Saturday, June 16, 2012

"How can you afford to have so many children?"

This was going to be a Letter to my Daughters, but it just wasn't sounding very letter-ish, so I'm posting it here!

When people hear of how many children we have in our family, we get a lot of common responses!  We often hear "you must be very patient" (I tell them I'm still learning that one), or "are they all yours" (of course they are!), or "God Bless You!" (and I say that He has, richly).  One comment or question we often get is what my husband does for a job, or how can we afford to raise so many children.  I usually share with them that we try hard to live inexpensively in order to make it possible!  Sometimes it's nearly impossible, but for the most part with care we do just fine.

We are not independently wealthy, my husband has a decent, hard working job.  But he is not our ultimate provider, God is.  God has not chosen to give us the trial of wealth (we keep asking for this trial so we can prove that we can handle it, but He has not seen fit to grant us this request!).  We have a moderate income, rich when compared to most of the world's population.  Due to the cost of our current housing, we have to be very frugal to make ends meet and this tends to lead us to live simply.

We have learned the hard way through the years that incurring debt is a very bad thing.  Even recently we have again learned this lesson the hard way.  About 1 1/2 years ago we purchased Financial Freedom Seminar, which we had discovered while looking around at the Duggar Family Website.  This really transformed the way we look at our finances.  We highly recommend this to everyone!  For us this resulted in a renewed conviction to get out of debt in every way that we can.  This has been a huge struggle for us, but we've learned so much in the process.  We have successfully paid off all our business debt, but it took over a year to do this.

Before I go any further, I need to make a confession.  This is the area of biggest struggle for me.  I know what it right, but so often I am tempted to spend money the wrong way and we end up paying for it in the long run.  God is working on me in this area, but for some reason I keep "thumping."  I'm so thankful that I serve a living God who loves me and forgives me even when I fail Him so often.

I'm going to share with you some of the ways we have "tightened our belt" so to speak - ways we have found to reduce our cost of living.  I'll start with some of the biggies and work my way down.

First things first.  Giving back to God out of a thankful heart comes first and foremost.  We have learned the hard way that when we skip this because we don't think we have enough money to last, we end up in dire straights in no time.  For some reason we keep having to learn this one over and over again.  Giving God 10% of your income right off the top is a great place to start. We tithe to our local church as well as some other worthy ministries, as God has led.

For our home loan, we have gone to a weekly payment plan, as this makes an extra payment every year, and that payment goes 100% towards the principal and this one thing will reduce the length of our mortgage by years, saving us hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.  We are also looking at possibly selling our home in order to reduce our debt there, but with the housing market so depressed right now we are not sure if this would be short sighted.

For our transportation, our cars are all used (well used in most cases), and we do not owe anything on them.  Daryl does some of the repairs, but we do use our local, reliable auto mechanic for the big jobs.  We pay far less in car maintenance and repair than we would ever pay in car payments with interest.  Also, by owning our cars outright, we are not required to have comprehensive car insurance on our cars and this lowers our insurance expense more than you can imagine.  Due to the high price of gas, we think twice before leaving the house, and try to use the most efficient car for our errands whenever possible.  Right now that means not going to town for shopping, as the gas alone would cost around $20 round trip and we would not be saving that much by buying at the big stores over shopping at our local grocery stores.  I would recommend never purchasing a new car, or even a newer used car.  Shop around, get a mechanic to look over a car you are interested in, and learn to do car maintenance yourself - oil changes, for example, can be done by the owner and save a lot through the years.  We also shop around for the best deal in auto insurance as we are required to have that.  Our older children don't get a driver's license until they can afford to pay for their auto insurance to reduce our outlay there.

In the last year we have given up many things that we used to take for granted - we quit Netflix, we stopped renting movies (with the exception of the occasional $1/night ones) and started using the library, we stopped eating out as often as were accustomed to, I rarely get anything from an espresso stand (this was a huge sacrifice, let me tell you!), we reduced our budget for birthdays/Christmas, we reduced the number of cell phones down to just 2 (from 5),  we severely curtailed going on expensive dates (Daryl and I still date!), and found ways to date with little or no expense (like renting a movie and popping popcorn, and locking the kids out of the living room), and we gave up bowling.  Recently we decided to reduce our personal time on the computer, cutting our use of YouTube type videos and Facebook, especially the games.  We have found that our bandwidth usage has been cut in half, and we are going to be able to drop to a lower usage plan, saving us approximately $30/mo.  There were probably other things, but those are the things I can remember!  We looked over all the things we were spending our money on and got rid of or reduced in as many ways as we could.

