Reader Mailbag: Decoration Day and Memorial Day

Memorial Day is pretty much just confusing to me. It’s theoretically a day to honor fallen soldiers, but most people just go on vacation or play in the yard.

What happened to Decoration Day, which is May 30 of each year? That’s the original date created to honor those soldiers that have served our country in times of war, started after the Civil War. As the Civil War veterans began to pass away, it gradually turned into our modern day Memorial Day, which mixed some notions of American exceptionalism together with a convenient three day weekend at the beach. To me, that really waters down the point.

Charles Ives’ poem Decoration Day captures what I wish this day was – and what it could be. But it’s lost amid the jet skis and the barbecue grills.

I love Computers and couldn’t survive with out the internet. I wouldnt say im a geek, as i dont play video games at all, and love sports. Im 17 years old, and live in the west coast, California. I currently work at Starbucks with minimum wage (the job sucks!). So im contacting you today because ive spent the past couple of months stressing about careers, as im graduating high school soon. Ive been looking for things i could do online as a career, or even a entrepreneur like you.

For the past 4 years, ive been really active on youtube running a Technology Channel: http://youtube.com/yutubemedia, with tutorials and gadget reviews, and recently have become a youtube partner, allowing me to make a small amount of money off of ads on each video. I also make about $200 a month off a GPT website called CashCrate.com, perhaps you have heard of it. Of all that $200 is from referrals.

Anyways, So ive been looking to start making a career online, and have tried some programs such as “richjanitor.com” which didnt work out at all. So im emailing you today, hoping that you could help get me jump started like you. Im wishing to not have to pay for any program, but to get some 1 on 1 support from you to help me get started. I would love to be your testimonial of success. I would preach of your work to everyone, and promote you on my youtube channel, which gets over 215,000 views a month. You sound like a great guy from the things ive read about you online, I really hope you can help me out, it would be un imaginable.
- Mike

Most online programs that promise to help you earn a great living online don’t work. Ignore all of them. You do not earn $100,000 a year online within three months of starting in your spare time on your own or with any program. It just doesn’t happen.

The key to making money online is traffic. Nothing more, nothing less. The more traffic you have, the more you earn. (Not all traffic is created the same, but that’s a different subject.)

The way to get traffic is to make content people want to read and that they want to return to. It sounds like you have a good start at that with your technology channel on YouTube. You need to be patient and keep adding good content.

What you’ll find over time is that every piece you put up will get a slow “long tail” of traffic each month. So, let’s say each of your videos gets just 50 views each month. Well, if you have 20 videos up, that’s 1,000 views a month. If you have 200 videos up, that’s 10,000 views a month. If you can get 2,000 videos made, that’s 100,000 views a month.

If they’re high quality, though, traffic will begin to drive itself. People will see one of your videos and watch some more. If you just have a few videos, there aren’t many to watch and they’ll leave quickly and probably forget about them. If you have tons of videos, they’re not likely to get through them all and they’ll probably bookmark the site. You’ll eventually stick in their minds and they’re more likely to share your stuff, driving more traffic.

Your best bet, honestly, is to just pump out those good videos as fast as you can while still maintaining the quality. You already have the snowball rolling there – keep it up.

I’ve told myself it will be fine, that we have our rental agreement and my son is responsible, but deciding to rent our home to him and his family is a concern still. I’m not sure what his wife will do when paying the rent gets too “hard”. We believe the risk is worth it to see them enjoying our home, but is it too risky?
- Abigail

These types of arrangements always make me uncomfortable, and it has nothing to do with the risk.

Whenever you enter into an arrangement like this, you’re transforming a parent-child relationship into a landlord-renter arrangement. The “rules” of these two arrangements are very different from each other – most people don’t have loving feelings for their landlords and view it as a merely financial arrangement.

What you’re doing is multiplying the chances that the relationship between you is damaged. If the parent-child relationship is soured or the landlord-renter relationship is soured, then you’re going to have a strong negative impact on the overall relationship.

For me, the parent-child relationship is one that, if it’s healthy, can be incredibly valuable for both of you. I wouldn’t rent to my child unless it was under the assumption that it didn’t matter if they didn’t pay me, thus eliminating the landlord-renter arrangement from the equation.

It’s not the financial risk that would worry me, it’s the relationship risk.

If I were you, I’d try really hard to move on from this, even if it means stepping in as a parent to help them buy a house elsewhere or something like that.

One topic that I don’t think that I’ve seen you cover and would like to see what you have to say about it is the finances of adoption. My husband and I adopted a domestic newborn boy about 10 months ago (our first child). We are now planning on adopting internationally for our next 2 children, most likely through a lawyer from the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have noticed that one of the main things we mention when we talk about adoption is the money. Domestic adoptions can cost anywhere from $10k-$40k depending on the method of adoption, birthmother considerations, and, shockingly, the race of the child. International adoptions tend to run from 18k-30k, depending on the country.

We are Christian school teachers (so, we don’t make much money) and the type of people that, if finances would permit, would adopt several more children. There are so many factors that affect the cost of the adoption process, and so many people have different suggestions for how to raise that money, running the spectrum from garage sales to adoption credit cards and home equity loans. There are also time considerations–often a huge chunk of the money is due at an unpredictable time (when you happen to be matched with a child or birthmother). Plus, many adoption situations have upper age limits for parents, and since my husband is 12 years older than me, it’s not like we can wait forever to get all our financial ducks in a row.

