October 21, 2015

Financial Hardships & Surprise Pregnancies: How We Make It Work

Welcome back to the Financial Hardships & Surprise Pregnancies series. The posts include: 
Introduction


There is a real freedom in owning less stuff and in having less stuff to do and fewer places to go. My family lives a life that looks pretty simple (not as simple as some, of course) but we don’t do it because of Pope Francis or that KonMari tidy-up-things-spark-joy book. I definitely felt inspired after recently reading the Little House books for the first time in my life, and I felt very convicted about the amount of toys and stuff we have after reading about JPII’s impression of a US child’s playroom in Saint John Paul the Great. (Summary: he thought it was enough for a whole nursery but too much for a child.) However we live this way out of necessity.

I know there are families out there who could welcome more children into their homes if they were willing to move some money around in their monthly budgets and forego some of their creature comforts: yearly vacations, gym / zoo / pool / museum memberships, shiny new vehicles, homes with rooms that are only walked through. Maybe that’s you and maybe fear is the thing that is holding you back. Maybe you long for another baby but you are trapped in the routine of keeping up with the Joneses and living the “American Dream” and you just don’t know if you can make those budget cuts. I understand. I really, truly do. But I want you to know this:

Children are gifts - only and always - and they are perhaps the greatest gift God gives us. When you add more children to your home through pregnancy or adoption you are:
  • giving your children more playmates and friends.
  • adding exponential amounts of joy and humor to your home.
  • allowing room for one more eternal soul to be loved and nurtured.
  • fostering a home where people are valued over things and experiences.
  • filling your home with vibrant life.
  • creating a support system of people who will love one another and you and your spouse as you age and die.

I’m about to list off the “How We Do It” part of this series - how we have a big family and a small budget - but I first wanted to be sure you all knew that the sacrifices are worthwhile. Look at that list above. It is a good list.




How we make it work:
  • The kids hear “no” a lot, and this isn’t a bad thing.
  • We play outside, bake, do crafts, read books. My kids are not in activities but they are really good at climbing trees, they spend time playing in nature, they create and pretend, and they play with one another.
  • We visit grandparents and great-grandparents often so my kids have good relationships with their grandparents. And I know it brings a great deal of joy to our parents and grandparents to see and spend time with our kids.
  • Toys and clothes come as birthday and holiday gifts and unless a growth spurt makes it necessary they do not receive either from us at any other time.
  • Netflix and rented movies are our entertainment; we don’t have cable and we seldom go to the movies. We also enjoy bonfires and using our fireplace.
  • We are big fans of parks, libraries, and other free places.
  • We do not have gym memberships. If we want to exercise we go for a walk, run, or bike ride outside.
  • I keep my hair long, in part, because I can then only go to the salon every 6-9 months. Travis and all the kids usually get their hair cut at home. (One family trip to a cheap hair place pays for the clippers we have.)
  • Experiences like special trips to the movies, museums, pools, or zoos are reserved for very special occasions and are often gifts. We do not have memberships to any of those places and in fact, my kids may visit each of those things once a year, if that. Often, when those trips do happen they are in the form of a special outing with grandparents or godparents.
  • We don’t have a lot of room in our budget for tithing but we do tithe money and we try to be involved in various parish ministries - supporting them with our presence and volunteering our time and talents. (meals for funeral dinners, promotional work, etc)
  • We save big expenses for tax refund time. We have been very fortunate to get a large refund the past few years and that money has gone towards paying down debt, stocking up on food, and replacing “big ticket items.” We also set aside money from the refund to pay for our kids’ birthday parties, Easter baskets, and car insurance.
  • Beef is purchased locally. We try to use part of our tax refund to go towards purchasing a quarter of a cow from a local farmer. We are able to get top quality ground round, steaks, roasts, ribs and more for $3 a pound (that includes the butcher’s fee!). It is a big expense up front but it saves us a great deal of money on a weekly basis and allows for us to eat cuts of meat we would never be able to otherwise afford.
  • Travis (along with his brother) is good at fixing things - cars, carpentry, electronics…For example, our hand-me-down recliner recently broke and instead of buying a new one (we couldn’t) Travis fixed it.
  • We pick up extra work - Travis as a handyman and coach and me through speaking, blogging, and consulting.
  • We use the envelope system, as I explained yesterday. Travis is very careful with our money and also has a bit of “mad money” which often goes towards donuts after Sunday Mass, a case of beer for when friends come over, and extra gas so we can make the two hour drive to see his family. Those little things help us to feel like we aren’t so poor after all.
  • Travis is taking advantage of a tuition reimbursement program at his place of employment. This is allowing him to earn his masters for very little out-of-pocket money for us while moving him up the pay scale more quickly.
  • We apply for and receive scholarships and tuition assistance at our kids’ parochial school.
  • Christmas money given to Travis and me is used to restock our bar - just sayin.
  • We throw our kids parties for their birthdays and get them 1-3 needed or small gifts at Christmas and Easter (usually). There is no need to “go all out" because the kids will receive gifts from grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles - giving them more than they actually need. Plus, the fun of the holiday - family, food, church, playing games, decorations - is what really makes those things special.
  • I am intentional about shutting off lights and line drying items when possible. We also keep our house at 65 in the winter and I try for a long as possible to not turn the heat on.
  • The kids pack their lunch but we don't use Lunchables. I did apply for the free or reduced lunch program at school but I have not heard back yet.
  • We usually don't use pre-packaged meals, making most of our food - even pizza - from scratch. (Travis has a soft spot for Pizza Rolls during football games, though.)
  • The kids are in no extra-curriculars. When they are older they will have the option to join school sports, choir, and whatnot, but for now the only thing they participate in is the free summer reading program at the library.
  • We eat meatless meals once or twice a week. Fridays are meatless as a part of our Catholic tradition but often Wednesdays are, too.
  • Meat is often a side dish portion with pasta, pancakes, rice, or potatoes being used to fill bellies and veggies and fruit used to round out the meal.
  • I don't attend Girls' Night Outs because I can't afford it, and then instead I created a women's group that is hosted by a new woman each month. Everyone brings drinks and snacks - potluck style - and we have a guest speaker and hang out. So I made something I could afford. ;)
  • I gladly take hand-me-downs for myself and my kids. I think people just know this about me now and give me their stuff.
  • We shop at Wal Mart and Target for clothes. I know that buying quality means it will last longer but it would take me awhile to save up to buy quality and my son needs new jeans yesterday.
  • We live near family so grandmas are often able to help with free babysitting.
  • We also are lucky that Travis has students willing to babysit for free for NHS volunteer hours and we have found babysitters in confirmation students who also need volunteer hours.
  • WIC, which is a government food program for pregnant and nursing moms and children age 5 and under. While we would still qualify for it and food stamps we have opted to not use them. However, WIC was really helpful when we had to use formula, which was at a time when my weekly grocery budget was $75 for a family of 5. 
  • The Medical Card. Since JF's birth the whole family has been on it and between it and my husband's excellent insurance we have hardly any medical expenses. If it weren't for the medical card I honestly don't know what we would do but despair because of the bills from JF's NICU stay, all the specialists, JP's week-long stay in the hospital at birth, and the continuing medications we need for our boys' allergies. I know there are many who think we should be ashamed of the government aid but without it I know we would be opting out of basic medical care like teeth cleanings and the life-changing medication I took for postpartum depression. I also know we would be less likely to go to the ER for JF's allergic reactions but those visits have saved his life more than once. To me, it is shameful we live in a culture where people make people like me feel bad for receiving help. Can it be humiliating? Yes. But we do it for the good of our children and they are worth it.


