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November 20, 2012

Afford to Raise a Large Family?

It happens more often than I like.  The non-work conversation at work turns to kids and how many people have.  And if I choose to participate in this conversation and offer up the information they are dying for, that I have FIVE children...all of a sudden SOMEONE pulls the OMG! face. 

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The conversation can take a number of directions once my family size has been established and publicized.  

ONE:  "You don't look old enough to have that many kids."  This direction is ABSOLUTELY a BIG thumbs-up.  I highly recommend it to anyone searching for something to say to the lady who just admitted that she has 5 or more children. 

TWO:  "My hands are full with the two I got!  I don't know how you manage that!"

THREE:  "Are you <insert Catholic / Mormon / Crazy>????"  And be assured the answer has a 90% chance of being YES to any or all three.  ;)

FOUR:  The most recent discussion at work came from a well-meaning and most definitely not insulting question about just how people can afford to raise a large family.

I'll go ahead and tell you that if you think you're about to read an earth-shattering post about how we're raising our family, paying for activities and going to retire at 55 with plenty of money to live on, then you might want to move right along to the next pie-in-the-sky-dreamland blog you can find.  We are, by no stretch of our imaginations, wealthy.  We're only marginally self-disciplined with money.  We make ends meet and we work our butts off in the process.  We sweat out the bills from time to time, and there are those days we have to say "no."

But -- somehow, we have enough money to keep our family in clothes and shoes that fit, feed everyone enough to stay healthy, keep a roof over our heads, beds to sleep in, keep the lights on and ensure we are toasty in the winter and cool in the summer.  Sure, we do some things to keep our costs from getting out of control.  We keep the thermostat at 65 degrees in the winter and make sure everyone has some layers on.  We keep the thermostat at 76 in the summer and try to stay cool by going swimming, or just getting out of the house for activities.  I do hand-me-downs where I can (although my girls and their unique body types have made this difficult to do), consignment and thrift shops, and watch the sales.  At the end of the day, though, I'm sure there are many moms out there that could put me to shame with how much further they could stretch a buck.

The conversation at work started innocently enough.  I mentioned that I needed to buy Sarah size 9 Women's shoes when only 3 months ago, I bought her size 8.5 women's shoes.  (Yes, I checked and her toes were at the end of her shoes, and when we bought them 3 months ago, she had 3/4 of my thumb width of room to grow.  The girl just keeps growing and growing and growing.)  So, the question was asked, "Just how do people afford to care for a large family of children?"  This woman followed up her question with a back story that she was 1 of 6 children growing up and she had no idea how her parents did it either.  She also shared that most days, now as an adult, she can barely seem to keep herself in clothes, maintain her health with doctor/dentist visits and such.

Now, I'm the first to admit, there ARE financial reasons serious enough for some folks to limit their family size.  I'm not the person that's going to tell anyone who says they are avoiding pregnancy due to financial strain that if they would just manage their money right and make the right sacrifices, they could afford to have another kid.  That is irresponsible.  My husband and I have been at that point a couple of different times in our marriage -- it would NOT be a good time to be open to a baby because our finances were in shambles.  We were sad that we couldn't be open, but we worked hard to get to a point where we could.  And if we would not have been able to get to that point, we might not have the children we have -- but somehow, it worked out.

Sometimes, the finances aren't spectacular, but it's not a dire situation, and God blesses a couple with a baby.  And that has happened to us.  And this is what I said to the woman at work and what I've said to others who have asked me.

We're not rich, but we're making it.  We do what most people do and just put one foot in front of the other every day.  We go to work, we come home and care for our family.  We're blessed to have our jobs and we're blessed to have our Catholic parish and school that is supportive of large families.  Yes, the big expenses come about -- Orthodontia, Glasses/Contacts, Club Volleyball, Club Swimming, Ballet Tuition, etc -- but we still just take it one thing at a time.

Our orthodontist has a program that allows us to pay for subsequent children and their orthodontia at the rate of the first child.  So, even though their prices may increase, we are locked in for the rate we paid with our first child through their services.  Vision insurance is a steal when it comes to a family the size of mine.  The co-pay for annual check-ups is only $10 and then the co-pay for frames is $35 and they pay for lenses (up to $150) every 12 months.  Now that we have my husband, me, and two children in eye-wear, we're reaping dividends from having vision insurance.  The medical bills for actually having a baby is still pretty steep since we have a QHDP insurance program and pay 100% out of pocket for non-preventive services up to our deductible.  But once the deductible is hit, the insurance picks up everything 100%.  I'd like to see the Catholic high school come up with a better discount program for 2nd child at the school and plan to negotiate that should we seriously consider sending our children there, but there's always the option for public high school and we live in an excellent school district.  

