I like the idea of financial independence, and if I'd had my way, we would have started our family once we had college fully funded for each child. Plus, a healthy emergency fund, a do-I-want-to-be-a-working-mom-or-not fund, and a minivan fund.
But I didn't want to be 80 years old at my children's high school graduations either.
Ironically, as it turns out, we decided to build our family through international adoption, a notoriously expensive way to build a family. The expense, I'm ashamed to say, is one of the main reasons why I resisted adoption for years.
When we reviewed our first packet of information, the fees ranged from $18,000 to a jaw-dropping $60,000. Gulp. Not only did we not have any of the funds above (well, except for an emergency fund with three months of living expenses), we didn't have any money saved up for our adoption when we formally started the process in May of 2011.
How we are paying for it
First, we cut expenses as much as we could. We
- raised deductibles
- shopped around for insurance
- slashed our vacation budget
- bought second-hand clothes or wore the ones we had
- cut our landline to the bare minimum
- halted all projects on our fixer-upper
All the things that you already know. We didn't go crazy here.
We sold stuff. I consigned clothes and yard-saled kitchen stuff. My husband sold his tractor he'd painstakingly restored. He made the biggest sacrifice, but he said it was worth it. Unfortunately, it didn't sell for as much as we'd hoped, but the $4,500 boosted our adoption account.
And lastly, we made more money. He worked as a mechanic for years, so he repaired farm implements in the evenings. I taught a couple of extra classes, reviewed textbooks, and filled in a few days at a doctor's office while I was on break from school. I also started a significant side job, but we tried not to touch that money unless we got desperate. That money has another purpose, related to our adoption, but more on that another time.
If we couldn't cash-flow the adoption expenses, we were going to take out a small loan until our adoption tax credit was applied.
What we didn't do
I follow lots of adoption blogs. Most people hold fundraisers to defray the adoption costs, but not us. We don't think there is anything wrong with it, but between my husband and me, we had over 20 years of full-time work experience in occupations that paid decent salaries. Many of our friends and family got married early, have several kids, and live on only one income. In our situation, we felt guilty asking anyone else to help fund our adoption.
One creative family hosted several fundraising meals. For a donation, they would make you (and up to seven of your closest friends) a theme meal of your choice. Others held bake sales and yard sales.
There are also grants to apply for, but we didn't do this, either (but only because I got lazy).
As I mentioned at the beginning, I like financial security. The thought of starting the process without having the money for it didn't feel secure or smart to me.
“The nice thing about international adoption is that the fees aren't due all at once,” said a friend of mine who had already adopted internationally.
And other friends told me, “Lisa, if you wait until you're financially secure to have kids, you'll never have them.”
So I gritted my teeth, and we jumped in with both feet.
Before we started the process, we were given a fee schedule so we knew how much each step would cost. Fortunately for our financial well-being (but unfortunately because we want to meet our kids), this is a slow process. As we complete each step, we get a bill. So far, we have always been able to pay each one.
By the summer of 2012, our savings account held enough money for the last fees, including travel expenses and staying in our children's native country for six weeks.
Bumps in the road
Unfortunately, our adoption savings account and emergency fund were one and the same.
I was feeling confident that we wouldn't have any emergencies. After all, we have good health insurance and a dependable car. What could go wrong?
That confidence disappeared when we had to replace our septic system. It drained all but $1,000 from our emergency/adoption fund. I started feeling desperate when we accepted the referral for our children three months later. At first, taking a loan seemed likely. Then, money started pouring in from my community again, even though we had told no one that our fund was low.
Today, while our adoption fund is lower than the pre-septic-emergency level, I know it will be enough to pay our remaining fees. As we wait on final paperwork approval, we are scrambling to save enough money for traveling and living expenses.
We expect to travel in February and return home with our kids in late March. As we wait, I'm researching flight costs, apartment costs, finding clothes, searching for options to help them learn English, and making medical appointments. We're also making decisions on our jobs. We know we can't maintain our sanity by keeping our current schedules.
I still like financial security as much as I ever have. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't have some apprehension about how these changes will impact our family. But it's less about the money and more about wondering if I will be a good enough parent to these kids who have already suffered loss.
If you're considering adoption, don't let the financial piece scare you. There are many options for adoption that are much less expensive than this example. And even though international adoption is expensive, it's within reach for most families, using fundraising and grant opportunities.
This definitely isn't about getting rich slowly, because you won't make money. But you might make a difference. And that's always a good investment.
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).