One last thought I want to share is this:
People have been incredibly generous with my family. While JF was in the NICU and the months that followed people gave and supported us in so many ways. Then, just recently, people have once again provided for us. And in between these two events have been many generous acts and gifts from family and friends. All of these times we didn't ask for anything but the goodness in people, encouraged by the Holy Spirit, decided to help and so they did.

Over the years I have tried to convey how grateful we are for these gifts, hand-me-downs, meals, and other generous deeds but I always knew what I was saying was falling short. I hope those people who have been so generous will now have a better understanding of how large of an impact they (you) have all had on my family. We have not forgotten what you have done for us and we remain grateful.

The Series:
Introduction
Crosses & Chai Tea
How We Make It Work




68 comments:

  1. I love your "simple" life mentality, Bonnie, and I try to do some of this, too, but I have a weak spot for eating out. So we keep a list of all the local kids-eat-free or cheap nights, and I use coupons from the paper or Seizethedeal.com to make it so we can eat out 1-2 times per week for about $60 for the 4 of us, since the baby doesn't get meals yet. I also try to do coupon-sale-rebate matchups as much as I can when grocery shopping. I mainly use the Kroger Krazy facebook page and the Ibotta app to do this.

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  2. Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing these specifics. My husband and I are expecting our 2nd... and debating if it's possible for us to live on his salary alone (probably similar to what your husband makes), so I can stay home (Plus, I'd only be making $500/month after we pay for daycare!). It seemed entirely impossible to us at first glance, but this series is really helping me see just how much we have that we don't need.

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    1. At only $500 a month after childcare, you're better off finding some work from home/when you're husband is home and you're not paying for childcare. We were in a similar situation, and you end up paying less in taxes too--as the second income is taxed at higher rates. The Tightwad Gazette was instrumental in us making it in our first few years. Some of it is dated, but the philosophy and ways of figuring out how to afford things/do without stick with you. Congrats on #2!

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  3. I really appreciate your list - even though our lives are completely different (I have an unintentionally small family and because of that I can afford to work to help even out our income) there's a lot on this list that I do as a working mother of one from handmedowns to haircuts at home (I'm even trying to learn to trim my own short hair even though I like supporting my local hairdresser every 4-5 month (my hair grows slowly)). We can do a little more with our income because of the circumstances God has put in front of me.

    As our income has grown and debt increased over the last few years I know it's God who's put on my heart the way he wants us to use our resources - to live on as little of our income as possible and give as much as we can. This has come in ways of supporting our parish, supporting our friends and even financially supporting our family (a portion of my income now goes to financial helping retired parents and grandparents).

    I expected to read this and feel really jealous, but I feel at peace knowing that what I'm doing is also what God wants us to do just like you and Travis. Thank you for writing it.