I would love to see what you have to say about this topic! With infertility on the rise across the country, I bet other couples would benefit from your advice on the matter.
- Monica

This is the truth of adoption and it’s one of the reasons my wife and I have been hesitant to do it. That’s a lot of money, an amount that, for many families, is destabilizing, and the entire point of adoption is to provide love and stability for the adopted child. So you essentially have two factors working in opposition to each other.

You already know the only real antidote for this – cash in the bank. Make sure you have a cash emergency fund (a few months’ worth of take-home pay) sitting in an account to deal with your current family’s crises, then start a second savings account and sock it away.

If you’re adopting domestically again, you may want to consider a private adoption, which can be a bit cheaper but has a different set of concerns and risks.

Whenever adoption is mentioned, people often mention foster homes. The problem with foster homes is that the law is bent against foster familes. The law essentially discourages building a long-term loving and trusting relationship between the foster child and the foster family because the foster child can be removed essentially at any time. This type of relationship takes a very special type of person or family to make it work – successful foster parenting isn’t something that many people can do. I consider the foster system to be just as broken as the adoption system.

I am a United States citizen and currently live in California, but I will be living in France during the next two to three years and am thinking about some financial questions, mainly about my tax situation, and thought you might be able to help. I will work as a freelance editor and as an editor for my university, but also may do some teaching, partly for people (or institutions) in the United States and partly for people in France, and so I probably will have to file two forms at least for 2011.

Do you whether income counts as American or French, based on where I live, or based on where the person who pays me lives? I know about the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion but haven’t been able to find out anything else that pertains to my situation on the State Department site or the site of the Consulat in Los Angeles, the two most obvious sources; everything is written exclusively either from the French or American point of view and doesn’t consider hybrid situations such as my own.

I want to make sure I follow the law but also am thinking that some good planning could land me in a lower tax bracket or have other benefits. Can you offer any advice or recommend any other sources?
- Tom

As a U.S. citizen, your worldwide income is subject to the U.S. income tax regardless of where you’re living. The FEIE you mention above applys when you are not living in the U.S. and your employer is not based in the U.S.

I do not know how French income tax law works, but if you are a resident there, you’re likely going to have to pay some form of income tax in France as well. My understanding (which is admittedly poor on this subject) is that if you are not a French citizen but living in France for a short period, you would only have to pay French income taxes on money earned from French businesses while living in France. You would have to pay U.S. income taxes on all money earned.

Yes, it’s a double whammy, but governments want their tax dollars.

I never watch infomercials; never! But the other day, I paused to watch one when I saw that the product they were advertising was the Magic Jack. In short, it seemed like for $3.33 a month (or a one time fee per year actually), you can carry a jack which plugs into your computer…plug a regular land line into the jack and call out anywhere in the US and Canada. If anyone has a M. Jack anywhere in the world, they can call you and talk unlimited for the same price. But I think that it is the same as Skype in that you can only call out.
- James

MagicJack is great if it works. I have one friend who swears by it.

I have another friend who used MagicJack for several months and was incredibly happy at first. Eventually, though, he began to complain that many of his calls were suffering from him being able to hear the caller but the caller not being able to hear him, so he dropped the service after seven months.

My impression from their stories and from reading a lot of reviews is that it works best if you have a very, very high speed connection that doesn’t suffer many slowdowns during peak traffic periods. If that describes your connection, then MagicJack will probably work well. If you have a lower-end high speed package, then you’re likely to see problems.

One note: MagicJack (and Skype) both give you your own number so people can call you up. You just have to have your computer on to receive the calls.

So here’s where I stand now:

Keybank VISA, 0 balance, 7.99%, 3200 limit, no rewards
Chase VISA, 0 balance, 18.24%, 5500 limit, no rewards
I also have a card from a store where I buy most of my clothes with a rewards program and I’m thinking about getting a Chevron VISA with a gas rewards program. I want to keep both of these because of the rewards programs.
Altogether I’ll have at least $12K in available credit. I don’t need this much.

Here’s my dilemma, I still think I should close either the Chase card, or the Keybank card – simply because I don’t need as much credit as I have available and I want to reduce the temptation to run it up again. I’m going to try to negotiate a lower rate with Chase, and if I’m successful this comes down to a question of service.

I’ve always received excellent customer service from Chase (I even refinanced my car with them partly for the quality of service). My experience with Keybank has not always been perfect, but there haven’t been any deal-killers (aside from the fees they used to charge on my checking account that led me to switch to a credit union) and the issues I’ve had with them were of the nobody’s-perfect variety. And I’m taking their revisions to the credit program to mean they’re seriously trying to improve some things. I vote with my dollar right? So I’d like to give Keybank a chance, but I don’t want to abandon Chase. I believe that you shouldn’t abandon a company that’s always treated you well unless you no longer need their service.

So back to my questions:
How much credit is too much credit?
Do you think I should close one of these accounts?
Which account should I close?

- Julie

I wouldn’t close any of the accounts. I don’t think you have excessive credits. I have one card with more credit than all of yours combined.

The problem seems to be that you worry about your own ability to control your spending habits. If that’s the case, hide some of the cards from yourself. Freeze them in a block of ice (fill a pan half full with water, freeze it, lay your cards on the ice, fill it up the rest of the way with water, freeze it again). Cut them up, even.

If you feel you must cancel a card, cancel your most recent card. Always keep your oldest credit card because it’s the one that establishes the length of your credit history, and the longer it is, the better it helps your credit score.

