Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monthly Report and Miscellany

1. My total indebtedness is down $705.50 for the month of November--right direction if not a big enough amount.

2. After taxes and other charges, I didn't save quite as much per month on my change to bundled cable TV, telephone and internet. My increased expense for adding the internet will be $9.48, rather than the 43 cents I thought it would be.

3. Is anyone else watching "Downsized?" I am fascinated by it, and I think it shows a rather accurate portrait of a family that has never known financial hardship finally come to grips (albeit SL0WWWLLLLLYYYYYY!) with the reality of their situation.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How Grace Got her Internet for 43 Cents a Month

Well, let's start with the fact that Grace has been using a combination of dial-up from AOL and theft from an unwary neighbor to get online for the past 16 years. Said unwary neighbor recently wised up and secured their system. Dial-up alone suddenly became a slow and unnattractive option.

SO--I began exploring various options for internet. Verizon Fios has not yet reached my neighborhood, so that was out. Pretty much, Qwest, Clear and Comcast were my best sources of internet service. Clear has such negative word of mouth that I rejected it even though its monthly $35 charge is among the lowest available. Both Qwest (who handles my landline service) and Comcast (through which I currently have cable TV service) have regular specials, so it was a matter of sorting through all the plans, specials, new deals, etc. to see what would work best (and longest) for my household.

I settled on a Comcast introductory package that offered a bundle of cable, telephone and internet for $99 a month on a two year contract.

There was a 'cheaper' package whereby I could get the same package for $89 a month, but it lasted only a year and did not include free installation (which runs anywhere from $89 to $149.00).

Naturally, the $99 a month did not turn out to be $99. (If you think any of these special deals actually cost what is advertised, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn for sale that you might like!) There's an additional $5 'rental' fee, which brings the total up to $104.99 a month. There is also a one-time $10 shipping charge for the 'free' router (which I have to give back if I cancel the internet service).

But that was it. And there are a lot of nice perks. For example, while I had Qwest for my landline, I didn't have long distance--for that I used a calling card or my Tracfone. Now I have long distance, caller ID, and call waiting. I was able to port my telephone number. It would have been a deal-killer if I hadn't been able to do that--I've had the same number for the past twenty years and do not want to give it up. The only disadvantage is that if the electrical power goes out, I won't be able to reach 911 on the landline. But I figure my cell will work for emergency calls should that happen.

I also get HD for the first year. I plan NOT to renew it after that, though my cynical daughter has a bet that I will! If I do, it would add $9.99 a month to the bill. In addition, I get HBO, Showtime and Starz movie channels free for three months. I'm enjoying them, but there's no way I'll continue with them when the free trial runs out.

So, here's the math:

I currently spend $67.25 for cable TV; $14.49 for AOL; and $27.35 for Qwest which (provided I am doing the arithmetic correctly, which it might be a mistake to assume) totals $109.55 for my current expenses.

Under my new package, I will pay $104.99 for the package plus an additional $4.99 to AOL to maintain my security software, e-mail address and some other perks I may ultimately decide to forego. So, my total going forward will be $109.98.

Hence the internet (not to mention free long distance service) for $ .43.

Such a deal!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Adoption for Cheapskates

Do you hate that title? Are you appalled that anyone would consider applying frugality to the adoption of children?

What if it turned out that being frugal about adoption actually helped those children most seriously in need of parents?

Welcome to Grace's world, where the desire to adopt and rear children ran smack into financial reality. Don't worry--this is a story with a happy ending. I wound up adopting five daughters, and we all survived.

I was 30 years old when I adopted my first child out of foster care.

I was 50 when I adopted my fifth and last child, also out of foster care.

They are all adults now, ranging in age from 43 to 20. They are mostly on their own. (OK, so the 28 year old returned home and is currently living with me, but the plan is for her to be gone by spring!)

Rearing children is never cheap and my children are no exception.

But the adoption process itself can run into thousands of dollars, particularly for children from foreign countries, and even more particularly for the near-mythical 'healthy white infant.'

My children's adoptions cost me not one dime.

My state paid the attorney fees.

My state provided health insurance until they were 18. (I put each child on the insurance provided by my employer and used the state coverage as secondary insurance, which meant I had no co-pays!)

My state provided psychological testing at no cost.

My state even provided a monthly stipend for each child.

If you're curious about your state, the National Council on Adopted Children maintains this website.

The federal government also provides tax benefits for families that adopt. It benefits those of us who adopt special needs children from foster care most of all. (Special needs can mean the child has physical, intellectual or emotional issues. It can also mean that the child is above six years old, is African-American, or comes with siblings.) Everyone can get a tax credit up to $12,150 per child, but those who adopt from the state can get it whether or not they actually spend that much (which they won't--they may well not spend anything) and they can even use it for costs incurred for an adoption that winds up not happening. Check it out here. The credit can also be carried over to the next year if one's tax bill doesn't come up to the credit.

All states require that prospective parents thinking about adopting from foster care take a series of classes meant to introduce families to the realities of rearing adopted children. (No, it is NOT the same as rearing biological kids--neither better nor worse, but different.) These classes are free and provide a great deal of information about the available children. I would encourage everyone considering adoption to take the classes even if they think a state adoption is not for them.

There is so much more to be said about adoption from foster care, and so many other aspects to factor into the decision, but this is a financial blog, so this post is focused on the finances of adding adopted children to one's family.

Cheapskates can adopt. Grace is proof of that. Would I have adopted had the state aid NOT been available? You bet. But I would have stopped with the first, maybe the second child. I could never have adopted all five without the benefits provided by the government, so I am grateful for the programs that were and are available.

November is Adoption Month.

Consider it!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hitting a Mental Benchmark

The retirement funds in my 401(k)'s are now past the $200,000 mark. To be exact, as of yesterday, I have $200,451 to get me through my dotage.

I know that that figure could be less tomorrow, but, emotionally, it feels like I have met some sort of financial milestone. In my head, and for no particular reason, I've always felt that I needed to have at least $400,000 in my retirement accounts before I retire. Due to my late start on savings, there has been considerable doubt that I'd get there. But reaching the halfway point gives me more confidence that this is doable.

I have 8 years to go until I retire, and I'll be contributing all the while.

Realistic or not, I'm feeling good this lovely Friday!