Category Archives: Family Finance

Happy News from the Land of Femme Frugality

It’s time for a huge update, friends!

I’ve been working on some stuff behind the scenes lately that I’m super psyched about. And I can finally tell you about all most of it!

Vote for The Feminist Financial Handbook

The Plutus Awards nominations are open! You guys have been super kind to me over the past few years, nominating Femme Frugality for Best Women’s Finance Blog and the Intersectional Finances Series for Best PF Series.

I’d be beyond grateful if you could take a couple minutes to vote for The Feminist Financial Handbook for Best New Personal Finance Book for this years’ awards ceremony!

You can vote by using this pre-filled form!

Just fill out the two starred boxes at the top and submit–thank you so much!

Speaking at FinCon

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be speaking at FinCon in DC this year! I’ll be joining Paul Curley of the 529 Conference and Sarah Pennington of ABLEnow.

We’ll be speaking on ABLE accounts on the Quick Money Talks track, educating writers and financial professionals on these accounts that serve the disabled community. Be sure to join us there!

If you want to get a head start, check out these resources:

Check out all the stuff I had wrong when I was 20.

I recently had my first piece published over at Business Insider. It’s all about the things I wish I had known about money when I was twenty–a year which happened to have the Great Recession as its backdrop.

You should check it out–I want to hear if you made some of the mistakes I did or if I was just ridiculous.

I mean, let’s be real. It could be both.

Book Signing in Bar Harbor

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Bailey Zembower BorrowMSCP RYT (@shantisunshinewellness) on

If you are vacationing in Bar Harbor in July, or happen to be one of MDI’s local residents, please join me at a book signing for The Feminist Financial Handbook!

Where: Sherman’s of Bar Harbor
When: July 23rd, 2019
Time: 1p

There will be copies there available for you, and am looking forward to talking to some readers in person!

This event will be part of a larger project; I’m sitting on my hands so I won’t tell you the whole thing right now!

But it will be worth the wait, I believe. Be sure to follow along so you don’t miss anything!

How I Got Divorced with Kids for $800

Man and woman sitting at a table at an outdoor restaurant, unhappily having an intense discussion. White text reads "How I got divorced for $800 with kids! femmefrugality.com"

Okay, guys.

This is it.

This is the one where I confirm what you suspected last summer.

The marriage to the man I’ve been in a committed relationship with since before I started writing is over.

I’m divorced.

Don’t send me condolences! This is really a positive thing in my life. It’s a change that needed to happen for way too long. It’s a process I dragged out over the course of many years in the name of trying to save things.

And, yes, it’s something that messed with my head, kept me up crying many nights and was a horrible thing to go through.

But I did get through it. I just didn’t feel like sharing that part of my life in real-time. Now I’m in a place where being divorced feels like a relief and permission to start a new chapter of my life.

I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next chapter. I have very few concrete personal goals, though I have been making forward progress as I figure out what I want out of life.

It’s scary sometimes.

But it’s also exhilarating.

How I Got Divorced for $800 with Children

Before I get into the numbers, I want to disclose a couple of things. The first is that my ex agreed to every last thing I wanted. And I only wanted things for the children.

We’re not squabbling over financials. We didn’t own any joint property and neither of us owns any real estate.

Those things in and of themselves made this process dramatically cheaper than it could have been.

The Lawyer

If we had simply been filing a no-contest divorce, I may have taken a stab at filing the paperwork myself.

But we weren’t. There were kids involved. And it was really important to me that the paperwork surrounding that issue was rock solid legally.

So I hired a lawyer.

I began shopping by calling around to different lawyers in the county. None would give me an initial consultation for free, and many of them wanted retainers around $3,000 at the conclusion of that initial meeting.

That was not going to fly with me. I’m not a fan of paying professionals before they’ve worked to establish a professional relationship with me. Sit down with me. See if you can help me. And if you can, THEN I’ll pay you money.

I kept looking and found this lawyer who runs their business completely via USPS. You mail in the divorce paperwork and any additional information for an agreement along with payment, and they file the divorce for you.