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    1. p.s. I also appreciate you throwing out some numbers with this because we just got the point last year or so that my husband salary would cover all bills + food + gas + basic necessities. Money issues make me anxious but it does me good to see that if our infertility streak ever ends or my job becomes infeasible for the family that we'll get by.

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  4. Thank you for writing this! These are all super helpful tips - and is very similar to the way I myself grew up (with just 4 of us kids). I'm curious (and I know this is totally prying so don't feel obligated to answer) if you do any savings for retirement? My husband is a financial advisor and the main reason I'm still working is to save for retirement for the both of us, because that's a main tenet of his job and he's very worried about it (and would seem a bit of a hypocrite if he encouraged others to do so but didn't himself).

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    1. Hannah, we have pretty much no money in savings. However, my husband is part of the teacher's union and part of his salary each month automatically goes into a pension fund. So we have some money for retirement but it is a goal to eventually have an emergency savings and a retirement savings.

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  5. I think you're a brave woman Bonnie to be so honest with your finances. But you know what? You're kids will be better off growing up being conscious of money and finances. We have always had to struggle as well and now my older adult children are so thrifty they make me look like a spend thrift! They actually brag about their special deals on clothes and furniture etc., or how they made things out of scraps or someone else's cast offs. On the other hand I have nieces and nephews who have a hard time going through their early adult years with little to no money, because their parents paid for everything all the time. So good job!! and I encourage you to keep writing real!

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  6. I think you're a brave woman Bonnie to be so honest with your finances. But you know what? You're kids will be better off growing up being conscious of money and finances. We have always had to struggle as well and now my older adult children are so thrifty they make me look like a spend thrift! They actually brag about their special deals on clothes and furniture etc., or how they made things out of scraps or someone else's cast offs. On the other hand I have nieces and nephews who have a hard time going through their early adult years with little to no money, because their parents paid for everything all the time. So good job!! and I encourage you to keep writing real!

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  7. I am so glad you touched on the benefits that come with the sacrifices.

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  8. Thank you so much for these posts! We are a young one income family just barely making it on family assistance. It's encouraging to hear how a family with more experience (and more children) is persevering with discipline and joy!

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  9. Thank you for writing such an honest, vulnerable post. . . and one that I could have written myself. We live a very, VERY similar lifestyle to yours. We have 10 children, and the last two were either conceived or born during my husband's two bouts of unemployment (the only times he was ever unemployed in our entire marriage). . . talk about mortification! We are now done with having children (my health issues necessitated a hysterectomy.) There is, admittedly, some relief in that, but I was especially moved by your points about God teaching us to rely on him more fully in times of financial hardship. SO true. We also had family, friends, even strangers bless us with gifts, money, baby showers, etc. when we most needed them.

    So I'm just saying that you're not alone. Our family doesn't look poverty-stricken, either, but I sure feel like it when I have to weigh purchasing paper towels (splurge!) vs. a pork roast which will feed our family of 12 for 2 1/2 meals. (I almost always pick the roast, and just use washcloths and cloth napkins around the house.) I'm also saying that while we don't have much money, no vacations or fancy clothes, our home is blessed with laughter, joy, and adventure. Money (or lack of) isn't a guarantee of anything -- happiness or sadness -- but welcoming the Holy Spirit into our lives and homes will bless one immeasurably.

    Can't wait to read the next installment!
    (P.S. We shop thrift stores for a lot of our clothing -- high quality, name-brand clothes for a fraction of the price of WalMart or Target. ;) )

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  10. I love this series...thank you so much. Having a handy husband has been a real money-saver. We've made enough money through my husband fixing up and selling two fixer uppers and with our current house, we had things completed only enough to move in and my husband is slowly finishing the work himself (very slowly, consider four more children have joined us since we've moved in!

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  11. Do you really think people think twice about having a large family because of creature comforts? Frankly, that's insulting. Many families don't have more than a few children because the out-of-pocket medical costs for the birth are sky high. My first child cost almost $9000 out-of-pocket (c-section) with insurance. Our current insurance would be about $6000 for a baby. Then there are the dental expenses for braces. Thousands of dollars. Both my children will need that. Is that a creature comfort too? Please, give me a break. It's easy to have a surprise pregnancy when it doesn't cost you a dime for the medical care.
    I do many of the things you've listed, but is it so terrible to want to give your kids something more than just the basics.I know too many adults from large families who resent not getting to do things as children because their families were too poor.

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    1. I don't think Bonnie is saying medical needs are a "creature comfort" at all, don't read into things that aren't there. She's talking about people, and yes they're out there, who choose actual things - new cars every year, big expensive vacations, designer new clothes, etc. and cap their families at smaller numbers because they'd have to give up "things". That's a different thing can feeling called to limit your family size because of your families very real medical needs.

      Not every family is going to be comfortable getting by at the level Bonnie and her family does - I know I wouldn't and that's why I choose to work and have never felt judged by my friend for this choice. But like she said in her first post there's a difference between having a small family and nice things and having a small family to HAVE nice things.