I am American and live overseas with my foreign husband. I am almost finished with my Masters degree which focuses on the European Union. My husband and I are planning a move/to start a family over the course of the next 1.5 years and as it is difficult for me to find work that interests me in this country, I am looking into different jobs I can do online/from home. I have experience teaching English and a little experience editing. I would like to get more involved with the editing but am unsure as to how to go about finding more work. I recently secured 2 freelance editing jobs but need a few more in order for us to be able to save the amount of money we need to move and start a family. There are many websites (guru.com, elance.com, gofreelance.com, etc) where editing jobs are posted and you can post your resume as well. The thing is that most of these websites charge for membership (seems like $10 and up a month). In addition, some of them also take a percentage of what you earn. Would you recommend using these websites to get started? If not, what are other ways I can find editing work online or other online/work at home jobs.
- Meagan

Those websites are a good place to start. They will help you get starting jobs and contacts.

Ideally, though, that’s exactly what they are – a starting point. Eventually, you’ll be able to actually build relationships with people who need your services and, over time, the jobs will come directly from them, not through the websites.

This will not happen overnight, though. The competition on such sites is fierce because a lot of people want to do what you’re doing. You have to be doing quality work to stand out – if you’re not doing good work, they can easily just cast a line right back into that job pool.

My husband and I are having our first child in September. Last night I finally sat down and crunched the budget numbers and it was quite a wake up call — babies are expensive! Of course I knew that one level, but to see it on the spreadsheets was a bit of a shock.

My husband and I make about the same amount of money — around $28,000 a year after taxes. He is an EMT, I’m a weekly newspaper editor. I’ve been working in my field for eight years, he just got his license and is in the first month of his job as a aluminum plant staff EMT/firefighter.

We do have credit card and hospital bill debt in the range of $20,000. We do not have a mortgage, and we rent a house for $600/month. We share one car (I used a company car for work).

After crunching the numbers, I realized with both of us working, it would stretch our budget to the limit, and into more debt, to pay for childcare and other baby costs. Also, we’d have to have a second car since I need to tote our baby boy around to and from daycare when my husband is at work, adding even more costs to our budget.

If I quit my job, we’d save at least $500 a month, and probably more in baby costs. I would be better able to breastfeed and I’d love to use cloth diapers. Also, I would be cooking 95% of the time, and there would be no need for a second car ($200-$300 a month).

This is such a major decision! I worry that my child won’t be properly socialized if he’s not in some sort of daycare, and I worry about isolation — I have been a driven career-woman all of my adult life, and I do enjoy the duties of my work, just not the pay and lack of really any benefits. However, I went through a job loss a few years back and it really helped me learn there’s more to life, and me, than my job identity.
- Sarah

There are support circles in most communities for stay-at-home parents where they meet together in parks and other public places for the purpose of socializing their kids (and socializing with each other about shared experiences). If you’re interested in doing this, seek out people already doing it in your community and ask how they make it work. Ask around. You don’t have to be isolated.

As for the financial part of the equation, it really, really depends on where you live. If you live in a rural area, a family of three can make it on $28K. If you live in a higher-cost urban area, it won’t work – there won’t be enough to make ends meet.

Given the amount of debt you’re carrying, I’m not sure you’re making ends meet now, let alone with another family member and a halving of your income. Even with the savings from doing that, it’s not going to make up for the huge loss in income without some very radical life changes (like moving to a lower-cost area and dropping your standard of living a fair amount). I can’t answer for you whether you’re up to that.

Have you ever tried making your own windshield washer fluid? I’ve heard that a solution of vinegar and water in equal parts works well. How much of a cost savings do you think it would be?
- Tanya

If you live in a climate where the temperature never goes below freezing, this should be fine. However, a water-vinegar mixture will freeze at about 30 degrees F, making it impossible to use at that temperature. Most windshield washing solution freezes at a much lower point (often around -20 F), which makes a huge difference here in Iowa.

So, if you live anywhere north of the southern tier of states, I wouldn’t try it. If you live in southern Texas or something where the temperature never drops to freezing, give it a shot – a water-vinegar mix can be a great cleaner.

After all, you don’t want it freezing up on you if you go outside to drive when it’s 25 F out. When you’re below freezing but not so cold that the salt doesn’t work and the roads are covered in wet, grimy sooty water that splashes up on your windshield, the last thing you want is for your windshield cleaner to be frozen.

So finally I think we have our financial house in order. All our debts except the house are paid off. For past 3-years we have been maxing out our 401K’s and Roth’s. Bought a house with 20% down, good emergency fund, term-life insurance, following frugality tips, buying index-fund ETF’s. Basically been doing everything that PF gurus have been recommending. While I was aggressively paying off debt, saving money for home, etc I had something to look forward to. Now everything is on auto-pilot. It definitely saves me time. But it seems that I was so focused on the financial aspect for the past 3-years, that I have lost interest in everything else. I don’t like spending money on anything. I tried setting aside some fun-money and I do spend it, but I don’t derive any fun out of it. It’s not that I have turned asocial or anything but I just feel bored all the time. By the way, we are not rich or have very high paying jobs but are super-aggressive savers. Oh I forgot, we have a 2-yr old and I do love spending time with him. I’m not depressed
- Sam

Your answer is in your next to last sentence: “we have a 2-yr old and I do love spending time with him.”

The exact same thing happened to me. We had a child and I discovered, especially as he reached his toddler years, I often enjoyed playing in the yard with him more than I enjoyed spending time and money on other endeavors. I also began to feel that it was more important to keep him financially safe and secure than to spend money on other things.

