If you've ever thought about adopting a child but assumed that you couldn't afford it, think again. It may not be as expensive as you think, and there are ways to shrink the bill.

For starters, your employer might have an adoption assistance program, which can help with expenses. For example, if you work at Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU), you may be able to take advantage of up to $3,500 in adoption expense reimbursement, paid time off, and immediate health insurance for the new family member. (And that's per child.) Another adoption-friendly company is Wendy's (NYSE:WEN), founded by adoptee Dave Thomas. His foundation runs the www.adoptionfriendlyworkplace.org website, where you can look up corporate adoption benefits. Sara Lee (NYSE:SLE), Hasbro (NYSE:HAS), Target, Allstate, Amgen, Merrill Lynch (NYSE:MER), and Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) are among the many companies offering expense reimbursement, paid and unpaid leave, referrals, and other resources.

According to Hewitt Associates (NYSE:HEW), about 39% of large American companies now offer adoption assistance programs. The figure was just 31% in 2000 and 12% in 1990. The average reimbursement amount is nearly $4,000, with a few companies offering cash grants of up to $15,000.

Next up is Uncle Sam, of all people, who is ready to help you with a hefty tax credit. Note first that while a tax deduction can lower your taxable income and save you many pennies on the dollar, a tax credit will save you a dollar on the dollar. For 2004, you may be able to claim a tax credit of up to $10,390 if you have sufficient qualifying expenses. For 2005, the credit jumps to $10,630. Qualifying expenses include legal fees, travel costs, adoption fees, and medical bills. If you're adopting a special-needs child, you may be able to take the full $10,630 even if you spent only $50 on the adoption. Learn more on the tax credit in this Roy Lewis article.

Consider also that the cost of adopting a child can vary widely. It can be relatively inexpensive domestically -- costing perhaps up to $7,500 or so, without taking into account the tax credit -- and some international adoptions don't even have to be all that financially burdensome. One website listed international adoption costs for many countries (including China, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Korea, Mongolia, the Philippines, Romania, Thailand, and Vietnam) ranging from $11,000 to $23,000. Note that if you do more research, you'll likely find costs that are considerably lower or higher, depending on the agency and the country you're adopting from.

Finally, remember that your friends at the Fool are also a good resource. We've got a dedicated Adoption discussion board that includes more than 500 messages so far, many from experienced adopters. And adoption pops up as a topic on many other boards, too. On our Living Below Your Means board, for example, Fool community member cyberisme recently shared this note:

"Four months ago, we found out about two little brothers that were coming to America to visit in the hopes of being adopted. In five days, we are traveling to pick up these adorable children and adopt them permanently. We are also now adopting their older sister (as we found out about her later on). If we had not [lived below our means], we would NEVER be in a position to adopt these children -- especially internationally, especially three. Knowing we have the financial security to take them in and raise them means the world to us. Four years ago, we were in debt and not in a position to do this." (We can help you dig out from debt.)

Whether you adopt or not, you can learn how to keep your financial house in order to best serve yourself and your children by checking out our Rule Your Retirement newsletter, which you can try for free.

Learn even more from the National Adoption Foundation and the National Council for Adoption.

Hasbro and Time Warner are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Intuit is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection, and Sara Lee is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Time Warner. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .