5 Things to Do Before Your Maternity Leave Ends

From one new mom to another.

No matter how much time you have home with baby before returning to work, it’s important to get as much out of your maternity leave as possible. Of course, maximum cuddle time is high on that list (along with napping as much as possible while baby is sleeping). However, there are a few other things you might want to add to your final to-do list to really maximize your time and feel ready to head to back to work.

1. Consider a Trip (Just a Little One)

While the idea of packing up your newborn and hitting the open road might seem silly, hear me out. The truth is, taking a trip, even a super-short one, will never be as easy as it is right now. For starters, you aren’t working, so you won’t have to ask for time off and be at the mercy of other colleagues’ vacations. Of course, your significant other is another story, but at least that’s just one person jockeying for time, not two.

Plus, newborns are the best travelers. They sleep most of the time, they ride for free on planes, and you won’t have to worry about keeping up with a crawling, walking, running toddler. (Of course, no matter where you plan to travel, run it by your kid’s pediatrician first.) If you can manage to pick a place that won’t stress you out, it’s a great time to start making family travel memories. Just plan for something low-key and relaxing. Bungee-jumping is probably off the menu.

2. Put Together Those Newborn Albums & Keepsakes

You probably think you’re too tired to spend hours on Shutterfly sorting through the hundreds of photos you take of your child a day to put together an album (speaking of which, we’ve got some ways to save on that here) — and you’re likely right. But consider how much more tired you’ll be when you go back to work. Plus, all those newborn memories are fresh in your mind, since you spend 24/7 with your bundle of joy, so you can write the most sentimental and memorable captions to go along with those tons of photos.

3. Figure Out Childcare

If you haven’t already, now would be the time to figure out who will watch your baby when you go back to work. In all honesty I waited too long — we didn’t post our ad seeking a nanny until three weeks before I was going to start working again. Finding the right provider for your child, or the right daycare setting, takes time, so if you haven’t started looking before baby was born, try to start as soon as you can once they arrive.

4. Take Time for Yourself

It’s great to have some plans for your maternity leave, but if nothing happens at all other than feed, burp, pump, rest, repeat, that’s more than OK. Some moms have plenty of extra energy to fill their days with closet reorganizations and daily park visits, while others feel more tired and are happy to just relax during any down time.

If you can muster even just a little extra energy though, it might be worth leaving baby with someone for just a couple hours at some point for some alone time. Go for a drive. Get your nails done. Grab a coffee and sit in the park. Whatever you decide to do and for however long you can, taking a little bit of time to rest and recharge by yourself will likely do your whole family a world of good.

5. Reassess How it All Went

Were you using your maternity leave as a way of helping you decide whether or not you would return to work once it was over? If so, be gentle with yourself if it didn’t go exactly according to plan. Taking care of a newborn is no joke, and doing it 24/7 is more than a full-time job, often filled with days where your only adult conversations are in the morning and/or at night when your significant other gets home from work. If you decide that staying home full-time really isn’t for you and heading back to work will provide you with the mental stimulation and creativity you crave, that’s totally fine.

Alternately, if you decide you will stay home, be sure to reassess what a new budget would look like without your pay, including things like where your health insurance will come from and how you’ll save for retirement. (You can get an idea of where your finances stand and how much debt you’re carrying by viewing your free credit report on Credit.com.)

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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4 Things That Are More Expensive for the LGBT Community

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The road of progress is never straight. The queer community has made great progress over the last several years, both in public relations and with rights and protections. But over the past few weeks, there have been stinging losses in North Carolina, Mississippi and Puerto Rico that have set the queer community back.

Even with as much progress as the queer community has made, there are still 28 states in which sexual orientation and gender identity can be used as a means to fire someone from their job. The threat of possibly losing our jobs is stressful. Consider when your employer was going through downsizing or layoffs. Whether you survived or not, it was stressful.

Now add that some states are making it legal to deny certain citizens basic services based on religious principles. While the argument has been dumbed down, we all know the debate is about more than cakes and pizza.

The queer community has faced headwinds in many facets of life. Finance is no exception. Here are four things that are more expensive for the queer community.

1. Having a Family

Queer couples that want to create a family of their own have their work cut out for them. According to the Human Rights Campaign, private agency adoptions can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $40,000. And many same-sex couples have to pay for second adoptions, which cost between $2,000 and $3,000.

For couples who want a biological child, the costs are higher, especially for gay and lesbians couples that aren’t able to bear the child. Surrogacy can cost the couple between $70,000 to over $150,000 per child.

Starting a family as a queer couple is one of the highest expenses the couple can undertake. This doesn’t include the $245,000 it costs to raise a child to the age of 18 in the U.S., according to estimates released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2014.

2. Long-Term Care

In our later years, we all want to live our lives the way we choose. For most, they have the support of their family. For the majority of older queers today, a family wasn’t a part of the plan. Thus they must rely on themselves and their money to live out their later years. Moving away from your home may be necessary. The average annual cost for a basic nursing home comes in at around $80,000, according to Genworth’s 2015 Cost of Care Survey. This cost can eat up a lifetime of savings quickly.

Since queers don’t want to go back into the closet when transitioning to a care facility, we have a limited number of facilities from which to choose. While the Equality Act is still making its way through Congress, many long-term care facilities don’t currently offer sexual orientation and identity protections. This limits the number of facilities to which queer people can go for the care they want and need.

