Author Archives: femmefrugality

6 Autistic Women Who Are Changing the World

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality is running a series of Monday articles focusing on the triumphs and challenges those diagnosed with autism face as related to their finances and careers. Today’s post is the second in the series.

These women aren't successful in spite of their autism--they're successful because of it. 6 Autisitc Women Who Are Changing the World.

 

Neurodiversity is a beautiful thing. When we think differently from each other, we each have the opportunity to do good in our own unique way.

Today we’ll look at six autistic women who are forging their own paths. They’re creating meaningful art. They’re creating jobs. They’re creating a better world.

Dani Bowman

At just eleven years old, Dani Bowman established an animation company called DaniMation Entertainment. Today that company is not only going strong, but also employs others on the spectrum. By recognizing and utilizing the talent in her own community, she has assembled a team that’s produced award-winning animated shorts for five consecutive years.

On top of building a successful company and tapping into the immense talent pool within the autistic community, Bowman works to develop that talent pool further by running summer camps focused on animation and empowerment.

Morénike Giwa Onaiwu

Morénike Giwa Onaiwu has a long history of working in advocacy and empowerment movements. She started her career in the nonprofit sector, and has since served in a various volunteer capacities, including positions within the Division of AIDS at NIH.

Within the autism community, she serves as the Autism and Race Committee Chair for the Autism Women’s Network. As a black woman, her voice is much needed as an advocate who can speak personally to the bias-centric hurdles autistic women of color face on a daily basis.

Jen Saunders

In 2011, Jen Saunders started an extremely successful magazine called Wild Sister. Birthed out of a trying time in Saunders’ life, the aim of the publication is to empower women to pursue their dreams rather than become victims of their circumstance.

In 2015, she received a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. These late diagnoses are becoming more and more common for adult women as we understand and identify autism not as a institutional disease, but as a sign of neurodiversity.

Women are socialized differently than men in our culture, leading some to argue that the symptoms of autism are not as visible with them. This difference in socialization and cultural expectations either creates the illusion of or is compounded by the assumed fact that the occurrence of autism is lower in females than it is in males.

As we’ve gotten better at identifying autism in women, more are being diagnosed later in life. Saunders used her diagnosis as an opportunity to reach out to women with a similar life experience and founded the Autistic Women’s Collective–a global social network for women on the spectrum and parents of daughters on the spectrum.

Kim Miller

Many of the women on this list are on a point of the spectrum where their communication isn’t necessarily limited by their autism. But just because verbal expression is not your preferred modality doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to the world in meaningful ways.

Kim Miller is a living example of that. She was non-verbal as a child, but was able to express herself through art. She would draw pictures to communicate her wants and needs to her family, and her comprehension to teachers at school.

Today she uses art as a powerful form of self-expression. She, and many others on the spectrum, are visual learners. This lends itself to pictorial processing rather than thinking in a string of sentential lexemes.

Her art, which has been featured in many different publications, portrays a full and rich interpretation of the world. She’s earning through her talents, and at the same time making the world a more beautiful and understanding place.

Currently, you can purchase works which have not had their copyright purchased by outside publishers through the Kimpressions online storefront.

Amy Gravino

In the US, we have a lot of supports for children with autism. But when it comes time to transition to adulthood, many states don’t have the proper systems in place to continue this support.

One place where this evidences itself is in the college experience. Not only do the intense and new social situations tend to be more difficult to navigate when you have autism, but the workload combined with an inclination towards completing tasks immediately rather than pacing make the entire experience extremely anxiety-inducing for those on the spectrum.

In an effort to up student retention rates in the autistic community, Amy Gravino started A.S.C.O.T. Coaching, LLC. On the spectrum herself, she is uniquely qualified to guide and support students through the transition to college life with concrete skills and true empathy.

Temple Grandin

Most readers will be familiar with Temple Grandin. Her name is known for her work in autism advocacy, and for good reason. But prior to this effort, she revolutionized slaughterhouses.

Her keen attention to detail, heightened sensory sensitivities and empathic compassion towards animals enabled her to design systems that kept cattle calmer as they were literally being led to the slaughter, and gave them kinder deaths.

