Monday, May 14, 2007

Selam with Cheese on Wry: How to Help

Here's another massively informative post from the wittily named SELAM WITH CHEESE ON WRY about the dirty little matter of AFFORDING adoption. Not much discussed, perhaps because it adds to the impression of adoption as a branch of America's economic imperialism (not my opinion, obviously). However, outside of one or two people, I don't know any millionaires adopting. Hope this helps inform and inspire, as well as kick-start a dialog about even MORE ideas:

Selam with Cheese on Wry: How to Help

When we started researching ways to pay for this adoption — and all of the nickel-and-dime fees that seem to inflate the cost (our expected costs actually doubled) — we were simultaneously shocked, pleased, and saddened by the fact that we already practiced most money-saving tips offered by others. We were also determined to find creative avenues to creatively pinch pennies. So, with the help of several authors and seasoned adoptive parents, we came up with this list of creative ideas to share with other prospective adoptive parents as well as family and friends who might be inspired to help. It’s by no means comprehensive or complete, so post your comments if you have more suggestions. We’ll keep adding to it as we find new resources. While the focus is on funding, we also offer other suggested ways to help. The journey to adoption is not always (not ever?) a smooth ride and adoptive parents will also need emotional (and spiritual) support from family and friends.Why should you help? That’s something you really need to answer yourself. But if you can, it’s one way to really show your support for the adoptive parents, their choice to adopt, and the adoption itself. Here are some things you can do to help adoptive parents:


Do your best to educate yourself about adoption so that you can support the adoptive parents as they embark on this (often tumultuous) journey. We recommend starting with this book: Adoption is a Family Affair: What Relatives and Friends Must Know.


This is an expensive venture and few adoptive families have the funds to cover all of the costs even after going into some serious debt. While giving a cash donation directly to an adoptive family isn’t a charitable deduction for tax purposes, most immediate family members can gift up to $11,000 per year tax-free. (Note: Some agencies have a charitable fund set up to accept donations from family or friends, so that giving is tax-deductible. Check with your agency to see if they offer this service.) Even small amounts are much appreciated. If you feel compelled to give in this way, the adoptive family would be most grateful.

Click here to contribute $5, $10, or any amount you choose to Dan and Shannon’s adoption.


For most adoptive families, a one-, two-, or even a five-year no-interest loan would rock! While the adoption process and fee schedule is often spread out over time, there’s almost always a “balloon payment” at some point, usually towards the middle of the process, but often before the referral. (For instance, about 3-4 months into the process, we’ll have to come up with about $15,000 in fees. Yikes!) Many adoptive families will qualify for the adoption tax credit (which is applied after all expenses are paid) and that credit can be carried over from year to year for up to five years. There are, however, several restrictions. Check with your tax advisor or the IRS website for details. Adoptive parents, click here to find resources for grants and loans.


There are any number of ways to support adoptive families by helping them raise funds. Check out some of these options:

INK JET RECYCLING - Collect used printer ink cartridges from friends, family, and/or local businesses and schools. The program is free for everyone and it’s a great way to be green and help out the adoptive family! Most programs (like ours) provide free collection boxes and pre-paid labels/mailing supplies. We earn a small amount for each cartridge mailed in. The super groovy thing about this program is that even non-earning cartridges get recycled and stay out of the landfill. Please let us know if you’d like any mailers (or if you live nearby, feel free to drop off your empties)…

CELL PHONE RECYCLING - Collect used late modelcellphones from friends, family, and/or local businesses/schools. This is similar to the Ink Jet recycling program with free mailers, etc. Some inkjet recyclers also recycle cell phones and vice versa.

SALES FUNDRAISERS - Adoptive parents might try to raise funds by selling goods. Often these fundraisers are similar to those you might find in schools: popcorn, candy, or small goods. Some adoptive parents may even try to coordinate a fundraiser that also raises awareness (for international adoptions, this often involves free-trade goods that benefit craftspeople or co-ops in other countries). We are currently investigating options to sell fair-trade Ethiopian coffee. Stay tuned!