In Pennsylvania, you can file for divorce in any county. Which can save you big bucks. So even though this lawyer was local, the filing fees were not. They were lower than what you’d pay in Allegheny County.

You have to mail back and forth a few times, but because we had not been living under the same roof for more than a year (there is no such thing as legal separation in Pennsylvania), the entire process took one month and four days.

I was holding my breath the entire time with Mx. Lawyer-I-found-on-the-internet. I really hoped I wasn’t getting scammed. I had done my research on them, but still. I was consciously taking on risk to save thousands of dollars.

Luckily for me, the lawyer was legit. I’m officially divorced. If anyone in PA is interested in using the same lawyer, get in touch and I’ll be happy to send over the information. Just keep in mind that you and your spouse must agree 100% on everything as they only file no-contest divorces.

Altogether, the costs came out to about $800, including a legal agreement about all things children.

The Costs of Staying Together

But of course, that wasn’t the only cost we incurred. Ironically enough, most of my expenses came not from the divorce, but from trying to save things.

I really don’t want to get into all the details. But I do want to say that if you, too, are trying to save a marriage or any type of relationship, set rational money boundaries at the very beginning of your attempt at heroism.

For example:

  • If this living arrangement is costing us more than $X,XXX/month, I’m not going to delay finding another living situation.
  • If we cannot communicate about anything nonetheless money, how am I going to conduct my own finances independently and perhaps sometimes in spite of the desire to “help” the other person?
  • At what point can we not afford to protect our kids from the bad news anymore?
  • This whole process is going to suck. How am I going to cope economically if I hit or trigger a period of less-than-awesome mental health?

Those are examples. I definitely lived through some of those, but others I’ve watched friends and family go through before. Some of them assume a large amount of privilege and autonomy on the part of each spouse–especially when the spouse is female.

I found these costs to be the most expensive part of the divorce, though it is important to remember I lucked out with the no-contest divorce and crazy affordable lawyer.

Emotional Labor

Both of us did emotional labor through this entire process. I think each one of us would argue that the other hasn’t done a successful job in their pursuit.

That’s been the hardest part of this whole process. I have faith in myself that I can fix my money. But getting through this entire thing emotionally has been a nightmare.

It would have been hard if nothing else bad was happening in our lives. But, of course, there were other bad things.

It would have been hard if I had a mindless desk job where all I had to do was show up for 8 hours everyday and close the Facebook tab when the boss made their rounds. But, of course, I don’t.

It would have been hard if we didn’t have children together. But we do and for that I am eternally grateful, despite the deepened wounds that come with the fact at this particular juncture in time.

Yes, trying to stay together cost me money.

No, I didn’t have to pay very much in legal fees.

But at the end of the day, I am reminded once again that in life, money is hardly the thing that matters most.

Children, Medicaid & Autism: State-by-State Guide

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality will be hosting a series of Friday 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.

Pinning for my nephew. They don't have Medicaid coverge in his state and it's really hard because of the services he needs with autism. Maybe another state could help them out better.

 

When you’re raising an autistic child, the largest expense you shoulder is healthcare. You learn that “healthcare” isn’t just doctor’s visits and the occasional dramatic visit to the ER. It’s therapy. Adaptive equipment. Communication devices. And more.

None of it’s cheap, and if you don’t have a good healthcare plan, a lot of it’s not going to be covered.

Even if you do have a good healthcare plan, some benefits will still not be covered. In many states, the most comprehensive way to get your child the services and equipment they need is through Medicaid, and many states allow disabled children access to Medicaid even if their parents’ income exceeds eligibility limits.

Want to find out how to shelter some of your savings from asset tests? Check out ABLE accounts.

Medicaid Coverage Saves Everyone Money

Medicaid coverage keeps kids out of institutions. Until the 1980’s, one of the only ways to get children with complex needs the services they required was through an institution. Whether a parent wanted to part with their child or not, they were often forced to.

This was also extremely expensive. Providing a child Medicaid benefits so they are able to live and thrive at home is far less costly than having them live in an intermediate care facility or nursing home.

Luckily, things have changed, but not all states are equal. Today we’ll be looking at Medicaid coverage options for children with autism across all fifty states–and Washington, D.C.