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    2. PRG, I would like to refer you back to what I wrote in the Series Intro (I'm not writing about YOU) and what I wrote in the paragraph you were hurt by (I was talking about creature comforts and NOT medical bills). There is not need to be rude or upset.

      And yes, I KNOW people stop having children because of creature comforts. I know a lot of people who have told me their husbands got snipped so they could travel, own boats, have gym memberships, and more.

      So I'm not going to give you a break. I'm going to ask you to give me one and read what I actually wrote.

      And thank you for SO perfectly illustrating the kind of crap people on government assistance have to take.

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    3. PRG, Again, I was not writing about people who *have* to limit family size. The paragraph you are insulted by is not. talking. to. you. Please read it in a tone of charity - me encouraging families who are afraid to stop keeping up with the Joneses in order to intentionally grow their family through pregnancy or adoption.

      But until you can comment on what I actually said instead of your interpretation of comments you think I'm making about you and some forum I'm not reading, I'm going to delete all further remarks.

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    4. Sometimes those older children in big families might feel resentful, but that's because they missed the big picture of people before possessions. I know as the third of nine with a stay at home mom and a dad working in the public sector, there were many many things I either had to earn the money for or go without. I also paid my way through a bachelor's and master's degree (I'm 34 and debt free, so the impact hasn't been traumatic at all). I'd never trade the experiences or things for any one of my brothers and sisters. Paying my own way also built a work ethic on me that will serve me the rest of my life.

      Some people do stop at a certain number in order to provide certain things, and honestly, the Church leaves the number of children and discernment process up to each couple's hearts, but truly, we live in a world where people place possessions before people.

      Thank you Bonnie for sharing this hard topic so candidly.

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  13. Gardening is also a huge money saver for me! I start most everything from seed and compost all our food scraps for free compost too! And when I can't grow ask that I want to, the farmers market is usually a cheaper option than the store. Also processing and canning or freezing a lot of in season, cheap ingredients, saves money throughout the year. By the way, we haven't missed Netflix since we cancelled it when we cancelled our internet, and now that we have internet back we just do the free renting of library movies and watch those instead! that'd be another $10/month ;-)

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    1. Oh Kristy, we would totally miss Netflix. And I would probably make up that $10 fee in late fees owed to the library. lol

      I should use the Farmer's Market a lot more than I did in the past and growing the size of our garden is something I really want to do. I do have green beans and tomato sauce in the freezer but I have a long way to go.

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  14. Amen to the medical assistance! We also have state medical, and THANK GOD. My husband's diabetic meds would cost $500+ every month (to keep him alive), not including the annual checkups he needs. He did not have insurance for many years because of his "pre-existing condition", and we relied on the insulin companies meds assistance programs & paid for his other things out-of-pocket. It makes such a difference. And of course, pregnancy, birth, kids ailments, etc. I have def had people say pretty hurtful things to me about receiving any sort of government assistance, but now I'm just thankful and ignore it.

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  15. We get tons of hand me downs too! I love them. I truly feel like less is more in terms of stuff.

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  16. THANKS for being so vulnerable. I'm inspired by your lifestyle, but really, I'm more inspired by your ability to speak with honesty about something so difficult to talk about!

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  17. Really great list, Bonnie. I was shocked to see the negative comment above... Obviously coming from her place of hurting and not from anything you wrote.

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  18. Thanks for writing this. It really puts some things in perspective for me. I think I have a warped view of what I need versus what I truly need in terms of material things and outings, etc. This has led to an increase in our debt which has made it difficult to talk about home schooling and giving up my income because: 1) we need more money to carry our debts; and 2) I am insecure with the idea of giving anything up materially or financially and making those changes, even if it would get us something intangible I really want (me at home, to be homeschooling my daughter, etc.). I think I need to do some serious thinking. I think I place too much value on the wrong things, and that is becoming more and more obvious.

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  19. You're a bold holy woman Bonnie Engstrom!!! I just wanted to say, especially after reading the comment regarding savings, that my parents went through a lot of financial difficulties when I was a little girl, we had a wonderfully happy life, heard no a lot as well but also enjoyed many special things due to the generosity of others and the sacrifices of my parents, and God has truly blessed them as they have become empty-nesters and near their retirement now. My dad experienced a large increase in sales success in the last decade which has allowed them to be much more comfortable and confident about their retirement years even though they are still working beyond many of their peers as they approach 65. They were faithful to giving to the church and trusting that God will provide one thing at a time as our family needed it, and there were health episodes and other surprise expenses in there as well, but our experience was confirmed over and again that way when we needed something God would provide it. Thank you for your encouraging witness and solidarity in living the Christian life!

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  20. Thanks for this! Love the envelope system
    Too. Have also been using dave Ramsey's free online budgeting tool- EveryDollar. It's really amazing! Dave Ramsey has been such a lifesaver for us!

