Counting the cost of being a working mum

I can remember very clearly the moment I worked out just how much it was going to cost me to go back to work after my nine-month maternity leave.

Childminder: £50; return train fare: £19; and just to finish me off, parking: £6 – a total spend of £75 a day (or £225 for my newly negotiated three-day week) simply to go to work.

My husband had to pick me up off the floor. I was gripped with panic. Was it worth it? How would we ever afford more kids? Why on earth had we moved out of London and landed ourselves with such ridiculously expensive commuter fares?

A year on, I'm pleased to say that I feel a little bit more relaxed.

I may still occasionally turn up to work with dribble on my top or pull my diary out of my bag only to discover it's actually a copy of The Gruffalo, but nonetheless I feel back in control. Work is going well, my son is happy and settled with his childminder, and we haven't gone bankrupt.

Making savings

We very quickly worked out a routine and came up with ways to make savings here and there. Rather than driving to the station, my husband drops me off before taking the little fella to the childminders.

At the end of the day, I pick him up, wander over to my mum's (who conveniently lives next door to the childminder), and wait for my obliging husband to pick us both up on his way home. Yes, it's a bit of a palaver, but it saves us £72 a month.

My in-laws have also been extremely helpful – paying us regular mid-week visits and saving us £50 a day in childcare to spend some time with their grandson.

And we're both lucky in having employers who don't mind us working from home occasionally, saving £19 in train fares or 80 miles worth of petrol.

However, easily the biggest saving we've made is through maximising our use of childcare vouchers. This is a great way of reducing your childcare costs.

The vouchers enable both parents to put up to £243 of their pre-tax income towards childcare. I reckon it's saving us around £165 a month or, put another way, it pays for around a week's worth of childminding fees.

Not all companies offer childcare vouchers. If yours doesn't, it pays to have a word with your HR department – with big national insurance savings to be made, it's unlikely to say no.

Ultimately, it's only by taking advantage of every perk available and planning your week like a military operation that you can really save on childcare.

And I suppose it's reassuring that childcare is expensive – after all, I'm not aware of many mums who have shopped around for the cheapest childcare they can find.

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