Not only have her designs made our systems more humane, but they’ve also saved a ton of money in a massive industry.

Autism Empowers

All of these women are changing the world, and they’re doing it as career women and entrepreneurs.

At this point, it’s easy and common to feel stirred to a point of inspirational pity.

Let’s not do the common thing. You’ll note that every single one of these women isn’t successful in spite of her autism. They’re each successful because of it.

That’s what Autism Acceptance Month is about. It’s not about wiping out neurodiversity by finding a cure in order to eradicate the challenges of autism. Those challenges, which are real and sometimes large, do need to be addressed. But to cure autism itself would also remove many of these important contributions to society.

Rather, this month is about celebrating those differences, and recognizing that we, as a society, are better because they exist.

How to Write a Goodwill Letter

I never knew you could do this! Get bad line items removed from your credit report with a goodwill letter. This article includes a template and everything.

I first heard of goodwill letters on Personal Find Nancys, a blog that sadly no longer exists.

Essentially,  a goodwill letter is something you write to a past creditor requesting that they remove a blemish on your credit report. Here’s the catch: while you were missing payments, you must have been going through some trying personal circumstances or have some worthy excuse.

Blemishes will be removed after seven years of the report date regardless, but if that’s too long for you to wait, writing one of these letters is a good way to attempt fixing the problem fast.

Before I wrote my own goodwill letter, I had a serious blemish on my report. When I first started going to school, there was some confusion about who was paying.  It resulted in me unknowingly defaulting on a payment plan. As soon as I was aware the money was due under my name, I paid it off.

But apparently that didn’t keep it from creeping up on my credit report. I figured writing a goodwill letter couldn’t hurt.

Good news!  Not only did it not hurt–it worked!

They sent me a return letter confirming that they’d remove the item. I checked my credit report, and it’s no longer on there.

Here’s how to get your credit report for free.

Goodwill Letter Template

Before I wrote the letter, I did a little bit of research. I picked and chose my favorite parts of each example I saw, and created a template. I thought I’d share it with you today since it was successful for me.

It’s not guaranteed to work, but it’s worth the cost of a stamp to try! Keep in mind that you may need to change it up a little depending on your personal situation. If you fail the first time, you can keep trying every six months.

 
[Your full first and last name]
[Your Address Line 1]
[Your Address Line 2]
[Your phone number]
 
[Name of month Day#, Year]
 
Dear Sir or Madam:
 
This letter is in reference to a paid collection under account number [your account number here].
 
[State how much the debt was, when it was due, and when you paid it in full.  Point out if you paid it off quickly.]  [State the hardship you were going through and why it kept you from paying your debt.]
 
[Restate what kept you from paying the debt in a summation/transition.]  [State your regret that you did not pay it on time, mentioning that you strive to be financially responsible and honor all debts.]  [State that this debt, recorded on your credit report, is causing you financial hardship.]  [If the hardship is specific, briefly outline it here.]  I am kindly hoping that [insert creditor here] will consider removing this collection from my credit report as a gesture of goodwill.  [State how much it would mean to you and the opportunities that would open to you if the collection were removed in a professional manner.]  
 
 
Sincerely,
 
[leave room to sign your name in cursive here]
 
 
[your name printed]

Sample Goodwill Letter

Here’s an example with some Jane Doe data plugged in. Yours should not be italicized.

Jane Doe
123 Main Street

Middleof, Kansas 12345
(555) 555-5555

April 6, 2017

Dear Sir or Madam:

This letter is in reference to a paid collection under account number 948312909832489.

Five hundred seventy-five dollars was owed on my account due October 8, 2016. It was paid in full on November 12, 2016—just over 30 days later. On October 6th of the same year, we had an electrical fire and my house burned down.

In the ensuing chaos, I struggled to keep on top of due dates as we found a new place to live and replaced all our worldly possessions while dealing cooperatively with our renters’ insurance company. I deeply regret that I was so late with my payment, as I am financially responsible and have never been late with a payment since we started our business relationship. My family and I are considering purchasing a new home, but are worried about applying for credit now that this new negative line item is included. I am kindly hoping that Western Pony Bank will consider removing this collection from my credit report as a gesture of goodwill. This gesture would merit our upmost gratitude as we rebuild our lives.

