Interview: Ally Hallam-Stephens on Maternity Leave, Commuting From the Country, and Budgeting For Your First Child
Some of us millennials are getting to the pointy end of our twenties, and for many of us that means quivering ovaries and peeing on a stick. Yep – it’s baby time! Anyone else terrified about ever being financially ready for kids? I caught up with 26 year old Ally over some generationally-appropriate avocado on toast to chat about her attitude to finance and how she and her husband are preparing for their first baby.
The Broke Generation: Hi Ally! Thanks so much for being a part of The Broke Generation. Can you tell our readers a bit about you?
Ally Hallam-Stephens: Hi Emma! Okay, I’m 26, and have been married to my husband Justin for a little over two years. I work in a digital agency as an Operations Manager and Strategy Lead, so I’m responsible for ensuring the agency runs efficiently, and of course for delivering top-notch content to our clients.
TBG: Lovely! Let’s get into it. If you had to categorise yourself as either a saver or a spender, which would it be?
AHS: Right now I’m somewhere in between. I think if I’m really focused on a goal for a short term, I’m a good saver. Like, I’m pretty good at saving for holidays! But I’m also an impulse spender too. I get in bad habits, like buying coffee multiple times a day!
TBG: So what do you buy when you’re impulse spending?
AHS: Maybe impulse spending isn’t the right term – I suppose that tends to mean online shopping or clothes or makeup or something. For me it’s mostly coffees and saying ‘oh I did bring my lunch butttt maybe I’ll order something else’. That’s where the bad habits come from.
TBG: How would you describe your relationship with money and finance? Does talking about money make you anxious or are you quite a savvy person?
AHS: Again, somewhere in between! I know what happens with my money, and I know where it goes, but I know there’s room for improvement.
TBG: Okay, so you have multiple accounts?
AHS: Yes! Shall I tell you about them?!
TBG: Please do!
AHS: My husband and I both have our salaries paid into our joint account, and then we have automatic payments set up to other accounts. So we have personal accounts, personal savings accounts, a joint account, a joint savings account and a joint direct debit account. I’ll tell you why we have the direct debit account! My father-in-law scared us and said that when you have direct debits set up, sometimes the company take extra money, so if you isolate the transactions you can notice if this happens! It hasn’t ever happened, but I’ve done it that way ever since! But either way, it stops us timing our direct debits poorly and going overdrawn.
So we looked at our regular payments for an entire year, and broke that down into weekly amounts that we pay into the direct debit account. We were sure to account for all those annoying annual payments too, like Office 365 or domain names that you’re never prepared for!
Then we transfer ourselves a personal allowance – and I get a coffee allowance too! – and then the rest into savings. One thing we also do, is every 3 months we get a $250 bonus each, paid from the savings into our personal accounts to spend on whatever we like. We stopped recently as we were saving for our holiday, but it’s a really fun thing to look forward to.
Oh, and then I have a beauty maintenance account for hair appointments and things.
TBG: Omg yes! That’s one of my favourite ways of affording your beauty routine. [Note to readers: we wrote a blog about that here] How do you transfer to your savings? Do you use percentages or set amounts?
AHS: We have a set amount each week that goes into savings, but to be honest I think we could be better with that. We were saving for a house, but our plans changed [more on this later] and we spent a lot of that on a holiday!
TBG: Okay, based on that, if you walked into work this morning and your boss said you were getting a $5k raise, would you adjust your weekly savings to reflect your new income?!
AHS: Yeah, I would try and save that extra amount. Especially at the moment. We’re expecting a baby in January so I’m preparing to go on maternity leave. We’re actually about to start trying to save my salary completely. Firstly to increase our savings for when baby HS arrives, but also to get used to living on one income.
TBG: How about if you got a $1000 upfront all-in-one-go bonus?
AHS: Ooh that would be hard, because when you’re expecting your first baby it’s tempting to sort of say “oh let’s treat ourselves one last time before the baby comes”. But realistically we should buy something like a pram! That actually really sums up my approach to money. I completely consider both scenarios, and sometimes I’ll do the savvy option and sometimes I’ll choose the splurgey option!
TBG: I am the exact same, don’t worry. Okay, I think a lot of young people don’t really understand how maternity leave works and how much you actually get paid for it. Do you feel comfortable sharing your experience with us?
