Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How Can You Afford All Those Kids? part 4--know what you need

To cut spending it is crucial to know the difference between Wants and Needs.  Needs are things you absolutely cannot live without.  Wants are everything else.

Food, shelter and clothing are needs.  You must have those things to survive.  You must provide those things for your children.

We must feed ourselves and our children.  But McDonald's food is not at all a need.  (And if you stop eating it for a while, you'll find it's not even a Want anymore because it will make you sick to your stomach if you try it again later.)  Needs in groceries, in my way of thinking, would include meats and other protein sources, dairy, fruits and veggies, and breads. (I was raised on the Basic 4 Food groups and still think that way.  It works for me.)  Most of our meat and milk comes from our cows.  It costs us time and money to raise them, but it's worth it to us.  And we save a LOT of money that way.  Our dairy cow costs us less to feed and care for than the milk we would have bought at the store.  To get milk from her she has to have a calf.  So since we have 2 dairy cows, if we rotate them each year, we get milk and a calf once a year.  When that calf is about a year old, we can take it to be processed.  The meat we get costs us less than a dollar a pound and feeds us for about a year.  It works out really nicely for us if we can keep up with the timing of things. 

We eat pretty healthy.  We cook most things from scratch mostly because it's just cheaper that way, but we've also seen how much healthier it is and how much better we feel.  Recently we've been buying store bought cereal so our grocery costs have climbed quite a bit.  But when we are less lazy and actually get up and fix breakfast we save a lot of money.  Oatmeal is WAY cheaper and healthier than cold cereal.  We make coffee cake with 1/2 the sugar and use whole wheat flour.  It's yummy, more filling than cereal, and cheaper.  Rather than buying crackers, chips, or other junk food for snacks, we eat fruits, nuts and carrots.  I do spend the extra on baby carrots because I've found that overall they are cheaper for us.  If I buy regular carrots, they go bad in the fridge because let's face it, when you want a snack you want grab-and-go, not wash and peel and then finally eat.  So we get baby carrots and just eat them straight out of the bag.  My kids will go through a 2 lb bag in a day, but can you think of a healthier snack?  Good for their eyes, skin, teeth, immune systems, and full of fiber.  That 2 lb bag costs me um, I think it was $3 last time I paid attention.  I could easily pay that much or more for a couple bags of chips (which is what it would take to satisfy 12 of us) or cookies or crackers, without the health benefit.  At first it was disappointing to the kids because they were used to junk, but they got used to it and LOVE them now.  Also apples, oranges, or whatever fruit is in season can make great snacks.  Popcorn is great, but with two in braces it seems cruel to make it and not let them have any.  So basically healthy food is a Need, everything else is a Want.  Don't buy the Wants if you can't afford them.

Clothing is a need.  We need appropriate clothes for each season.  Style is a Want. We try to find ways to afford the Wants in this area though.  We shop second hand when that works out or we sew when needed.  We also make good use of hand-me-downs whenever we can.  I really can't understand when some people can sell their kids' clothes second hand because mine seem to wear everything out, but I'm sure glad it happens.  I recently visited a local 2nd hand store for kids and spent about $65.  I came home with a bag of clothes for my grandson, 3 fancy dresses for 5 yr old Gloria (who was being bribed not to suck her thumb during the day anymore), a wooden puzzle, some swimsuits for the kids, and a bunch of new-to-me maternity clothes.  I'm wearing what I consider to be a pretty cute top with a tank top and denim maternity shorts right now.  Total cost to me for this outfit: $9.  It was all in great shape and fits me well so I'm excited.  I looked for brand new shorts the other day and couldn't find any for less than $35.  And that's just the shorts!  I have THREE TEENAGE GIRLS in the house now.  A good chunk of our clothing fund goes to their clothing.  Probably a higher percentage of our clothing fund goes to their clothes these days, but I do understand their desire to be in style.  Thankfully, they've learned well from me.  They aren't all that keen on second hand clothes, but they like to find bargains and have gotten quite good at it. 

Shelter is the final need area.  For most people you are already living where you are living and moving is a huge expense in and of itself.  But if you will be changing where you live, try to keep in mind that the nicest house on the block is not a Need, it's a Want.  Same goes for furnishings and decorations.  You don't have to have all the nicest stuff filling your house.  If you can afford it, great, but know the difference and make your choice accordingly.