Sincerely,

 

 

Jane Doe

 

 

 

This article originally went live on July 6, 2012.

Around the World in 80 Books: Jamaica

Welcome to the next installment in my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge! It’s exactly what it sounds like: I’m trying to read 80 books from 80 different countries/cultures around the world, and to add a frugal spin, I’m trying to do it all for under $20.

Here’s my running tally so far:
$0- Library books: Russia, Norway, Sweden, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Spain, Nigeria, New Zealand, China, Canada
$2.75- Late fees on the book for Italy
$0- Free eBooks: Scotland, England, Portugal, Cyprus, Albania, Montenegro, Mongolia
$0- Gift: Turkey, Pakistan, Autism in the USA
$0- Won in a Giveaway: Jerusalem
$1.99- eBook: Basque Country, Japan
$0- Paid review on an interesting read: Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid
______________________________________

Grand Total: $6.73

Today’s book also came from the library, and I returned it on time without late fees.

I’m a winner.

Jamaica

A Brief History of Seven Killings

This book, recommended by Jana of Jana Says, was intense.

I can’t say it wasn’t well-written.

It was.

I can’t say it wasn’t an important read.

It was.

But it was a difficult read. Revolving around the assassination attempt on Bob Marley, this book took you deep into the community of his youth. Which was violent. And disturbing.

Murder. Rape. Other violence. All of it extremely graphic.

The way I feel about the experience is a lot like reading a Chuck Palahniuk novel: I can’t deny the author is talented. But the experience was so jarring that I never, ever want to pick up another one of his books.

If you’ve got thicker skin than me, it’s a beautifully executed piece of work. If you don’t, though, it might be worth staying away.

Since I’m allowed to do Adulting Reads out of order, I’m using this one as my book based on a historical event, and it’s number 26/80 for the Around the World in 80 Books challenge.

On Deck Man's Search for Meaning

I’m not sure if there could be two books with more different endings. Frankl himself survived the concentration camps of the Holocaust, but from what I understand, he spent the rest of his life helping others find meaning in their suffering without comparative qualifiers.

Pretty excited to read this one. After the James book, I need a little hope.

Have a recommendation for what I should read next? Leave it in the comments! Here’s what’s already in my queue:
Afghanistan: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg recommended by Savvy Working Gal
Philippines: May Day Eve and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin recommended by Guiltless Reader
Iceland: Scarcity in Excess by Arna Mathiesen & Thomas Forget
Sudan: The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih recommended by Kate Wilson
Ethiopia: The God Who Begat a Jakal by Nega Mezlekia recommended by Based On a True Story
French Antilles: Victoire: My Mother’s Mother by Maryse Conde recommended by Based on A True Story
Suriname: The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod recommended by Based On A True Story
Costa Rica: The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica
France: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr recommended by Our Next Life
Germany: In the Garden of Beasts or Devil in the White City by Erik Larson recommended by Emi from AIP Around the World
Haiti: All Souls Rising by Madison Smartt Bell recommended by Tre from House of Tre
South Africa: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton recommended by Emily from The John & Jane Doe Guide to Money & Investing
Australia: In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson recommended by Aaron from When Life Gives You Lemons, Add Vodka
Romania: Anything by Andre Codrescu recommended by Abigail from I Pick Up Pennies
Mali: Monique and the Mango Rains recommended by Rebecca from Stapler Confessions
Croatia: Girl at War by Sara Novi recommened by Erin from TexErin-In-Sydneyland
India: Malguid Days by R.K. Narayan recommended by Michael from Stretch a Dime (I’m giving up my other India read–I just couldn’t get through it. Excited to check out Michael’s recommendation.)

ABLE Accounts for People with Autism

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality will be hosting a series of Monday articles that focus on the financial challenges and triumphs that people with autism face and achieve. When they are children, these things also tend to affect their family’s finances, as well.

