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How to afford kids when you’re not rich

The gig economy doesn’t have to end when the parenting begins

How to afford kids when you’re not rich

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According to 2015 data from Statistics Canada analysed by Moneysense.ca, the average cost of raising a child to age 18 in Canada is now $253,946. Yep, that’s average.

Weighing that kind of number alongside our rising costs of living, stagnating wages, and lingering student debt loads is seriously anxiety-inducing, so it’s no wonder that more young Canadians are putting off starting families. In 2011, the average age of women having children reached a record 30.2, and for dads, it hit 41.

For those of us who are stuck in precarious employment like in short-term contracts or working freelance the kid situation only gets more nerve-wracking. It’s hard to arrange daycare for little Jaxxen or Parsnip when you don’t know when your next client will turn up, and changing nappies while you’re changing jobs poses some serious logistical challenges.

“A lot people are choosing to be a bit more precariously employed, so that they are more available to their families,” says Stephanie Nakitsas. “But the way that work and childcare is set up in Canada doesn’t match the reality of the new economy.” Nakitsas is a part-time instructor at Centennial College and a part-time organizer at the Urban Worker Project, an advocacy group calling for better for protections for precarious workers. She’s also the full-time mother of a three-year-old, and one of the 31.9 percent of Canadians who are self-employed, under temporary contract, or working part-time.

Juggling parental responsibilities with this kind of work is tricky, but it can be done with proper planning and a lot of flexibility.

Find a schedule that works for you

Jericho Bundac is a 32 year-old writer in Vancouver who chose the freelance life to spend more time with his two-year-old. He finds the father-daughter bonding has been great, but juggling deadlines and diapers can get fraught. “It’s been a challenge to go from a traditional 9 to 5, to a schedule where you need to find an hour here and there,” says Bundac. “When she has her afternoon nap, I return a call from a client. When she goes to sleep at night, I sit down to write a blog post.”

This kind of ad-hoc scheduling can work for many, but there’s also a need to keep track of how much time you’re spending on life vs. work, and what your ideal balance is. “The largest struggle has been creating healthy boundaries,” says Bundac. “It’s a constant challenge to make sure I’m not heavily favouring work over family or the other way around.”

See what you can get for maternity leave benefits

Allison Venditti is a 34-year-old career strategist who focuses on young families. She’s also the parent of two young boys, and took mat leave after she had her first. “I was getting around $400 [per week], which is less than minimum wage, essentially.” The transition to a lower income was hard at first, but Venditti found her life changed accordingly. “When your income drops that much, your lifestyle adjusts. Plus you’re not going out drinking or anything. You have a baby.”

Each province’s labour laws dictate that new moms can take anywhere from 15-18 weeks off work, and parents of any gender can split another 35-52 weeks between them, all without repercussions from your employer. Your job doesn’t have to pay you while you’re away on leave, so the Canadian government offers Employment Insurance (EI). But there’s a catch (there’s always a catch): you need to have put in 600 hours of work before giving birth, and have contributed to EI. For most people, the benefits are 55 percent of their average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum of $51,300 as of January 1, 2017. If you’re on a low-income, you may be able to qualify for an EI Family Supplement.

Of course, this still assumes you’ve got a permanent gig. Only 40 percent of women outside of Quebec (which has its own parental insurance program) can qualify for EI benefits. For people who are self-employed or on contract, you can still have kids with some government help as long as you do the prep work. You have to sign up to voluntarily pay into EI, and later receive income when you or your partner has the baby. Those benefits aren’t huge, and you have to wait a year before you can claim them. But hey, it’s something.

Save on daycare by getting chummy with your in-laws

In a Canadian city like Toronto or Vancouver, you can easily spend over $20,000 a year on daycare. Yep, that is almost double the price of a year of law school at the University of British Columbia. And yep, this is going to hurt.

There are a couple of ways to minimize the damage. BC offers a childcare subsidy, as does the City of Toronto. Do some research to figure out if your government can offer some relief, and start shopping around for daycares ASAP to find an option that works for you. “Without our municipal daycare subsidy, it was $160 a day to put my kids in daycare.” says Venditti. “I got on that subsidy list the moment I knew I was pregnant. And in order to get a daycare spot, I started calling daycares [immediately]. They knew before my father did.”

Finding the right daycare at the right price—not to mention one that works with a gig economy schedule—can be tough. Nakitsas and her partner have cobbled together a schedule that lets both of them work while still providing them with quality kid time. “We’ve had to have our daughter in a number of different places,” says Nakitsas. “She’s in part-time daycare a couple of days a week, she’s with my family for a day, and she’s with my partner’s family for two days. I’ve organized my work so that I can be with her for two afternoons a week. It works for us, but it does add a lot of stress.”

Hit up your friends, neighbours, and internet strangers for baby supplies

The costs of the crib, car seat, stroller, high chair, baby-proofing materials, diapers, and cute pink onesies can be staggering. But a great thing about working erratically is that A) you can have more time with your kids and B) you can spend some of this time finding deals and making trades on the internet.

“I really love Bunz [the online trading network],” says Nakitsas. “I think it’s really great for community building and resource sharing. Most of my daughter’s clothes are secondhand and we’ve found a lot of things through trading within our community.”

If the idea of second-hand baby clothes weirds you out, remember that newborn kids grow like crazy and there is no way that an eight month-old cares what brand name he’s wearing. And besides, by maximizing those hand-me-downs and making those trades, you’re doing invaluable “networking” lining up potential babysitters in the neighbourhood.

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