PATRONIZE THE ADOPTIVE FAMILY’S HOME BUSINESS - Does either adoptive parent have a side-business (e.g., Pampered Chef, Creative Memories, or even the dreaded Amway)? Hey, you’ve got to buy gifts for birthdays and holidays anyhow, so why not kill two birds with one stone and stock up early? Or if either of the adoptive parents have a specialized skill, perhaps you could offer introductions that would help them get side jobs on evenings or weekends. Help out those adoptive parents, especially if you know that the extra income will go to the adoption!

Shannon runs three different businesses and is channeling all profits into the adoption:

  1. Consulting - Shannon is a professional consultant and grant writer for non-profits and charges reasonable fees. Pass along her contact information to anyone who may be able to pay for her services.

  2. Custom Gifts - Shannon sells her darling (if we do say so ourselves) hand-crafted wares — everything from invitations and cards to scrapbooks and gift ensembles! Click here to visit Shannon’s stamping blog and see examples of her work. Click here to view a sample price list of common items to order.

  3. Scrapbook and Stamp Supplies - Shannon sells top-of-the-line rubber stamps, scrapbooks, ink, paper and cardstock, and accessories through Stampin’ Up! Place an order for yourself or, better yet, collect orders from friends, family, and co-workers. Orders will ship direct to you. Click here to view the current Stampin’ Up! catalogs (and share with friends), then contact Shannon to place your order. Beginning immediately, all profits (20% of all catalog sales before tax/shipping) will be applied to our adoption fundraising. Or, if you’re interested in retired stamps and scrapbook accessories, visit Shannon’s Sale Table!

BUY NEW SHOES! - Seriously, keep on shopping, but with a slight twist. There are several programs that do this, but we’re looking into OneCause (similar to a rewards program, you can click-through shop online at many of your favorite merchants, and those merchants do the donating. Up to 36% of each dollar you spend goes to the National Adoption Foundation, and they’ll split the buckaroos with the adoptive family). But, the process is quite unclear to us at the moment. When we get more information, we’ll update this section. Another option is to sign up with any of the online rebate companies, like ebates — or for a fee-free cash-back credit card, like Discover (if you don’t already have one) — and pass along the rebate check to the adoptive family.

COLLECT ON THE FAMILY’S BEHALF - If you really want to help out an adoptive family, do a fundraiser on their behalf. Either choose to take the lead on one of their established fundraisers or start one on your own: sell candy bars or cookie dough or something you make yourself, ask local merchants to contribute items that you can sell for profit, host a car wash, sponsor a golf tournament, rally a local community group or classroom to fundraise on the family’s behalf… You can actually raise some pretty decent money doing this and, believe me, it takes a huge stress off of the adoptive family.


Another way to help is giving in-kind gifts or your time. This won’t always help with the adoption fees, but it might free up the adoptive parents’ budget or time, which is sometimes even more valuable. Here are a few examples:


  • Books to build a good library. See our wishlists for adoption and Ethiopia.

  • Help with non-adoption-related stuff - Though adoptive parents can get tunnel vision about the adoption, many still have other everyday tasks piling up. Some parents might need help with household repairs, yardwork, or other tasks. If you have a specialized skill — or even specialized equipment– that you could donate or loan out, please do!

  • Babysit - For adoptive families who already have kids, this could be a huge help, especially when stress levels are high and parents just need a break. Keep it gratis or do it in trade.

  • Pass along savings - found a great coupon for something (free!) that you probably won’t use? Everything from free food to free entertainment would be appreciated, so pass it along. Most likely, the adoptive parents are already clipping coupons, but every little bit extra helps.

  • Pass along your hand-me-downs - the adoptive family has probably given up what most people consider “basics,” not huge indulgences, but the little extras that spice up day-to-day existence: magazines, video subscriptions, new clothes (new anything!), going to the movies, theatre, or museum. Don’t hesitate to offer, especially if you’re ready to toss it out or give it away anyhow.

  • Be a workout buddy, especially for the adoptive mother. Pregnant moms-to-be naturally adapt to carrying heavy loads over a 9-month period. And they continue to develop their carrying muscles as children grow from teeny tiny newborns to larger kiddos. Adoptive mothers, on the other hand, don’t have mother nature forcing their bodies into shape and often find themselves pulling muscles or seriously injuring their backs shortly after placement (especially when they adopt older, and often heavier, kiddos). You can help by scheduling workout dates with one or both parents (don’t expect them to invite you…despite knowing better, this might land low on their priority lists). Yoga, strength training, or outdoor activities like walking around the block are great. Invite the adoptive parent(s) to join you at the gym, especially if you have guest passes (gym memberships might be one of those budget cutbacks). Or, if fitness is your area of expertise, offer regular “classes” or develop a customized health plan for the adoptive parents.

