Your Life Simplified

How to Prepare for Maternity Leave

February 1, 2024

Having a new child can bring immense amounts of joy, but it can also bring stress, especially when it comes to being financially prepared. This week, Valerie Escobar, senior wealth advisor, is joined by Whitney Reagan, wealth advisor. They’ll discuss aspects like the Family Medical Leave Act, short-term disability and preparing your team for your leave, to help prepare before welcoming a new child.

Transcript

Valerie Escobar: On today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about babies. Not the actual babies, but all the things that as a mom you need to prepare for when you are expecting a baby, or a spouse or a partner of any sort, but just really all the things that really go into that preliminary stage of having a new child come into your home.

I’m Valerie Escobar, certified financial planner with Mariner Wealth Advisors. You’re listening to Your Life Simplified, and today, I am joined by Whitney Reagan, wealth advisor here at Mariner as well. Whitney, thanks for joining us.

Whitney Reagan: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Valerie: I am really excited, as you can tell, about today’s topic. This was your idea. What possibly could have inspired you to talk on this topic?

Whitney: Well, Valerie, first of all, I was under the impression that when I volunteered that this was going to be audio only, so I didn’t know that this is going to be video, too … I’m a little outside my comfort zone. But you can see that I am very pregnant, so this topic is very timely for me. And I’m going on maternity leave for the third time, I’m having my third child in about six weeks, and as I was planning for just being on leave, I realized that it doesn’t come any easier on your third time, as I thought it would, I thought it would be easier than my first time. So I guess having your first child or having your tenth child, God bless those people, it still just gives you a wave of emotions and anxiety, and I thought by sharing just tips and tricks and any tools, maybe financial planning tools, would help at least one person, then I’ve done my job here. But I get a little nutty about this whole planning process.

So I thought what inspired me ultimately was vulnerability and authenticity and just sharing my experience, and hopefully being able to share this with other people that are going through the same experience.

Valerie: Awesome. And I’ve only had one and that was, for me, extremely overwhelming, so God bless you for doing this three times. But the first thing I think we should touch on is that financial planning piece. I think both of us are similar personalities that we want to stay with … let’s look at what firm facts are there available, maybe that’ll help ground us a little bit. So FMLA, Family Medical Leave Act, that’s really, I think, a good starting point. Can you talk about what that is and how that impacts the whole process?

Whitney: Yes, and I will say, so thinking about this topic today, in planning for maternity leave, I was really thinking through two primary topics that we could roll through. And as Valerie said, we’ll touch on the financial planning aspect and any maybe financial planning techniques that you can use, and then the other side is what I refer to as the soft skill suggestions and just mental preparation and preparing to help your team as you leave. So those are the two areas we will focus on. But as Valerie and all of our audience knows, there’s a lot that goes into maternity leave or medical leave or being on leave, and just we could take this topic into so many different directions. So my point is that I would love to just try and focus on those two areas, and if you want me to come back, I can.

Valerie: Perfect, yeah. No, let’s definitely start with, yeah, I think the emotional part is going to be such a big piece, but let’s start with Family Medical Leave Act. What is that?

Whitney: So the Family Medical Leave Act is essentially your employer is giving you the job security and you’re protected while you go on medical leave, so it’s not necessarily … I’m glad you started with this, because it’s not necessarily that you are definitely going to get paid maternity leave or paid medical leave. All they’re required to do is, by the Act, it says that you are going to get paid or unpaid maternity leave for up to 12 weeks, and … sorry, go ahead.

Valerie: No. And so really, it’s about job security. So there’s so many different components, but this one’s just a narrowly, it’s I can feel confident that I can go on maternity leave and be able to come back and know there’s a job waiting for me. Correct?

Whitney: Correct.

Valerie: Okay.

Whitney: And that’s something I want to be very clear about, because not everybody gets paid maternity leave and not everybody gets paid medical leave. So, we’ve made some big strides with this Act that you are protected, and you don’t have to feel scared when you go on leave that your job isn’t going to be there when you come back. However, that’s something that you need to prepare for if you don’t get paid maternity leave.

So, the FMLA is giving you … there’s some parameters around FMLA. So I think first and foremost, what you want to do whenever you know that you’re going to have a baby or you’re going on a planned medical leave is explore your options with your HR department and look at your handbook and just see what different options you have for preparing for this time off. And FMLA is going to allow you to take up to 12 weeks, however, again, there’s some parameters around that. Your employer needs to have at least 50 employees, and you need to have worked for your employer for at least a year. And again, you can go through some of these parameters and understand the specifics around the law and around what’s given at your employer by talking to your HR department. So that would be the first thing that I would say is explore FMLA and what it says at your employer, at your firm.

