Friday, February 28, 2014

Our Story: How we paid cash for our adoption

I know this idea sounds super crazy because no one has $30,000 lying around in their bank account, especially to spend it on expanding your family through adoption. So, how did we do it?

First, we got rid of all of our debt. We did not want to start a family and still have school loans. How could we save for our children’s college if we are still paying for ours? Then we built up our emergency savings to 6 months of expenses. I know that seems like a daunting task, but if something were to happen (car break down, sickness, fire, flood, job loss, etc…), we needed to have that blanket of security. And let me tell you because we have that buffer in our savings, I feel financially stable and secure if something tragic were to happen. Now, I’m not advocating you have to have 6 months of expenses saved up before you adopt, but it would be wise to have a little buffer for when you bring your adopted child home. The medical bills can pile up quickly with adopted children, even if they are healthy. It took us 2 years to get out of debt and to fully fund our emergency savings. Now that we have zero debt and a fully funded emergency savings, we can now officially start saving up for the adoption.

We did not want to go into debt with this adoption. Before we even filled out the application to the adoption agency, we knew we had to have the cash first. I know it sounds kind of backwards to have the money first and then apply, but we are determined to have financial peace throughout our lives. People thought we were crazy. We got the blank stares with the raised eyebrows. We got the “huh” with the head nod. We got all kinds of advice: the “you don’t need to fund-raise and save up first, just trust in God, he will provide”, or “just have faith”, or my personal favorite, “wow, you must be rich”. No, we are not rich. We are just smart and resourceful. We budget. We live within our means. They did not believe that we could do it and why would you save up the money first, aren’t there grants or something you could get. Yea, there are grants out there, but there is no guarantee that you could get any of them, especially being on the “Dave Ramsey” plan.

We started saving for our first adoption in July of 2011. My husband and I both worked full time (9-10 hours/day). We did not want to spend years and years saving up to pay for 1 international adoption. And we were too tired to get second jobs. We had to get creative with our budget. We had an overall goal of $30,000 to save up before we applied. We set monthly (realistic) goals for our adoption savings account to help achieve the overall goal. We fund-raised a little. I googled lots of homemade recipes (household cleaning products and other convenience items that are cheaper to make than to buy) and frugal living ideas. We wanted our cost of living to be really low so we could save more money from our paychecks.  Working long hours that we did we did not have the time to fund-raise every month so we knew every paycheck counted. We lived on just one of our incomes, saving the others income to the adoption fund. Some of our family and friends gave us donations to our adoption fund. With all the above mentioned, it was possible for us to pay cash for our adoption. In fact, we did have faith in God about our adoption finances because there is no way we could have saved that much money in the short amount of time that we did.

By August 2012, we had $27,000 in our adoption savings. Wow, talk about trusting in God and having faith! Lifeline Child adoption agency was opening up a new program, the Poland program. We thought it would be a great match for us and we applied. We obviously did not save up $30,000 before we applied, but it was close. And because we were the pilot family, they gave us a $2,500 scholarship, bringing our total to $29,500. Pretty close. That whole year of saving and fundraising went by so fast. And now we can start the adoption process and not have to worry about money.

Throughout the first part of our adoption process, we tried to not touch our adoption savings and pay for things with the leftover money at the end of the month from our paychecks. We knew, of course, we could only keep up with this to a certain point in the process because the check amounts were getting bigger and bigger. And we applied for grants, which we did not receive because of all the money we had in our savings accounts (emergency and adoption). It was a real bummer not getting grants, but in the end it was totally worth it to have the cash rather than to hold out on grant money that is not guaranteed. We were not worried the whole time during the adoption process because we had enough money to get us back home from Poland with our newest addition. Another benefit of having the cash first is that we didn’t have to fund-raise while we were doing the paper chase. We did not have to wait for more money to get into our bank account before we could send a check to our adoption agency to proceed on with the next step of our adoption process. It was a relief knowing that when we returned home with our daughter, we did not owe anybody anything.