  • Indulgences - adoptive families have most likely given up most of life’s little luxuries. Pamper adoptive parent(s) with little treats like lunch/coffee/dessert or even a day at the spa. Or, send small gift cards (for coffee, snacks, movies). It might save their sanity!

  • Send a care package or a thoughtful note - A box (of homemade cookies or low-fat snacks!, or a great movie and some candy, or even basic necessities for everyday living, like toothpaste or paper towels) is always welcome. Or, send a note of encouragement for the stressed-out couple. It’s a nice gesture that might just make their day.

  • Schedule a date to get together and get their minds off of the adoption. Try to keep the conversation off kids.

  • Pray, if you’re so inclined. It’s not all about the money. Pray for a trouble-free and speedy process, safe travels, and healthy children who can be quickly united with their adoptive parents. If you don’t pray, be positive and encouraging to the (potentially stressed and/or discouraged) waiting parents.

  • Ask if there is anything you can do (if you’re willing), then do it.


  • Donate miles/points/rewards from your frequent flier or frequent stay programs: free hotel stays, plane tickets, or upgrades. (And don’t think that those upgrades are a luxury! Traveling 18 hours on a plane with two tired and terrified children, not to mention tired and terrified parents who don’t fit well in those coach seats, ain’t gonna be easy.) Chances are that the adoptive family is going to incur a huge travel expense, so this is an area where you can make a big impact on their bottom line. (With airfare at $2,000 roundtrip per person on average, we expect our travel costs to add up to $5,000 - $7,000 or more for the low-budget options.) There are several ways to help with miles:

    Redeem your own miles for the reward. This option gets the most “bang for the buck” whether you or the adoptive parents pay for the (minimal) service fees.

    Transfer your own miles to the recipient’s mileage account(s). There is usually a per-mile cost plus a small transfer fee. At United, you can transfer a minimum of 5,000 miles and a maximum of 15,000 miles to each recipient. The cost is $.01 per mile plus a $35 service fee per transfer. This is a good option if you don’t have enough miles to redeem a reward, or if the adoptive parent are short by a several thousand miles.

    Purchase miles for the adoptive parent(s). This is a bit more costly and is really most useful only if the adoptive parent is short by a few thousand miles for a reward ticket. If you’re willing to spend this much, you may want to consider giving cash instead.

  • Be a “friend” for refer-a-friend programs.The adoptive parents might belong to various incentive programs, such as frequent flyer, frequent stay, and other rewards programs. Often these programs have referral bonuses of free miles or points when friends sign up. Since most programs don’t cost you anything, both parties (you and the adoptive parents) benefit. You can help us by signing up for any of the following programs and giving our referral information:

  • Mileageplus Visa. Get up to 21,000 bonus miles for United Airlines, free upgrade certificates, no annual fee for the first year, and 1 mile for every $1 you spend. Heck, it’s kind of silly not to sign up. We get 5,000 miles for each referral who gets a card (up to three people). Call 1-877-273-7138 (Chase credit cards). Tell them that a friend referred you (and give them Shannon’s mileageplus number — call us for that first) and that you’d like to apply for a Signature Visa (Mileageplus) credit card. Shannon’s tip: put every purchase, no matter how small, on your Visa. Keep track and pay off the balance each month.

    Bank of America. Open a checking account and earn $25. We earn $25 too. (Actually, if you open a savings too, you can earn more, up to $50 total.) New customers only. We love BofA so much that we still bank there even though there are no branches in our state. Ask us for a referral code to sign up online or in your local branch.

    My Points. Earn points for shopping or often for just browsing websites. We earn points when you join. This program also has a downloadable “Points Alert.” Points can be redeemed for a variety of gift cards and goodies. We’ve been doing this for years and have regularly “cashed in” points for gift cards to Target, Walmart, Bloomingdales, Starbucks, Chili’s, and Olive Garden. Ask Shannon to email you a Refer-a-Friend link.

