Let’s get the bad news out of the way. This teacher’s maternity leave is entirely unpaid.
The good news is that–in a really cruel world–I’m actually fortunate enough to be in a position where we can swing an unpaid leave at all. I’m especially fortunate that I’ll be able to take the full amount of time I’m allowed under FMLA.
When I was preparing for my first maternity leave, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought I would ultimately get some good guidance and support from both Human Resources and our union.
I was wrong.
After months of guessing and checking, emailing and calling, I kind of sort of maybe knew what my leave would be like.
Now, though, I have a solid plan of how I’m prepping my finances to really have a handle on what this upcoming maternity leave will look like. At least financially.
Here’s what I’m doing:
Step 1 – Crunch New Numbers
When I took my first maternity leave several years ago, I was shocked to discover that Human Resources would set up my entire leave…without ever telling me the financial impact of it!
Of course, being the numbers nerd that I am, the first thing I requested was that payroll run different scenarios for me. And that’s exactly what I’m doing now, too.
I am eligible for 12 weeks of leave under FMLA, and I intend to take every one of them. Because of the timing of this baby’s arrival and how our school year is structured, I’m unable to apply sick leave. So I know that the 12 weeks will be totally unpaid.
And I also learned the hard way that my salary is prorated for the remainder of the school year.
While we definitely have a more solid financial footing this time around, I still want to know exactly what my paychecks will look like when I return. So reaching out to payroll is at the top of my to-do list.
Strategy 2 – Review Impact on Years of Service
As with all things school, your miles may vary depending on where you work and what your contract looks like. I’m part of the largest teacher’s pension program in the state of Illinois, and I’m established enough (read: old) to be part of the Tier I pension. I share that not to confuse anyone, but to simply point out that when you evaluate how a leave impacts your years of service, it’s important to know how your service credits are defined.
Because this is not my first rodeo, I know that I will lose approximately 1/3 of a year’s worth of service. I could buy that time back by making a lump sum payment, or I could simply factor that loss into my retirement planning.
I still haven’t bought back my time from my first leave, and I likely won’t buy back this time either. Two factors influence that decision for me personally:
- My particular pension fund is so poorly funded (about 40%) that I’m not banking on it, and
- My husband started teaching 2 years after me.
So that means I’m OK working a little longer…or making up my pension with other investments, such as my Roth IRA, 403b, and my taxable account.
RELATED POST: Teacher Talk: It’s Time Swap Your Cape for a Parachute
Strategy 3 – Pause Retirement Contributions
This step is new to me. I didn’t even have a 403b when I took my first maternity leave! 403b options are notoriously bad for public school teachers, and ours really weren’t any exception to that…until we finally got Fidelity as a vendor!
Since my contributions come out of each paycheck and I won’t be receiving a paycheck while I’m on leave, I’m going to pause my contributions for that window of time. I will likely resume funding my 403b when I resume teaching. But I know I’ll be contributing a lot less since I’ll only receive about 67% of my normal paycheck.
Strategy 4 – Get Ready for a Guest Teacher
This doesn’t seem like a strategy that has anything to do with finances, but I assure you it does. It’s so important to make sure that the handoff between you and your guest teacher is as seamless as possible. Because they aren’t just steering the ship in terms of the curriculum while you are gone; they’re also literally running your classroom.
That means that I’m spending a considerable amount of time packing up supplies that I don’t want used (or can’t be used…thanks, COVID) and clearly identifying what should be used. Specifically, I have a classroom library with easily 1,000 books in it. Over the years, I’ve developed a tracking system that keeps most of my books returning to me in mostly good condition.
That’s a huge undertaking to hand off to a substitute. So that means that most of my classroom library is going to be off limits to start the school year, with a small selection of high-interest titles that I’ll keep in rotation. Thankfully, we have an awesome school library and lots of electronic options as well that kids can access.
By decluttering what is in my room and streamlining what students have access to, I hope to have to replace far fewer materials and supplies when I return. That will save me time and money during the transition back to my classroom.
Strategy 5 – Looking at Other Income
I will not be earning any income through my job during my maternity leave. Having a summer baby means that my FMLA time in the fall will be entirely unpaid. I have many thoughts about this–none of them nice–but that’s neither here nor there.
It is what it is.
I can’t generate any income from my full time job, but that doesn’t rule out other income. I don’t intend to work much over the summer when the baby is first born. But I am actively side hustling now and setting that extra income aside as a reserve to cover my leave.
I want to give myself the option of continuing other side hustles if time and tiredness allow. But I’m also not going to kid myself into thinking that I’m doing anything other than changing diapers and begging this small human to nap those first few weeks!
Final Thoughts on Preparing Financially for a Maternity Leave as a Teacher
No unpaid leave scenario is ever ideal. Being aware of the financial impact goes a long way, though. It doesn’t make up for the lost income, but it does allow us to start planning now.
And it makes the future seem a lot less unknown.
So Tell Me…Have you ever taken a leave? How did you prepare given your profession?