Monthly bills can be challenging.  It's so easy to sign up for a monthly expense (magazines, cable, movies, products, album of the month, etc), yet we don't know the future, and it's easy to ignore the accumulative cost - a $20/month commitment costs $240/year!  We looked at every bill that we pay monthly and talked about how we can work to lower them.  We started being careful about leaving lights and computers on, and we were able to reduce our electric bill by over $50/mo!  We also turned down our thermostats, and although our bill hasn't gone down, it hasn't gone up at all even thought he cost of propane has gone up considerably since we started conserving.  We try to keep our water usage low conserving where we can.  We also try to always do full loads when washing/drying clothes.  We have used a clothes line in the past, but at present we do not have one set up - when it can be done, hanging clothes on the line can also lower your energy usage!

As far as school goes, we try to keep our expenses to a minimum. Switched On Schoolhouse works very well for this as multiple students can use the same curriculum with no additional expense, and they can be saved for younger ones coming up.  We also shop at our local homeschool second hand store (Homeschool Recyclers) and get most of our materials second hand, saving a lot!  We also re-sell our used homeschool supplies there and then can use the credit once they sell to purchase what we need - the last time I was there she actually owed me money!

Soaps we made last year!
We also save a lot of money making our own soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotions, deodorant, and cleaning solutions!  I highly recommend researching the internet for simple recipes for these.  Even soap making is easy if you do melt and pour, and it's fun too!  This also saves on garbage as you re-use your packaging over and over again!

Clothing with this many people in the family can be a challenge.  We use a consignment store in town (Wee Ones) to re-sell any clothes/books/toys that we are finished with that are still in good shape.  I also re-sell returned/second quality items from my home business there.  I almost always have some credit there to use to purchase clothes/shoes/books!  If we can't find what we need at Wee Ones, we go to Goodwill and/or Value Village to get what we need.  Once in a while we just can't get what is needed and will purchase new at Walmart or Target, but that is rare.  Although I haven't used it yet, I have heard of a place in our county where you can go to get free clothes, I'm sure that is a great saving for many families!  Of course we also make great use of handing clothes down from one child to the next.  I keep bins of sized clothing in our attic for when clothes are not in used, and it's so nice to be able to go up there and get the next size of clothes out!  Having 3 little boys in a row (and now 3 little girls), the older they get, the fewer clothes actually survive well enough for storage or re-selling.

Carese, just 5 pounds, wearing our old style Snap-EZ Preemie Pocket Diaper!
And, of course, I have to talk about using cloth!  Even though I now own a cloth diaper company, Snap-EZ, I can honestly say that I would use cloth diapers even if I didn't.  I started using cloth right from the beginning - back in 1986 I used prefolds, pins and plastic pants with our first baby, using a diaper service.  I only did that for about 6 months, as I was working out of the home and disposables were more convenient.  I used cloth diapers again once I was a stay at home mom, and each of my subsequent children have been in cloth diapers at least some of the time.  I've used so many different versions, but I really love using pocket diapers, especially the Multi-Size pocket diapers, as I can bring some Snap Extenders along and use Carese's diapers on Esther when needed!  We rarely purchase disposables, as using cloth saves us so much.  When we were using cloth (like when Esther was in the hospital for weeks at a time), our water bill didn't even flinch, so I know we are saving money doing cloth.  We also use cloth wipes.  I estimate that with two in diapers we are saving around $40 - 50 per month, plus we don't have stinky garbage!  We also save money by using cloth for our monthly cycles most of the time.  It's easy to do, saves money, and then we don't have to purchase these items in the store (I'm always a little embarrassed to purchase these private items).  Each of the women in our home has their own personal stash and they care for them.
Baking Bread - a Whisper Mill and a Bosch are great,
but not necessary - I made our bread by hand for a long time!

