Julie Gumm is the author of You Can Adopt Without Debt, a newly released book for adoptive families. Julie recently shared some of her debt-free adoption tips.
Rachel: Tell me about yourself, personally and professionally.
Julie: I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I remember. It dates back to me leaving notes in my dad’s sock drawer as a young child. I love stories—hearing them, reading them, watching them, and telling them. I had dreams of writing for the New York Times, but I fell in love, married my high school sweetheart during college, and never looked back. When we said “I do,” 21 years ago, I never imagined the life we would live. We have two “home-grown” children: Noah, 15, and Natalie, 12. Six years ago, we adopted two siblings from Ethiopia: Luke, 15, and Beza, 14. And yes, my house is crazy, and my pantry is in constant need of replenishing! My husband, Mark, and I are huge Dave Ramsey fans and started following his plan in 2001. Six years later, about the time we started our adoption, we paid off our house and have been 100 percent debt-free ever since. Six months ago, we moved our family from Phoenix to Siloam Springs, an amazing small town in northwest Arkansas. I’m now working at my alma mater, John Brown University, as a staff writer and social media manager. The job also doubles as our college savings plan since I get free tuition to an amazing Christian university for my kids
Rachel: What motivated or inspired you to write your book?
Julie: As a writer, of course your dream is always to write a book. One of my best friends encouraged me to write about our adoption, but there wasn’t anything that remarkable about our story. Or so I thought. After we brought Luke and Beza home, I began to hear more and more people say “Well, we’ve thought about adoption, but we could never afford it.” Then I began to see more and more stories of people doing fundraisers and the vision for the book became clear. I hope that our debt-free adoption story, along with ideas and information culled from dozens of families, might remove those roadblocks.
Rachel: You write, “Whether adoption is right for you is a complex decision, but the cost should not keep you from pursuing this dream. You can afford it without taking out a second mortgage or maxing out your credit cards. There are options—lots of them.” (p. 22) What are some of the alternative options?
Julie: First, I spend some time in the book talking about personal finance. The first thing I encourage families to do is really get a handle on their own budget and spending to see where they can save. Then there are some 50+ adoption grants available to families. Every family won’t meet every grant qualification, but the book provides some tips on applying and educates people on the common types. The biggest help is all the creative ways there are to bring in additional income. Sometimes when people hear “fundraiser,” they think “hand out,” but there are so many options that families can pursue that don’t have to feel like begging for help. I know families who’ve raised thousands recycling aluminum cans or collecting scrap metal. Or there are really fun events like the karaoke fundraiser. (That one’s on my blog too.)
Rachel: Many prospective adoptive parents enter into adoption with a budget, but they find themselves pressured by their attorney or agency to go “above and beyond” because it will allow the parents to increase their chances of a placement. This is common, for example, in domestic infant adoption, where it seems “money talks” and the only the wealthiest families, or the families willing to take great financial risks, are going to have the option to wait with certain agencies or be considered for possible adoption situations. Parents can let the desire to be placed with a child overtake good sense. What is your response?
Julie: Boy do I know this one! We are so emotionally involved in this process that it is hard to not let our heart run away with our pocket book! I think patience is the hardest part of the adoption process, especially for someone who’s struggled through infertility for years. But there are so many good agencies and attorneys out there who don’t play this game that I would encourage families to take the time to look for the right fit. If you can afford a higher fee, that’s up to you. But it’s a myth to think that birth parents only want to place their children with rich families. I’ve heard numerous birth moms say this was the last thing on their list of considerations. So take time to find the right agency that will work with you and your budget. Join a few of the online adoption communities, and ask around for ideas.
Rachel: What is the number one piece of advice you can share with those who desperately wish to adopt but aren’t sure they can swing it financially?
Julie: You can; it just might be on a different timeline than you would like. And it will definitely take some work. If adoption is really your heart’s desire, start now, and make it part of your financial plan. I love hearing about families who know they want to adopt “in the future” but are starting to save now. But it can be done. If we were the only family who had adopted without debt I’d feel like a fraud telling you that, but the book is filled with stories from other families who’ve made it work too.