The key for me was finding fun free stuff to do. I got involved in the parks and recreation service in my town, which has tons of free activities. I’m going to coach both my four year old and my two year old in soccer in the fall (the two year old will be three by then). I got involved in volunteer activities and committees. Most of my time is now filled with stuff that doesn’t cost money to participate in, and that itself has a very positive impact on our finances.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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49 thoughts on “Reader Mailbag: Decoration Day and Memorial Day

  1. spaces says:

    Tom — International taxation is often driven by bilateral treaty, and the US-France relationship is no exception. The treaties settle which country gets to tax what income, with the effect that a treaty protects individuals from being taxed by both countries.

    Here is a link to the materials: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/international/article/0,,id=169505,00.html

    I recommend consulting with an accountant to make sure you’re filing the appropriate items to get the treaty benefits, income exclusion, etc.

  2. Gumnos says:

    For Mike, I’d also work on using correct orthography. While it may seem hip to type in text-message/SMS style writing, unless you’re intentionally trying to exclude broad appeal, using a lower-case “i” as the first-person pronoun comes across as highly unprofessional (the lack of apostrophes in your contractions may have been a technical glitch; but if not, I’d work to ensure they’re present too).

  3. Scott says:

    Trent,
    Tom can deduct the amount of taxes he pays to France from his US income taxes. He is not taxed twice.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I think when it comes to adoption there are a lot of issues to consider from a non-financial viewpoint. I think you should think about the following things:

    1. Especially with international adoption, are you certain that the child is an orphan? Are you certain- absolutely certain- that there is no other family that could take that child in? What is your motivation for taking a child internationally? If you are looking to make sure that the family can never step back into the kid’s life- look at that. Are you really looking for what is best for the kid, or are you interested in having a kid? Is it perhaps the case that the $20,000 you are spending to adopt the kid could be spent to keep the kid with their family? Or at least improve the place the kid is so that it viable to stay in the place they live? This is about ethics, and you cannot ignore this as you go into adoption. It may be less ethical to adopt.

    2. How are you going to keep that kid aware of and informed about their homeland? They are not American-born, and deserve to know about their homeland/ culture. If you adopt some Nigerian children, and bring them into a lily-white suburb, realize that this is going to cause issues. You may have to move to a more diverse area. You may have to do lots of reading on racism. You may have to find people from that culture that can help the kid through the issues that can come from being adopted trans-atlantically. You may have to accept that your kid may identify more with said homeland than America, or their native religion.

    3. Are you going to stick that kid on a plane and send them back to their homeland? Because that makes you a jerk. Full stop.

    I think people tend to go into international adopt thinking they are doing the kid a favor, and… that’s not really the case. Or at least, it is not necessarily so. The recent Haitian earthquake brought out a lot of people who wanted to go in there, post-terrible devastation, and strip the land of its cute lil babies, and really, if you want to help Haiti, you would be better to help the adults and keep families together. If you just want babies- well, you are not helping Haitians, now are you?

  5. chacha1 says:

    Re first LW Mike … I realize things are different in some industries. But I would not hire or invest in anyone – even someone as clearly motivated and creative and productive as he is – who writes what is essentially a “pitch” letter entirely in text/im-speak. That’s just unprofessional.

    Anybody who is writing to request backing, or even just professional advice, needs to write a professional letter. He’s got the brains to do it. He needs to take the time to do it.

  6. KC says:

    Julie – Concerning how much credit is too much – as long as you don’t have a problem being tempted to use the credit you should be fine. My husband and I probably have over $100k in available credit card credit. And we use our credit cards all the time. We pay them off monthly and have for years. Our credit score is over 800. So as long as you use your credit responsibly, $12k is not too much credit. In fact you probably have less available credit than most people in this country (many who are less responsible than you).

    My only concern with having too many credit cards (regardless of their credit line) is that you are more at risk for credit theft. But it is a small concern. Just stay on top of all your credit cards – checking them monthly, even if you aren’t using them.

  7. Emerson Cho says:

    Have you read “game over: how you can prosper in a shattered economy”. The book received good reviews, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on its ideas.

    The book talks about how commodities will run out very soon and which commodities and governments to invest in.

  8. Robert says:

    Adoption:

    International adoption is very expensive.

    Domestic adoption can be very cheap. Trent mentions foster care and calls it a broken system. Each foster system is run by the individual state and in some states is it much better than others. Tennessee has an excellent foster care system and adoption setup. Missouri on the other hand has lots of problems. And from what I have heard, Kansas’ system is very similar to TN. Foster care is much much different than it was in the 70s when the horror stories that Trent speaks of when he calls it a broken system. I’d encourage anyone interested to look into it – the information is free and will be freely given. There is only a small time investment required.

    The 2 children my wife and I have may become adoptable at some point in the future. It depends on what is decided with their parents. If they become adoptable, then my wife and I will have the opportunity to adopt them if we want to. If it is decided they will go back with their parents, then all that we did was love 2 children for a while and take care of them while they were in our care.

  9. Michelle says:

    Sarah – I made the same choice when we had our first baby, and I haven’t regretted it! We now have 3 children, and between playgroups, playdates, and a mom co-op preschool, socialization is not an issue. My oldest is going to Kindergarten and doing just fine. As for me, I’ve found a lot of ways to volunteer, I got involved in La Leche League (which is very child friendly), and eventually became a group leader. I am involved with several community organizations. That satisfies my need to have more in my life than changing diapers and cleaning bathrooms. I use a childcare swap to reduce the cost of finding childcare during my board meetings. I would definitely encourage you to make the leap!

