How to prepare to go back to work after a baby in Canada

I just completed my last article, about how to financially prepare to take your maternity leave in Canada (see it here), so on the flip side, I wanted to address going back to work when its over. It is possible to have both parents working, and to have your finances go backwards, believe me, we are proof.

How to prepare financially to return to work after a maternity leave in Canada?

  • Set up a budget
  • Evaluate child care vs. income
  • Divide and conquer
  • Make a game plan for life
  • Meal plan consistently
  • Make friends with your instant pot and slow-cooker
  • Limit grocery shops to once per week
  • Be intentional about down time
  • Take time to get comfortable with your daycare provider
  • Invest in a good breast pump

I am a person who has to learn things the hard way, and these are all the the tips and tricks I picked up along the way. They will not only help you to keep your finances on track, but they will save your sanity as well.

1. Set up a budget

Your expenses are about to take another big turn, possibly for the better depending on your wage, but possibly not because now you are adding in the giant expenses of child care, and more convenience type items that you may not been using while you were home.

In Canada our maternity leaves are between 12-18 months, and it is easy to tighten up your finances while you know your income will be significantly decreased. However, when you anticipate going back to work, it is very easy to loosen the reins of your finances, and assume that because your income has gone up that you can stop paying such close attention to your money.

Anticipate that you will be paying more for convenience items to free up your time so that you are able to spend more quality time with your family, now that work will be claiming a significant amount of time previously spent at home with your spouse and children.

When you are able to hash out the hard and fast numbers, you are better able to make decisions with a clearer picture of how your financial needs, your family’s needs, and your needs will change as you are back to work.

2. Evaluate child care vs. income

Some provinces have subsidized child care, but others do not, which means for places like BC, child care can be astronomically high. I was paying $40/day for a single child, and $900/month for both children, and my daycare costs were incredibly modest in price. Friends of mine have paid upwards of $1500/month for a single child.

Before going back to work you need to find out what is realistic to pay in the area where you are living. It will be part of the deciding factor whether or not the addition of your income is worth the cost of your childcare.

Will the majority of your income be eaten up in daycare expenses?

“People would tell me that I needed to find a different job that paid more- the idea of making more money to cover expenses- but I love my job and wouldn’t be happy else where.”

Lyndsay, Single mom of two

3. Divide and Conquer

It is very common when one parent is home the majority of the time that the bulk of the household responsibilities fall onto that person. You are about to go back to work, and I promise that it will make for a smoother transition if you are able to have an open conversation about how household management tasks will be divided up now that both of you are about to be working as well as juggling a baby’s needs.

It would be helpful to sit down prior to returning back to work to decide as a family how you will maintain those tasks now that your time is about to be eaten up with employment.

Will you tag team laundry, cleaning, chores and yard work on the weekends?

Will you assign one person certain tasks?

“Working upward is always easier than sliding backwards so… no expectations.” 

~ Brittany, mom of two

Will you allow a larger take out budget to compensate for the fact that you might not be the one at home to cook? Will you batch cook on weekends, or fill your freezer with easy heat-and-eat meals?

Will you hire someone to help you clean?

By talking these things prior to your return to work, it will not only lessen frustrations around maintaining your home and your family, but you will have a better idea about what income range you need to be falling into to make working worth it.

What happened with us

What we found happening in our house is that we started outsourcing more and more, and it was costing us more than I care to admit. I would make lumches for my entire family, but I wouldn’t make one for myself. I would often stop for coffee and a bagel on my way into work after dropping off the kids.

I would come home from work completely exhausted, and because my husband is not a cook, we would get take out again because I was too tired to even want to think about cooking. My husband was working more than full time and so dinner fell to me… which then fell to subway.

But maybe its not the cooking, maybe you find that the house is falling apart now that you are working more, and you just want to get a housekeeper a couple times a month to help out.

These are some of the costs I didn’t anticipate when I went back to work:

  • Our gas bill doubled because I had to drive further to bring our kids to their day home.
  • I bought coffee and a bagel every morning so I wouldn’t have to get up at 5 am to be at work on time.
  • Our grocery bill was astronomical because we paid for more pre-prepared, easy dinner foods and snack items for lunches.
  • We got a house keeper from time to time when things were getting out of hand at home.
  • Wanting to buy co-workers coffees
  • I started ordering subscription boxes
  • I didn’t even look for better pricing on ANY of our bills because I was tired and wanted to spend time with my family.
  • We paid for more trips “to take a break” from life because home was not a relaxing place to be.