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  21. So, reading the list- first thank you for sharing- like others have said, the real honesty is refreshing. Second, your list is VERY similar to how I was raised. And, honestly, I think the way a lot of people of older generations were raised, and we are better for it. It's so hard, in today's reality of real excess to not feel that pull of keeping up financially with this world of material goods. Even worse, the stress of debt/medical bills is all consuming (I know it well because I lived it for a decade in my twenties, but thank God before having a family). Generosity is a fantastic reminder- thanks for that :)

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  22. Bonnie, Just read through the entire series. You are brave to be so vunerable. While our circumstances are different, and we do not have the exact same financial strains, I do feel guilt about purchases like the Chia Tea you mentioned. My husband and I try to help support many charities and church missions and I feel a tremendous responsibility to use our money well and live spiritual poverty so that we can serve others. If I waste money how many children will go hungry? I am sure I will have to make an account to God about this some day. Pope Francis has really moved us to eat out less, avoid superfluous purchases, eat all the leftovers and shop discount. It seems God has clearly shown you where you need to live those sacrifices. I struggle to know exactly where the line is.. Whether we are rich, poor or somewhere in the middle, we should all be living a reflective attitude when it comes to finances. Generosity in this department will look different for different ppl. Thank you for sharing your journey!

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    1. Kathleen, I really appreciate your perspective and comment so thank you for sharing. It is very beautiful to me that you are responding to the prompting to live spiritual poverty. Honestly, I often think I do a better job of living actual poverty compared to spiritual poverty. It is a struggle for me, and one I often take to the confessional.

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  23. To echo what some others have said, this is how I was raised as well and I'm so grateful to have that background of thrift and valuing family life over material goods. While we don't currently have serious financial strains, I really struggle with materialism and it would be to the detriment of my family if not for the way that my parents raised me. I try really hard to meal plan and stay on a budget and buy second hand, but I know I wouldn't make such an effort if I didn't have the example of my mom's thriftiness. Anyway, my point is, your children will benefit from your example and thank you one day, and in the meantime, they do have the biggest gift in each other and the love of their family. God bless you for your beautiful vulnerability, Bonnie. :)

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  24. This is such a great series! God bless you!

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  25. Feel free not to answer this question if it seems too noisy, but why opt out of WIC/food stamps...either to have more flexibility in your grocery shopping or to have a little extra you could move from groceries to paying debts or something else?

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    1. It's pretty unlikely that I would do WIC again. It was wonderful for the formula, and if this next baby needs formula for some reason maybe we will use it again. However, the hassle we went through + all the remarks about my family size and birth control quickly began to outweigh the benefits.

      However, currently Travis and I feel like we are gaining so much from the medical card that we would like to stick with that and really try to be better stewards of what we do have instead of just relying on the government for more. Right now we are getting by, and the day may come when we no longer can, but we do feel like we owe it to our fellow tax payers to do our best to stay off additional aid.

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  26. Thank you for sharing! I think sometimes we overvalue privacy in these matters. :)

    I do a lot of the same things for my family, although we have a bit more wiggle room in finances. I thought I might share a couple things not mentioned here:
    -Republic Wireless is the cheapest cellphone service I've found
    -We never buy baby or toddler clothes new; way too many used floating around!
    -I buy meat on sale or at discount stores and deep freeze
    -For adult clothes, ThredUp and other sale websites can get quality clothes at target prices, Also quality stores offer huge discounts at the end of the season, if you already know what you need next year.
    -Cloth diapers and wipes
    -Keep meals fully cooked in freezer as alternative to takeout or for packing lunch
    -Enough rags to minimize paper towels, storage containers over ziploc
    -Baking bread when I have time

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    1. Bonnie--do you cloth diaper or have any interest in cloth diapering? I may be able to get you set up with cloth diapers if you don't have them. Email me at tmfxbm (@) gmail if you're interested. :)

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  27. I loved this series. We carry different crosses in our house, but it's been so insightful and enriching to read about your burdens and how you manage them.

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  28. I imagine our income is similar to yours, as we also fall just within the WIC/SNAP benefits but don't use it (partially because I find the application process daunting). In response to the overall theme of the series, of having children even within tight financial situations, I do have to say that you are in a position many of us are not with your insurance benefits. We pay $500 a month for our family's insurance, and that is for the high deductible plan. My cheapest birth still cost us $2000 oop. My ultrasounds are not covered and run over $300 a piece at the regular OB, and when we were referred for a specialized ultrasound, it was even more. Right now we still owe almost $5000 from Nolan's weeklong stay in an isolette, even though essentially no medical procedures were performed on him other than being in the isolette and learning how to nurse. Having another baby is a desire of mine, and I love the 25 month space between my first two, which means we would be pregnant or getting pregnant right now, but we are not. We can't add another $2000 (minimum) to that medical debt, or more if I ended up with anything but a normal full term birth. The hospital doesn't think we qualify for aid - after all, we have insurance.

    I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say about being open to life and how to cut corners to make large family life possible/more comfortable. We do nearly all the same things. I just wanted to chime in from a different perspective. It would take a lot more cutting for us to pay for the birth of another baby next year, and as I mentioned at the beginning, I'm pretty sure our incomes are similar based on WIC/SNAP eligibility. Obviously, we are open to life and if we did get pregnant, we would be overjoyed and would figure out a way to make it work. One good part about medical debt is that they don't charge interest, so as long as we keep making our $142 monthly payment, I guess we could just keep having babies forever. :)

    Oh, one more thing I wanted to mention is that we do enjoy memberships to the zoo, museum, etc, because we ask for those as our kids' Christmas presents from grandparents. It is a nice way to keep some of the materialism out of Christmas and give our family some special times together.