  10. Michele says:

    Trent, the first thing you should have told ‘Mike’ is to continue his education. The poor child can’t spell or construct a sentence. No wonder the work at Starbucks ‘sucks’. He is facing a lifetime of low-level work with such poor language skills!

  11. Brian says:

    @Tom: Money you earn in the U.S. won’t be subject to French taxes. End of story.

    Money you earn in France will be subject to French taxes based on their laws for foreign workers. It should be straightforward to find that information on the website of the French tax office. If it is not, go to the tax office and ask them in person. They’ll definitely tell you how it works (I mean, they want you to file and pay them after all).

    As for declaring foreign income in the U.S., the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion does mean you will likely not have to pay any taxes to Uncle Sam on the money you earn abroad (assuming your total is under the limit), but you still have to file a tax return on it (though in my experience many/most people working abroad under the limit do not if they have no American income or other reason to file). It isn’t too complicated (as far as taxes go) and can probably be figured on in an afternoon.

    So: 1. Find out the tax law for foreign workers in France and file taxes on only French earnings there.
    2. Gather your W2s from any American earnings you have. Also note your gross income and tax liability in France (you just need the #s).
    3. Fill out a tax return declaring all your W2s and filling out Form 2555 (FEIE). It’s easy enough to navigate if all you have is W2s and FEIE. If your tax issues are more complicated, Form 2555 is straightforward and your tax preparer should have no problems (though they may not be familiar with it).

    I recently went though this rigmarole on foreign income so I could file FAFSA for grad school. I did the research online and filed myself. Good luck!

  12. Jennifer Lissette says:

    Sam – I’ve recently been experiencing the same feeling. Even though getting the financial house in order can be scary, I LIKED doing it. You didn’t mention if you have a 529 for your child. The upper limits of 529 contributions are amazingly high. Perhaps your child’s college savings could be your new area on which to focus. Also, personally, I realized that finance in general interests me a lot more now than it did in college. As a result, I’m signing up for an online economics course at one of the local colleges. This will allow me to follow up on my interest & help keep me challenged and engaged when my son isn’t available to play.

  13. DCexpat says:

    If you don’t like what Memorial Day has turned into, why don’t you make it a point to do some activity that honors veterans this weekend?

  14. Sharon says:

    I agree with Michele #5.

    Also, possibly depending on the state, there are different ways to adopt through the foster care system. It is allowed to state that you only want a baby which is legally free for adoption. There will be a longer wait but it is possible. The more factors you ask insist on, the longer the wait but it can happen. Sibling groups, race, gender, age and emotional needs are all factors “the system” considers negative. The more flexibility you have for those, the more likely you will be able to get a legally free child/children in a reasonable amount of time. If you want a single caucasion baby girl who is legally free you will have a long wait.
    Also something I didn’t realize until I researched it…you can adopt ACROSS state lines from the foster system. There are a few more expenses for this but nothing like the $40,000 of other adoptions. Think a couple thousand maybe for a private homestudy and travel expenses.

  15. TLS says:

    Tom – I am a U.S. citizen who lived and worked abroad for over a decade. Working with the tax codes of two countries is no easy matter, and your situation is rather complex. What I suggest is, when you are in France, to find a tax professional who is versed in both US and French tax laws. There are professionals who do this, with services aimed at American expats. Yes, this will cost you money, but it will save you a big headache. There may also be a treaty between the U.S. and France to prevent double taxation, but it may exclude certain situations. I know there is an association in France for American expats – they may have a list of tax professionals who could help you. Good luck.

  16. Sandy says:

    Decoration Day is still observed at some if not all, Veteran’s cemetaries. I’ve taken groups of Girl Scouts to the services at the cemetary nearest us, and there is a service, and Scouts of all ages put flags on every grave. Very moving ceremony, actually.

  17. Sandy says:

    If Tom is going to France with a corporation, that should be part of his benefits package..dealing with the taxation abroad. Did they change the rules on overseas income? When we have been abroad (4 times/3 countrries), Americans could earn (tax free) up to a certain amount..I think it was about $80,000. It will affect your income taxes not only while you are there, but also the year (or 2) after you return from overseas, so keep immaculate records if you company is not doing the tax stuff for you.

  18. lhamo says:

    Correction to your note about the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion — it does not matter at all if your employer is US based, the FEIE applies based on your personal situation regarding time spent out of the country and where you did the work that earned the income concerned. My husband and have been claiming the FEIE since 2002, when we moved overseas, and have always worked for US-based employers. Our paychecks continue to be direct deposited into our US-based checking accounts. The only US-earned income we have is the prorated portion of our salaries that we earn during annual business trips back to the US. Everything else under the limit is excludable from US. federal income tax. You do still have to pay your portion of Social Security and Medicare, though, which your employer should deduct as normal if you are taking a paycheck. If you are set up as a consultant, I believe you will need to make estimated quarterly payments.

  19. Justin says:

    Trent – your comment “Always keep your oldest credit card because it’s the one that establishes the length of your credit history, and the longer it is, the better it helps your credit score” is a popular belief but it has been recently debunked:

    http://consumerist.com/2010/03/go-cancel-your-credit-card-the-score-ding-is-minimal.html

    In an attempt to simplify my finances and decrease my risk of identity theft, I canceled all but two credit cards, and neither was my oldest. As long as your debt-to-credit utilization remains low (zero is best of course) and you pay your bills on time, this simply will not affect you negatively.

