'I'm a financial expert. Here are 4 money questions I wish I asked before having a baby.'

There are some serious questions about money and work couples should ask themselves and each other before deciding to have a baby, and I’m not talking about whether you’ll be able to afford a top-of-the-range pram.

Instead, you and your partner need to have an honest discussion about how you’ll look after your child once it arrives and combine caring with work.

A frank conversation around what each partner expects from the other and what they’re willing to do themselves will tell you both where you stand upfront and could save a lot of heartache down the road.

It’s a subject that, 16 years after having our first child and despite having two more, remains a sore point between myself and my partner. These are the four work and money questions I wish we’d discussed before having a baby.

1. How much parental leave will we take and who will take it?

It’s still the reality that women take the 88 percent of government-funded primary carer-paid parental leave in Australia. This is partly because the current system stipulates that the primary claimant must be the 'birth parent' (i.e. mother) and in order for her partner to take this leave she has to apply for it and then transfer it to them.

The current system gives 18 weeks for the ‘primary carer’ and just two weeks for ‘dads and partners’. But changes announced by the government in the recent federal budget are removing these labels, which will make it easier for families to decide how they’ll share the leave between themselves. A 'use it or lose it' provision will also be added, which will mean if each parent doesn’t take a set amount of leave, the family will lose it. These changes should all make it easier for partners to take more parental leave and normalise this in our society.

When it comes to how long to take, it’s important to know that government parental leave is only paid at the minimum wage, so a conversation about how you can adjust your spending to live off a reduced income will show you whether taking the full combined 20 weeks currently offered (scaling up to 26 weeks by mid-2026) is something your family can afford.


2. What parental leave programs do our employers offer?

While everyone can access government paid parental leave, three in five businesses offer their own parental leave schemes. These are more common in larger businesses and many are more generous than the government scheme, either by offering longer leave periods, not distinguishing between primary and secondary carers, paying leave at your current rate of pay rather than the minimum wage or by continuing to pay super on parental leave. 

By looking into what each of your employers offer and doing some homework into what other businesses in your industries offer, you could both consider whether moving employers ahead of having a baby is a strategy you could use to your family’s advantage, pimping up your parental leave allowances and household finances.  

3. How will we care for our child after parental leave ends?

Parental leave is helpful, but it certainly doesn’t last forever, so a conversation about how you’ll care for your child (and any subsequent children) going forward is crucial to have upfront.

If you think extended family might help, find this out now. If they would, but they don’t live nearby, ask yourselves whether moving closer to them is something you can and should consider as a solution to the question of ongoing care.

You could also discuss the feasibility of one parent moving to part-time work or leaving the workforce altogether. If this is something your family can afford, which parent would it be, or would you alternate over the years? Ensure you consider the longer-term impact a career break or shift to part-time work could have on both career progression and super.


Finally, if paid childcare is in the equation, as it is for many families, check out how much it costs (hint – it’s really expensive!), what the government offers in terms of subsidies – an increase was just announced in the federal budget to take effect from mid 2023 – and whether you would qualify for these based on your combined income level.

Listen to This Glorious Mess where Leigh and Tegan talk to money expert Canna Campbell about how to budget with a baby. Story continues after podcast.

4. How will we protect the financial security of the parent who does the bulk of the caregiving?

If you decide that one parent will take a step back from work to care for children, agree in advance what the other parent can do to protect them financially. Relationships fail every day and it’s harder to rebuild your life without a solid income to rely on.  

The rules of super allow one partner to make super contributions into the other’s super fund, which is something you could consider replacing super not being paid while on parental leave, or when not working, or reduced super if working part time.

You could also consider whether the parent who has taken a step back from work could combine childcare with further education, retraining or upskilling to safeguard their eventual return to the workplace.

Michelle Bowes is a finance journalist specialising in women and money, the author of Money Queens, a feminist financial guidebook for teenage girls and the primary carer of three kids. You can follow her on Instagram

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Feature Image: Canva/Mamamia.

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