Valerie: Perfect. Yeah, okay. So now, I can feel, okay, I can leave, and something will be there when I get back. But now, when I’m gone, how am I going to eat? What am I going to pay my bills with? So there’s different types of coverage. I always thought it was hilarious that short-term disability applies to having a baby. When you have a baby, I feel not disabled, but that I have to come up with superpowers to be able to run my life. But there is, in fact, at least in some cases, correct, that there’s coverage available under short-term disability?

Whitney: Correct. So if you find out that your FMLA is unpaid and then you want to apply for short-term disability, this is very important, again, to understand the clarity around it, because you want to have short-term disability in place before you get pregnant. The reason being there’s some preexisting condition language in there, and if you sign up for short-term disability after you find out you’re pregnant, it’s not going to really be able to be utilized until your next pregnancy. So, I’m sure when you sign up for benefits, your HR department will probably lay these out clearly, but I just wanted to say that there.

And the other thing on short-term disability is if you have a spouse and they have these benefits in place, the husband, let’s just say husband and wife, the husband’s short-term disability cannot be used for his wife in her maternity leave. So, another thing to just clarify is that you, as, say, for me, having a baby in six weeks, my short-term disability has to be for me, it can’t be for anybody else. The other thing to consider on short-term disability is when you file a claim, and say it’s already in place and you file a claim, it could potentially only account for 40% to 60% of your salary.

Valerie: Right.

Whitney: So there’s another way that you have to consider filling that cup with other … How are you going to fill up that gap in salary or payment that you used to get before you were on maternity leave? Which is also intimidating, and if you are thinking about going on 12 weeks maternity leave and you need to sign up for short-term disability, you get 40% of your pay, that’s a pretty big chunk that you’re going to have to account for and hopefully fill up in some other way.

Valerie: Yeah. And so, a lot of what we’re talking about thus far is about somebody that has a partner, and so being able to depend on that partner and say, “Okay, we’re going to have to figure this out together, and maybe your income or we’re saving up ahead of time to be able to take care of that.” And so, yeah, it sounds like it’s really just about planning ahead of time.

Whitney: It is, yes. I think how you can think about it is creating a budget, and Valerie said it pretty clear here, that we’re talking about you having a partner and a spouse, and some people don’t have that. Some people are single moms getting ready to have a baby, which is another layer of stress and anxiety, so when we talk about the emotional aspect, I think that we can talk about some tips there.

But whether you’re married or you are single and you are having a baby, what you need to take into account is your expenses and your income, and this is just basic budgeting. However, my recommendation is to be very, very specific and very detailed, not just a general budget that you’re looking at and your income and your expenses but look at where your money is going every month. So maybe giving an example would help. Let’s say you have an income of $5,000 a month, that would be $60,000 a year, and you’re looking at your expenses currently, and say your expenses are $3,000 a month. So if you currently have some savings in place that you’ve already put into your savings account, or maybe you have a brokerage account that you’re saving, I would say that you need to look at that as covering your expenses, not just your salary, the $5,000, I would look at starting to save early on to cover those expenses.

So, if you look at three months’ maternity leave, and you don’t have any paid maternity leave, and maybe short-term disability isn’t something that you have either, I would do 3,000 times three is 9,000, so you would want to save up for $9,000. That’s just to cover your expenses. Then you want to take into account a little bit of a buffer, because babies are expensive, too, and I think there’s some statistics out there that a child costs $18,000 a year, which is $1,500 a month, so you want to make sure and account for that after the baby is born. But then, diapers could cost up to $1,000 a year.

So I’m not trying to give you all the costs of having a baby, I’m just trying to help make it a little bit more organized as to what you want to save towards. And when you’re preparing for maternity leave specifically, I think that you just need to plan for those three months and what your expenses are versus what your income is going to be, and if you have to supplement income that is getting taken away during that time because you’re not getting paid for maternity leave, these are some things to think about in the financial planning aspect of it.

Valerie: Perfect, yeah. Maybe that last quiver, or last bow in your quiver, I don’t hunt, so I’m not sure. Is that the right terminology? I don’t know. But another tool would be paid time off.

Whitney: Yes.