  20. kristine says:

    Ditto on Mike’s poor writing skills. He is asking for a professional courtesy, yet chose to ignore basic business writing skills. His lack of awareness or disregard for business etiquette will be a huge liability.

  21. Leigh says:

    For adoption an option you did not mention is adopting from foster care. It usually means taking children who are not babies, but the transaction costs are very low to free. A friend in Canada was actually paid a stipend because they were below an income level.

  22. Amanda says:

    We have three close personal friends who have adopted through the foster system, and although it was a long process, we felt that the system worked for them. The case workers were understanding and helpful and the expenses to the family were minimal.

    Don’t give up on the foster system. Those kids need parents with a heart for the poor and the oppressed.

  23. Carrie says:

    Sarah –

    Regarding socialization – don’t worry too much about that. I live in a rural area, and there aren’t too many groups to participate in, but I think my 3 year old is pretty well adjusted. We go to church on Sundays, and occasionally attend our library’s weekly story time. My daughter doesn’t know too many kids her own age, but she gets along as well as kids her age who regularly attend daycare, and she has no trouble jumping right in when we are around other kids. As she gets older, we have more opportunities to participate in activities that will allow her to develop more friendships (like sports, dance, etc). Infants and toddlers are so mommy-centric, that having friends their own age is fun, but it doesn’t ruin the child if it’s mostly family time during the week.

    Regarding isolation, I can sympathize. If you can find groups for your kids to participate in, you will likely find other adults to connect with, as well. It can be a drastic change to go from career to stay at home parenting, but as with all career choices we make, sometimes there are things we might not like about our new job, even when we believe that it was the better choice for us/our family.

    Best wishes for you on your growing family!

  24. Jules says:

    On French taxes:

    Usually, if you’re working for a US company abroad, you have to file taxes in both countries (but you’ll get a substantial break for your US taxes). If you’re working for a XXXXXX-national company, then you’ll file taxes in the country, report your income to the IRS, but NOT have to pay US taxes.

  25. deRuiter says:

    Mike, go take a course in basic English composition, spelling, and how to write business letters. You will have to go to a business school and pay as the public school system does not appear to have served you well. Your letter is crass, smarmy and tacky, but must admit that you did get the publicity you want. I didn’t click on your links.
    Sarah, If you and your husband currently earn $56,000. after taxes and you owe $20,000. on credit cards and other debt, you do not have the money to stay home with a baby full time. Arrange for one of you to work full time days and the other to work full time nights. Once you have paid off all debt, then you can see about staying home with a child. You can’t afford your life now with two adults working, how are you going to pay for a baby too? You need to cut spending ASAP.

  26. Pattie, RN says:

    Sarah…as a nurse (Maternal-Child) and grandmother who spent five years as a SAHM, do NOT worry about “socialization”…..babies and toddlers need their mommies, not each other. Also, by making nutritious food from scratch and breasfeeding your baby is less likely to have expensive medical issues, esp. if s/he stays up to date with vaccines. Another benefit is that you can adjust your schedule around your hubby’s, so the child can still visit with daddy if he is working an off shift or long holiday weekend.

    Abigail..have you considered using a third party rental agent to manage the lease, payments, repairs,, etc? Takes you and family ties out of the equation……from what you are implying of their payment history, you’d better have a lease and someone to enforce it, IMHO.

  27. Jennifer says:

    I’m sorry to see that you didn’t discuss all the adoption tax credits – federal and often state – and the fact that there are many employers who offer adoption benefits. We adopted twice internationally – between the federal tax credit ($10K at the time), a state credit (ohio – $1500 at the time) and a employer adoption benefit (UPS – $5K), each of our adoptions cost us nothing in the end.

    I think it is a common misconception that adoption, even international adoption, is out of reach of many families. We are grateful for the programs that allowed us to adopt two amazing boys!

  28. Anne says:

    I’m going to come down on the unpopular side of Sarah’s situation. Sarah, first of all, if you’ve been in your field for 8 years and make $28,000 a year for full-time work, you’re in the wrong field or you’re not a “driven career woman.” Probably, the reality is a bit of both. Journalism is hard right now.

    Although the cost of infant day care is breath-taking, given the amount of debt you’re carrying, I suggest you look for another job or retrain for another field, not stay home to “save $500 a month.” If what you like about your career is getting out, talking to people, being where the action is, your personality is not going to change completely when the baby comes. If you don’t cook dinner now, what will be different that will make you cook at home 95% of the time after the baby comes? Will you end up needing or wanting a second car anyway in order to get to those cheap play dates and the grocery store? I don’t think the question is the baby’s socialization—several others have covered that—it’s whether you have the ability to live on a low income and make it work. Will you be able to keep up with your bills, much less make a dent in your debt?

    Don’t get me wrong. I am a mom, and my son’s infancy was the most magical time in the world for me. His life has literally made my life worth living. But being a stay at home mom is best accomplished from a position of financial stability, if not strength.