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    1. Yes, as I said, if we didn't have the medical card we would probably despair. You'll notice I called it "Financial Hardships and *Surprise* Pregnancies" - we didn't plan this family and so we are just having to do what we have to do. Talking about using WIC and the medical card isn't something I'm proud of but I shared it to be honest. This is part of what we have to do.

      If you do get pregnant then perhaps you should also look into the medical card. If you qualify for food stamps you would surely qualify for that. Even just having you and the kids on it would be a huge relief. I'm not advocating for getting the card so you can keep having all the babies you want, please understand that. A large part of the reason we do not do food stamps is because we're using the medical card and feel like we're getting more than enough through that. And, again, I think financial reasons you're talking about *are* a good reason to put off or be done having more kids.

      And just to speak to my own experiences, what you're talking about is exactly the type of stuff we just didn't do before we had the medical card. Before Resa I had one ultrasound with all the previous kids. We didn't go to the dentist. We didn't go to the doctor except for immunizations. I think, though, that I got off cheap with my first births because homebirth is so much cheaper than hospital.

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    2. I've never looked into the medical card eligibility. I suppose it would be worth looking into if we did get pregnant, because pregnancy and birth are expensive. I appreciate your honesty about all of this. Thanks.

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    3. I think, too, this is one of those things that comes down to the cross that you and Steve are being asked to carry is different than the one Travis and I are being asked to carry. I am jealous of your ability to not get pregnant (as I think you already know!). For some reason God has given us not a lot of money and lots of surprise pregnancies; He's given you not a lot of money and bad insurance. Maybe?

      (FYI - for people who don't know - Marie and I are friends irl, in case this helps our conversation make any more sense.)

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    4. LOL, a cross of bad insurance. Only in America :)

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    5. Another idea for health care costs is a health share program. We are a part of Samaritan Ministries, which costs us $405 a month. We send it to another family with a medical need. For my son, with which we had a emergency c-section, through this we were covered.

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  30. Thank you for sharing all this Bonnie. I was raised in a similar way as well- large family, lots of hand me downs and second-hand belingings, and tight budget, but I really had a happy childhood and love having so many siblings.
    Something my husband and I are struggling with, though, is being super-fertile, and I almost feel defeated by that fact (awful as that sounds). Spacing kids seems impossible. But like you said, we all have our crosses; it's just tough to make peace with it! Again, thanks for sharing- it helps to read this and the comments and witness others going through something similar!

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  31. I'm reading through the series backwards so I read this post first! Oops. I have to say that I am so grateful for the honesty in your blogging. We do a lot of the things you mention here including that our kids don't participate in extracurriculars. Next year we will revisit that because we are fortunate to be apart of a homeschooling charter school which pays families a certain amount per child enrolled and we can use the funds for non-group sports and music lessons etc. That is the only way we could afford those things. Also we do the meatless meals on Wednesdays and Fridays too! It's actually common in the Byzantine rite to not eat meat on those days!

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  32. Hi Bonnie, I think you are fantastic and brave to be posting this! I'll admit, there are some fancy blogs out there, that when I see their homes and rooms, I have to fight fiercely not to be envious. I have a special place in my heart for those living, well, more like me.

    I have a different cross - infertility - and with it comes its own financial challenges. It seems like a lot of people think no kids = $$$ in the bank. This is true to an extent. But we've also spent $4,000 this year on our deductible and co-pays and member responsibilities for all the tests I've had to figure out the source of infertility, plus almost $400 with learning a new charting method. It adds up!

    You are a beautiful person!

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  33. I have 2 questions on your techniques to live frugal. We don't have a the exact same financial burden but some months get really lean depending on the bills. Who do you get hand me downs from? We don't have family to get from so consider that a huge blessing that you do! And how do you track down the beef to buy? Is this something I should just Google?

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    1. Hi Madeline, I have received, and in turn passed on, a lot of hand me downs via moms groups. I belong to several local parents groups through meetup.com. Facebook is also a good place to look for moms groups or local garage sale groups. Particularly in the meet-up groups (where people socialize as well) moms will post on message boards "I have a bag of 2T boys clothes to get rid of, free to the first person to respond," or similar messages. Sometimes people will sell bags of kids clothes for a couple of bucks. You can also post that you are looking for used clothes that anyone is looking to get rid of. I have received and also given away a lot of kids clothing and baby gear this way. Good luck!

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    2. I would like to second this, and add: asking is the way to go if you are not speedy on replying to "Free to the first person" sorts of ads. I have been amazed when I post, "Does anyone have X that we can borrow for this winter?" how often people say, "Yes, you can have it, and do you also want Y?"

      It also helps to "be a river, not a lake" yourself. When you're done with something for now, loan it out. There's something that goes on in the universe where people who are generous tend to receive generosity in return, often not from people they even know.