My one regret for that whole year of saving for our adoption is not saving for our retirement. Retirement is so important. And since my husband and I are “young”, we want to take advantage of the compounding interest. Yea, that would have meant maybe holding off on starting the adoption process. We plan on at least saving 12% of our income for our retirement and then the rest can go to saving up for the next adoption. It may take longer to start but in the end, it will be worth it. When I am older I do not want my kids to have to take care of me out of their own pockets. I want to bless them with our hard earned savings instead.

In a nutshell, this is what we did to pay cash for our adoption:
Ask for extra hours at work
Garage sale
Sold Just Love Coffee
“Bare bones” grocery budget
Cut out all the extras (limit eating out, vacations, shopping, and that list can keep going)
Click here for our homemade recipes (I will be posting more)
Any extra money (birthday, Christmas) went right into the adoption fund
Donations from family and friends
Set monthly and yearly goals

It can be done. We did it. And we are doing it again. And as long as God blesses us financially, we will keep doing it. If you need encouragement to start, please email me. I will talk you into it!

If you have a story of how you adopted debt free, please post them in the comments. I would love to know how you did it too!


If you are on the Dave Ramsey plan and want to save up cash first to pay for your adoption, do not expect to get grants. Most grants are for families who do not have the “financial” means (money in the bank) to adopt. They do not see it as emergency savings in case something bad happens. They just see this big number in your savings account and zero debt. Do not get discouraged if you are on the Ramsey plan and want to pay cash for your adoption. It is worth the financial peace. I think I may write to Dave Ramsey and ask him to start his own adoption grant fund to help those who want to stay out of debt and adopt. Or if I become a billionaire one day I will start my own adoption grant fund for people who are trying to stay debt free and have a fully funded emergency savings.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Before I officially made my own laundry detergent, I did a little online research to see if there were any frugal blogs that had a cost break down of homemade laundry detergent verses the store bought. And sure enough there were plenty of online articles and homemade recipes. And boy was I surprised with the results of the costs! I did not realize that store bought laundry detergent is that much more expensive. I am now convinced that store bought detergent will break the bank! And after making my own, for now about a year, I will never go back to store bought kind.

 Here is the online article from The Simple Dollar that changed my view on homemade laundry detergent. It has the cost breakdown of store bought vs. homemade.

And here is the recipe for the homemade laundry detergent that I use. It makes 5 gallons of detergent. When I am making this, the WHOLE house smells so fresh and clean. It truly is a win, win! (win #1: more money in my pocket, win #2: house freshner) 

If you do not like the smell of this laundry detergent or if you want a "prettier" smell, add a 1/4 cup of fabric softner that you like.



Extra tip: Wash your clothes in cold water so you can save on electricity. And of course, air dry your clothes! For other tips on how to save on your electricity click here.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

How to apply for your adopted child's Social Security number?

After you have received your child's Certificate of Citizenship in the mail, you are now able to apply for his or her social security number.

This is what you need to bring to the Social Security office:
Social Security Number Application
Your child's Polish passport
Polish birth certificate w/ translation
Adoption decree w/ translation
Certificate of Citizenship
Hague Certificate (you probably don't need to bring this, I did because you never know)
And your I.D. (they need to make sure you are the guardian)

To make your life easy, before you go to the office, MAKE A APPOINTMENT!!!!
You can go online and set the appointment up with the specific office you will be going to. You will not have to wait as long. You still will probably have to wait, but not as long. And don't go right after a holiday, because that will be a busy time as well.

If you do not want to go to the social security office, you can mail in all of your documents and application. They will mail them back to you when they are finished. I did not feel comfortable doing this because our post office in New Orleans is not the most reliable place. I am too scared that they would loose our precious documents.

The social security office told me that it takes 2 weeks for our child's social to be mailed to our house. Bummer. I was hoping to get it when we went there the other day. So, we sit and wait some more.



*By the way, you can not claim your newly adopted child as a dependent on your taxes until they have a social security number.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How long does it take to get the Certificate of Citizenship?

They say it takes 50 days after you first entered the country with your newly adopted child(ren). But "the word" on the adoption street says it has been taking a much longer time to receive it than that.

We received ours this past Saturday. For those of you who were counting (me), it took over 90 days. One reason that it took so long was that we had moved in the last month and they will not forward it to your new address. You must contact them and update your information.