Valerie: So if I have two weeks, whatever it is, and you feel like, you know what? I’m just going to use it now. Maybe that’s my entire vacation for the rest of the year. Sometimes when you have a baby, you don’t get a vacation for 10 years.

Whitney: That’s right.

Valerie: Yeah, so that would be something else.

Whitney: I’m glad you touched on that …

Valerie: Yeah.

Whitney: … just really quick. There is paid time off that you could potentially allocate towards it, vacation days, and there’s other ways to work around allowing to get yourself paid during that time off. So again, yeah, I think just talking with your HR department and looking at your policies and handbook is always helpful.

Valerie: Perfect, yeah. So, now we talked about some of the money, some of the firm things. I think another part when you have a baby, for anybody out there that’s never been pregnant, your hormones are nuts. You’re trying to make a baby, and that takes a lot of I think your brain power, to some extent, to be able to just be super rational. I remember just feeling very paranoid and scared about everything, feeling I’m going to leave my colleagues in the lurch or something. So I think that’s something that we’ve talked about earlier, that you feel similar.

Whitney: Yes.

Valerie: So, what can we do to help that not happen?

Whitney: Yes. So being pregnant is a very exciting time, but there’s a lot of emotions and a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of feelings that go into it. And I can say I go into a little bit of a cycle of crazy, as I would call it, and that’s not neither … I’m not trying to be negative, I’m just saying I go a little nutty during this time, and it’s for a good reason. We have a lot of hormones, we have physical changes, we have mental changes, we have to worry about the finances, there’s all these things that come at you. And when I told my husband I was doing this podcast, he was like, “Are you going to mention the fact that every time you go through this, you think that you’re not going to have a job when you come back?” And it’s like that, again, cycle of crazy, like I’m neurotic, and I think that I’m not going to have the job, even though FMLA protects me.

Valerie: And you’ve clearly continued to have the job after two already. Yes.

Whitney: So going through that emotional anxiety, I think that what I like to do, I’m a planner, I’m a planner as a career, but I’m also a planner just in my personal life, and I think what I try to do is I try to think through my jobs and my tasks and really get everything documented. So this is something that I’ve done the last couple of times, and again, it doesn’t get any easier, but you start to go through the motions of making sure you are preparing your team and your supervisor and anybody that’s going to take over your job, you prepare them well enough to do your job while you’re out. And ultimately, Valerie, the goal here is to help you be able to let go of control and let go of things. And if you think about it that you’re helping develop other people …

Valerie: Oh, that’s good point.

Whitney: … because they’re stepping in to help you with your job, then you can go and spend that quality bonding time with your new baby and not have this guilt or looming responsibility that you’ve left at work, and you’re uncertain about what you left for your team. So, the goal is to feel great about leaving and spending that time with your baby, because ultimately, you can’t get that time back with your baby.

Valerie: Right.

Whitney: And the job is going to be there. We’ve already established that, right?

Valerie: Right.

Whitney: FMLA, your job is going to be there when you get back.

Valerie: Don’t forget that, Whitney.

Whitney: Yeah.

Valerie: Your job is going to be there when you get back.

Whitney: That’s right. I’ve got to keep giving myself my own advice.

Valerie: Right.

Whitney: But knowing that, and knowing that you want to prepare yourself, what I like to do is document in, whether it’s a memo or some kind of notes that your team has access to, I like to separate it out by my projects and my ongoing tasks and having detailed instructions and notes on how to do these different processes and projects, and where I’m at in those projects, so what’s left to do on a specific project. And then, the most important thing, I think, is accountability, so who is owning that project? If it’s Valerie’s going to step in for me on maybe something specific, then I want to make sure and document that you have an owner for that project so nothing goes unnoticed or nothing slips through the cracks.

And we work a lot with clients, so you want to make sure your clients feel very comfortable. So again, you’re documenting things for your team, but you’re also communicating to your clients, and you’re communicating to anybody that you work with outside of your office that you are going to be on leave, but that you have a plan in place, and everything is going to be seamless and business as usual while you are gone.

Valerie: Absolutely, yeah. I think we always try to talk about the strength of our teams. And so, yeah, you don’t want to always just have me, there are other people, and this is one of the reasons why.

Whitney: Yes.

Valerie: So, I think that’s a perfect setup. I think for a lot of what we’re talking about is generally for career-oriented women, that their plan is to come back after having a child. And so, one of the reasons we come back is because we really enjoy our jobs, our careers are important to us. And so, we miss out on some stuff perhaps while we’re gone, and I think that matters, I think that’s something that we should pay attention to. And so, what would be something that our colleagues perhaps could do for us …

Whitney: Yeah.