      I've also tried the, "Do you ever host garage sales? What do you do with the clothes your kids outgrow?" You may find that someone is putting their stuff in those stupid "donation boxes" that are in some parking lots, and don't even go to charity! Or they are selling stuff for $1, while wasting a whole weekend. You could say, "When your kid outgrows clothes, keep us in mind before you put things in a garage sale/donation bin." (More politely than that.) I would so much rather give my hand-me-downs to someone who wants them than waste my time in a garage sale or donate to a place that may very well turn the clothes into rags.

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    3. I replied to Madeline via email, but I wanted to answer here, too, in case others were wondering the same thing.

      For clothes and the beef I asked on Facebook. "Does anyone have some boys size 5 jeans they want to get rid of?" and "Does anyone local buy beef from a farmer? We are interested in doing so."

      Right now most of our hand me downs come from friends from school and recently people have just started to offer me items, which is really nice. And by asking on FB about beef I learned that one of my FB friends actually sells beef! I knew she and her husband were farmers but I didn't know they they sold and that has worked out really well for us.

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  34. This was beautiful, Bonnie! Just read the entire series. You know what children need more than toys (we buy very few,) new clothes (I almost never buy those,) music classes (we have 1 child in piano,) trips to Disney (don't see that in our near future,) new cars to ride in (haven't owned any since I've been married,) their own bedroom (my 3 kids have that now that we've moved to a fixer-upper), etc., etc., etc...? They need joy. Money can lend to happiness and provide a false sense of security so there's less temptation to worry...but it can never create joy. Ever. Keep the joy that I'm sure you possess because of your love for Christ and your children will be blessed w/heavenly riches beyond measure. A joyful home is a happy home. God bless!

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  35. Bonnie, thank you so much for your openness and honesty in writing all this, but beyond that, thank you for sharing your beautiful and joyful family with the world.

    You (and Jenny Uebbing) have made me think a lot in the past week about how I spend money and why, so thank you for that too. It's really easy for me to think that it doesn't hurt to treat myself sometimes or that it doesn't matter if I buy something new once in a while, but it's not responsible and it has created some bad habits that I need to nip in the bud.

    One final thing - could you talk some time about how you meal plan? I am super impressed with how you stretch your grocery budget and want to learn more about that.

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    1. Rebecca, I will work on that meal plan post. Thank you for that suggestion.

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  36. Thanks for being honest, Bonnie. I blog under a pseudonym, so it doesn't take nearly as much courage to admit that I only have $0.18 in the bank before my next paycheck. I often wonder what God is calling us to. On paper, I have a great job. My husband has a disability, so will never be the "sole breadwinner." By the same token, the expenses and debt we have for various reasons really adds up, even with a decent salary. I wish it were as simple as "don't spend what you don't have." I also HATE that people with jobs and insurance still cannot sustain medical emergencies because of the way American insurance works. It's complicated. In the long run, these small decisions make a huge difference.

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  37. Thank you for sharing. Our lives been very similar and we have been in your boat. My husband was also a teacher for 15 years and we have 6 kids. I usually don't comment on posts but feel in my heart I must challenge you as my husband has always challenged us. Give God our first fruits...as scary as it is...up your tithe to where it should be and see what God does for your family. God has been so good to us over the years and had always provided more than enough. I was always the one dragging feet but have truly seen the beauty in tithing our 10%. A priest once said we should write the check with joy or not write it at all. Just a thought to take to prayer!

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    1. I'm glad for you and I appreciate what you're saying.

      Tithing is something we have looked at a lot and we've had several pastors encourage us to tithe what we can while we work our way up to tithing at least 10%. We were also advised that if we cannot tithe it all in money we should be sure to make up the difference in our time and talents.I also look at it this way: many protestant and Mormon churches have hired staff who do what my husband and I have volunteered to do. There were times where if I was making $10 an hour the Church would owe me money after I "wrote off" the rest of the money as a part of my tithe.

      Again, I appreciate what you're doing and saying and I agree that 10% is a biblical example. But I have to believe that our best is good enough for God (though maybe not for that priest you referenced) and that He knows our hearts and our intentions. I suppose we could stop paying the water bill, though...

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  38. Thanks for sharing your opinions. As a blogger myself, I think its frustrating when readers forget that we do not claim to have "professional" knowledge, we only share from our heart and what works for our families. I love that you shared all the specific ways that you save money. Thanks again!!!

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  39. I have to agree with Kelly. I would challenge you to tithe 10% like it is your first, most important bill. Give God what's His first, what he's asked of us, even if you think you can't afford it (Malachi 3:10). God calls us to tithe as a way of putting Him first in or lives, prioritizing Him (Deuteronomy 14:23). He promises to open the storehouses and pour out His blessings on tithers. Of course, this decision is between you and your husband and God, but as He calls us to sharpen each other, I encourage you to seek out His word, pray about it and maybe even fast - He just might call you to step out in faith and I'd be excited to see your reward!

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    1. I'm sorry my answer was not good enough for you.

      I know that you and Kelly are both trying to be helpful but really you've both hurt me pretty deeply by implying that I'm not prioritizing God and that what my husband and I are doing (after much prayer, many hard conversations, and speaking to various pastors) it is not good enough.

