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A guide to managing money as a working parent (pandemic or not)

If we’re talking about things that have the potential to turn your financesupside down, both having children and global pandemics would come pretty high on the list. It’s little wonder, then, that those of us with little ones might have found it tough to balance the books since the beginning of 2020. There is absolutely no doubt that working parents have had a tough year, with many – especially mothers– having to make tough calls about their work and earnings thanks to the intermittent closures of schools and childcare sessions, not to mention those periods of self-isolation the moment anyone has a cough or high temperature.

Finding the right balance when it comes to work, childcare costs and time with your children is an issue that predates the pandemic, however, and will continue to be a juggle long after covid restrictions fall away. Here are a few tips and tricks for making things work:

Make sure that you’re claiming the help you’re owed

There are a number of government benefit schemes designed to make life for working parents easier and more affordable. The first, and simplest, is child benefit – which you can claim as long as neither you nor a partner that you live with earns more than £50,000 per year. If you’re eligible, you’re not likely claiming this already, but if your circumstances have changed, it should be the first thing that you apply for.

To help with childcare, the Tax Free Childcare service is available for any family where neither parent earns more than £100,000. Deposit the cash into your Tax Free Childcare account, and the government will add a 25% top up, essentially giving you a 20% discount on your childcare bill up to a maximum of £500 per term.

You can also claim up to 30 hours of ‘free’ childcare from the term after your child turns three years old according to the same earning criteria. The inverted commas are because many childcare providers argue that there is a shortfall in the amount that they receive from the government to subsidise these hours, so you may be charged a daily surcharge, or have to pay separately for things like meals, nappies and outings. If you qualify for certain benefits or your child has additional educational needs, you may be able to access these subsidised hours from the age of two.

You can find out more about many of the options for government support here.

Take advantage of free activities and discounts

As the country starts to open up again, we’ll almost be able to hear the sigh of relief from parents as other free and low-cost activities become available, to save us from having to drag our disinterested children on yet another ‘fun walk’. Making sure that you’re well-versed in the options for free and cheap days out is an absolute must, but planning can really help here, too. If you have a brilliant local attraction like a zoo, safari park or similar, you might think about asking for contributions towards a season ticket as Christmas and birthday presents from family, which saves on clutter, too.

For new and expectant mums trying to find the sweet spot between staying in-budget and not going crazy through boredom, platforms like Sprout are a life-saver. There are discounts available for everything you might need throughout pregnancy and early motherhood, as well as a lovely community of people.

Try not to spend to assuage ‘mum guilt’

Mums are often expected to work as though we don’t have children and parent as though we don’t work, and feeling pulled in so many directions all the time can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. Most working parents have felt the pull on their heartstrings when they see other people who are able to spend more time with their children, or when their child has cried being dropped off at school or childcare. There can be a temptation to try and make up for any absence (or a shorter temper) by buying gifts, splashing out on frequent day trips and giving in every time your child looks longingly at an extortionate magazine in the supermarket.

While a surprise every now and then can be a lovely thing, making a habit of it isn’t good for anyone in the family. See if you can carve out some time to spend with them, which they have your undivided attention and the ping of weekend work emails nowhere to be heard. That’s what most kids really value.

Remember that it’s not forever, and no parent is perfect

The costs involved with having young children – the earnings lost through maternity leave and part-time work, coupled with expensive childcare and actually feeding and clothing them – can be a real shock to the system. But it’s important to remember that most people find this a difficult period, financially, and that things do generally get easier as they get older and start school, can join friends for play dates etc. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect with money, or to save huge amounts on top of the demands of rent or mortgage, bills and childcare. Sometimes just muddling through financially for a while is ok.

Love our Money Matters column? Feel worried about your finances? Or just want some expert help on how to achieve your financial goals? Get in touch with us at moneymatters@condenast.co.uk to submit your own money diary and gain access to our expert-led advice, tailored to your finances! These submissions can be anonymous.

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