?

If you are part of a couple with plans to start a family, chances are that you’ve begun to ask a series of potentially life-changing questions. Are you emotionally ready for a baby? How about financially? What kinds of plans, financial or otherwise, are required before the baby is born? And perhaps the most pressing, who will take time off to raise the baby?

Traditionally the mothers stay home to be with their newborns, while the fathers work, even work overtime, to support the family. Canadian labor law does allow parents to share or split parental leave, which does give new fathers the option to take time off from their own jobs.

How to Prepare Financially For Maternity Leave

Many women wait until they are in their second trimester before telling their employer they are expecting.  But you can start saving for your maternity leave long before that.

Once you know you are pregnant, start saving. Begin setting aside some money from your paycheck.  Sell some things you no longer need to raise some extra cash.  Cut back on any unnecessary expenses.  Save every penny you can.

 

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How I Negotiated for 4 Months Paid Maternity Leave

by Kimberly Sanberg on March 4, 2015

When I found out I was pregnant in the spring 2011, one of the first things I did was investigate my maternity leave benefits. I pulled up my employee handbook on my computer and scrolled to the parental leave section.

I was appalled by what I saw: I was entitled to 2 weeks of 100% paid leave. (The US, which requires 0 weeks of paid parental leave, has the absolute worst maternity leave of any developed country in the world.)

That’s two weeks to recover from childbirth. Two weeks to bond with my new baby. Two weeks to master breastfeeding, pumping, and bottle feeding. Two weeks to get into some kind of sleep schedule that left me with enough brainpower to function at work.

Determined to fight for more leave, I got to work right away. In the end, I negotiated for 16 weeks of leave, 8 of it paid at 100% of my salary, an additional 5 weeks paid at $500/week through short-term disability insurance, and used 2 weeks of vacation and 1 week of unpaid leave.

Here’s how I did it.

Step 1: Explore Your Options

Unfortunately, most women in the US have to cobble together whatever leave they can in order to spend more than a couple of weeks with their newborn babies. The first step is to look into any kind of leave you think you could pile up — vacation, disability insurance, sick days, holidays, floating days, you name it.

Read your employee handbook. Write down any questions you have for HR. Spend some time googling the different kinds of leave women have put together for their maternity leave. Not everything may be explicitly outlined in your employee handbook, especially if you work for a small company; short-term disability insurance wasn’t mentioned as part of parental leave in my employee handbook. I brought it up with my HR person and, together, we called the insurance company to figure out my options. It turned out I was eligible for short-term disability.

Mom with Daughters

Step 2: Do Your Research

I worked for an international organization with offices in countries around the world. I researched government-mandated leave in those countries and made a chart outlining the amount of leave to which women working in our other offices were entitled vs. the amount of leave I would get under the current US policy. I laid out the reasons the US maternity leave policy should be improved, including that it didn’t align with the organization’s progressive values.

In your case, you might instead do a competitive analysis of sorts of similar companies in your field.  This article is a good place to start your research. Do whatever you think will make the most compelling case to management at your organization.

Step 3: Put Your Ear to the Ground

See what information about maternity leave you can gather around the office. Talk to colleagues who have recently taken maternity leave. Ask them how much they took and whether they have any tips for navigating the system or getting more leave. I was the first person to take maternity leave at my office, so I made my own path, which had its advantages and disadvantages. I know moms-to-be who have gotten great tips from colleagues about how to approach the leave conversation.

If you have a good relationship with your supervisor, start a conversation with him or her and see if you can get a sense of how flexible the policy is. Your supervisor understands how valuable you are to the company and might end up being your biggest advocate.

Step 4: Craft Your Proposal

Once you’ve done your research and talked to colleagues, figure out what you want to ask for. I recommend keeping any kind of formal proposal to 1-2 pages and including charts and/or graphs and bullet points to make it easy to read. Summarize your research (including competitive analysis), state what you want, and make a case for why it will be good for the company — and for you — to get more leave. Make sure you keep the focus on how it will benefit the company; instead of saying, “My family can’t make it 3 months without my salary” (even if it’s true), say something like, “Company values family and hard work. When I return after 4 months of paid leave, I will be energized and ready to jump back in, which will be good for me and for Company.”

Be sure to include information about the preparation you will do before your leave starts — cross-training a colleague or temp, outlining processes for your work, etc.

Step 5: Negotiate

Women often shy away from negotiating, which can contribute to their getting paid less — and getting fewer benefits — than their male counterparts (women in the US earn 79 cents for every dollar men earn). According to a 2013 article in The Atlantic, men are four times more likely than women to enter salary negotiations and 20% of women say they will never negotiate — even when it’s appropriate and expected.

Benefits and salaries are almost always negotiable. When you ask for more, the worst thing that can happen is that your employer will say no. It’s worth the risk. It might make you uncomfortable and it might feel unnatural. That’s okay; it will be worth it. A simple negotiation around parental leave can mean you get to spend one or two more precious months with your new baby. Prepare for your negotiation by reading this advice for women from master negotiator Margaret A. Neale and by practicing with a friend or spouse. Don’t be embarrassed or intimidated. Negotiation is part of all work environments and the payoff can be huge.

Step 6: Be the Change

Even if you don’t get everything you’re hoping for during your maternity leave negotiation, remember you are still making an impact. Every woman (and man) who asks for — or demands — better parental leave is one more reminder to management that family leave is essential. The message to companies is clear: If they want to keep good employees, they’re going to have to start improving their parental leave policy. When you talk start a conversation about maternity leave, you force your company to confront reality and consider positive change.

Good luck!

How have other moms and dads negotiated for parental leave? Share your experience in the comments below.

Photo credit: donnieray

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Canada vs US Maternity Leave – One Family’s Experience and More (Roundup)

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