We also save money on Wants in many ways.  We have a nice TV and have a Netflix account for entertainment.  We do not pay for cable or satellite.  While occasionally we'll attend a movie at a theatre, for the most part we wait until it's at a dollar theatre or on DVD.  That's a sacrifice we've made in order to afford all these kids.  We definitely prefer each child over any movie we could go see.

Our kids are not involved in tons of sports and activities.  We usually make them wait until they are 10 to sign up for sports because our experience is that before then, they don't really care that much and are more likely to burn out on the sport before they get old enough to really do anything with it.  I am not saying it's wrong to take your kids to stuff, just that this is our choice.  And then when they are 10, they may choose ONE activity at a time.  This is to save both money AND our sanity.  All of us.  For those kids I've seen who are in a different activity every day of the week, I don't see a lot of joy.  When do they get to play?  People talk longingly of the old days when kids played in their yard and just hung out and played board games or made up games to play together, etc.  Well, this is still a reality at our house.  Our kids are happy and creative and get lots of time to play.  We have activities we do together, and the older kids have their separate activities that they do.  They're still pretty busy and we miss them when they aren't home, but we all feel we've found a good balance between quiet times and busy times.  And we don't overspend on activities.

I was discussing this with my teens the other day and one of them commented, "I can't imagine being so selfish that I thought it so important that I be able to do more, that someone else couldn't even have life."  They all see their siblings as being Needs, not Wants, and would be happy to give up more stuff, if necessary, to have more siblings.  It's called Love.  We have it in abundance and it's free.  And those little kids provide the older kids with oodles of entertainment.

So we save money by balancing our wants and our needs and this allows us to afford all these kids and still live happy, satisfying lives.

Monday, May 30, 2011

How Can You Afford All Those Kids? part 3--We're debt free

I posted yesterday about our savings plan and how we set money aside in separate accounts for different expenses that we know will come up.  But how do we have extra money to put into savings?  We're debt free.

It helped a lot that we moved from an expensive house into a much less expensive house.  We had equity built up so when we sold the expensive house we were able to pay off the debt on the expensive house, pay for the new house in full, and pay off the van.  Then with the money we saved from not having house and van payments, we were able to pay off the truck and suburban pretty quickly.  I cannot tell you how incredibly freeing it is to have no car payments or house payment.  (Although we still save each month to be able to pay the taxes and insurance on these things!)

It really changes the way you see your vehicle, too.  It used to be that I knew we had to pay a car payment so the way I saw it, I should be driving the nicest car/van I could get for that monthly amount.  It didn't bother me to trade in a vehicle after a few years (when we weren't upside down anymore) and get a new vehicle as long as the payment was about the same.  I figured I was doing great.  I feel so stupid now when I look back on my "logic" from those days.  I would never have been done. 

So now I've been driving the same 15 passenger van for 8 years.  It's got some dents and places where the paint has come off.  We've had to have some work done to it over the years, too, to keep it running well.  But when we looked it up, the cost of a new van was in the vicinity of $50K!!  That's a lot of money!  A used van isn't really much better when you consider that ours is used and still runs good.  So we looked into what it would cost to fix it up and get the dents out and the paint re-done.  When the dents were new we took it to a supposedly Christian place in the metroplex and they wanted nearly $4000 to fix it.  Now we have a local guy out here in Clyde who really knows how to fix dents and not just replace the panel.  His estimate to do all the work we want done was under $2000.  Hmm.  Compare that to the cost of payments for the next 5 years and it's a no brainer.  We're gonna keep driving our good ol' trusty van.  Chances are we'll need to spend money on it again over the next 10 years, but I bet we can keep it running for less than $50K.  And it will be as pretty as any 15 passenger van can be.

If the day ever comes that I can drive something smaller, we won't buy new.  We'll save until we can afford a new-to-us vehicle and then we'll get something used but in good condition.  It's just not worth it to us to pay a huge amount of money for the fanciest car around. 

Same thing with credit cards.  If we don't have the money in the bank to pay for what we are buying, we don't buy it.  We don't assume we can pay the payments and eventually be done.  That's debt and it's not fun.  Debt is a stressful thing and we have enough stress in our lives already, thank you.  Besides, that cute new outfit or that cool cd on sale is not as good of a deal when you add in the interest you'll pay on the credit card if you can't pay it in full.