  • Collect “points” to help the adoptive parents earn free things. We collect MyCokeRewards points and we’re saving for a digital camcorder. Email us with any unused codes or mail us bottlecaps and/or the carton codes (usually in the pull-off section on fridge packs). And it’s not just “coke” but any Coca-cola brand product (Barq’s, Fanta, Dasani are a few, but click here for a complete list). Points needed: 12,871. Points accrued: 93. Points still needed: 12,778. Every point counts!

  • Send a care package for the parents, the baby, or the orphanage — or all three! Ask adoptive parents what they need. Chances are they’ll have a long list of over-the-counter medicines and baby/travel necessities that will add up fast. Most adoptive families are also asked to bring donations for the orphanage or care center, but there are often specific needs, so ask first. Contribute as much as you can. Those little guys need everything they can get. And it really is the children who benefit from your generosity.

  • Give (or loan) good-quality audio-visual equipment, or offer to be a personal photographer during travel. Parents will want to capture the entire experience for their children’s Life Books, but if they don’t already own this equipment or have a volunteer photographer, most likely they won’t be able to afford it once they’re well into the process (and debt). Another alternative is to hire a professional photographer in-country to accompany the adoptive parents while meeting their child/ren for the first time. This might not be as expensive as you think, but do make sure you’re getting what you expect before you shell out any cash.


  • Help the adoptive parents find good deals - one indispensable read is Baby Bargains by Denise and Alan Fields. While this book can be checked out from most local libraries, it’s worth the small investment (and the authors even offer a money-back guarantee). Note: make sure you get the most recent edition as it is updated frequently.

  • Help prepare the nursery - set a date to help with painting, wallpaper, furniture assembly or other decorating side-jobs.

  • Host a baby shower for the expectant parents (adoptive parents are expecting and should be treated the same as pregnant parents).

  • Give a gift from their baby registry.

  • Send a book. Kiddos of all ages love stories. Here’s our wishlist for kid’s books!

  • Donate your hand-me-downs, especially for first-time parents. Don’t hesitate to ask what they need or offer your gently used stuff. It may be double-trouble for some people (like us), who are hoping for twins or siblings. Note: most safety experts shake a stern finger at certain hand-me-downs like cribs and car seats, even from known entities like friends and family. If adoptive parents — especially nervous first-time parents — politely decline these items, understand that they may diligently following suggested advice and you should take no offense.

  • Offer to run errands - the “O” factor (overwhelm) can drag anyone down. If you don’t mind pitching in, then there’s a lot you could do: interview potential nannies, pick up something at the store, go to the post office…whatever might help the adoptive family. For a more coordinated approach, schedule a time once a (week/month?) to run errands during specific hours. You’ll probably get a list of to-dos!


  • A stocked fridge. Make arrangements to stuff the adoptive family’s fridge and cabinets full of healthful goodies while they’re traveling. Or, ship a care package to arrive on their doorstep shortly after they arrive home (if you’re not local, order from an online food/grocery store). Prepared or easy-to-prepare meals are especially welcome. Don’t forget soft solids or formula for the little one(s).

  • Food on the table. Whether new or seasoned parents, they probably won’t have the time or energy to cook after a long return trip. Make arrangements to have someone deliver a meal each day of the first week or two that they’re home. Gift cards to nearby restaurants (especially those with take-out) will be more than welcome.

  • A stocked nursery. While you’re stocking the fridge, make sure that there are sufficient diapers, wipes, and basic medicines in the house. Also be sure that the nursery/kids’ room has clean sheets and a set-up crib/bed. There’s a darned good chance, especially for international adoptive parents, that both baby and parents will come back feeling ill — either from food/water bugs, a cold/flu, or just sheer exhaustion from travel. They will all want to collapse and not having to prep anything before they do will be a Godsend.

  • A clean house. Coordinate with other friends and family to tidy the house before they get home. If possible, organize a group to descend on the house (with advance warning) a couple of weeks after parents are home. They’ll think you’re the greatest! Or, even the occasional clean-up would save mom’s sanity.

  • Other help. Parents traveling back from some international destinations may bring back more than their children. Giardia and other types of food- and water-borne illnesses are typical and can result in loss of sleep and nutrition, and ultimately add extra stress. Though it’s a crucial bonding time for parents and children and visitors are often discouraged, if parents are particularly sick, they may need a helping hand to care for their children.


lori said...