I don’t want you to think that any of these things are “wrong,” I just want you to be aware of them. I have no problem with you spending money that is budgeted and planned for, but I don’t want your money to get away from you, and you wake up one morning realizing you are $51, 000 in debt. Its not a fun feeling, and I would do anything to keep that from happening to your family.

Debt is the thief of peace, and I so badly want to see good things for you and your family. That’s why I write about what I do.

4. Make a game plan for life

Prior to you going back to work, take a few nights where you remove all distractions and you make a rough plan about how you will tackle your finances, your meals, your household tasks and duties, and spending quality time with your family.

Pick one day of the week that you will take just a half an hour to plan out your week in advance, it will help maintain calm during the week because you are preparing in advance for days that might be more crazy than others. Maybe you will be working late a couple nights of the week, maybe you have older kids in activities.

Knowing when those insane days will be ahead of time, allows you to better prepare for them, so you can have easy meals ready to grab and go.

“Budget, plan, meal plan, work out a payment plan that works for you for daycare (half a months pay twice a month worked way better for me than the full amount once a month). Be disciplined with finances but work “treating yourself” into your budget…you deserve it, guilt free.”

~Danielle, Single mom of one

This is what I use to do just that for myself. In my bullet journal… I think at this point that shouldn’t shock anyone…

How To Prepare To Go Back To Work After Baby: Motherhood and Money - Some very practical tips to keep you sane, and financially stable when you head back to work after having a baby
This is the layout I have been using for two years, appointments on the left, notes on the right, general to-do on the open page. Simple and effective to see my week at a glance.

5. Meal plan consistently

Meal planning takes a little bit of getting used to, but you can fall into a rhythm really quickly after a couple weeks of practice. It will help to save your family time and money if you are able to assess what you have in your fridge so that you aren’t overbuying, and meal plan around sales and what you have already on hand.

“Sometimes cereal for dinner is what it is and I am finally okay with that because, perfection isn’t achievable with two parents, let alone just one.”

~Brittany, single mom of one

This is how I personally do my meal plan, if you want to read more, click here.

One of my favorite instagram-ers is Free to Family, and she is the queen of batch cooking. I have taken notes from her and started doubling recipes that freeze well, or will keep well to eat later in the week. For example if you are making soup, just make extra so you can eat it through the week, or store some in the freezer to easily heat up if you don’t want to cook one night.

6. Make friends with your instant pot and slow-cooker

” Rumba? Dish washer? House keeper? Instant pot? Time savers are life savers!”

~ Bea, single mom

I guarantee some nights you are going to come home and you are going to want nothing more than to just go and get take out because you don’t want to cook. If you have slow cooker and instant pot dump and cook meals ready to go, you will succeed more often than not on eating dinner at home.

I always try to keep ingredients on hand to throw together a quick butter chicken together in my instant pot (this one is hands down the best I have found). It takes a whole 20 minutes and dinner is ready to go, and it gives me time to have a quick shower or spend some quality time vegging with the kids before its time to eat.

Aim to have ingredients for 2-3 really easy dinners that you can whip up really without thinking too much about it. My go to-always-have-ingredients-on-hand type meals are spaghetti (make with shredded sauteed cabbage instead of noodles if you are keto, its delish), stir fry, and some sort of frozen meal that I just have to throw in the oven and cook.

6. Decrease grocery shops to once per week

Oh yes, you read that right! When I was working I would go to the grocery store every. single. day. Each visit would cost me $40-75. I would buy just what I needed so that I could cook dinner once I got home, because there was no pre-planning my week in advance.

This is a massive mistake.

You will have to get used to how sparse your fridge looks come friday (or whatever the day is before your shop day), but it has cut down on our unnecessary buying by at least half, as well as our food waste AND our grocery bill.

It is very freeing to be able to stay out of the grocery store during the week. It has made my evenings much more peaceful, and its a habit I wish I would have taken up back when I was working. I think it would have cut down the stress factor of my evenings significantly, and allows more time for rest after work.

I managed to cut our grocery bill in half, and this was one of the key players in my ability to pull that off successfully. If you want to read more about how I cut our grocery bill in half click here.

How To Prepare To Go Back To Work After Baby: Motherhood and Money - Some very practical tips to keep you sane, and financially stable when you head back to work after having a baby.
Another idea for a bullet journal layout specific to meal planning. Sticky notes make the spread easily changeable.

