Questions about balancing work and starting a family are commonly asked by junior doctors. For those wondering, there really is no perfect time to start your family. It will always be challenging, but wonderful to have these competing interests in your life.
Some choose to start early, enjoying relatively youthful parenting, others wait until most of the hard training time and exams are over, aware that time is always ticking away. This is a personal choice, and different options obviously suit different families. But there are a few issues to be aware of, and plan around to minimize financial stress.
In order to be legally entitled to parental leave, you have to have been employed by your employer for twelve months before the actual, or expected date of birth, date of adoption, or 1st day of leave. The legal entitlement is to 52 weeks of unpaid leave, with an option to request a further 52 weeks (although the employer can decline this).
The Australian Health system has generous parental leave benefits available, but due to the widespread use of temporary contracts, and being required to move hospitals for training, many doctors have missed out on paid parent leave (PPL). PPL is definitely worth considering timing for, as it will give most families far more time to bond. It is also worth having union membership, and attempting to get leave entitlements transferred between health services. If you are planning to stay in one health service for a long period, it is possible to negotiate a contract for more than one year. There is some variation in maternity leave according to health service. Leave can generally be taken at half pay for twice as long.
Paid parental leave
Paid Paternal Leave
Paid 1 week
Paid 1 weeks
Paid 1 week
Paid 2 weeks
16 weeks (20 weeks if employed by SA for 5 years +!)
14 weeks (18 weeks if employed by NT health for 5 years +)
1 week paid
0-2 weeks paid depending on length of service
Obviously, if you are self employed (as a GP or private specialist), you’re on your own! Forward planning and lots of saving will obviously make the financial stress far less of a burden.
The Government provide Paid Parental Leave for 18 weeks at National Minimum Wage to the baby’s primary caregiver if they earned less than $150,000 during the previous financial year. There are detailed eligibility criteria on the website linked, but working mother’s are entitled to this even if they are receiving PPL from work. It is paid via your employer. If you are self-employed, or not eligible for maternity leave this will help ends meet, and be gratefully received. If you are in the fortunate position of being paid PPL from work, this government PPL is a nice bonus that could get lost in the weekly expenses if not consciously allocated. Many parents use this allowance to start an education fund for their baby if it is not needed to fund maternity leave.
The Government also pay Dad and Partner pay – up to two weeks at National Minimum Wage for working dads, but they must not be being paid by work at the same time
AHPRA require all registered doctors to meet minimum CPD standards per year (As per specialty or for general registration 50 hours over 1 year) plus have recency of practice standards: 152 hours within a registration period OR 456 hours over three registration periods. These are not too difficult to meet despite extended time off as long as you plan ahead.
There is wide variation in how the specialty colleges treat maternity leave, and this unfortunately encourages more females to leave certain training programs. Most colleges have a maximum training time, and this can be an issue for parents wanting multiple children. It is worth checking your college’s requirements well before baby is expected!
It is essential to plan in detail, making sure you’re prepared for the financial challenges of taking time off will help take the pressure off and allow you to focus on the most important thing – your family.
Calculate Your Anticipated Expenses –
It’s time for a good old fashioned budget! In my experience these fanciful spreadsheets show little correlation to what is actually spent! PocketBook is a free app that you can link all bank accounts and credit cards, to categorize what was actually spent over a 12 month period. Sign up, ensure your expenses are categorized appropriately, and use it to project anticipated monthly expenses during your time off.
You may be able to save on professional expenses during parental leave. “Run of f Cover Scheme” allows you to have ongoing medical indemnity cover whilst not working for FREE. Call your medical indemnity insurer to enquire. AHPRA and specialty colleges MAY offer a discount depending on how long and the timing of your break from work.
Work out Your Anticipated Income –
Calculate Income Minus Expenses –
Does anyone EVER come up with surplus income after completing this calculation?! If you’re in the black, check you’ve done the maths right and move on to the next step
If you’re in the red, time to go over those expenses with a fine tooth comb. What can be reduced or cut out to allow you the time off you desire?
Savings plan –
If you’re still in the red, time to work out how much time you have until starting maternity leave. Calculate how much you need to save per paycheck. Moneysmart have a handy savings calculator. A mortgage offset account is the best place to store these savings, or a high interest savings account if you aren’t mortgaged up.
Rarely do you get ahead by thinking short-term. Women currently retire with an average 47% less than men. Maternity leave and part-time work are significant contributors to the gap.
Spouse Super Contributions – If you or your partner will earn less than $40K in a financial year, the higher income earner can claim up to $540 tax offset by contributing $3000 to your super ($120/FN).
Government Co-Contribution – If you or your partner earn less than $57K in a financial year and make $1000 after tax contributions ($40/FN), the government will partially match your contributions with up to $500!
Maximise your Concessional Super Contribution – If you’re not maxing this out, consider salary sacrificing extra in to super
Your Family’s Future
Consider your ongoing budget after baby is born. When are you and your partner going back to work? Full or part-time? Are you planning a house move? Private education? What would you like your lifestyle to look like? Can you afford it? Do you need to make any changes to your expenses to save for the future?
Your Child’s Future
It’s probably best you get a firm understanding of your financial situation before going wild shopping for your little one. Baby preparation costs range from zero to thousands of dollars. It is so tempting to buy the “Best” (aka most expensive) or everything, but this benefits… who? The bub doesn’t care, and it won’t benefit your family if you actually can’t afford it. So work out what situation your in, what, if anything you would like to splurge on, and consider asking family, friends and workmates for much loved hand me downs.
Best of luck with your family plans. A little bit of forward planning can make things smoother. But even if you have a “Surprise” baby, you can work through the steps above to work out your position and make it work for you.