Before we get started, there’s some vocab I want to review.

State Plan

“State Plan” simply refers to the Medicaid coverage that anyone gets if they apply for benefits with their state. Eligibility is dependent on income limits–not disability or lack thereof.

ABA Therapy

ABA therapy, or Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, is the most proven method for successful early intervention for children with autism. There’s just one problem: it’s insanely expensive.

Until recently, most insurers denied the evidence in favor of this therapy. Some still do because of its cost. But most states have enacted laws recognizing, and forcing insurers to recognize, it as an evidence-based therapy.

That doesn’t mean all states provide coverage. There was a mandate issued by the Federal government in 2014 that arguably required its coverage under Medicaid, but some states have interpreted this mandate differently.

I want to take a minute here to acknowledge that not everyone is behind ABA–even within the autistic community. There are some autistic adults who are opposed to ABA therapy when it’s practiced with extreme rigor. However, there is also a general acknowledgement that there are ethical and non-ethical ways to practice ABA from the autistic perspective. You can get both sides of the argument here.

Level of Care

Required “level of care” indicates where a child would have been cared for prior to our culture’s shift towards keeping autistic children with their families. There are three levels commonly recognized in most states. In order from the least care needed to the most:

  • Intermediate Care Facility– Many parents may be surprised to learn that their child would have been institutionalized not so long ago. This level of care can, in some cases, be equivalent to the child who goes to outpatient therapy several times a week and has behavioral therapists in their home or community setting.
  • Nursing Home– This level of care would require skilled nursing/medical care on a regular basis. Today, you may have a nurse come into your child’s home and/or school to help provide these services.
  • Hospital– This level of care is required when you need more than a nurse. There may be monitoring of a condition or simply more advanced care needed on a regular basis.

In this guide, the lowest level of care required is listed. For example, if a state lists the required level of care as an intermediate facility, that will typically mean that those at a nursing home or hospital level of care are eligible, too.

Conversely, if the listed level of care is “nursing home,” those who are at an intermediate care facility level of care would not qualify for the listed program.

Waiver

A Medicaid waiver is simply a program that grants specific services to those who do not typically qualify for the State Plan. There are also waivers that provide services in addition to and including what’s available on the State Plan.

Wait List

You may notice that for most states, there is no reference to the wait list. This is done for two reasons.

  1. Medicaid programs are in flux at the moment. A wait list–or even a waiver–could change suddenly. It’s information we don’t have the capacity to update continuously.
  2. We want you to get in touch with the agencies that provide these waivers. Even if the wait list is too long for your child, state agencies may know of other programs or community organizations that could help in your unique situation.

Download Your Free Copy of Children, Medicaid & Autism: State-by-State Guide

In an attempt to make this guide thorough for all 50 states plus D.C., it is much longer than typical Femme Frugality content–11,000+ words. As such, we’ve turned it into a PDF for your browsing convenience. You’ll be able to find your state in our table of contents and easily jump to the appropriate page to get the information you need.

>>Click here to get your free copy of the PDF<<

 

 

This information in the above PDF is accurate to the best of our research as of April 26, 2019. It will be reviewed and updated annually. Intensive research was performed for each state program. The majority of states had a governmental agency or independent advocacy group provide information regarding their programs.

Career Resources for Autistic Youth

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality will be running a series of Friday articles in April that focuses on the financial challenges and triumphs Autistic people face and achieve.

girl with glasses reading a comic book, lying down in between the shelves of the library. Beneath this blue and black text reads "Career Resources for Autistic Youth femmefrugality.com"

If you have a child on the spectrum, you have one child on the spectrum. Your kiddo’s needs are completely different than the child next to them–even if the other child is on the spectrum, too.

With that in mind, today we’re going to be reviewing a governmental department which has resources to help those with disabilities–including autism–get the resources they need to start their careers off on the right foot. Your child does not have to have communication issues or visually-obvious accommodations in order to qualify for services.

If you are Autistic and American, you can benefit greatly from these services directly. Though I am writing to parents in this article, I do not mean to talk around you. But parents have a responsibility to figure these things out for their minor children, and I’m hoping that everyone has access to these services as young as possible. However, the programs run by this department can help you throughout your life even beyond the days of youth.

