Friday, June 14, 2013

How to afford adoption...the frugal gal's guide

It has been awesome to be on this side of things and get to answer these questions that I’ve been preparing you all to answer for years! In addition to many questions about fertility (another blog for another day), a lot of the questions we’re getting are about money. From asking us how much the adoption costs, to asking us why it costs so much, to telling us they thought only rich families adopt internationally, to telling us some story about someone the think they knew once who maybe adopted from Romania (or was it Russia? Some Eastern European country that begins with an “R”) who had to take $10,000 in crisp $100 bills and they ended up paying them off in the back of a panel van just to adopt a child with an attachment disorder. (thought bubble, “Um, I’m pretty sure there was a question wrapped up somewhere in that last statement”…benefit of the doubt...benefit of the doubt…)

Anyone who knows Brian and I knows that we’re not wealthy. Brian comes from a financially conservative family and I am just a naturally Frugal Frannie. Brian is building a business and I’m a social worker. We keep a tight budget that doesn’t really allow us much room for wiggling, let alone enough wiggle to just write a check and pay for an international adoption. Therefore, grants and fundraising are going to be key. So yes, we’re doing all the normal stuff with the grants and praying like crazy for financial blessings, but we’re also trying to get creative and think about other financially savvy avenues for saving money, no matter how small. We’re not focusing on going for the gold every time, but rather thinking of little ways that we can save or get funds raised, that will add up. So I thought it would be good to share some money saving/financing ideas, from your resident frugal social worker.  

Think small - First of all, it helps to think of the adoption funds in chunks, rather than think of everything as a giant financial monster. Honestly, I can’t wrap my brain around $30,000 but I find one plane ticket for $1,500 or our $890 immigration fee to be tangible. Perhaps that’s because I don’t often deal with tens of thousands dollars in my normal life, but hundreds or a thousand dollars makes sense to me. So when you get some little financial blessing, think about it as a thing and not just part of the monster. Start with $10 you find in the washing machine and think, “sweet, that’s our fingerprinting fee at the City of Prairie Village.” It also helps to involve your family and friends in the process that to most of them, is quite abstract. If someone gives you $20, you can tell them, “Thank you! We can now state certify two of our dossier documents! Only 14 more to go! That’s huge.” And then go to the bank and deposit it.

Banking – I would advise opening a savings account (that does not require a minimum balance) just for adoption monies. Do not wrap this money into your regular accounts that your monthly bills go in and out of. You will lose it, and probably use it, if you don’t set it up to be separate. In my opinion, if you are asking people to make donations directly to you and you don’t keep it separate, that’s not good stewardship. You must ensure that you are using adoption donations only to pay only for your adoption. I know that seems self explanatory, but... True story from an adoptive family that I read about on a blog (disclaimer: not my clients). They did a fundraiser for their adoption and it appeared to go well. Then they decided that they were going to have to do some home remodeling to make space for the additional two kids they are planning to adopt and came up short, so they paid for the rest with the fundraiser money. Then, two months later, they had another of the same type fundraiser to recoup the funds that they used on the home project and were begging people on their blog to donate items so they could get back to square one on the adoption funds. Seriously. #1, maybe you don’t need to adopt two children if you are tight on money and don’t have room in your home right now and #2, if you must, don’t use donations to pay for it. If this is a worry to you because you think you might use it, you are generally able to have people donate straight to your adoption agency to use specifically for you. Check with your agency first, but most would be happy to take your money sooner and start getting some interest!    

Found money – Now that you have your separate account, start to look for “found money.” Found money is simply that…money you find unexpectedly. Take anything that is found money and put it in that special adoption account. Remember that Alexander Hamilton you found in the washing machine? Found money! I don’t care how little it is, just put it in the account. And since you now have an interest bearing savings account, consider that interest found money too. We had a financial blessing happen with us last month in that our homeowners insurance went down a bit and we got a $329 refund from the escrow account. It was awesome and such a surprise! We then had a choice…use it for regular bills, spend it, or save it for the adoption? I think we made the right decision and that was the first $329 we put in the “adoption fund.” So find your money and then deposit it. Do not go out for fro-yo, whatever you do, nix the frosty treats.    

Messing with your head and getting in under budget – as I mentioned, Brian and I keep a tight budget. And so now I’m enjoying trying to beat it and come in under budget every month. When we succeed, we can take this little bit of savings and put it in the adoption fund.  It’s actually pretty fun to see what you can do and how far you can make things stretch. Such was the impetus for sending my husband to work yesterday morning with a pepperoni, cheese, and mayonnaise sandwich on a hamburger bun* and me with a new invention I’ve named “peanut butter burritos” which is simply peanut butter spread over a tortilla and rolled up**…I’m not kidding, though I wish I was. But if I can get the grocery budget down $20, that’s $20 more for Yiyi! And right into the adoption account it goes.     

Thinking of your friends and family who might want to host a fundraiser – I had thought of the usual suspects in fundraising, but nothing out of the box. Until I had a talk about adoption is with a good friend of mine, Doug, who is also an adoptive dad. Doug is a photographer and is part owner of a photography studio, KdogPHOTOGRAPHERS, in Westport. He works hard, but like most in his profession, he’s not rolling in the dough. He told me that he and his wife would like to donate more to adoptive families, but with their young children and tight budget, they would not be able to do more than a few dollars. But, he has this amazing talent that wanted to share. So the first ever Doug’s Awesome Photography Adoption Fundraiser In-Our-Backyard Extravaganza was born.  Doug came up with the concept and everyone was flexible and it just worked. Plus it was fun! He gave us an awesome gift, people loved their photos because Doug is terrific, and we got some great funds raised. Think of anyone you know who can donate a service or sell something and can give you part or all of their profits. Mary Kay (which is our next fundraiser), Scentsy, Thirty-One, and Silpada are all popular and good options. Other things like massages, hair cuts, nails, and facials are all things that people will enjoy and get a good feeling from making the donation. It never hurts to ask and all they can do is say no. But if they say yes, it’s really a win/win.

I say, it’s 2013, let’s throw out the rules, let’s start some new trends, and let’s open the doors for people who never thought they could afford adoption to send in that first home study payment!        

*Brian declared this his favorite sandwich I’ve ever made him

**I mean, I’m not going to crave them in the future, but not half bad


  1. Love it. Thank-you for educating us on adoption. BTW, that is Stefanie's favorite sandwich except on toasted bread.

    Aunt Carole

  2. Minor correction--the sandwich also had HAM! :D