If you do have problems getting your child's Certificate of Citizenship, you can email them here: childcitizenact@uscis.dhs.gov. We did and they got back to us within a day.



For those of you who have gotten this far in the adoption process, how long did it take you to receive your child's Certificate of Citizenship?

Monday, February 17, 2014

What is a dossier? What paperwork is needed for a adoption dossier?

Official definition (regarding adoption):
Dossier: A fancy word for a collection of paperwork about the adoptive parents' home, hobbies, employment, birth certificates, marriage license, background checks, and medical history.


When we first started the adoption process, we were told that we had to gather all kinds of papers for our dossier. I know it sounds silly, but to tell you the truth, I was a little scared of the word, dossier. Exactly what is it? And why does it take so long to put together? It's paperwork. How hard can it be?

Once your home study is complete, gathering the rest of your dossier information will be relatively easy to collect, but may take a little bit of time to gather because you need to get papers/approvals from all kinds of governmental offices. It is up to you to get in the required documents to your agency, so if you procrastinate on submitting your papers, then you will take a long time to submit the completed dossier to Poland. Overall, getting your dossier together is not scary like I originally thought. It just takes a bit of time and patience in dealing with people. Don't be afraid to do follow up calls. This is your adoption. You are the only one that truly cares of the outcome. The offices that you will be dealing with will not care about your paperwork more than you.


Down below is a list of items that we put in our dossier. Keep in mind this is not an exact list. This list could change as time passes and different laws in Poland and the USA pass regarding adoption. This list should give you an idea of all the paperwork you will need to collect during your adoption.




Here is a list of the information that we put in our dossier for Poland:

Original Birth Certificates
Original Marriage License
FBI Clearances
State Highway Patrol Clearances
Application to the Society of the Friends of Children
Financial Stability Letters (from employers starting salary and length of service)
Copies of Passports
Home Study
Adoption Agency License
Social Work License
Immigration Approval (I-800A)
Child Abuse clearances
Health Statements from physicians
Releases and Authorizations
Power of Attorney to the Polish Liaison (he or she files all of the documents to the proper courts)
Reference Letters


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Adoption Letter to Family and Friends

Before we left for Poland, we mailed a letter to all of our family members and close friends. We wanted to explain to them some changes that will be taking place in our family. We wanted to share with them what we will be experiencing with our newest member of the family and the best way to help us with getting our newest member acclimated to her new surroundings. Adopting an older child is very different than bringing home a newborn baby and we want to prepare everyone the best that we can. And most of all we didn’t want any hurt feelings or interruptions with our attachment with our newest family member. 

We found some good examples from other adopting families online that have done a similar letter to their family and friends. Our letter is a combination of the ones we found online. And of course we added our own personal touch to it.


Dear Family & Friends,

After two years of saving and much time praying and waiting, _________ is almost home! We’re overwhelmed by God’s grace, but we also know that this will be a major adjustment for our family. We know that each of you receiving this letter has– in some way– supported, loved and prayed for us. Because we know of your care for ___________ and our family, we want to share with you some information that we hope will best equip everyone around her to assist us in laying the strongest and healthiest foundation – emotionally, physically and spiritually.

We are confident of this: God’s design is perfect. His plan for parents and children is a beautiful and meaningful picture of His love for us. Adopting an older child is very different from bringing home a newborn from the hospital. Attachment between a parent and child occurs over time when a baby has a physical or emotional need and communicates that need. The primary caretaker (usually mommy) meets the need and soothes the child. This repeats between a parent and child over and over to create trust within the child for that parent; the baby is hungry, cries in distress, mom nurses and calms the baby – which teaches her that this person is safe and can be trusted. By God’s very design, an emotional foundation is laid in the tiniest of babies, which will affect their learning, conscience, growth and future relationships. The security provided by parents will, ultimately, give children a trust for and empathy towards others.

Children who come home through adoption have experienced interruptions in this typical attachment process. The loss of a biological mother and father at an early age can be a major trauma. ________ will soon experience the loss of familiar and comforting caretakers as well as the sights, smells, and language of her birth country, Poland. When ________ comes home, she will be overwhelmed. She will need time to get to know her new mommy and daddy. Everything around her will be new and she will need to learn, not just about her new environment, but also about love and family. Her world will turn upside down. She will struggle with feeling safe and secure, and she may lack the ability to trust that we will meet her needs. The good news is that we can now, as ________'s parents and forever family, rebuild attachment and help her heal from these emotional wounds.

