2nd August 2018

How to survive on mat leave money

On statutory mat leave pay? Join the (painfully poor) club. But there are still things you can do to while away the many hours between your partner’s disappearance to work and their return. Cat Neilan has a few tips on how to survive when you’re earning zero pounds a month…


There will come a point when your innocent little baby becomes a bare-naked consumerist like the rest of us, but until that point he is not able to discern which toys are bits of leftover rubbish and which are £30-a-pop synthetic branded crap. Currently my son’s faves are a shoebox with a hole in it, an old bottle of apple juice with some dried rice in it and a balloon. The balloon even trumps mummy in his affections.

Cuddles for Lunch

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but offering cuddles for lunch is an honest exchange. This requires a handful of broody friends willing to stump up cold hard cash to hold the baby while you gorge yourself silly – but you’d be surprised how many people consider it to be a good deal.


I used to scoff at my husband’s obsession with his slowcooker; now I’m a radical convert, preaching the good word far and wide. A virtually foolproof way to make something pretty tasty out of a tin of tomatoes and some lentils, it also makes you look as though you’ve been slaving over a hot stove. Domestic goddess-ness, here I come.


I can’t understate how valuable HomeStart was to me in those early whirlwind days. Being able to spend time with other mums and professionals who have been there and seen that totally helped me get my head together. The services, which are either all free or subsidised, include Rhyme Time and other baby-focused activities, fitness classes and baby massage, educational advice about what to do with this little weirdo you’re suddenly responsible for. There’s also breastfeeding support, which is probably the reasons I pushed through the first few weeks. If you need a change of scene, but can’t justify the cost of a meal out, these centres are a total life-saver.


Rather than paying for one book that you’re then forced to read again and again and aaaaagain, get yourself down the library. It seems obvious, but I’m surprised how few people actually use them. They often host Rhyme Times or Stay and Plays, which help you kill a few hours. Use it or lose it, people.


My phone is the most essential piece of kit. From obsessively searching “baby poo normal colour” or getting the perfect white noise app, to finding free activities on Hoop or like-minded mums on Mush, there are so many ways to break the boredom without breaking the bank. Just delete your Amazon app before you get started…

@CatNeilan @mushmums

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