Friday 7 October 2011

My Tips for Surviving Financially in the NICU

I'm an Aussie, I'm blunt, I am not afraid to talk about money and I'm not afraid to ask for help. I think sometimes people in the UK are willing and want to help but their reserve holds them back, and at times like these sometimes we have to break through that and put it aside. I am not talking about asking for money, even I wouldn't do that, so bear with me as I share my tips for surviving financially whilst your baby is in hospital.

Essential Administration

I hate saying this because it just seems so wrong, you've had a traumatic delivery, your baby is in hospital, and I'm talking about paperwork. Get these things done early and then its done and you can concentrate on your baby.

1. If you haven't already done so, obtain your MATB1 and hand it to your employer. As mentioned in my last post your maternity leave will commence immediately. Without the MATB1 your employer probably will suspend your pay, mine did. My midwife did not issue MATB1 certificates til the 28th week of pregnancy, I delivered at 27, and she was on holiday. Your GP can issue a MATB1 however.

2. Make sure your employer is aware of what has happened. Paying maternity leave is not discretionary, its law, that once your baby is born that is what your employer must do, some, however, may have a discretionary fund or give you a little help.

3. Register your baby's birth. I know its hard, especially if your baby is poorly, however the sooner you get this done, the sooner your baby will receive child benefit and child tax credits (if you are eligible). This sounds mercenary, but it is important to get sorted out, and it can take quite some time for it all to go through.

4. Particularly if away from home, contact your utility providers, loan and mortgage providers if you think there might be issues with repayments. Keeping in touch early will help prevent issues later on.

5. If you can, get a trusted friend or relative to help manage your mail and bills.

Cover all bases

1. Check if you have any medical insurance policies. A lot of people have cover through work or their partner's work. Now in general childbirth is not covered, however c-sections are, and if you've had a section you may be entitled to cash benefit for every night you have stayed in an NHS hospital. If you add your baby to your policy they may be eligible too.

2. Speak to your hospital. Some units have family workers who can help, if not, there will be a general office. Some hospitals offer help with parking costs, meals and other incidentals, its worth asking.

3. Consider applying for  Disability Living Allowance (DLA). DLA is payable once a child is over 3 months old. Not all premature babies will be eligible (I didn't submit an application for Joseph as he would not have been eligible). If your baby is on oxygen or supplementary feeding it is likely an application would be successful. DLA is then reviewed on a regular basis. Don't worry about "stigma" these days people are not "registered disabled", this money is there to help when a child/adult has additional needs beyond what is expected of a child/adult of that age.

4. Look into local and national charities such as the Family Fund, that can help with additional expenses.

Every day cost cutting

1. The biggest costs when a baby is in NICU are food and transport. Make sure if using public transport you are getting the most appropriate ticket. Give your local transport information line a call and check. With food, I found that cutting a lunch was the best thing to do, but a little tedious. Our corner shop used to pack me a lunch for a fraction of the cost of the hospital cafeteria.

2. If a neighbour or friend asks what they can do to help, ask them to make you lunch, or drive you to hospital, or cook a meal for you.

3. Accept all offers of help, and don't be afraid to ask for it. It's a tough time emotionally, financially and physically, and people may not realise just how tough it is, especially if you have your Polyanna face plastered on, as I did.

4. Consider on-line shopping. Personally I spend a lot less on line, as I don't "browse" the aisles. I found when Joseph was in hospital, I could get my shopping delivered late in the evening, when I knew I'd be home.

5. Keep track of reward points balances. I managed to "lose" £50 of Tesco points as I didn't give a hoot when Joseph was in hospital, they were saved on line and last 3 years so all was not lost, but these sort of things can really help when money is tight.

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