Thank you for posting this information. I am still boggled over the cost of an international adoption. It just seems counterintuitive that adopting an orphan is so expensive.

I know that most people who adopt aren't filthy rich but just hearing the numbers makes me cringe. Honestly, it's the part of the process that scares me the most.

And what I still don't hear enough about is that Tax Credit. Has anyone ever claimed it, and if so, how much do you honestly get back? Some say the whole bundle others remain mum leading me to believe it's really not a relief. Why don't people talk about it more when discussing the price tag attached to international adoption?

Great blog by the way. I spend far too much time reading here. (smile)

Nicky said...

We were just at the police station today to get fingerprinted (for the adotpion!) and commented to each other that we had better start keeping track of these little costs! They sure add up.

We actually sold our house and were able to be in enough of a cash position to set money aside for the adoption. Sounds a little dramatic, but we're moving and in between houses anyway, so it worked for us!

Nicky & Jrock

Shannon said...

Thanks, Kevin, for the spotlight. I hope it offers at least a jumping off point for some folks. Adoption CAN be affordable...really.

We're also keeping track of ALL of the costs of our adoption, even the miniscule ones. While they'll differ for everyone, we found that few people talk about or even have a solid idea of the bottom-line costs. We keep that running list of costs on our blog with the hope that it will help some folks. You'll find the numbers a little more than you probably expect, but this is the reality of adoption.

Take heart, though. A lot of those costs are absorbed by everyday change and you won't even feel the pinch (except maybe when it comes to those big payments).

Also, what we don't mention in the {How to Help} section are those things we already do in terms of cinching the belt...including foregoing that uber-mocha-quad-latte at Charbucks (gasp) every day. It's amazing what folks spend (and can save) on eating out...

Anyhow, we'd love to hear more ideas about what you do to save money and/or fundraise. We'll continue adding new info to our resource page as it comes in.

Thanks for sharing!

Shannon, Selam With Cheese on Wry
Our Costs page:

p.s. One thing not on our list was employer programs (probably because it didn't apply to us) but I have friends whose employers will reimburse up to $10,000 of adoption costs. Holy canoli. Worth checking with your employer! We'll be adding that to our page shortly (including a website that lists several employers...)

Swerl said...

lori - THANKS for spending time reading. I'd go back to my cabin deep in the woods and work on my manifesto, except I do enjoy the instant feedback (that's a joke -- I have not worked on my manifesto in a long time)

From what our accountant tells us (don't get excited, he's the same price as HR Block, and a buddy of our old realtor) is that it IS a true rebate -- you get the whole amount. We are fairly counting on this, so if he's wrong, I'll hold him down and you can punch him in a sensitive area. Deal?

nicky - I get it.

Shannon - thanks for the permission to repost and the added info. You are cool.

jen said...

Really great post! I especially like the bit about adoptive parents have probably already given up most of life's little luxuries - so true, so true! And the bit about being a workout buddy; I'm gonna have to get movin'

Thanks for the wake-up call!


jen said...

Another way to help: offer your copier!

At the end of the week last week, as we were preparing our dossier to send, we needed to make a bunch of copies. A friend offered to bring over her copier (from their home office). It was great to make those copies at home instead of running out to Kinko's yet again. Also, I was thinking about all the money we have spent making copies of everything; it would've been handy if someone had loaned us a copier (or gave us access to their business copier) at the beginning of this gig! :)

Just a thought.

Nick & Holly said...

I can say that we applied for the adoption tax credit and got the full 10K+ that it was for 2006. It came back in our refund, so that def helped with paying back the bills. (in the acct one day and out the other!!) We also each had $5K reimbursements from our companies. So altogether, we basically had the adoption paid for, with just a little more beyond that (our total cost, incl. travel, was about $23K). It was hard to have to pay the big chunks at once - at referral, when we sent in the dossier - knowing that the refunds/reimbursments would have to wait till the adoption was final. We used our home equity line for this -- at least while the loan was outstanding, the interest was tax deductible and lower than credit cards.
I would also recommend talking to an accountant in advance to make sure you have all your ducks in a row before filing your taxes, etc. We were talking about this with our accountant in the 2 tax years we were in process so we knew what to expect.
Good luck, everyone in process!