AHS: Of course! So unless you have specific company perks when it comes to maternity leave, Australia has what I think is a very generous maternity leave package from the government – especially compared to America!
[If you do have company perks the rules will be entirely set out by your employer and probably be a lot more favourable than the government contribution]
So I think it’s 18 weeks from the government at minimum wage, and you can have that paid through your employer. Then it’s up to your employer if they wish to increase your paid leave. The other side to it is job security. No matter how long you’re on maternity leave for, whether it’s the base 18 weeks or more than that, your employer must guarantee your job for one year. I think that includes the time you have off before the baby comes, too. You can then negotiate a second year with your employer, but they have a lot more say in that side of things. It’ll all depend on your role, your industry and the company you work for.
TBG: Okay wow, so your employer is under no obligation to come up with the money. That’s super interesting to know!
AHS: Yeah it’s very generous especially given that our minimum wage is so high.
[Note for international readers, Australian minimum wage is currently $18.93AUD at September 2018]
TBG: Have you started buying things for the baby yet?! Are things more expensive than you expected them to be?
AHS: Not yet! But I’ve noticed that lots of things are expensive, but it’s sort of like the wedding industry. It is what you make it. You really don’t need a $2000 pram, but if you want one, you can get one.
TBG: People sell amazing things on Facebook now! Those super exxy prams are sold really cheap once people are done having kids!
AHS: Yeah, exactly. And I’ve got people we know who are willing to lend us things that they don’t need as they’re not having any more children for a while. And for smaller things, of course the baby will a few ‘yay-for-being-born gifts’ from friends and family!
TBG: That’s a really good way of doing it actually if you’re in a circle of friends – stagger your pregnancies and pass round the big ticket items! How do you feel about saving for your child’s future? Do you plan to set up a savings account for their 18th birthday or something like that?
AHS: Well, I mean I never had that from my parents, and I turned out just fine! But I do think it’s a good idea. Those small amounts add up so quickly over 18 years. And, what a great present – though I might rethink giving it to them at 18 and save it for when they’re a bit older and wiser!
TBG: Are you a cash or card gal? Do you find using one or the other helps with your spending?
AHS: I hate cash! Always card!
TBG: You find a $50 note in an old wallet – what do you do with it?
AHS: Unless I had something coming up in a few days, like an event that I might want a new outfit for, I’d probably go out to dinner!
TBG: Yaaaas. Always food first! Describe an average day in your wallet. What do you spend on a day-to-day basis?
AHS: [Points to avocado on toast, laughs]. I do have this very affordable avocado on toast a lot more than I used to. But I’m commuting in from Castlemaine as I’ve moved back in with my parents. That means I get the 6am train every morning to come into Melbourne, which gets me to the CBD at 7.30am. I don’t start work for an hour, so coming here for breakfast is my little bit of ‘me time’. I used to go to the gym, but it was a big expense I wasn’t getting the most out of.
[Note to readers, Castlemaine is 120km north-west of Melbourne]
In terms of what else I spend, I’ve been buying lunch a bit more recently, but when you’re pregnant sometimes you just have to feed your taste buds. Sometimes what you brought with you just isn’t appealing!
Other than that I’m usually pretty good. Sometimes a second coffee!
For transport I pay for a V-Line pass every 70 days. I’d really recommend paying for your travel upfront using passes. It brings the price down so much.
TBG: Do you have any debt?
AHS: Just my student debt!
TBG: How do you feel about your student debt?
AHS: I’ve recently started paying it off, and it’s one of those things really. I just don’t look at it, and then I’m fine!
TBG: Have you ever had any debt that isn’t student debt?
TBG: You’re so strong! I’m so jealous of people that didn’t have my reckless phase! If you had more money, what would change?
AHS: Only small things really – I’d feel less bad about having coffee out, and I suppose my lifestyle would just adjust slightly as I earned more and more.
TBG: What is one current financial goal you have?
AHS: I’d still like to buy property one day, but whether that’s going to be as an owner-occupier or an investor, I’m not sure yet. And of course, saving for the baby.
TBG: Thank you so much for being our interview subject, Ally! Good luck with the new baby and thanks for sharing all your maternity leave wisdom and budgeting styles with us.