Monday, 2 September 2019

How to survive shared parental leave on a budget


National levels of blokes taking up shared parental leave appear to remain low since it arrived in April 2015. But, anecdotally, more and more friends in London are grabbing the opportunity to take off an extended time with their child(ren). Here, Alex Lawson, a journalist colleague of Show Me the Mummy's Lucy, tells us about his three months of paternity leave with his son Finn (three) and daughter Lina (who was nine months when he took over the home front) - with his tips on how dads can spend time with their kids without over-spending cash because, as Alex puts it, "in statutory terms, you are only entitled to what your partner would be earning (I took the last three months of my wife’s leave, so was unpaid), so it’s wise to keep an eye on the pennies. Plus my family are from Sheffield so the Yorkshireman in me came out..." Over to Alex with his fantastic tips for parental leave fellas (and mums) keen to do it on a budget:

FOOD

Have picnics. Endless picnics.


Feeding them without endlessly splashing out was one of the biggest challenges of the leave. As an, ahem, limited cook with a penchant for snacking, making sure they got three square meals - despite my having little spare time and energy - was daunting. So picnics were plentiful. We feasted on pre-made sandwiches, steamed-at-home carrots, fruit and, um, crackers all summer long – without having to duck into costly cafes and, importantly, break off from playing for too long. (Winter option: same but with coats on)


Shop online as much as possible

Plan everything to keep costs down. Stops you buying stuff that ends up in the bin, and with fresh food – which they need constantly – I'd try to buy it online and freeze it, or take the kids and make the food shopping an activity for them by slinging them in a trolley. Your freezer is your friend.


ACTIVITIES


Make your own games

The start of my leave was blighted by rain meaning my basic plan (“I’ll just take them to the park all day, every day”) was trampled underfoot. One fun way to keep them entertained was making games – from bingo cards to pretend cooking – using stuff already around the house. There are tonnes of Instagrammers who offer great inspiration on this sort of thing – I like @the_play_at_home_mummas and @everydaybabyplay.



 Hit up libraries and playgroups

I’m lucky enough to have slightly flexible working so I’m no stranger to the playgroups of west London. But for someone with a 9-5 job thrust into daytime life, it can be quite daunting knowing which ones are good (cheap, friendly people and loads of toys) and which ones aren’t (cramped, clique-y; just a battered old baby walker). I tapped into my wife’s network of mum friends who had compiled an excellent list of all the local library singing groups and play centres, one of which had a cheap annual membership which was well worth it. I also found loads of info at libraries.


Make the most of free attractions

An obvious one. London is stuffed with them of course so we often found ourselves at the National History Museum, Tate Modern or Design Museum in High Street Kensington (which has a secret playroom upstairs). But there’s plenty of less obvious ones like the City Farms in Vauxhall, Kentish Town, Spitalfields, Queens Park and Freightliners in Islington. And don’t forget, the world’s a playground for kids – we watched a digger for 45 minutes one day.


Be selective with activities 


It’s not really practical to splash out on days out like the zoo or soft play – London ones can be insanely pricey – every day, but I tried to plan one bigger activity a week to make the most of our time together. My highlight was a daytrip on an (off peak, of course) train to glamorous Southend to see some friends – we crammed in a trip to the beach, aquarium, lunch and an ice cream on the cheap.


TRAVEL

Could you squeeze in a family break?

The best part of my leave was a month spent as a whole family. We stockpiled my wife’s annual leave and packed the car up for a road trip around France and Italy. We didn’t exactly budget spectacularly (our old car was so tiny we had to shell out for a new one three weeks before) but one tip was: spend more on Airbnbs. With little prospect of fancy meals out or evening gigs, we spent bigger on the accommodation than we usually would and relaxed in other people's homes in style. Oh, and had loads of picnics of course. 

Read more from Alex on Twitter @mralexlawson and Instagram @alexowl26
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