Great way to save money with tax-free growth. ABLE Accounts for adults with autism or families with children with autism.

If you are on the autism spectrum, or your child is on the spectrum, it’s likely that you incur some costs that neurotypical people simply don’t. There may be therapies, adaptive equipment, nutritional supplements or even legal fees related to autism that end up in your budget.

Fortunately, in recent years these financial burdens have been acknowledged. With the passage of the ABLE Act, people with qualified “disabilities” or their guardians now have the ability to open an account built specifically to deal with these added expenses.

I was incredibly psyched when an advisor let me know Pennsylvania was rolling out theirs recently. Since PA is the state I’m most familiar with, the PA ABLE account will be the one we dissect today, but other states have similar options. You can view them at the end of this article.

What is an ABLE account?

An ABLE account is a tax-advantaged investment account. It serves as a way for those with “disabilities” to save for expenses related to their condition–in this case, autism. Families are also able to save for their minor children in this way, or through a power of attorney if their child is an adult in need of assistance.

It’s a 529 account, which means the money you put in there is invested. If you’re familiar with these accounts for college savings, it’s a very similar thing except the scope of qualified expenses extends beyond just post-secondary education.

ABLE accounts are also advantageous because they don’t count against many state or federal programs that require asset tests, allowing people on the spectrum to save for future costs without worrying about losing their healthcare or other necessities.

How do you qualify for an ABLE account?

If you live in Pennsylvania, you’ve likely gone through the rigamarole of applying for SSI so you can get on Medicaid. If your income is low enough, you get SSI payments. If it’s too high, you don’t get the SSI payments, but SSI confirms that you have a disability so you can get state-sponsored insurance.

If your autism has been confirmed by SSI, you qualify. Other ways you can qualify are through entitlement to SSDI or a signed confirmation of disability from a physician. They must also certify that you had autism before age 26, which shouldn’t be difficult.

Invest in an ABLE account for your child's autism expenses and watch your savings grow tax-free.

What is a qualified expense for an ABLE account?

In Pennsylvania, qualified expenses are any expense related to the “disability.” That includes:

  • Tuition for school–Pre-K through post-secondary
  • Books and other supplies related to education
  • Mass transit expenses
  • Purchase of a vehicle
  • Modification of a vehicle
  • Moving expenses
  • Job training
  • Expenses related to gaining/maintaining employment
  • Health expenses across the realms of mental, physical, vision and dental
  • Health insurance premiums
  • Durable medical equipment
  • Respite care
  • Therapies
  • Communication services/devices
  • Personal assistance
  • Nutrition management
  • Financial management
  • Legal fees
  • Funeral and burial expenses

In addition, you can use it for these housing-related expenses tax free, though withdrawing money for any of the below may impact your SSI benefits:

  • Primary residence expenses
  • Rent
  • Mortgage payments
  • Property taxes
  • Home improvements or modifications
  • Utilities

This is by no means an exhaustive list. You can use the money for anything related to the associated “disability,” and it doesn’t necessarily have to be deemed medically necessary. Just remember to keep good documentation about what you’ve spent the money on. If the IRS ever audits you, they’re going to want to see receipts.

Check out other qualified expenses under PA ABLE.

How much can I save in an ABLE account?

You can save $14,000 per year. If you have family or friends that want to contribute, their generosity counts towards that $14,000.

The max amount you can have in an ABLE account at any given time is $511,758 in the state of Pennsylvania. This max number will vary from state to state. If you are a parent or guardian who is saving for a child, once you reach this point you may want to talk to a professional about a trust or even a special needs trust.

What are the tax advantages of saving in an ABLE account?

You contribute money after you’ve already paid taxes, so contributions won’t lower your AGI on your taxes. However, the money is allowed to grow tax-free, and as long as your withdrawals are made for qualified expenses, you won’t have to pay taxes when you take the money out.

If you spend the money on an unqualified expense, though, you will be hit with a penalty.

You don’t necessarily have to live in a state to purchase its plan. For example, PA ABLE is available to people in all 50 states–not just Pennsylvania. On this particular plan, you might end up paying state taxes on your gains if you’re from out of state. Pennsylvania residents are exempt, and also won’t pay state taxes upon a qualified withdrawal.

