By the time we started the process that led to adopting the Cherubs, we were in a better financial position than when we had Princess Peach. Steve had recovered the lost ground on his career trajectory. We’d bought a two family house in the suburbs with Steve’s parents. And I took a part-time job in the flooring department at Home Depot that paid almost enough to get my hair highlighted once a month. It’s surprising how a few changes make a huge difference.
But in terms of context, I think the biggest difference for us between our two experiences with the foster care system was that this time, we didn’t deal directly with DCF. We worked with an agency instead, and they were incredible. They did our training, our home study, our matching process. And in an AMAZING turn of events, they were also handling the adoption search for our kids. So they were there as a guide and a buffer every step of the way.
Added to that, this was a different DCF office, one with a stellar reputation for treating everyone really well and keeping the best interest of the kids at the top of the page. So I suspect that even if we hadn’t been in a better financial position, we would have had much more bandwidth this time around to think creatively (which is what you need most when money is tight) without the stress of fighting DCF’s ever-shifting demands. I think we could have made it work.
But looking at how things actually played out, here’s where we spent money, both on things we expected and things that threw us for a bit of a loop:
Before the kids arrives:
Construction: We weren’t sure if we’d be matched with 2 kids or 3 (our home study approved us for 3), so we had to fill in a weird doorway between the little front office & the living room in case we needed it for the world’s smallest bedroom. (Let’s be honest, the “we” in that sentence is Steve. All I did to make that wall was add two coats of paint.)
Furniture: I found a gorgeous mahogany dresser at Salvation Army for #1, and my father-in-law donated the dresser below from his bachelor days for #2. One of our early family projects was sanding that one down to paint it a shade of blue #2 selected. It’s called – no kidding – JA BLAM!
I bought two identical twin mattresses from Bernie & Phyl’s, and bedding from Target. Two months later I decided NOT to fight the kids’ deep hatred of top sheets (they like fuzzy blankets as the first layer, and really, they’re kind of right) and decided to buy bottom sheets only for the foreseeable future.
As you might expect, the costs picked up during our two month transition process and the summer they moved in:
Clothes: This was the biggest budget item. Our kids pretty much needed everything. At first, both of them were a little awed by the shopping experience. #1 in particular seemed surprised that we’d buy more than one pair of pants & t-shirts. And #2 (who loves to shop) briefly thought we were the BEST PEOPLE EVER if this was how we rolled. This became a fine balancing act between wanting them to know that we would provide for their needs…and explaining that UGG boots are not a need when you’re eleven.
Our kids came to us with no concept of how money works. They knew a lot about not having what they needed, and a fair amount about random extravagant splurges by various adults in their lives. But there was no sense of how one might determine that today, we’ll buy two shirts and one pair of jeans because that’s what we can afford, and if we really like that other sweater, we’ll save up for it and hope it’s here when we come back.
But here’s the truth: In the early days, those larger lessons about budgeting and want vs. need were beyond us. Our kids needed everything, and so I shopped sales at Target and used coupons at Bob’s. I trolled every Marshall’s within a 30 mile radius because they carried the Michael Jordan stuff that was “in” for #1 back then. I used math skills for the first time in two decades trying to keep it all fair (#2’s full coverage bathing suit from Land’s End cost $92 whereas #1’s was $10 at Old Navy, but #1’s cleats cost 5x as much as the cheap flats #2 liked from Payless.) #1 begged for special socks that cost $14 a pair. Please DO NOT TELL MY PARENTS, but I bought them for him. The kid doesn’t ask for much.
We had three big clothing binges in that first year: When they first came to us in early summer, a few months later for back to school, and then Christmas, because they needed warm things for winter. Since then, it’s much more steady, grabbing things as the kids grow. (Which reminds me that all of #1’s pants are showing way to much of his $14 socks these days, and I need to roll by Bob’s today with my latest coupon.)
Activities: Our kids REALLY needed a day camp that first summer. Structure, planned activities, a chance to make new friends AND a guarantee they’d sleep well at night because they’d worked off most of their stress and had new adventures to think about? SO IMPORTANT. This also limited the time between afternoon pickup at 5:00 and complaining about how awful our food was at 6:00. I can’t overstate the import of this to my psyche in those early days.
I was under the impression that YMCA camp was covered, or at least subsidized, for foster parents because DCF has a deal with the Y. But that applied only when both parents worked outside the home full time. So that was a HUGE immediate hit we didn’t see coming. We put the kids in 2 days a week, and cut back on other things. It was totally worth the investment, for their sanity and for mine.
Stuff: We bought all the sports equipment in the Greater Boston region. We bought a basketball hoop & ball, tennis rackets & a football. A street hockey net and two sticks, which were soon followed by gloves and a punching bag.
Steve made a corn hole set, after which I learned from a BRILLIANT Amazon review that if you buy bean bags filled with corn, small animals will eat them. We bought every board game Target sells. We got a Wii, which paid for itself the day #2 challenged Steve to Just Dance.
We saw a 25% increase in utility costs (gas, electric, water) and a 75%-100% increase in food.
But perhaps the biggest unexpected expense was school. More on that tomorrow.