Last year, I won from a raffle a book called “Bless Me Father For I Have Kids.” It’s a funny book about raising a Catholic family, and the book’s dedication read: “To the children, who are frequently called expensive. To us you are priceless.”
Does anyone remember those old Mastercard commercials? The ones where there would be a picture of some quality time of a father with his son, or a family celebration, and calculating the cost to create that memory. “Balloons – $5. Present – $20. Seeing son’s face when opening his present: Priceless. Some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Mastercard.” And they really were great commercials, and so very true.
There are some things money can’t buy, like love. Until I was a parent, I had no idea how much love my heart could hold! I remember feeling a little fearful when I was pregnant with a second baby. I loved my firstborn so much, how could I love two children equally? But amazingly, that love multiplied. The love I have experienced through my 4 children is beyond what I could ever imagine. My children are priceless to me, and worth every penny that we’ve spent on them.
The cost has been great though, obviously. Many people try to count that cost before having children. They think they have to have so much saved up before bringing their first child into the world. There are figures out there that tell you how much you will spend on a child in your lifetime, and the figures are currently around 233 thousand dollars. But for that, there’s always Mastercard, right? Just Kidding.
In all seriousness, it’s important to be prudent about having and raising children, weighing the ability to provide against how many kids to have. Debt is not a good thing. But I think in our culture, we tend to value selfishness over prudence. We probably can raise more children than we think if we re-evaluate our priorities and take a second look at our finances. We have to ask ourselves, “Where can we invest more time instead of money?” For example, I work part time while my husband owns his own business, but mostly I stay at home and homeschool our children. We moved to a location where my husband can work from home a lot. It does take sacrifice, but we are making it work because we believe that investing time spent with our kids is the most important gift we can give them.
With this in mind, here are some tips and tricks to making a large family affordable:
Keep it Simple
The number one tip to affording a big family is to keep life simple. Kids don’t need to be constantly busy in a number of activities and overloaded with lots of toys. After months of struggling to get our kids to pick up their toys, my husband hauled almost all of them away in a giant garbage bag. One of our kids was upset, but the other two were somewhat relieved. I think the kids were overwhelmed with choices and having to pick up so much. We have learned that less really is actually more.
Our kids can do one activity at a time. We’ve done swim lessons, dance, and basketball. Timothy goes to school one day a week for art, science, and gym. I want my kids to be exposed to opportunities to do things they love and things I cannot provide at home, but we are intentional about what we choose. Most of all, we think they need time to explore things they are interested in and time to be bored so they can learn to be creative.
Be a Super Shopper
Groceries are obviously going to be more expensive the more children you have, but there are ways of being smart about that, too. For one, we don’t go out to eat. But truthfully, our home-cooked meals are always more delicious than when we eat out anyway. I make meal plans and grocery lists based off of sales, and I usually save on average 30% on each grocery bill. I also use digital coupons and we have a Costco membership. If both parents work outside the home, it may be prudent to eat out sometimes or to buy some prepared meals. Or maybe invest in an Insta-Pot? We often bake on the weekends to make muffins and snacks for the week.
Also, I am a big fan of the thrift stores, consignment stores, and garage sales. Pretty much all of my kids’ closed were bought used (and mine too), but you would never know it just looking at us. Most of my clothes are brand name, but second hand. I got a pair of Lucky Brand skinny jeans at the thrift store for $5 the other day, and it really did make me feel lucky! Craigslist and consignor sales like Just Between Friends can also be great resources.
We also buy a lot of our toys used. That way when they get broken or lost, it’s no big deal. It also teaches our kids detachment against materialism. Again, we try not to have too many toys either. Right now we have a bin full of confiscated toys in our garage. When they earn points for chores and obeying, they may go pick a toy from the bin, something they often haven’t seen in months, so them it seems like new! Our growing children’s book collection is also from the thrift store, and I’m proud of the classic titles I’ve found there.
Cut The Travel
It’s interesting, because I think 90% of the couples I’ve had go through marriage prep tell me one of their life goals is to travel. I also love to travel and did a lot of it before having kids. Now, we don’t do it much anymore. Flying with a big family is expensive, and driving anywhere far is painful on my patience as well as expensive. I see my parents traveling the world and I know one day my husband and I will get to it again. But for now, camping is our big summer event. The kids love it and look forward to it every year and they are some of our best memories. Living near the mountains, we can still have a lot of day adventures without a lot of travel and expense.
Do It Yourself
We invested in a hair trimmer, and we usually cut the kids hair ourselves. My husband builds most of our furniture himself, although this is his profession. We bought a fixer upper, which has consumed a lot of time and money, but not as much money as if we had bought a nicer house to begin with. I do my husband’s bookkeeping, he fixes things around the house, and we generally try to do tasks ourselves instead of hiring them out.
Find Free Activities
In addition to free things like the library, we have annual passes to various museums, which pay for themselves in a few visits. We also do free days at the zoo, or visit different playgrounds or splash pads in the summer.
Finally, again, invest in time. A deck of cards isn’t expensive and can provide hours of quality fun. My kids spend hours using their creativity to draw with pencils and paper, build roads and tunnels in the sand box, or ride on their bikes (which we also bought cheap at the thrift store). We keep a stock of crayons, papers, and playdough for the kids to do art with.
The key is to not be consumed by materialism. You must be intentional about how you spend your money and your time. There are some expensive costs upfront like buying a crib, car seat and other baby gear, but they can get used for multiple kids. And most of those things can be bought gently used as well, or given as gifts at a baby shower. Be grateful for what you have instead of always looking at the nicer stroller your neighbor has. When you are older and are surrounded by the love of your family, you’ll know it was worth it.