  29. Derek Cormier says:

    From my post on Derek’s Discourse about Memorial Day…

    “Memorial Day is not a time to simply celebrate…we have four other holidays in place that allow us to taste the sweet water of freedom that runs freely down the rivers and streams of this great land. But for one day…one moment…the melodic parties should subside and give way to a quiet remembrance of those did not and are not ever coming home and for those that still set an extra place at the dinner table so they never forget. “

  30. Meika says:

    @Tom, you might consider consulting with a tax attorney or accountant who has experience in this area. When we were overseas we worked with Deloitte & Touche and had no complaints; you might also be able to get references from your university or colleagues overseas. I agree with the others that you are not likely to need to pay full taxes in each country, but it does tend to be complicated.

  31. Mike says:

    Sarah,
    Have you looked @ working different shifts from your husband? I would think that as an EMT he would be able to work 2nd or 3rd shift when you would be at work. This would enable you to both work & avoid daycare.

  32. Brad says:

    Vinegar is an *acid*. I’m not a chemist but I can only think that using a vinegar and water mix for windshield washing fluid would have to result in noticeable paint damage over time. Noticeable enough that, if the appearance of the damage didn’t bother you personally, the resale value of the car would be hurt far beyond what you saved on the windshield washer fluid.

  33. Meika says:

    @Sarah,
    Consider carefully the trade-offs you’ll be making if you choose to be home with your child, and what your different options may be. Why will you need two cars if one is working for you now? Couldn’t you drop your husband off at work and continue on to daycare or vice versa? And why will quitting your job save you $500/month – is that what you’re figuring for daycare?

    I’m a little concerned for you when I hear you describe yourself as a drive career woman who loves her job for what it is. Please don’t give that up and choose to stay home just because you think it will save some money – you may be losing more in this trade-off than you think. Being with a small child full-time is grueling. Consider how strong your social network is and how you will get respite care – do you have friends and family who will provide this, or will you need to pay for it? Staying at home is not for everyone, and working doesn’t mean that you don’t adore your child as much as anyone else adores theirs. Speaking frankly, I made the very trade-off you’re considering, and I wouldn’t do it again. (Please note that I am not saying anything negative about stay-at-home parenting in general, only that it’s not for everyone.)

    Bottom line: I don’t know if you can make it work to you to stay home or not. It sounds questionable. I’m more concerned about if that would be a wise choice for you personally, and if it would ultimately contribute to or detract from your family’s happiness – because if you’re miserable and stressed and not making ends meet… well, that’s no good for anyone.

  34. Karen says:

    I generally agree with your comments and like your advice but I have to disagree about the foster care system in the United States being broken.

    In no way shape or form am I saying that it’s perfect or that there aren’t problems but I am learning over the years adoption is one of the best features. Instead of putting the priority on reuniting a broken family or one that is beyond dysfunction, the foster care system needs and revels in successful foster adoptions. Giving these children a permanent, stable home that has been vetted by professions and stood up to the scrutiny of the courts can be a godsend for the children. Yes, it may be somewhat risky for the prospective parents but so is traipsing to a foreign country where you have no assurances that the child is actually available not stolen and not at the mercy of local baby merchants and international red tape.

    Adoption is risky yes, so is fostering a child only to see it returned to a bad parent in the hopes that they’ve “recovered.” However, there are also financial resources from the various agencies and governments that you’re not going to receive with foreign adoptions.

    Overall, I think I was most struck by your tone in terms of foster-to-adoptions being “inconvenient” or “not a sure thing.” I guess as someone working with these children my focus is not what’s easiest for the prospective parents but what is best for children who are currently at risk.

  35. elderly librarian says:

    I think “MIKE” is simply talking the way 17 year old geeks talk these days. (If indeed, he is 17)
    Yes, his letter is self serving and totally conversational rather than literary, but considering my experience working online scoring K-12 achievement tests, I am beginning to think that most younger kids will write like this. Too bad.

  36. Rhonda says:

    Consider foster care adoption.
    I will be the first to say it is not perfect but it is free (at least in my state). Adopt.org shows listings of children that are adoptable and the parents rights have already been taken away. Basic foster care has emotional risk because they can be returned home. We have done it both ways and added 6 children to our birth 4.

  37. Jon says:

    I think the way that many people celebrate Memorial Day is fitting. Yes, the day is about honoring veterans, but I think if I was a veteran I would want people to do what most do on Memorial Day; I would want them to go out and enjoy the freedom that they have. To take a day a relax and take advantage of what veterans have fought for.

  38. Chantill says:

    Adoption:

    Adoption of any kind is a great thing. There is a form of adoption that I have not seen mentioned here: Adopting children who are currently in the foster care system, but are legally free for adoption (meaning their birth parents’ parental rights have been legally terminated). Sometimes this is called “special needs adoption” but there are many children classified as “special needs” just because they are older than an infant or they would like to be adopted as a sibling group.

    My husband and I live in Minnesota and have adopted our two wonderful daughters from Texas when they were the ages of 16 and 10, and they are 19 and 13 now. There are many programs that handle this, and oftentimes, your expenses of going through the training and search process, legal fees, etc. can be covered by the state where the children are; you get a tax credit when you adopt (http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc607.html); plus you often get a monthly stipend to help with their care. Children adopted over the age of 13 do not have to account for their adoptive parents’ income when they fill out the FAFSA for college.

    My husband and I used Lutheran Social Services for our adoption training (http://www.lssmn.org/adoption/2005/special_needs.html) but you don’t have to be Lutheran (we aren’t).

    To get an idea of the children that are looking for forever families, check out http://adoptuskids.org/ and there are many other programs like it.

    Please consider adopting older children – they are just as deserving of a forever family as a domestic or international infant, and oftentimes are overlooked when people think about adoption.

