Monday, 13 May 2013

5 ways to... turn your maternity leave into cash

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If you're about to have a baby, chances are your purse strings are tightening at an alarming rate - especially if you've recently started maternity leave and your pay check is shrinking every week. But in the weeks running up to the birth, with that extra bit of time on your hands, you could be adding to your kitty. Here's five quick and easy ways:

1. Get your finances in order
When you're working full time it's easy to let your finances slip. Set aside a morning at the beginning of your maternity leave to review your financial situation and work out where you can make savings. Going through your statements with a fine toothed comb might even throw up a few surprises!
"When I actually had a look at my outgoings I realised that I was still paying contents insurance on a flat I had moved out of in 2011! Oops!"
Take some time to review your phone tariff, interest rates and debts. Can you transfer your savings to a higher rate account? If you used your excess savings to pay off debt would you actually be saving money on interest payments? Would you qualify for a 0% balance transfer? Could you switch any service providers to save money on your utilities?
"I looked back through my phone bills and saw that I was often barely using 5% of my free minutes! So when I was due for an upgrade, I traded in my old phone, netting me £60 instantly, cut my tariff by £10 per month, reduced my insurance by £5 per month and even got a free tablet to boot! Not bad for a quick trip to the phone shop!"

2. Plan, plan, plan
We all like the idea of being frugal, shopping around and planning meals, but the reality is, when working, who has the time? You just never quite get round to it and will more likely be dashing into the supermarket for last minute purchases on a daily basis. It's throwing money away.

Instead, set aside a few hours to plan your meals and research purchases you'll be making regularly.
"Online grocery shopping was always something I intended to do but never quite got round to. The first time, when you create your shopping list from scratch, always seemed so time consuming and paying for a peak time delivery slot because I'm always at work seemed silly because I could walk to the supermarket myself! But having the time to actually sit down and do that initial shop, after which all my purchases are saved in my favourites, has probably halved my grocery bill!"
Don't forget to shop around either. Big purchases like nappies can be bought for cheaper elsewhere.
"I was surprised to find that you can subscribe to Pampers nappies on Amazon! They send you a box every month at a discounted rate (11p per nappy), there's no commitment and you can change your subscription at any time (e.g. If you want to go up a size)."

3. Claim what you're entitled to
Your circumstances are probably about to change drastically, if they haven't already, so it's always worth checking that you're claiming all the benefits you're entitled to. You'll at least receive child benefit once baby comes along - an extra £80 a month for your first child. But if your circumstances have changed or you're on a low income then there might be more in the kitty for you - whether it be housing benefit, council tax benefit or tax credits. Visit www.entitledto.co.uk and enter your details to see if you're missing out.
"Now that my husband is working and we're thinking of moving out of the in-laws I was concerned that we wouldn't be able to afford to pay private rents. I've never claimed benefits and the whole system seems quite daunting, but when I looked into it with some rough estimates of our future circumstances I was pleasantly surprised!"

4. Declutter
Whether you've moved house or are just clearing out the spare room to make way for baby, it's likely that a big sort out is in order. Electronics, books, clothes and toys will all fetch a pretty penny if you're willing to put in the effort. Do your research and make sure you're selling to the websites that are offering the best price. Auction sites like Ebay are great if you think you can generate a bidding war, but if you want a guaranteed price and have a fair amount of things to sell, then sites like Music Magpie might be the place to go. Don't forget to hunt out those old mobile phones as well. Once you've decluttered and sent off your wares, it's amazing how it all adds up!
"Before we moved house we had a huge sort out. CDs and DVDs got sent to Music Magpie, we got £60 from Envirofone for sending two old phones, we had stacks of books that we could send to FatBrain and an old games console that got taken to CEX. I had a good few pairs of barely worn shoes that got eBayed as well. All in all, we made nearly £300 and it was all completely hassle free with prices guaranteed and free postage! Sometimes the money offered for these items looks like pittance, but if you're having a big clear-out then it soon adds up. I don't think I would have managed to get the same total amount had I tried to sell them individually on Ebay or at a boot fair. 
5. Get vocal about your gift wishes
Once baby arrives, or if you're lucky enough to have a baby shower, everyone suddenly wants to buy you gifts. You'll more than likely end up with copious amounts of cute baby clothes - which is absolutely lovely, so direct your cash elsewhere until you know what you need in the wardrobe department. But many times you'll be asked by generous friends and family 'Is there anything you particularly need?'. Always have an answer prepared for this question!

If there's a large item that you're saving up for (for us it was a £400 travel system), know exactly where you're going to buy it from and ask for vouchers towards it.
"We had quite specific requirements when it came to our travel system and the perfect one cost a whopping £400, double the amount we wanted to spend. So if anyone asked about gifts, we would always ask for vouchers towards it. In the end, we received a third of the total cost, which bought the price down to a much more reasonable amount." 
Some people will specifically want to buy you a gift though, so have a few smaller items picked out (e.g. baby monitor, cot mattress, bedding etc.). The more of this type of thing you receive in gifts, the less you have to spend, which nets you money.

Another key step you can take is opening an ISA for your baby. It doesn't necessarily have to be in their name, but just keep the financial gifts separate from your current account until you know what you want to put it towards.
"Quite a few generous family members and friends gave us money as they didn't know what we needed. The odd £20, £10 or even £50 all adds up, so we opened a separate ISA for Ruby. We soon realised that we already had everything we needed, so we've decided to put that money towards extra curricular activities - music / swimming / ballet lessons - when she's older. We'll keep adding to it each month and earning interest on it so hopefully she'll be able to take up whatever hobby she wants!"

BONUS IDEA: Start a business
The ideas so far have been based around utilising that extra bit of spare time you might have on maternity leave. They're simple and straightforward ways of netting yourself a bit of extra cash, easing your monthly budget and helping towards the cost of a new baby. Which is why this is a bonus idea, it fits none of that criteria! But why not give it a go?

You've got a bit of extra time on your hands and you've got the financial cushion of maternity pay. So in many ways, with a bit of drive and determination, now is the perfect time to go it alone. Whether it's building a freelance portfolio, setting up an online craft shop or simply dog-walking or ironing, if you have a skill, perfect it, use it and then charge for it!*

*Make sure it doesn't conflict with your existing work contract and keep on the right side of the tax man!

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