Pennsylvania residents also benefit from exemption from the PA inheritance tax. Check with your state to see what benefits may be available.

Stop worry about asset tests and start building savings with an ABLE account.

Will an ABLE account mess up my state or federal benefits?

ABLE accounts are not considered for SNAP benefits or any other federally-distributed benefits with means-based tests, save for SSI.

Typically, SSI limits your assets to $2,000, but ABLE accounts are a little different. They won’t count the first $100,000 in your ABLE account against you for SSI qualification or the determination of your dollar-amount benefits.

Separately, the state of Pennsylvania has passed legislation that prohibits your ABLE balance from being used in any asset tests related to health or disability. They’re also not allowed to use it for SNAP per the USDA’s issued guidelines.

What about financial aid for college?

In the state of Pennsylvania, PA ABLE savings will not count on applications for state-based financial aid.

Because ABLE accounts are not supposed to be counted on federal means-based tests, the general assumption is that these savings should not be included on the FAFSA. However, as far as can be told the US Department of Education has not issued any guidance on this to date. You may want to call the Federal Student Aid Information Center to get the most up-to-date information.

Do not count ABLE savings on other children’s FAFSA applications.

What are the fees?

You can avoid all administrative fees by getting your documents delivered electronically. Investment fees are between 0.34% and 0.38% depending on which option you pick.

Picking an option–from conservative to agressive–is something we’ll be tackling in a future post. Saving for college with a 529 is one thing, but saving for expenses related to autism that come up as a part of your daily life is quite another all together.

Rent isn’t something you’ll be paying in 30 years–it’s something that’s due now. If you need an iPad to communicate,  you’re not going to wait for 15 years of appreciation on your investment before you start to exchange information with the world.

But that isn’t to say the most conservative option is the best choice each and every time. It’s complex, and something we brought an expert in to cover.

functional fashion modern frugal mom

Are ABLE accounts worth it?

While the fees may not be the lowest, the account is tax-advantaged and allows you to use your money before retirement age. It also allows you to save for future expenses without disqualifying yourself from certain federal and state means-tested benefits.

If you’re a parent, you may not be sure if your child will go to college or not. An ABLE account gives them the flexibility to pursue whatever occupational or educational path they want and are able to when they get to that point in their life.

Or, if you come up against a financial emergency between now and then because of your child’s medical, communication or educational needs, you have the money there to save you from financial distress while still providing the best for your kid.

Overall, it’s a much-needed solution that many individuals and families will be able to use to their advantage. With so many frustrating lines of red tape around every corner, it’s good to see that this issue is getting some recognition and legislation.

Other states with ABLE accounts

Note that not all state plans are created equally. Don’t pick a plan simply because it is based in your state or think that because your state doesn’t offer a plan, you’re not eligible. Fees, residency requirements and state tax advantages are all going to vary. Do further research before opening any financial account.

Muslim Women Who Make America Great

Astronauts, miracle-worker cardiologists, autism advocates and more. There really are a ton of Muslim women who make America great.

As human beings, we too often rely on stereotypes. More often than not, these stereotypes are inaccurate and inspire nasty –isms, like racism, sexism or xenophobia.

As Americans, we have a history as a melting pot. We are a land of democracy where ideas are allowed to flourish, and where new ideas, in turn, help us flourish.

At points in our history, though, we haven’t been the most welcoming melting pot. We’ve allowed those –isms to dominate and have failed to acknowledge the contributions that all make to our society regardless of where they’re from, what they look like or which god they do (or don’t) believe in.

Unfortunately, we may be living one of those times. Diversity, which has strengthened us during periods in which we were not busy fighting it, seems to be on the defensive rather than being encouraged. At certain junctures, it’s under all-out attack.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to take a minute to highlight some women who are making America great by making meaningful contributions to our society. Some were born and raised here. Some immigrated. They also happen to practice Islam, and without them, our sciences, art and culture would not be where they are today.

