Monday, June 18, 2012

How Has the Economy Affected Your Family's Stress Level

Almost half of Americans report being more stressed than a year ago, according to this week's USA Today. One-third of Americans are suffering from "extreme" stress. Unfortunately, the survey was taken before the stock market plunged, so the real numbers are probably worse. That stress is affecting eating and sleeping levels, and inevitably how we relate to others, especially our families.
Since most families are affected by these negative economic trends, it's important to acknowledge the impact it has on our lives and take action to try to remain calm and provide a sense of normalcy to children. I've read how some families have skipped going out to dinner and a movie, and instead have a simple dinner at home followed by game night.
If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, turn off the bad news, take a walk or a bath, or call a friend. Appreciate the people you have in your life. One family I know with several young children in the house reports the father's slow work schedule has allowed him to spend a lot more time with the family. It does create some financial hardship, but they try to look at the positive side as he has always been extremely busy at work. Older children are aware of financial strain, so be honest about any household changes that you need to make. Ask for their ideas in cutting costs, and look for signs of stress in children.
Reach out to others who are facing extreme stress, or if you see signs of abuse or neglect. The USA Today article advises that as stress levels increase, domestic violence and child abuse also rise.
Be on the lookout for families in crisis, and help connect them to social service agencies that can help. You may be the only one who sees the signs of a child or adult in need. If you are able, offer to care for a child for a couple of hours while a parent looks for a new job. Or, if you still have a good job, help others who are looking for work network with your contacts.
Be a steady voice amidst the chaos, and remind friends and family that this period will pass, and the relationships they nurture will remain.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Improving Your Family Finances With the Help of Childcare Vouchers

Part of the reality of becoming a new mum is taking stock of your family's finances and working out how you will cope financially. When you're considering returning to work, how you will afford to pay for childcare and what kind of childcare you will choose are important decisions. Many new parents will not be familiar with childcare vouchers, how they work and how they can be used to pay for childcare. 
The childcare voucher scheme is a national scheme offered to parents and guardians through the government and participating employers to help with the cost of childcare.
Childcare vouchers are a financially beneficial way to pay for childcare in the UK, because you don't pay tax or National Insurance on childcare vouchers to the value of £55 a week. This means that working parents can save as much as £1,195* a year by paying for childcare with vouchers. The savings could be double, if both parents sign up for a childcare voucher scheme.
The website Money for Mums has put together a good check list of information on childcare vouchers [1]:
1        Check whether your employer's childcare vouchers are a benefit that is paid on top of your normal pay or whether it's part of a salary sacrifice scheme
2        Work out how your tax credits will be affected
3        If your cash pay is affected, ask if your other earnings-related payments will be affected (pension, overtime rates, pay rises etc.)

4        If your cash pay is affected, ask will your benefits-related payments be affected? (will your NI contributions to your State Pension be affected etc.)
5        If your cash pay is affected, ask would any student loan repayments be affected?
Childcare vouchers are redeemable to pay for childcare and child minding ensuring that a parent's return to work need not have a negative impact on their family finances.
Parents can also be assured when selecting a childcare provider that they have undergone rigorous vetting procedures. Before childcare vouchers can be used to pay providers the provider must be registered with an approved regulatory body and will need to meet the standards set out by that body. Ensuring only registered providers can accept vouchers for payment offers additional peace of mind to mums knowing that their child is being looked after in a safe friendly environment.