An article in The Atlantic focuses on a new trend among expecting parents. Instead of doing a traditional baby registry, they’re opting to crowdsource funding to compensate for the time they’ll be taking off from work once the baby has arrived.
Natalie Gordon, the founder and CEO of Babylist, says that the site has seen users asking for financial support for their maternity leave via the the “Enter Your Own” option field where, in addition to baby items, users can ask for funding for cash for fun experiences or staples, such as diapers. Over 200 leave funds have been created on the site since last May, with the average cash goal set to $2,000.
… Kimberly McClellan, another user on Babylist, felt that being explicit about her ask for leave funding the request more comfortable. “The biggest worry was how to manage all the new expenses of a baby while I was off work and without pay,” said McClellan, a 36 year-old marketing specialist in Denton, Texas, in an email. “I thought it would be great to give people the option to just contribute money if they chose to, but I wanted to make it clear that any cash donated would be used for salary replacement while both me and my husband were off work to care for the baby. I felt like that would be a more understandable request than just for cash to be used for anything and everything.”
The author cites a recent Pew Survey that indicates a (slim) majority of Americans are in favor of federally-mandated paid leave, with 69% of leave-takers noting they returned to work earlier than preferred because they couldn’t afford to take an extended unpaid leave. Current federal leave policy permits employees of organizations meeting minimum requirement 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Some states have laws on the books permitting a partial salary reimbursement for a portion of the leave period. In New Jersey, it amounts to six weeks capped at roughly $550/week, the equivalent of an unemployment check.
While some still feel awkward about crowdfunding finances in lieu of gifts, the trend is on the rise among millennials who statistically prefer “experiences to things.” The reality for new parents is that the money that will be raised will inevitably be used to buy things. Having a baby isn’t an “experience.” It’s inviting a new person to live in your home. A new person who doesn’t have a thing to his or her name and a ton of needs that must be met. Whether it’s diapers, formula, or a bouncy swing that gives mom and dad a break, the money you source is inevitably going to buy stuff. It isn’t going into a rainy day fund, either, because the implication of the fundraiser is that you don’t have one.
Which is, perhaps, why the idea is so awkward. By laying a request for cash out there, you’re asking family and friends to essentially pay your bills. It’s a lot less awkward to do a traditional registry and get much-needed gifts that, in the end, cost thousands. The article notes that most expecting mothers crowdsourcing via Babylist have raised a few hundred dollars at most, all falling short of their “goal of several thousand.” If they need those “several thousand” to pay bills, how are they getting what they need for the baby?
Crowdsourcing funds to cover unpaid leave periods is a notable idea. It certainly draws attention to the lack of government policy regarding paid parental leave. The problem is that it’s almost too political in nature. To be sure, there are some people who are in true financial need. But, for many, it almost sounds like they’d rather buy the baby gifts themselves.