Category Archives: Family Finance

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!

 

Disney on Ice: Mickey’s Search Party Comes to #Pittsburgh

Logo with Mickey Mouse ice skating reads: "Presented by Feld Entertainment Disney on Ice." Green, glowing lettering reads "Pittsburgh February 28-March 3, 2019" Character Maui from DIsney's movie Moana is standing on the ice holding his hook, mist floating up from the surface over an illuminated green spea on a balck background.

This past weekend, I took the kids to see Monster Jam Triple Threat. I initially wanted to go primarily to watch the enjoyment on my kids’ faces, but once we were there…

It was pretty impressive. You got to vote for who you think should win each segment by ranking each truck’s performance with your smart phone. It was really easy and the kids got a huge kick out of it.

There was this one part where the trucks were doing stunts on just two wheels. Favorite part. For sure. I went into this knowing three monster trucks in total: Grave Digger, El Toro Loco and Zombie. If I came out learning nothing else, it was the name of another truck to my lexicon: Soldier Fortune.

Next Up: Disney on Ice presents Mickey’s Search Party

Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Disney's Toy Story link arms and pose on ice skates in the dark with backlit hay bales behind them.

Because of my work, we get to go to live performances for free pretty regularly. Some organizations I’ll work with on a repeat basis, and some I won’t, depending on how their cost:value ratio stacks up for you guys.

Feld Entertainment is one of those companies I end up working with again and again. They put together great events like Monster Jam, on top of past Disney on Ice performances we’ve attended.

The ticket prices are affordable, and the entertainment value is tip-top. Which is why I’m super excited that Disney on Ice is coming through town again! This time, they’re showing Mickey’s Search Party, which sounds pretty fun:

Join Mickey Mouse and his friends at Disney On Ice presents Mickey’s Search Party, a brand-new adventure filled with world-class skating, high-flying acrobatics and unexpected stunts! Help them follow Captain Hook’s treasure map and look for clues in the search for Tinker Bell in immersive, fantastic worlds. Explore the colorful spirit realm of Coco in Miguel’s Disney On Ice debut, sail away with Moana as she bravely saves her island, see Belle in the sky above you as the enchanted chandelier comes to life, and sing-along with Elsa in the icy world of Frozen.

Make memories with your whole family during Aladdin, Toy Story and The Little Mermaid as the search party becomes an all-out magical celebration on the ice, in the air, and all around!

Also, it looks pretty fun:

Why I Love Disney on Ice

When I was growing up, I thought Disney on Ice was so expensive. Prohibitively so.

So when I went to my first Disney on Ice with Feld Entertainment, I was shocked when I saw the ticket prices. For example, this Mickey’s Search Party, which is showing eight times at PPG Paints Arena from February 28 to March 3, 2019, has tickets starting at $15.

Yet the performance still has me feeling like the tickets are pricey. It’s the like the non-alcoholic, kiddie version of champagne lifestyle on a beer budget. And I love it.

How to Make Sign Language Valentines

Pinning so I can help my kids make these sign language Valentines in February!

Studying other languages shows us the similarities and differences between the ways we all communicate as human beings, opening up such great beauty.

For example, German and Welsh among other languages seem to have an endless supply of compound words for complex concepts. As I study Japanese, I’m recognizing loan words not just from English, but also Russian. My previous studies also help in the noun declension–a practice that is foreign to American English grammar.

As you get the kids ready for Valentines Day, I wanted to share a project I worked on some years back that brought together the beauty of love and foreign language. It was way more frugal than buying boxed Valentines. I used American Sign Language’s visual modality to create cards in the language’s one, singular sign that takes three English words to express:

“I love you.”

Materials

When I made these, I completely lucked out.  I found these foam heart cut-outs at the store that just happened to be the exact right size to fit into the palm of a hand. They also came with a little stand.

The teachers loved this because they could stick them on top of their computers, desks, you name it.  You were supposed to put a photo in them, but I just used the hole to address mine. They were $1 and I think I got 25.

No need to fear, though.  You can simply use hearts cut out of construction paper.  That’s what I had the students I worked with do the next year when we made these.

You’ll need:

  • skin tone colored construction paper or cardstock (you can gets packs of this at somewhere like Staples or Office Max for a ton cheaper than  at crafting or scrapbook stores.)
  • pink/red construction paper or card stock (or purple.  Or really whatever colors you want to make your hearts.)
  • scissors
  • a pen or pencil for tracing
  • a pen or sharpie for addressing

How to Make Your Valentines

  1. Trace your or your child’s hand onto one of the pieces of paper.  Do it as many times as you can fit without overlapping.  When I did this, I traced my hand every….single….time.  In a day of 3-in-1 printers, that probably isn’t necessary.  Just do one, and use the copy feature on your printer to copy the hands onto the skin toned paper.
  2. Cut out the hands.
  3. Cut out hearts. Mess around with the first one  until you get it the right size to fit in the hands. Then use it as a pattern to cut out all the rest of them.
  4. Glue the hearts onto the palms of the hands.
  5. Bend the ring and the middle fingers down so they are holding the heart, but not covering it. Glue the two fingers down.
  6. Write your “To/From” info in the middle of your heart and you’re done!