The best way for us to form a parent/child bond is to be the ones to hold, snuggle, instruct, soothe and feed her. As this repeats between us, she will be able to learn that parents are safe to trust and to love deeply. We are, essentially, recreating the newborn/parent connection. Once ________ starts to establish this important bond, she will then be able to branch out to other, healthy relationships. ________ will have, what may seem like, a lot of structure, boundaries and close proximity to us. Although it may appear that we are spoiling her at times, we have been advised that it is best that we meet every need quickly and consistently. She may show her grief and confusion in many ways, and we are prepared to help her through it and prove that we are a forever family. You may also notice us tighten our circle a bit, stay close to home, and we may seem a little less available socially, at least Sarai and ________, for a while. Please know that these decisions are prayerfully and thoughtfully made choices based on our personal research and instruction from trusted adoption mentors. We will be doing what we believe is the best to help her heal from those interruptions in attachment as effectively as possible.

Why are we telling you all of this? Because you will actually play an awesome and vital role in helping our ________ settle in, heal, and lay a foundation for the future. There are a few areas in which you can help us:

The first is to set physical boundaries. It will help us immensely if adults limit what is typically considered normal, physical contact with ________. This will (for a while) include things like holding, excessive hugging and kissing. Children who are orphans are prone to attach too easily to anyone and everyone – which hinders the important, primary relationship with parents. Waving, blowing kisses or high fives are perfectly appropriate and welcomed! ________ should know that the people with whom she interacts are our trusted friends.

In the same manner, we will be having a no-visitors policy for one month when we arrive home with her. This is our time as a family to adjust to new family dynamics and to allow the attachment process to begin.  In the “adoption world”, this process is called cocooning. Just like a caterpillar needs to live in a cocoon for a while to be able to mature and grow, ________ will need this time as well. After this time we’ll begin branching out slowly, but we still will minimize our outside contacts until we see how she feels more secure in her new environment. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. _______’s world has been shaken around a bit and this time is very important for the attachment process. We want ________ to have a healthy foundation with the ability to thrive with future relationships. We understand that every one of you want to meet ________ when she arrives home. That is understandable and we ask you as our family and close friends to help us during this first month by allowing ________ to bond with her new parents. Please pray for us throughout this month as it is a crucial time for us to build a relationship with her. Please call us and check on us throughout this month. We will need some adult conversations throughout this time. Please write and mail notes and send pictures to ________. She will want to know who everyone is in our family and friends circle.

Another area that you all can help us with is redirecting ________'s desire to have her physical and emotional needs met by anyone (including strangers) to having us only meet them. Orphans often have so many caretakers that they, as a survival mechanism, become overly charming toward all adults. A child struggling to learn to attach may exhibit indiscriminate affection with people outside of their family unit. It may appear harmless and as if they are “very friendly”, but this is actually quite dangerous for the child. To share this is difficult for us, because you have supported us greatly through this process. Please understand that we want nothing more than to have ________ hugged, cuddled and cherished by ALL of you. But until she has a firm understanding of primary attachments to her parents, we would be so grateful if you direct her to us if you see that she is seeking out food, affection or comfort.
 

Also, please feel free to ask us any questions at any time. We are learning, too, and are grateful that you are seeking with us to help ________ feel loved, safe, and secure. We are incredibly blessed to have so many loved ones around us. We couldn’t ask for a better extended family & circle of friends for our precious ________. 
Thank you so much for your love and support over the past two years,
Wes and Sarai



We mailed this letter 2 weeks before we left for Poland. We wanted our family and friends to receive it before we left, in case they had any questions about our decisions regarding our daughter.  Feel free to copy and paste our letter. This letter helped set expectations for our family and friends when we came back from Poland.


Here are the links of where we found examples of other letters:




Sunday, February 9, 2014

Polish Citizenship and Passport Information

Ok, so I know this is the second post for today, but I couldn't resist sharing this website I found about Polish passports.

