Can you afford to stay at home?

New mums are faced with one of the most difficult dilemmas during the most stressful times of their lives: do you stay at home to look after your child, or go back to work? And can you afford not to?

It’s a personal decision, with no right or wrong answer – your state of mind and career satisfaction are just as valuable as your desire to be your child’s primary caregiver. But the reality is, your financial state may tip the balance. Here’s what you need to consider:

If you return to work, how many days will you need to place your child in daycare? Expect to pay $80-$100 a day for childcare, and calculate how this weighs up against your earnings. For some new mothers, it makes sense to stay at home and look after a child themselves when they weigh up the cost against their earnings; but for others, regular contact with colleagues and continuing on with a career they love outweighs having a significant bite taken out of their paypacket by childcare.

Can you arrange alternative childcare? If you can entreat one of the grandparents to step in a day or two a week for some quality time, you’ll significantly lighten the financial load. But be clear about issues such as discipline, feeding and sleeping early on – if you aren’t on the same page, you may wish you’d forked out for childcare instead.

A UK survey found that 56 per cent of new mothers admitted they were unprepared for the fiscal impact of having a child. Set up a high-interest savings account to help ease the financial pressures of the months ahead.

Be aware of the terms of your employer’s maternity leave package, as individual companies can offer benefits beyond the government standard. Also, don’t forget that if you have a child under school age, it’s your right to right to request flexible working arrangements to help you care for your child. For more information, call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.

Know that your household income will drop once you’re on maternity leave; and if you decide to stay at home for an extended period, you’ll need to get by on a reduced income. Use a budget calculator to see if your household expenses as a new family can be maintained on a single salary. Beyond essentials such as food, equipment and post-natal care, can you still afford that sanity-saving annual holiday?