State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies

The federal government provides funding to state vocational rehabilitation agencies for a number of purposes. They aid both employers and job seekers to build inclusive workplaces, and go the extra mile to make sure training is available to those with medical needs.

Their aim is to help the disabled secure meaningful employment that highlights their skills, talents and interests. Their job is to remove barriers that may stand in their way of securing such employment, such as lack of guidance, lack of funding or lack of awareness and knowledge on the part of the employer.

For all you libertarians in the audience, I see you. And here’s something important to know:

It costs less to provide these services than it does to take care of an unemployed person. It costs less to take care of an unemployed person in their own home than it does in an institution built to accommodate those with disabilities. Reagan himself made policy changes for the disabled for this very reason, notably via Medicaid expansion.

Rather than railing on government spending in this arena, we should all be lauding it. It not only lowers societal costs; more importantly, these programs serve to bridge the gap between the oppressed and the ill-fitted places of employment our societal disablism has created.

*steps off anticipatory soapbox*

All right. Let’s get down to business and check out the resources available to those with medical-need at large–including Autistic individuals.

Career Prep in Middle and High School

As a disabled student, your child has access to certain career-focused programs in middle and high school. The age at which your state starts attending IEP meetings to facilitate these opportunities through Individualized Plans for Employment (IPEs) may vary depending on which state you live in. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your state vocational rehabilitation agency as your child transitions from elementary to middle school–or around age 12.

Even if they are not eligible for services just yet, staff can make you aware of the programs that exist in your state, and make you aware of the earliest age at which your child qualifies for specific services.

States have some autonomy, so programs may vary. But here are some examples of services that may be available to your child as they move through middle and high school:

  • Career exploration, in which you identify your skills and interests to apply to the following opportunities:
  • Facilitation of guest speakers relevant to your field(s) of interest.
  • Information about relevant career fairs.
  • Workplace tours and visits.
  • Summer employment opportunities.
  • Job shadowing.
  • One-on-one mentoring.
  • Information regarding relevant volunteer opportunities in the area.
  • Direct employment programs during the latter years of high school.
  • Education about your rights in post-secondary educational settings and the workplace, along with coaching for self-advocacy.
  • Information and access to job-specific education opportunities, including but not limited to vo tech schools and community colleges.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list. And not every opportunity will exist in every area of the country. But working with your state vocational rehabilitation agency will help you find as many of the doors that are open to your child as possible.

Funding for College, University or Trade School

No matter your child’s (or your own) age, there is a specific program across states that allows for funding of higher education. Some states, like Pennsylvania, will only offer funding up to the average cost of community college, the reasoning being that the Office of Vocation Rehabilitation works in tandem with the state school system and community colleges to provide adequate services and accommodations to disabled students. You don’t necessarily have to go to a state school, but the amount vocational rehabilitation funding will be capped at that community college level.

Other states may pay full tuition even through grad school pending the availability of funds. Regardless of how much money you or your child is eligible for, you should take measures to get in touch with your state’s Vocational Rehabilitative Services agency. Any money for college is good money for college!

Note that for this program, you do not necessarily have to prove SSI disability qualification. As an individual on the spectrum, your child will qualify as disabled through SSI, but the SSI rigamarole is not something you’ll have to go through for this particular program.

After 21. Now what?

Vocational Rehabilitative Services which provide educational funding don’t have an age requirement. But so much else does when your child turns 21. Insurance requirements and coverages change, IEPs and the state school system are no longer required to execute the next step in your child’s growth, and if your child isn’t on the path to a traditional college education, it can be difficult to find support services which help them live a functional, meaningful life–even if they exist.

That’s where your state vocational rehabilitation agency can help. Well, sometimes. There are programs available which offer meaningful employment and social opportunities to those with communication and sensory needs dramatically divergent from the neurotypical population society has traditionally accommodated.

The hitch is your state has to choose to allocate their funding towards these programs.

Even if your state does not directly offer these types of specialized employment opportunities, your state vocational rehabilitative agency may be able to point you to other community organizations which do.