The website is yourpoland.pl. It has a "Polish Citizenship Guide". On the left hand side, you can click and learn about Polish citizenship and passport information. This is a great website that can give you a run down on passport and PESEL information. Unfortunately, the website does not have a lot of information about children being adopted and then obtaining a PESEL number and passport.

Have a happy Sunday!

How much Polish did you learn before you traveled?

One of my blog readers, Gabi, recently emailed me this great question, “How much Polish should we learn before we travel?” and “should we learn words for different emotions like sad, glad, mad,etc..”?

We learned the first disc of Pimsleur’s Polish 101 before our trip to Poland. We focused more on communicating with others (restaurant, store clerk, etc…) rather than focusing on trying to communicate with our daughter. We knew she would lose her language fast with being around us. And she has. Right now she is speaking in complete English sentences and we have been with her for almost 4 months. She does need help constructing sentences and we are working on the grammar part of her language.
For the first two months of her being in our family we could figure out what her needs or things she wanted with her body language. I would also say "show me" and she would point to whatever she wanted. Body language played an important role in communicating with her. There were only a couple of times at the beginning with her that were challenging in trying to communicate with her (about 2 weeks), but it was ok in the end and we became closer because of it. We tried not to use our facilitators with communicating with her because we want her to come to us for her needs (attachment/bonding). She caught on fast to what we were saying and we kept it in simple English. My husband and I are ESL teachers at a local college in New Orleans, so we have had a lot of practice communicating with using simple words. Keep it simple, don't use contractions, and have the child(ren) repeat English words back to you. I believe within a couple of months, they will catch on (especially with cartoons and having English-speaking friends). We “forced” our child to speak English, and it has helped her to catch on faster to the English language.
We knew our time in Poland was going to be short. We tried not to speak in Polish to her, only in English. Unfortunately, we are not fluent in Polish and have terrible Polish pronunciations and knew we could not keep her original language. Although, she still remembers some Polish words and will occasionally say one or two word sentences in Polish.

We hope to use the Pimsleur cd's with her in a couple of years to start learning Polish with her. We do want her to learn Polish, but right now we are focusing on her attaching to her new parents and learning about a different culture and language.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Inexpensive Christmas Gift Idea

I apologize; this post is about 3 weeks late and I’m sure that all of the stores have put away their Christmas decorations. Maybe you all could use this idea after Christmas next year.  This wedding gift idea came to me on the internet a couple of months ago (and of course I couldn’t find the article that I read to provide a link to it, sorry). I am a very practical gift giver. I like to buy something for someone that I know that they will use more than once and/or it can be eaten.  I know the best bet is just to give a gift card or cash, but sometimes that’s just not fun. I like to wrap a good present every once in a while.

Ok, so here’s the brilliant idea. After Christmas, stores will discount (between 75-90% off) all of their Christmas wrapping paper, bows, name tags, etc…  The Christmas season is over and the stores are trying to make their last dollar for the year. And the very one thing that the happy couple will not receive for their wedding is Christmas wrapping supplies! Although, they may receive 5 blenders, 4 coffee makers, and 6 toasters. Buy a couple of rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, some name tag stickies, and a bag of bows. Wrap the items in some pretty wedding wrapping paper, add a congrats card, and you are finished. Easy as that. The only con to this idea is that you have to store the items from January until the big wedding day. 

One great store that gives great discounts on Christmas decorations, wrapping supplies, and other Christmas items after Christmas is K-Mart.  I bought 9 rolls of wrapping paper, 2 large bags of bows, and 2 large stickie sheets for $12. Wow $12! That is 2 wedding presents for $6 each. Can’t beat that. I will probably throw in a gift card of some sort in with the gift, so it won’t seem “so cheap”. I don’t want people to think I’m weird with my cheapness.

In addition to this great in-expensive gift, you could get fun and creative with the idea. You could leave a note saying to NOT to open till Thanksgiving, or wrap the gift in Christmas paper instead of wedding paper (your gift will definitely stand out at the wedding shower). I’m sure there are more creative ways of making this wedding gift spectacular.

Do you have any ideas of giving in-expensive gifts? I am always looking out to save money for our next adoption!