Hina Chaudhry's work in genetic therapy could stimulate cardiac cell regeneration.

Hina Chaudhry

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States today. Hina Chaudhry, MD is working to address it in innovative ways.

In general, there are two instances when the heart needs to regenerate cells in order to repair itself: after the onset of heart disease or after a heart attack. The problem is that the human heart regenerates extremely slowly.

Chaudhry has identified a gene which could potentially help it do so at a much faster rate. Injecting this gene into the hearts of several mammals, including mice, rats and pigs, has proven wildly successful in trials. It induces cell mitosis, which is the essential part of regeneration.

Sabeeha Rehman has built social infrastructure for her community, whether it be religious or in support of those with autism.

Sabeeha Rehman

Rehman has contributed to her NYC community in numerous ways. She, along with her friends, initiated a community for Muslims on Staten Island which eventually led to the building of a mosque. It served to remove the isolation some Muslims felt in a geographical area where there was previously no official community based around the cultural norms of their religion.

She hasn’t only served the Muslim community; she’s served her community at large. When her grandson was diagnosed with autism, she quit her career as a hospital administrator to support other families going through the same thing. She established the first chapter of the National Autism Association in the area. Today it serves all five boroughs of NYC. The organization is volunteer-driven, and helps individuals with autism reach their full potential through empowerment and education.

Aishah Shahida Simmons makes films and writes to combat sexual abuse.

Aishah Shahida Simmons

Simmons is an award-winning artist who operates in the realms of words and filmography. Her honors include awards from the San Diego Women’s Film Festival and the India International Women’s Film Festival. She has served as a professor at a litany of universities, written books and edited numerous publications.

The thing that makes Simmons’ contributions great isn’t simply the quality of her work; it’s the subject matter she tackles with her talents. Her primary focus is ending both heterosexual and LGBTQ+ sexual violence when it is perpetrated against anyone—children or adults.

Her biggest claim to fame is NO! The Rape Documentary, which continues to be used as an authoritative piece of educational material even in its tenth year. Currently, she is working on #LoveWITHAccountability—an initiative that empowers Black survivors of child sexual abuse to share their stories and ideas on how to eliminate the same abuse they’ve experienced.
The Sublime Quran

Laleh Bakhtiar

Christian-American culture unconsciously accepts that there are many versions of the Bible. That book has been translated into and out of so many languages so many times that it’s inevitable that there are going to be variants. On top of that, languages have homonyms and heteronyms, leading to further variation in interpretation.

The Catholic Bible, the King James Version, the NIV.

Because this concept is so engrained and generally accepted without contemplation, the culture doesn’t always ponder the fact that there may be more than one version of other religious texts.

But it should.

Because there are.

Laleh Bakhtiar was the first American woman to translate the Quran, and her translation noted some poignantly different interpretations. Most notably, she interpreted the passage that commonly is quoted as allowing a husband to beat his wife as a punishment to instead say he should go away, cool off and then come back to address the situation.

Her interpretation, called The Sublime Quran, has been used to fight domestic violence cases in court and has also been adopted by the Prince of Jordan.

Anousheh Ansari--first female private space explorer

Anousheh Ansari

Anousheh Ansari is an engineer, a serial entrepreneur and a private researcher who just happened to do her work in outer space.

In 2006, Ansari became the first female private space explorer, and the first person of Iranian descent to ever leave orbit. Since then, she’s started a tech business and become an inspirational speaker encouraging people to follow their dreams.

Her family also originated the first XPRIZE, which gave $10 million dollars to a team of engineers who could design and build a reliable and reusable spacecraft—that was privately financed.

The team that won was not only successful, but got their technology licensed. The company that was born from the competition is today known as Virgin Galactic—a major competitor in commercial space travel.

Muslim Women Make America Great

It doesn’t matter where your family came from or what you believe in; you can make positive change in this world. When we look at others, we need to remember that they, too, have this same capacity, and, in many instances, are exercising it.

To forget this important truth would be to deny ourselves innovations, social support systems and positive cultural changes.

The next time you see someone who looks different than you, believes differently than you or has a different life perspective, remember that they, too, make America great.

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