And honestly...college is just gonna hafta be on the kids.  First of all, who knows if college is the right direction for all of our children.  My husband wasn't cut out for college and he has a great job making a good living without having gone through the expense of college.  I put myself through college (albeit ending up with some debt along the way) and it didn't kill me.  Perhaps there will be scholarships available or military academy appointments...you never know!

All of this to say that it's not impossible to raise a large family.  Sure, it's expensive, but it's expensive to live anyway.  No, my kids don't get EVERYTHING.  They have to pick and choose the one or two things they really want to do.  Just like anything else in life, raising a family and how we all pay for it is rooted in our priorities.  And my kids will live if they don't get the high school prep education that costs a small fortune.  Or maybe I can negotiate that steeper discount and make that work.  

And the most important thing I hope my kids learn growing up in our family is that family is the priority.  Family will be there for you whether you have money or you don't; whether you get to play special sports or you don't; whether you go to college or you don't.  We were poor when I was growing up, but I don't remember being unhappy about it.  I have more happy memories of sitting around playing cards with my siblings than I do griping about what I didn't have or get to do.  

And that is my prayer for my family.



  1. I love this post! I have often wondered this myself about you, often in awe as to how you do it, because as the lady you referenced, I barely keep myself clothed and up-to-date on doctors appointments.
    Thank-you for sharing so honestly :).

  2. Thanks for this post! With two we wonder how in the world we are going to do it if/when we are blessed with more. We have some pretty high student loan debt and probably aren't as disciplined as we need to be to pay down more, save more, etc.... definitely working on it all though.

    I like the "college is going to have to be on the kids"... We hope to save some amount of money for the kids along the way, but I think that paying for at least some of it (maybe all) when they get to that point is a good thing. They're earning it!

  3. I doubt we'll every get to 5 (or more!) kids - we'll probably be lucky to get the 3 I want, but I totally agree with everything here.

    No matter if we have 1 or 10 kids the same truths apply - they don't need to have everything and do everything. As long as I can provide warmth, food and shelter I'm doing pretty well.

    We too came to the decision when our first was born that we'll never be able to save up for his entire college education and decided that (while we're still saving what we can) the best we can give is a great love of learning and a great foundation in his education!

  4. I love this post and so much of it resonates with me. With the unexpected changes we have had to our job situation this year, I have become obsessed with getting us to live within our means. Not that we didn't before, but there was definitely some areas where we could have saved more (not eating out as frequently, etc.). And our motto is "less is more" when it comes to stuff for Elizabeth (e.g., toys, etc.) and concentrate more on building memories instead of piles of stuff. Thanks for the great reminder and practical advice! Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Great post! We're expecting #6 now and live on only my husbands modest income. We definitely have to make sacrifices, but really, we have a house and 2 cars and most things everyone else has. I am thankful for our sizable income tax refund. And that would be my biggest advice: use it wisely! Any extra income, don't go out and blow it!

    And what is the deal with catholic high school anyway?? The multiple child discount is laughable!

  6. You know I can relate. <3 Such truth in this post. :)

  7. Hmm one of the commentators says "our sizable income tax refund" .... so as a kid-less taxpayer, I am subsidizing the cost of your plethora of children.. great.

    1. Natalia, there is a reason that the government gives refunds for children. It's an incentive to have children because population decline is terrible for the economy (and without immigration, we would be experiencing populations decline right now). Human brainpower (provided by more people i.e. more children) is a priceless resource. If you're interested in learning more, here's an article that talks about the importance of population increase (or at least replacement levels) to insuring the future of our country: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323375204578270053387770718.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

      Just like people without children have their tax money go toward education, it's about the future and good of the country as a whole, not just about what affects you individually. By helping to "subsidize" children, you're playing an important role in the future of our country! Thank you!

  8. We have 7 children and understand what you are writing about. It is so hard to imagine our lives without our children. Yes we all have rough days but the good out ways the bad. We feel truly blessed and wouldn't change it for the world. We are also on a budget and college will be up to the kids. I am 34 and going back to college for the 1st time in 13 years. It has shown our kids the importance of getting a degree and working hard to get it. Thank you for sharing your post!


Thank you for reading. I enjoy reading other perspectives, please feel free to share yours. :)