And if they can’t? They will have other programs established. The first step to learning more about them is contacting your state vocational rehabilitation agency. They’ll sit down and work with your child to create a plan to get closer to meaningful employment.

Additional Resources for Parents of Autistic Children

Getting resources and planning with your child for their future is definitely a long game. There are so many steps in the process. It’s legitimately a lucky miracle if you know some of these programs exist at all.

As you’re going through the process, here are some resources that can help make you and your child aware of their rights, services available to them, and the best available ways to pursue their dreams. Here are a few. If readers know of any more, they are highly encouraged to share them in the comments and I’ll add them to this list!

 

 

Saving Money at Disney World

Disney World castle lit up in icicle lights at night. Bluish purple words beneath the image read: "Disney World Savings Tips femmefrugality.com"

The capstone on our Florida trip was Disney World. We had gone not all that long ago, and I had politely put in a complaint about accessibility issues at the park. They offered me free tickets to compensate us for our troubles, so we tried again a few months ago.

Things were mostly better this time. Far from perfect; policies at the park still do not give adequate access to the disabled. But I appreciated that they tried and that we only ran into one gnarly park employee this time around.

Aside from having an overall better experience, I did learn a couple things I wanted to tack on to last year’s Disney savings tips.

Balloons are exchangeable.

 

I spent an embarrassing amount of money on a balloon for one of the littles. I mean, it was pretty awesome. A balloon inside of another balloon–both of which have yet to pop.

The quality might be the reason why the balloon lady let me in on a little secret: you can totally exchange your balloon. If it pops or flies away, just bring your receipt and any balloon remains to the nearest person selling balloons to get a replacement.

Now, let’s say you bought your balloon at Magic Kingdom. The balloon floated away on your way to the car, but you’re not going to Magic Kingdom the next day. You’re going to Disney Hollywood Studios.

Doesn’t matter. Take your receipt to the balloon seller at Hollywood Studios and they’ll get a replacement with no hassle.

Yes, I was tempted to take my receipt to the balloon seller at Hollywood Studios to score a second awesome balloon dishonestly.

No, I did not follow through.

Eat before you go to the park.


Last time we went to Disney World, we tried to wake up early and get there as soon as the parks opened. It was May. It was muggy. Everyone got moody.

So this time, we left a little later in the morning, grabbing a leisurely brunch on the way there. One day we did pancakes in the timeshare (which was once again kindly given to us as a gift by a family member), another we hit up a diner, etc.

In turn, we grabbed one meal, generally at a quick-serve place, while we were at the park and stayed out past bedtime.

If we judge by happiness levels, this was a much better plan. Although another contributing factor may have been the time of year.

I mean, was I happy to pay $60-$70 for quick-serve food? No. But if I’m honest, the quality of food there was higher than what we would have gotten at the fast food joint I would have stopped on the way home out of sheer exhaustion. The price wasn’t ideal, but…

Budget-wise, it was a major win over last year. We ate far fewer meals at the park total, and I cut the character meals altogether. We had already done that once, and the hack I found to meet characters for free for sure at a scheduled time was employed heavily this time around. Calling it a hack might seem like a bit much, but after you’ve spent money on the character meals, it feels like one heck of a hack.

So we didn’t have to stress about meal plans, It also meant we weren’t rushing around to make our reservations because we didn’t have any. So. much. less. stress.

And so much less money.

Ordering professional photos.

Around the different parks, you’ll see opportunities to get your picture taken. Sometimes it’s with mascots, sometimes it’s just at a scenic park. We noticed a bunch of these especially in Animal Kingdom.

I don’t have the best camera on my phone and I’m not the best photographer, so this time I made sure to purposefully take advantage. I tried to bunch together all our professional picture taking at two parks so I could pay to buy the photos from the Disney app for each day. By only doing two days, I was able to save money over paying the “whole trip” price.

Unfortunately I did that last time. There were just too many great memories and pictures. But I did learn the bunching method from that experience.

Do you have Disney World savings tips?

What are your favorite Disney savings hacks? Leave them in the comments!