November 17, 2014

How to afford an international adoption: Part 2

We are not the Jones's.
The elusive Jone's that everyone is always trying to "keep up with" - you know, the ones who have the new car, the perfectly manicured lawn, the Pottery Barn furnishings, the boat for the weekends...

We are not them

The Jones's probably couldn't afford an adoption.

Yesterday I mentioned the real reason we were able to afford adopting from China (Part 1 is HERE). But the truth of the matter is that although God did provide for us in a totally miraculous way, we did our best to set ourselves up for Him to work.

Let me just clarify that when it comes to income, we are totally average people. Jon has a good job that provides a fair wage and I work just enough outside the home to basically pay for our food. We are not super-earners and have not been the beneficiaries of some huge inheritance or anything. We are just average.

Shortly after we got married (like two months) we found out we were expecting our first child. This was roughly 7 years earlier than we planned, so it threw it a little kink in our perfectly-laid-out-life. We had always planned that I would stay home with our children, but that seemed pretty impossible now that we were actually having one and I wasn't even done with college.

We always believed that everything we had really belonged to the Lord anyway, we were just the managers. We just had never had very much to manage! But with a baby on the horizon, you start looking at things differently. Our mentor couple invited us to a Dave Ramsey class they were teaching, but halfway through the 13 week event they unexpectedly had to bow out and asked us to take over. That was definitely the blind leading the blind! But it was probably also the best thing that could have happened to us. We were thrown into teaching something that we knew only a little about and had to hold ourselves accountable to everyone else in that class. It was the beginning of learning  three very important lessons:

Have you ever stepped into Wal-Mart for a few things and walked out wondering how in the world you spent $200? Or realized when you flip the calendar to December that you have absolutely no money for Christmas gifts? I am going to use the "B-word" - you need a budget. If you don't like the word "budget" we can call it a money management plan. Whatever you want to call it, you need one. All it does is tell your money where it should go, so you don't end up wondering where it went. It's a tool for you take control of your spending and the first step in making smart financial decisions.

Five years of Sprang family budgets!

Since teaching that first class, we've taught 8 others and can say with absolute certainty that debt is the number one reason people aren't able to meet their financial goals. It's not lack of income, it's too much debt. Three types are the biggest culprits: car loans, student loans and credit card debt.

3. YOU DON'T NEED __________.
A new riding lawnmower. A pair of $300 boots. To have your kids play that expensive sport. A stainless steel fridge. There's nothing wrong with any of those, but there is a huge difference between needs and wants and living in the affluent culture that we do, we often get those seriously, seriously mixed up.

I realize that all of these things go against the grain in our "I-want-it-now-and-I-deserve-it" culture. But here's the thing - we don't deserve it. We do not deserve a thing our God has not graciously given us.  It's HIS. It is ALL His. And if we don't manage what He gives us in a way that is honoring to Him, it's like telling him "I can do better" and closing the door on him in that area of our lives.

All we did to afford adoption was live within our means.

This is the house we lived in for 9 years and through our adoption process. It did not have an attached garage. It wasn't huge. It needed new windows and some TLC. It was perfect, and we loved it, and we could afford it.

This was the kitchen in that house. It didn't have new cupboards. Or granite, or even matching appliances. But I cooked a great many delicious meals in this kitchen, and it got the job done.

We drove this car (behind the cute girl on the bike) for over ten years. We paid $4000 cash for it. That comes out to be about $33/month. It got us where we needed to go and it kept our kids safe. Because you don't need a $30,000 car to get through the snow and keep your kids safe. You just don't. This one did both for a savings of $26,000. And what do you do when you don't have a car payment? You pay yourself that payment so that you can replace your car if you need to, fund your savings account and never have a car payment again.

When we eat out with our kids, we use coupons or go on two-for-one day. We buy most of our kids clothes (and a fair amount of our own) from consignment stores or clearance racks. Coffee comes from our pot and not from Starbucks. We choose activities for our kids that are affordable and worth the cost, and even then sometimes the fees for those things are their birthday gifts.

Don't get me wrong - we aren't crazy, ultra-frugal money nazis. We took our kids to Disney World, went to Costa Rica for our anniversary and put a jacuzzi tub in our bathroom. And we recently bought a slightly larger house (with matching appliances!). Thanks to my number-crunching hubby, all of those things were planned and budgeted for.