3. Career Advancement

Many industries are surrounded by white, patriarchal walls. Minorities are tearing down those walls, making the working world a more diverse and efficient place. Much progress has been made, even for the queer community.

However, while open discrimination wanes, soft discrimination remains. Someone who’s not part of the “boys’ club” doesn’t get the same time and attention of their boss as someone who is.

While many marginalized groups aren’t consciously shut out, they simply don’t get the same face time.

With all else being equal, queers are often overlooked for raises and promotions that cost a lot in the long run. A recent study showed that gay white men in the U.K. must spend about $54,000 getting extra degrees and work experience to have the equivalent opportunities and career advancement as their straight white male counterparts.

Just remember — coming out at work could still cost you your job in 28 states. For this reason alone, many queers avoid career choices that may suit their skills or passions, simply because they cannot afford to lose their job.

4. Housing

Housing is not necessarily more expensive for the queer community. However, in states such as North Carolina and Mississippi where someone can be refused housing because of their sexual orientation, this limits their supply of housing. With the risk of being evicted at any moment, queers in these states should consider a larger emergency savings than they otherwise would. This is money that might have been spent on a higher standard of living or investments, both of which better serve the broader community.

An additional cost is associated with physical security. Precautions, such as alarm systems and living in more accepting, but more expensive areas of town, may provide some in the queer community with a higher sense of physical security. This comes at a cost. For some this also means moving away from friends and family to live in those more accepting, usually more expensive, cities and states.

To know better is to do better. Therefore, it’s incumbent for queer people to assess their situation and plan accordingly. Wanting to start a family, choosing a career, planning for retirement and deciding where to live affects everyone. For queer people, such costs are higher and may be prohibitive to their wants and desires.

We encourage creating a financial plan to address unique needs, which may include the nuances of their sexual orientation. Whether we’re in the heart of Mississippi or San Francisco, it’s up to us to build the life we want.

[Editor’s Note: You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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5 Money Questions 30-Somethings Should Ask Themselves

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You just celebrated the big 3-0 and you feel that means it’s time to get your finances in order. Your pesky student loans won’t leave you alone. You worry you will never be able to retire. On top of that, you’re still renting and feel jealous of your friend who just bought a condo.

This monumental birthday is a good time to focus on getting on the financial path that is right for you. To get started, here are the five money questions you should ask.

1. Is there a smart way to pay off my student loans?

Yes. If you work for the government or a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, any outstanding federal student loans you have after 10 years can be forgiven. Call your student loan servicer to inquire about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. You will also need to qualify for an income-driven repayment plan. This will cap your monthly payments to 10% to 15% of your discretionary income.

You also want to check to see if you have any private student loans. If you do, and your interest rate on those is greater 6%, consider refinancing to a lower rate. Doing this is something that has started to really take off in past few years. It helps borrowers save thousands of dollars through lower interest payments. To get the lowest rates on a student loan refinance, you’ll need a good credit score. You can view two of your credit scores each month on Credit.com.

2. How much do I need to set aside toward retirement?

Likely at least 15%. Maybe less, if your employer matches your 401k contributions. Play around with an online retirement calculator, which can give you a more precise number.

If you’re in your early 30s and you have already saved about 1x your gross salary in your 401k, you’re on track. If you’re behind, fear not, you have plenty of time.

If your budget is tight, start with a 3% contribution. You may not even notice the slight reduction in your paycheck. Then increase it by a percentage point every 6 months or once a year.

Consider putting money in a Roth IRA or a Health Savings Account too. Your savings will grow tax-free, if you are eligible and rules are followed. (For guidance, you can consult with a certified financial planner or a chartered financial analyst to help you invest your Roth or HSA savings. Full disclosure: I’m a CFP and CFA.)

3. It’s always better to buy than rent, right?

Not necessarily. Renting may be better if your rent is low enough and you are not sure how long you want to stay in the same location.

Yes, homeownership can be a source of stability, security and pride in this country. After all, it is the American Dream! But do the numbers before you take out your first mortgage. Use an online buy vs. rent calculator. It can help you factor in the costs associated with owning a home, including real estate taxes, mortgage insurance, maintenance and other fees. The longer you plan to stay in the condo or house, the more financially attractive this investment can be.

4. What should I do with my old 401k?

We will likely have 12 to 15 jobs in our lifetime, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means you could potentially end up with more than a dozen old 401k accounts floating around by the time you hit retirement age.

To help you avoid having so many accounts to keep track of, look at the fees in your 401k funds. If you see “expense ratios” more than 0.3%, consider rolling them over to your current 401k plan, if it provides good options. If not, roll it over to an IRA, where you likely have a bit more freedom.

You may also want to consider a target-date fund or consult an investment professional for guidance.

5. Am I financially ready to start a family?

There are a lot of expenses that come along with having a child (the U.S. government reports that raising a kid costs $245,340 from birth to 18 years old). One of those expenses is day care, which can be really pricey. In some places, it can even cost as much as your rent or mortgage.

When you’re talking about having a child, create a reasonable budget with your partner. Figure out if you will have enough left to cover child care costs and all the other expenses that come along with children.

Have an honest discussion with each other. Can one of you work from home so you can maintain the same family income while avoiding day care costs? Are you open to hosting an au pair to take care of your child? Think about this expense, as well as the other financial obligations that come along with raising a child, as you and your partner talk about expanding your family.

Being in our 30s is a great time in life. We have the opportunity to plan for our future and our children’s, and live to the fullest. Let’s plan early and plan smartly.

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