Valerie: … to help us with some of that. Oh, what did you call it?

Whitney: I called it FOMOW. So my last maternity leave, I was, again, going through my cycle of crazy and really worried about missing out on stuff, and I have FOMOW, what I call fear of missing out on work, and my colleagues knew it …

Valerie: Which only applies to crazy pregnant women, maybe.

Whitney: Touché. And I can vouch for that. So I have the fear of missing out on work, and my colleagues knew that, and they knew that I was going to be feeling like I was going to miss out on not only just work work, but funny fun work and stuff that they were doing, like parties or activities or events, just things in general work related. And when I got back, they had created this note for me where they had jotted down funny things that happened while I was gone so that I didn’t feel like I had missed out and I could come back. And it was so just heartwarming, because it was lighthearted and it was funny, and I was having anxiety coming back to work.

Because we haven’t touched on that, but coming back to work is even a little bit scary, because you’re leaving the baby that you just became very attached to, and you’re going back to a job that you’re not sure if you’re going to have a whole load of work or if there’s not going to be anything for you to do, so there’s some emotions rummaging around in your head there. But they made it lighthearted and funny, and they gave me these stories or anecdotes of just funny things that happened while I was gone, and that was something that was really awesome for me specifically, because I felt like I was missing out on stuff.

Valerie: Yeah. And I like that because one of the things I felt like was, “Is everyone going to be really mad at me when I come back because I left them with all of this work?” But they’re like, “No, they’re excited for you. They’re excited to have you back.”

Whitney: Yeah.

Valerie: For sure. And so, then that leads to the last point that I really wanted to talk about. Again, we were talking about most for this has been if you have a partner, this is what you can do. Some people don’t have partners when they’re having a baby. And so, I think let’s talk about what can you do, because … and this is about communities, building a community around us, and I think even our colleagues are part of that, but I don’t know, what consists of a community?

Whitney: Yes. And can I touch on one more thing just really quick before we jump to communities?

Valerie: Yeah.

Whitney: I wanted to mention, I actually got this advice from someone else for maternity leave and going on leave, and I think it’s really good to note here. If you’re worried about your job being there when you come back or the kind of success you’re going to have, maybe you feel a little like you’re out of the loop and you are a little rusty, that’s the word I’m looking for, a little rusty on just things work related, I think something that you could do is jot down your top 10 accomplishments that you’ve achieved or accomplished maybe this year before you go on leave, so then you know that you did a really good job before you left, and then you can come back and see those accomplishments and be like, “Okay, this makes me feel good. I did this, I deserve to be here.” And it can give you that motivation for coming back. I just think that mentally can help somebody as they’re adjusting to go back to work.

Valerie: Awesome.

Whitney: Okay, sorry.

Valerie: Perfect, yes.

Whitney: I thought that was useful information for me personally, and I thought I’d share it.

So on the community piece, great points that you might not have a spouse, you might not have a partner, and I think when you go on maternity leave, or if you go on leave, somehow surrounding yourself with support groups. And one of my biggest pieces of advice was actually at a woman’s event last week, and I said this in that event as well, is don’t try to do it all yourself. That is what I tried to do when I had my first kid, and I failed. You are overly exhausted, and you don’t have the capacity to do it all, and you have laundry and meals to prep and lack of sleep and baby’s crying. You name it, things are going on, and I cannot emphasize enough that you should not be doing it alone.

So, I would say enlist help in different various ways of maybe you hire someone to do your laundry, maybe you enlist or accept the help of your friends where they want to bring over dinner or just cook you dinner, or maybe you decide that part of your budget is ordering takeout every night instead of having to cook, because you don’t have time to cook. So, I think really leaning on a community is important, whether you have a partner or you don’t. And then, you can also join support groups for new maternity mothers. And I think there’s a lot of mental health triggers that, again, can spin you into a dark place, and so I think taking care of your mental health is really important during this time as well. I’m a big fan of a gratitude journal and journaling, so I think if you need time to work through any kind of mental health issues, then journaling is always a good tool, and meditation.

Valerie: Awesome. Perfect. Well, thank you all so much for joining us today. Whitney, it was wonderful having you on today. You’ve been listening to Your Life Simplified. Be sure to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’ wherever you are tuning in, and we will catch you next time.

Whitney: Thank you so much.

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