Living debt-free instead of paycheck to paycheck put us in a place where we could say "yes" when God asked us to move. If He had said "sell some stuff and use your savings to pay for this adoption" we could have done that. Honestly I'm glad he didn't, but if we had had to do that to give a child a home, we could have.

And it would have been worth it.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where theives do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  - Matthew 6:19-21

November 16, 2014

How to afford an international adoption: Part 1

In honor of November being National Adoption Month, I decided it would be fitting to finally put together a series of posts that I've been thinking about for a long time. I don't think it's any secret that adoption is expensive or that the perceived cost is a hinderance to many families who are interested in adoption, and I certainly do not claim to have all the answers. But we, and a great many other families have managed to make it work, so I'll share my two cents anyway.

First and foremost:
Affording an adoption is not all about the money.

I realize that there are many people who successfully adopt who are not Christians. But in my experience, a very significant number of them are. And they aren't just ones who label themselves as "Christian" for lack of a better choice, they're ones who are adopting because that's what the Lord has called them to and they're prayerfully and intentionally following Him. This was the case for us, and this is why we were able to afford our adoption.

Meili's finding ad from the Chinese newspaper (and Google's translation, which is fairly accurate, on the right)
We knew for a long time that adopting was something the Lord wanted to do (read HERE to learn more about that). We also had no idea how on earth we would ever afford that, but trusted that if it was something we were supposed to do, our God was big enough to find a way to make it happen. Honestly, I think almost every Christian adoptive family starts out this way. I only know of a handful who have been blessed with such abundant resources that they can pay for the whole thing upfront. Several months ago, someone posted a question on one (of the many) adoption forums I follow. It went something like this:

"We really believe God is calling us to start this adoption now. We have a little bit of money to start with but absolutely nowhere near enough to finish. Looking for advice from those who've been there - what should we do?"

It was amazing to watch the answers pour in. Time after time after time, the answer was the same. No one started with enough. Most people started with hardly anything. They trusted God and took it one day at a time. "We prayed and God provided a __________" - a grant, an anonymous donor, a raise at work, a fee reduction, an unexpected tax return, etc.

Relying on God to provide in such a huge way is sort of like sky diving. It's a crazy, amazing, nerve-wracking adventure where you put total faith in something other than yourself. You risk it all clinging to the hope that that parachute is going to open, that God is going to meet those needs. And when He does, it's so absolutely amazing, that you just can't do anything but give him the glory. Our loving and gracious Father did this for us time and time again (you can read about two times HERE and HERE). Not that we didn't need a few reminders along the way. We humans are so fickle - or at least I am - we can go from fully trusting to mostly doubting in a manner of minutes. But He even had that covered. In June of 2012 I was struggling with how it was all going to work. That Sunday our pastor gave a sermon titled "God Equips." The main point he drove home that day?
"What God calls us to do, he equips us to accomplish."

It was the reminder we needed. You see, when we started journey, we had nothing set aside for an adoption. Nothing. Yes, we had some savings, and we figured we would benefit from the adoption tax credit, but we had absolutely zero funds solely available for adoption. Not only that, but as we were praying about if this really was the right time to start, I felt the Lord asking me to trust him even more. (Obviously He knows I have control issues and wasn't going to let me get away with thinking I had anything to do with this) He was asking us to not only start the process with nothing, but never to ask for anything.

And so we didn't. Not once. Now, we did have fundraisers - we had a garage sale and clearly stated all proceeds would go toward our adoption. Jon offered photo sessions for this same purpose, but we never outright said, "please donate to this cause." There were people who did, because they wanted to, but never because we asked.  When we had a payment due, the money was always there. Sometimes, that payment took our fund within a dollar or two of zero. But it was always there. We joked that our adoption fund was like loaves and fish - it just kept coming and we couldn't figure how it worked, but it always did.

I realize it doesn't always work exactly this way for every single Christian adoptive family. Everyone's story is different. Ours involved me finally getting into a place of total surrender and reliance on the Father; something I struggle with DAILY. He was setting me up for the future when I would (and will) doubt, so that He can point me back to that time and say "Remember how I provided for you then? Surely, you can trust me now."

This is why the most important part of affording an adoption is not saving or scrimping, or investing or giving in a certain way (though that is important -see Part 2, coming soon!). The most important thing, is following the leading of the Holy Spirit with a life that is fully committed to Jesus Christ and the will of the our heavenly Father.