  39. Chantill says:

    Sorry, I realized that Robert, Sharon and Amanda had commented on adoption from foster care earlier.

    It is such a great experience, please consider adopting older kids!

  40. margaret says:

    Taxes — if your country has a tax treaty with France, it will determine where you pay your taxes

    SAHM — a good resource when looking for mom/tot groups etc is your public health nurse.

    Windshield washer solution — I believe you add alcohol (e.g. rubbing alcohol) for below freezing temperatures. I know there is something, because I’ve seen recipes in Canada.

  41. SLCCOM says:

    Sam, I’m not seeing anything about disability insurance. Without that, you don’t have your financial house in order.

  42. skrpune says:

    One more note on foreign income…find yourself a good accountant that does French & US taxes. You’re going to have to pay on the foreign side no matter what, but what you pay or don’t pay on the US side can change depending on how you file.

    Have your accountant calculate your taxes two ways – using the foreign income exclusion and the foreign income exemption. Depending on how much time you spend in each country & how much you earned, one may work out better than the other. I lived in Canada for 2+ years spanning 3 tax years, and with my income varying and due to changing “residency” times, I filed one way for the first two tax years and a different way for the third year. Even with paying a pro to do the calc’s, it saved me OODLES of money to do the double calculations and actually earned me a refund all three years on the US side!

  43. reulte says:

    Mike – It sounds like you’re doing great as a 17 year old earning a bit of extra cash in doing something you appear to enjoy and that’s a great start. Now go learn to be professional.

    Abigal – If it’s a concern, then you do need something to buffer your son/family and yourself. You say, it’s a risk and ask if its too risky, but you are the person who needs to define the risk. My parents rented their 2nd house (inherited after the death of grandparents) to my brother with no legal document — but they had discussed between them what was the worse that could happen. In a word, not much. The house was paid for and in some disrepair. I like Pattie RN’s advice of having a third party manage the payments.

    Monica – I’d suggest not adopting internationally. Among other things, I don’t think the adoption cost estimates include the travel and hotel costs (is there a ‘residency’ requirement?) which can be two or three trips per child.

    Julie – I find it easier to deal with a minimum of credit cards and would keep – all other things being equal – the oldest card. All things rarely being equal, I would keep the card that has provided me with the best benefits and customer service.

    Sarah – Socialization is the least of your problems and worries. A child gets plenty of socialization with one-on-one time with a parent. Economics appears to be your major problem. At least you have the editorial experience for freelancing as suggested to Meagan. YOU have to decide if becoming a SAHM is your best option and it might be. One thing not mentioned is that budgeting becomes easier with someone at home to do the all the accounting, saving, budgeting and planning to make it work. Best of luck to you.

  44. Jeana says:

    I wanted to comment on adoption through foster care. As a long time foster parent with two adopted children, I have a very different view of adoption through foster care. I would agree that the system is essentially broken, but, there are certainly ways to work within it. I have two little girls I adopted through the system, and have helped place numerous children into adoptive homes. The opinions you expressed about foster care are out-of-date with many current foster care systems. There is some risk a child will be moved,and often the objective is to send the child home. Having said that, I would also say that people working within the system now, are much more aware of the needs of both the children and foster parents, and the importance of long term bonding and relationships whenever possible.

  45. Allison says:

    Sarah –
    Congrats on your growing family! I’m a working mom of five and have been through all the different scenarios — I stayed at home full-time with one, worked a business at home with another, worked part time with one and have worked full-time with two of them! No one can make this decision for you, of course. We are all just offering our own points of view and experiences.

    So here’s my two cents: You can’t ever get this time back with your child and NO ONE can replace you for your child. It may be that your job will still be there for you if you take some maternity time and you could take six months or a year off and then return to the work-force. This is child #1, right? Are you planning on more? (I don’t recall that anyone has commented on this possibility.) If you are, it will be far more finance-zapping to put TWO in daycare (if they are both young). So maybe you want to think about continuing work with this first one, and then becoming the SAHM with the second. Just another thought!

    Best of luck, whatever you decide. And don’t let anyone tell you you’ve chosen poorly! Kudos to you, Mom!

  46. EN says:

    Magic Jack only works when your computer is on (as I understand). I personally use a Skype enabled voip phone which I subscribe to and I am able to use the phone when my computer is not on.

  47. Cheryl says:

    Sam, if you’re bored, take a night class at a community college, maybe art or music or english lit or photography, or what ever interests you. It will get you out to socialize with adults and give your brain something new to focus on, now that your financial ducks are in a row. Having a baby is wonderful, but sometimes your brain just needs a little bit of a challenge! That’s probably why you worked so diligently on the finances, it gave you a sense of accomplishment and you could see results. When I was 43, I went back to school part time just for the fun of it. Now I have my associates and wondering what’s next. Doing Sodokus and the routine at work is getting stale! So don’t hesitate to find a hobby or take a class…

  48. I just came on to make sure that someone mentioned the tax credits for adoption! Yes, the expenses can exceed the credits, especially for international adoptions that require transportation costs, etc. But not enough people know about the tax benefits that could be the difference in allowing them to follow their hearts and not just their pocketbooks.

  49. Jennifer says:

    I have two suggestions for Sarah, the first is to look for a mom’s group on meetup.com. I found a great group of moms when I moved to a new area and newly became a stay at home mom. And also to look into WIC. I think the income requirement vary by state, but it seems like $28k should qualify (it’s in the $40ks where I live).

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