Confession #1 – I’m not an expert. I’m a first-timer, after all. On top of the steep learning curve that comes with becoming parents, my husband and I are also trying to navigate our budget, possible implications for our jobs, how to make sure we’re tracking bills alongside our medical plan, and how to use and change our benefits. And that’s all on top of picking out fun stuff like paint colors. Agreeable grey for now.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way from people who are experts:
1. Learn your medical plan.
“One of the first things you’ll want to understand is how your medical plan covers your pregnancy and delivery,” said Michelle Jackson, mother of triplets and assistant vice president of regional market development at Colonial Life’s parent company.
She suggests nailing down answers to questions like: How much is your deductible? Will you meet your out-of-pocket max? Is your current doctor in the network? Will a mid-wife or doula be covered? What if you have complications during delivery – is that covered? How much will your baby’s deductible be once he or she arrives?
These are some questions you’ll have to answer as you prep for frequent office visits and delivery. Lean on your medical plan provider to help clarify any unknowns.
2. Understand other benefits and provisions available to you.
“Once the medical aspects of your prenatal, postnatal and delivery are handled, your next thoughts will be, ‘How are we going to afford this when I’m not able to work or receive a paycheck?’” Jackson continued. “Short term disability is a benefit that provides income protection and can safeguard against some of the financial burden that comes with time out of work.”
Short term disability can pay a portion of your income in the event of illness or injury or, in this case, giving birth.
One additional hint: account for the “elimination period” as you plan. Typically, you’ll be out of work for a certain amount of time before you qualify, so think about how you’ll pay for or manage the week, or so, before you’re eligible for your disability benefits.
Paired with Family Medical Leave (FML), which protects your job for at least 12 weeks if you’re eligible, this benefit can provide extra peace of mind during what I’m told is a hectic time. If you have short term benefits, be sure to call your provider and let them know you’re having a baby at least 30 days before the due date.
And even if you aren’t expecting yet, be sure to say “yes” to this benefit in advance. Otherwise, you will not be able to reap maternity benefits after you find out you’re pregnant.
You should also ask your employer about additional leave policies that may apply. For example, some companies offer a corporate parental leave or family leave benefit, and some states mandate it. New York is one such state and requires employers to provide at least 8 weeks of paid leave in addition to protecting employees’ jobs.
With short term, FMLA and paid time off figured out, you can confidently start to plan how much time you’ll take off from work and be able to discuss those details with your manager and teammates as you get closer to “go time.”
3. Check into less obvious provisions from your employer.
After you’ve nailed down the details of your benefits and time off, find out about additional services you may have access to.
New milk storage services like Milk Stork are revolutionizing breastfeeding. Working moms can now have their “liquid gold” securely shipped while traveling. Some companies, like Colonial Life, are paying for their employees’ milk storage expenses during business travel to ensure moms who choose to breastfeed can do so.
You can also work ahead to find out where lactation rooms are located, how to schedule them and check your medical insurance plan to see if a breast pump is covered. The law requires that mothers have access to a free breast pump, even if it’s just the hand-held sort. But some employers go above-and-beyond the requirement and will cover electric pumps.
4. Financial planning won’t save you… but do it anyways.
“Many first-time parents aren’t financially prepared for that crucial first year, no matter how much money they make,” Nerd Wallet, a resource for financial planning of all sorts, reports.
Why? Among the key findings of their research, 54% of hopeful parents believe their baby’s first year of life will cost $5,000 or less. In reality, your baby can cost you that much before he or she even makes their appearance, depending on your insurance.
If you want to take a more realistic look at costs, this baby calculator (and a lot of self-awareness on spending) may help with a ballpark figure.
And, of course, the first step to being financially prepared for a baby is to be financially prepared before a baby. Line-by-line, account for your expenses, figure out where you have margin and, compared to your new monthly expenses with a baby, plan.
There are tons of great resources on planning for a baby. John Schmoll, of Frugal Rules, offers 7 steps for budgeting on his blog dedicated to money matters.
Below is a short list to ask your Human Resources department or benefits provider about how to navigate:
• Family Medical Leave
• Short Term Disability, including elimination periods and required paperwork
• Paid Time Off
• Mandated leave policies, if required in your state
• Private, company-based leave provisions specific to your company
• Lactation rooms and scheduling
• Work from home or flexible arrangements
• Milk storage and delivery
• Employee discounts at local daycare facilities
• Financial planning resources
• Maternity education resources
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