By Natasja VanderBerg, Family Caregiver Leave Specialist
Having a baby or adopting a child is an exciting time. As many of us know, it can also be a stressful time, especially financially. Planning can help alleviate some of the worry. With today’s high cost of living, some people wonder if they can afford to have a child. Many of us have children even though we are still wondering if we can afford them, figuring we’ll make it work out… somehow.
Here are a few things to think about:
1) Reviewing your benefits
Before planning a leave, one needs to understand both employment insurance (EI) available through Service Canada as well as any top-ups that might be available to you as an employee of the University of Toronto. To learn more about your U of T benefits, search the HR Service Centre and review your Collective Agreement or policy.
Luckily, most U of T employees (birth parents and non-birth parents) are eligible for a ‘top-up’ for part of their leave! I say luckily because not all employers offer a top-up. If you are having a baby with a partner, be sure to check out their benefits too so you can maximize what is available to you.
The ‘top-up’ at U of T is conditional on receipt of EI, your employment status and length of service. It is calculated with the assumption you have selected standard parental EI benefits. With EI and the U of T top-up, if eligible, you will be close to your regular salary. After the top-up period, you could be looking at a period where you receive EI alone, for as long as you are eligible. Also, some people extend their leave beyond their EI eligibility. Time off is governed by the Employment Standards Act, provincial legislation that provides job protection but does not relate to pay.
It’s all quite complicated, which is why the Family Care Office provides one-hour workshops in which we go over the Employment Standards Act’s pregnancy and parental leave, Employment Insurance as well as the University of Toronto’s top-ups for staff. Whether you are considering having a child or already expecting a child, staff and faculty members can attend a one-hour Family Care Office workshop about planning for leaves. The workshop provides an overview of Pregnancy/Parental/Adoption/Primary Caregiver leave options. Register for a Family Care Office ‘planning’ workshop (first one is in January).
Approximately 4 months before the start of a leave, people should also attend a second workshop: “The Practicalities of your Pregnancy/Parental/Adoption/Primary Caregiver Leave.” Register for a ‘practicalities’ workshop.
Students who are expecting a baby can reach out to Helen Reddy Katz, Family Care Advisor (Student Focus). Book your appointment to speak with Helen. If you work for U of T under CUPE 3902 Unit 1, you may be eligible for a paid pregnancy and/or parental leave. If you are a graduate student within the funded cohort, you can explore the SGS Parental Grant.
If you are CUPE Unit 3 or Unit 5 member, please feel welcome to reach out to Natasja VanderBerg, Family Caregiver Leave Specialist. Book a meeting with Natasja.
2) Saving in advance
Most people who have a baby and take a pregnancy and/or parental leave will experience a dip in income during their leave. Many people will have a period of time during which they are depending on EI alone. Depending on the length of the leave you take, that period of time can be quite significant. Unfortunately, EI is not enough to live on, especially in Toronto. Saving in advance, if possible, can allow you to take a leave without going into debt during your leave. TFSAs are a terrific way to save for a leave.
To get a sense of how much one needs to save, here are the current EI rates:
· For the birth parent: Maternity benefits of 55% of your earnings (up to a maximum of $650 per week) for up to 15 weeks.
Parents choose between two parental benefits options (birth parents are eligible for both maternity and parental benefits while non-birth parents are eligible for parental benefits):
· Standard parental benefits. 55% of your earnings (up to a maximum of $650 a week) for up to 40 weeks. One parent cannot take more than 35 weeks.
· Extended parental benefits. 33% of your earnings (up to a maximum of $390 a week) for up to 69 weeks. One parent cannot take more than 61 weeks.
3) Creating a budget
At the very time you might be living on less income, you will encounter expenses you might not have had before, such as diapers, baby clothes, and more. If you are anything like me and my partner, in sheer exhaustion, you might end up getting take-out more often. Creating a budget and sticking to it will help as you live on a reduced income. Check out the Chartered Professional Accountants Canada’s blog about unexpected costs when having a baby.
While brand new clothes can be enticing, a great way to save money is buying gently used baby clothes for cheap prices on places like Facebook marketplace. If you know of anyone who has had a baby before you, you may be surprised how many hand-me-downs you may receive for free. Read the FCO’s tip sheet featuring thrift stores.
Thankfully, licensed child care is one thing that is getting less expensive rather than more! While you won’t have child care expenses while you are on leave, you will be researching child cares and adding yourself to waitlists (actually, you might/should be doing this before your leave!). Be sure to ask whether the child care centres have signed on to the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC). Questions about child care options? Register for Choosing Child Care that Works for your Family.
Questions? Reach out to Family Care
Having a child is a beautiful, roller-coaster of an experience. It’s not always easy, and sometimes downright difficult. Taking the time to financially prepare now can allow you to begin the journey with eyes wide open. If possible, you can save in advance. You can also think through which expenses are optional and which are necessary and create a budget that will work for you.
The Family Care Office is here to help you figure out whether you are eligible for a top-up, and – if so – for how long. Our workshops also cover employment insurance and the decision between taking a standard or extended parental leave. If you will be sharing a leave with a partner, we can talk through sharing the EI weeks. In other words, we are here to help make this transition and your leave as smooth as possible. If you are considering having a child or are already expecting, we’ll see you at our workshops!
And remember, you cannot be penalized in any way because you are or will be eligible to take a pregnancy or parental leave, plan to take one, are taking one/took one or inquire about a pregnancy or parental leave. If you are experiencing discrimination or harassment on a family status issue, and you would like additional support, we encourage you to reach out to the Family Care Office.