And lastly, food. This is a biggy!  One of the biggest things we do to keep our food budget low is to make all our own bread!  We purchase the wheat berries in 50 pound bags, grind it into wheat flour and make our own, delicious bread.  We also pick berries at Barbie's Berries in season and freeze them to make jam all year round (when we run out too soon, we purchase the frozen gallons of berries from the Barbie's Berries).  This tastes so much better than store bought, and is cost effective too!  We try to have hot breakfasts during the week - oatmeal, cream of wheat, pancakes and such - all made from scratch.  We don't buy pop or koolaide, and only the little ones get juice (Esther has a milk allergy).  Our kids are encouraged to drink water, and our milk is reserved for cooking, on hot cereal and cold cereal when we have it.  We shop at Costco for things that we can really save on there - butter, almonds, chocolate chips and toilet paper to name a few - but we have to consider the cost of gas to get there which might not off-set the savings.  Generally speaking, we have a food budget at around $150/week to make cooking/eating comfortable.  I'd love to have $250 a week as that would allow for a few conveniences, but it's been a long time since we had that much available every week!  More recently we have been making ends meet for even less - last week we only spent $90, and this week $70 so far (not counting the 60 pounds of frozen strawberries I picked up at a steal of a deal since the new season is starting!).  To keep our costs this low, it means using up the items on our shelves and in the freezer that we don't normally use, but it's good to clean out the freezer and use up older canned goods once in a while!  One sacrifice we make when we have to is forgoing fresh foods - fruits especially can get very expensive.  I don't recommend this, but sometimes we have to do what we have to do!  I used to do a lot of canning, and I hope to do that again this year.  Not sure if that saves a lot of money, but it's fresher, home canned and there when you need it through out the year!  We eat simply, and use left overs for lunches a lot.  We try to make snacks instead of purchasing snacks - popcorn and cookies instead of chips and twinkies for example.  One way we also reduce our grocery bill is to use the weekly ads and make our menu to use what is a good price that week.  We tried "couponing" but found that we ended up purchasing things that we would not normally purchase (luxury items), plus we spent more on gas to get the "deals" negating the savings.  Also, going to lots of stores also used up my valuable time too.  It works great for others, but we not profitable for us.  One of the biggest things we do to save on groceries, is we create a menu for the week, including breakfasts, lunches and dinners as well as snacks, before we leave the house.  We base this menu on what we have available, and what is on special at the stores.  Then we make a comprehensive shopping list, noting the approximate cost of each item.  Then we check the total to see if it is close to our budget, and if it's too high, we try to trim off a few items that are not essential.  I try to have the list be less than our budget just in case.  We try to never shop while hungry, take cash and stay in the budget.  If we remember something we missed on the list, we can get it, but hopefully something cost less than expected to cover the overage.
Berry processing 2011

In general, I do our bookkeeping once a week, tithing and paying the bills and see what's left over.  I use that as our budget for food and clothes, after setting aside money for gas in the cars.  Then I make up our menu and grocery list.  We never seem to have anything left over, but that's OK as God is giving us exactly what He has deemed the right amount of income for us at this time.  I struggle with this when times are tight, but as Paul says in Philipians 4:6, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."  We have done a lot of praying this year about our finances.  We've even gone so far as to make specific prayers for our needs, and watching to see if we got orders in our home business that would cover those expenses!  This is great for building our children's faith in God's provision (and ours too!).  We are doing this right now as we have had some unexpected expenses this year (new baby, septic system crashed, attic needed venting to name a few), and God has and is providing for us.

I think that's everything...but there's probably more.  I don't think we are experts in frugality, but we are working hard to live as economically as we can.  I have heard that the Duggars shop second hand and save the difference...wish we could save the difference, but that is a great way to do it!  They also live completely debt free, and I highly respect them for accomplishing that!

I hope someone has benefitted from my sharing our adventures in home economics! If I haven't touched on something, ask me and I'll do my best to answer your question.  If you have found a way to cut your expenses, please share by commenting below!  We're always looking for more ways to save!

1 comment:

  1. I just spent part of my morning at The Gleaner's Pantry" and came home with lots of produce, bread and even donuts! This is a non-profit group that gets together on Saturday and Monday morning to sort and take home items "gleaned" from local grocery stores, and, in the summer, they find out where there are fields where farmers have given permission to glean after the harvest! To be a part, you pay $150/year and can go as often as you want to! The Saturday get together include unloading some trucks, and at the beginning of each day those who come sort through the boxes of food, culling out the bad stuff (it's given to farmers to feed their animals), and sorting out the good. When everything is sorted, everyone gets to go through and take what they need!
    We are going to be going through what I brought home and either use it fresh, dry it, freeze it or can it!
    If anyone's interested in participating, let me know and I'll get the contact info for you!