      I knew I would be opening myself up to criticism by blogging about this but I fully suspected more commenters attacking me because of family size or government aid. I did not see this coming - people telling me that despite all our sacrifices and all that we are doing to be obedient to God despite how incredibly hard it is IT'S JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH because of a measly extra $100 that buys food for my family. Maybe you want us living off the food bank. Maybe that's what opening the storehouses looks like in your book.

      Again, I know that really your hearts are in the right place but I would advise you to save this kind of advice for someone you know personally.

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  40. Also, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    "the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability"

    from Catholic Answers:
    Although the Church teaches that offering some form of material support to the Church is obligatory for all Catholic adults who are able to do so, it doesn't specify what percent of one's income should be given. Remember, tithing was an Old Testament obligation that was incumbent on the Jews under the Law of Moses. Christians are dispensed from the obligation of tithing ten percent of their incomes, but not from the obligation to help the Church.

    The key to understanding how God wants us to give to the Church is found in 1 Corinthians 16:2, "On the first day of the week [Sunday] each of you should set aside whatever he can afford," (They also discuss 2 Corinthians 9:5-8).

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    1. Preach, sister. I think people can be VERY legalistic about tithing. There is a tendency (especially in Protestant "prosperity" circles) to use tithing as a way of basically bribing God. "I did/gave X for you, God, you owe me Y. Malachi 3:10 says so." This can be very dangerous. God calls us to be faithful and responsible to what we have. Sowing and reaping is a true law of the universe, but includes much more than a literal 10% of income. Sometimes people use it as "Christian karma." I know because used to be part of these circles. We were taught to give money we didn't have to organizations that were questionable. We were taught to do this BEFORE taking care of responsibilities, bills, etc., all in the name of "faith." Thankfully, we as Catholics are free and guided by much more wisdom, as you cite in the CCC. As our pastor reminded us recently, worship is derived from the word "worth" - giving God #1 place in our lives - money, volunteering, time, etc. This is an attitude of the heart that transcends the literal 10% of monetary tithing.

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  41. I'm so sorry that my comment hurt you, that is complete opposite of what I intended! I wasn't criticizing or implying you aren't putting God first in your life. I'm truly sorry that my comment led you to believe that. I was simply trying to encourage you because I've personally reaped the rewards of tithing. The Bible calls us to sharpen one another and also to encourage one another (that's what I was trying to do with my comment). I would never try to insult you or hurt you. You are doing an amazing job as a mom and wife and a faithful follower of Jesus! Thank you for using your talents of writing to bring people to Him! I'll be praying that God blesses your family.

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  42. Thank you so much for this series. I feel very alone in our financial struggles. It seems for some reason like almost all the blogs I read regularly have clearly much more financial means than we have. And I don't begrudge them that one bit! I truly don't! But...it kind of surprises me that more people living on one income are not more....broke. lol. Even locally, so many of the one income families we know live much better, financially, while we struggle to hold our thrift store furniture together and make our mortgage payment on our fixer upper, etc. etc. It's just good to hear from someone else that is living this struggle. We I left my job to be a stay at home mom 15 years ago, I got several "must be nice" comments from the other women I worked with. Because they didn't ask, I didn't point out that they drove new cars, owned horses, boats, took expensive vacations, while we rented a two bedroom duplex and drove paid for old cars. That's why I was able to leave. I wasn't supporting a lifestyle. And yes...it was nice. :)

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  43. I live in Canada, where most of your medical expenses would be covered under government insurances - especially birth/nicu/hospital stays.

    I am always surprised to hear Americans commenting about how families who incur these expenses are being financially irresponsible. Having children is part of human nature and should not ever be just a privilege for the wealthy. And illness is something that is almost always beyond our control. Nobody should be forced into poverty due to illness, and they certainly shouldn't be shamed for it if it happens.

    I don't see it as a handout when government health programs cover people's medical bills, especially since improving people's health as well as their financial solvency benefits everyone, since poverty itself is a cause of so many long-lasting social ills. But so many people who work hard for their money are so resentful of the idea of others getting basic needs for free that they are willing to allow others, and society in general, to suffer in order to make sure that necessities of life go only to those who have "earned" them.

    I think such people also need to re-think how much of their own worth is earned rather than gained by chance. For example, a whole number of things affect our earning potential that are beyond our control, including our health, whether our innate talents can lead to a good job (engineers earn way more than artists), the financial situation of our parents, etc.

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  44. Thank you for this series. We live in France, but we had similar struggles in the four years we spent in the U.S., especially concerning medical bills ...

    One of the best homilies I've ever heard came from a priest who shared very honestly about growning up with lots of siblings and very little money. He said that one of the days he remembered best from his childhood was the day that his parents were crying and praying to St. Joseph because that week, they didn't have any money for groceries. And then a neighbor showed up with the money they needed, without being asked. For him, what really hit home that day was that God was real, and that he cared about his family. That was a major event for his vocation as a priest.

    We make such a big deal about being independent in the U.S., but God really wants us to take care of each other and to rely on Him. I like how you have been insisting on how each individual situation is really about our relationship with God and His attempts to get us to grow in holiness.

    God bless you.

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  45. By the way, target will refund or replace any target brand clothing (Circo, cat and jack, etc- children's and adult) if it wears out within a year of your purchase. My son ALWAYS gets holes I his jeans so that helps!

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