Uncommon Gifts from Uncommon Goods

This post is in partnership with Uncommon Goods.

I LOVE Uncommon Goods. Did so much of my holiday shopping there this year!

What do you get someone who has an obsession with tacos?

Or travel?

Or animal balloons?

Or sensory toys?

You could get them a taco kit. Or plane tickets (you baller, you.) Or an animal balloon kit. Or a super soft blanket.

But those are all such predictable buys.

Today, I want to show you a shopping solution that lead me to find totally unique. This shopping solution treats their workers fairly, and has something for everyone.

This shopping solution is Uncommon Goods.

Uncommon Gifts from Uncommon Goods

I’ve been crushing on Uncommon Goods for years. Their products are unique and fun, and each one comes with a story. I was super excited when they approached me to review some of their products as I still had some people on my shopping list. Here’s what I got with my budget, and the story behind each piece.

Uncommon Gift for the Taco Lover

gifts for taco lovers

I’d like to introduce you to Tricerataco. He’s BPA-free, lead-free and phthalate-free, so he’s completely safe for holding your food in lieu of or in addition to a plate. He’s extinct, so he’s literally got nothing better to do with his time. Also, he’s going to my brother-in-law who, on everyday of our vacation, went to a taco stand to sate the craving. Dedication, man, dedication.

Hey, family, if you’re reading this, it would be awesome if you could not tell brother-in-law until after December 25. 😉

The Uncommon Nightlight

led dog night light

This is a gift for child and mother. I think the child part is pretty obvious: an adorable and functional gift that chases away monsters at night!

But for me, it’s nice for a couple reasons. First, the Balloon Dog Nightlight can be turned on simply by squeezing its silicone paw, which makes it super easy for kiddo. Second, I have this issue where I always forget to turn the night light off after the kids are asleep. This leads to drained batteries and ultimately an abandonment of said night light.

Well, this night light is different. It automatically turns off after 30 minutes of emanating glowing cuteness, which means the batteries are going to last me a heck of a lot longer.

Uncommon Building Blocks

sound activated blocks

What kid doesn’t love building blocks? I know mine do–we’ve even been to expos celebrating that love.

But these Sound-Activated Blocks add two new layers of sensory play to the equation. First, they light up! You can have your creation lit solid, fade in and out or flash. If you want to get really fancy, you can add that second sensory aspect: sound. You can literally clap to light up your creation–or to black it out.

We’re gonna have so much fun.

Novelty Books

100 tales of extraordinary women

I first spotted this title when Jana and I were scouring Dallas for independent book shops. I fell in love, but my wait-and-see-if-I-still-really-want-it rule kicked in.

I did still really want it days later. And now, over a year later. Regardless of the gender of my children, learning the stories of strong women is something I want to implement with them, as they’re not as common in history books and general education.

So I was over-the-moon excited to see that Uncommon Goods carried Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. I mean, of course they do! The book’s awesome, and that’s what they specialize in: carrying awesome products.

Uncommon Scratch-Off Map

map your travels

Guys, I’m so bad. I got my last Christmas present for me.

I’ve been eyeing one of these Scratch-Off Travel Maps for years, and just couldn’t resist when I saw it in the Christmas Gift section at Uncommon Goods.

The idea is this: when you travel somewhere, you scratch it off. If you have a travel maniac on your hands, their goal will probably be to scratch off as much of that map as possible, revealing the beautiful colors underneath the gold foil.

It’s hella cool. I’ll be posting my own map, how it looks in my room and all the places I’ve traveled over the next few days on Instagram. Follow me to catch all the goodness!

Common Questions About Uncommon Goods

Okay, so we know Uncommon Goods has cool products, but what about pricing? Ethics? Can I get it in time for Christmas?

Let’s review each one of those.

Is Uncommon Goods affordable?

It all depends on what you’re buying. The products featured above range in price from $12 to $48. After doing some comparison shopping on like–though not identical–items, I’ve found these prices to be fair.

If you’re on a tight budget, you can browse the Under $25 section, which has some awesome gifts. Think avocado tree starter kits, top 100 movie scratch-off posters, solar photography kits, llama socks and more.

What do they do with the money they make?

uncommon goods

Pay their employees a fair wage and treat them like human beings. They’re doing this without undercutting market pricing to gain huge industry shares, unlike other companies you might be shopping with this holiday season.

Can I still get my gifts in time for Christmas?

Yes! If you order today and select 3-5 day shipping, it should be there in time for Christmas. Three to five day shipping costs $9.95, but I have a hack for you.

Right now, if you join Uncommon Goods as a member for $19, you get free 3-5 day shipping for a year. You will also get two $5 credits in 2019. So:

$19-$5-$5=$9

If you can front the extra ten dollars, you’d actually save $0.95 long-term by signing up for membership right now and still get your presents on time for Christmas. Just be sure to double check the dates on that 3-5 day shipping–depending on where you live and what day/time you place your order, your results may vary from mine.

How are all their products so awesome?

I know, right?