7. Be intentional about down time

“I have finally hired a house keeper and she comes every other week so at least I know the tough stuff is getting done. It’s hard to budget for it but I’d rather spend that $200/month then lose out on more time with my kids.” 

~ Joyce, Single mom of two

It is so easy as a working parent to fill your weekends and evenings up with all of the things that you “needed” to be doing at home during the week. Rest is SO important, you need down time, and you need to make it a priority.

I understand that life has natural rhythms and seasons, and so there are periods where this is just not feasible, but it is worthwhile to schedule this into your life. We live in a culture where “we need to have it all” and without rest, we are less productive people in our day to day lives.

I read this article by Propel Women, about the power of honoring the sabbath as a day of rest, and what happens to our bodies and to our productivity levels when we do not allow time for us to turn our brains off for awhile and to fill up our reserves.

If you have read our debt confession, you will know that my husband suffered a massive concussion just prior to the birth of our second baby. This came on the heals of spending a year and a half building a house together on our evenings and weekends, and the moment my husband was healed from his injury we both went back to work.

There was a good period of at least 4 years where I did not make a rest a consistent effort and it led to a very significant and debilitating burn out. If you schedule in time to have rest and fill up your buckets with all of the the things that bring you joy, it will overflow into the rest of your life.

“Monday to Friday your house can be a disaster, read that book instead of the housework you need to breathe as well!

Sue, Single mom

8. Take time to get comfortable with your daycare provider

“Try to trade services if you can. Watching other kids on the weekend for house cleaning and other things if you can afford it.

Jess, Single mom of one

I have had a few really amazing daycare set ups, and I have had some that I have been not so excited about.

Our top few daycare situations always were the ones that I took the most time to spend time with before I had to go back to work. The one that we ended up being with the longest was interviewing us as much as we were interviewing her. She did her very best to take time to get to know the kids, to see if they would be a good fit with the children she already had in her care.

When it comes to childcare, not anyone will do. Take the time for ask for background checks, ask for references, watch them play with your kids, take the time to ask how they discipline when the kids are not doing things that they should be doing.

The more you ask, the more comfortable you will feel. If you walk away from an interview and something just doesn’t sit right, trust your gut. Having a daycare situation where you know that your kids are being treated well, will always make the transition of going back to work easier.

“It’s okay to ask for help and realize you can’t take on everything that you want to. Having people you can talk to is very helpful!”

~Melissa, Single mom of two

9. Invest in a good pump

Here in Canada we are so incredibly lucky that we are able to be home with our babies for a full year or more before going back to work. If you plan to continue to nurse your baby past one year, you may find initially you need to be able to pump during your day at work so that your milk supply doesn’t start to drop off while you are working.

Every single baby is different as to how they will be at this age, so just take that into consideration as you are transitioning. You may need to send pumped milk for baby if they are not taking other milk alternatives.

If baby has not been bottle fed prior to this time, it may be a good idea to let dad do a bottle feed once and awhile to get your baby used to getting milk from another source other than mom. Some kids simply will not take a bottle, and it makes working days a bit easier when you know they take milk while you are away.

“All I can say is that it IS hard and it IS okay to feel like your failing sometimes. You’re not, you’re doing the best you know how to do. At the end of the day your babies will still look at you like your freaking super man and you will still be their safety net.”

Joyce, Single mom of two

A quick side note and thank you:

I put a call out on Facebook because I wanted to hear from the single moms in the group to see if I was on the right track with the advice I was giving out, and they not only confirmed all the tips above, but they also had some additional advice for other single moms headed back to work, and I thought they were so great I wanted to include them.

You have found these tips sprinkled through the article as quotes. Thank you mamma’s for taking the time to share your stories with me, I hope that you enjoyed the article!

I will leave just one last one…

“Think positive ALWAYS, love yourself, be proud, take a lot of opportunities to learn … and most of all just be happy , SMILE and PRAY always…”

~ Jennifer, single mom of two

What were some of the things you found helpful when heading back to work after having a baby? What you would tell another mom that might help her to thrive even though life just got a bit more complicated? Share them in the comments below, and feel free to share with your friends!

Also, feel free to add your name to my email list below, I promise not to flood your inbox with useless information. At the moment I am only sending out the odd update, or some extra tips here and there as they come to me.


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