But I do like having a credit card.  I like the Reward Points.  And I like the convenience of just swiping it at the cash register when I have a pack of kids with me.  We have used a debit card more frequently because it's easier to be sure we don't overspend that way, but recently Roger rented a car to go to his sister's college graduation.  He figured out that the cost of the rental that got good gas mileage plus gas was less than the cost of gas in his truck or suburban. So he went to rent the car and they wouldn't take a debit card.  So there's another benefit to at least having a credit card.  I use it for things like orthodontist payments, too.  I've already allotted that amount to be spent each month, so if I put it on the card I can get reward points for it yet know that I can pay it in full when the bill comes.

Being debt free can be hard to achieve, and there are sacrifices you make along the way. But once you get there, it's such a great feeling you'll never want to go back!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How Can You Afford All Those Kids? part 2--spending and saving

We used to spend our money as we received it and lived paycheck to paycheck.  But then things would come up and we hadn't saved for them.  We'd have to scramble to come up with the money and pinch hard somewhere to make it work.

But you learn as you grow older.  I now have a system set up where we set money aside each month for things that we know we'll need/want money for in the future. (And I think it's really important to pay attention to what is a need and what is a want.)  We have our regular amount we know we'll need for food, bills, gas, etc.  And then we divide up what we can into separate categories, deciding together how much to allot to each category.

Each family would want to choose their own categories, but here's our list in case you are curious:
taxes, clothing, computers, furniture, vehicles, education, vacations, gifts, medical/dental, date night, kids college, house/farm capital, allowances--for Roger and myself.  We haven't really felt convinced the kids should get an allowance so they don't.  But they do occasionally do extra jobs that earn them money.  I think that's our whole list, but I may have missed something.

Each payday when I pay bills, I take the allotted amount and transfer it to savings.  Then I move it from what I call Emergency Savings to all the separate little accounts on Quicken.  As far as my bank knows, it's all just one savings account.  When we have an expense that fits one of these categories I can reimburse our checking account from that specific savings account.  It's so nice when the seasons change and we need new clothing to know that our clothing savings has built up over the last few months when we didn't need to be buying clothes.  Or when we hit birthday season (6 of the kids' birthdays are in the first 3 months of the year) and we can afford gifts.

None of this would be possible if we just bought whatever we want whenever we want it.  We have a credit card, but we don't buy things we can't afford.  We use our credit card because I really like those reward points, but we pay it in full every month.  It would cost too much to pay the interest.  But that's another post for another day.

This video clip really sums it all up.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

How Can You Afford All Those Kids? part 1--Who helps us

The real question here is often, "Are you getting government assistance?"  And while the answer could really be, "It's none of your business." I'll be honest and say, "NO."

There was a time, just prior to beginning this blog in 2005, that we were in the top bracket for income tax.  We certainly paid our fair share.  At that time I didn't think it fair that the more money you made the higher percentage you paid.  I still feel that way.  And between then and now when we would have qualified for gov't assistance, but chose not to even apply, I still didn't think it was right that there are different brackets like that.  The Bible says, "if anyone does not work, neither should he be fed." I believe that is a good principle.  I also think it is good and useful for those who cannot find work or find honest disabilities prevent them from working that they get help when they need it.  But none of my opinions matter.  It is what it is.  I vote and that is the best I can do on these matters.  But what I really want to say here is that when we paid a ton of money in taxes, it was none of my business which individuals were receiving assistance.  So why anyone would think it their business to know who receives assistance is beyond my understanding.  Put yourself in their place.  If you were desperate and had to apply for assistance, would you want that to be public knowledge?

Anyway, enough of that.  Government help is not how we afford these kids.  Common sense in our spending and God's grace allow it.

There have been times where we truly wondered how in the world we could afford to keep going.  I once needed money for something and prayed, "God, you're going to have to drop money from the sky to meet this need."  Within a few days I was reminded that our credit card was a rewards card and we earned air miles.  Those air miles could be turned in for cash.  It was just the right amount to cover our need!  God is good.  I gave Him the credit for allowing me to learn of this application of our miles in perfect timing.

Other times we can't figure out how it worked out, but it did.  The money just seems to be there.  But we are faithful and tithe at least 10% from our income.  We figure 100% of it really is God's money.  And He lets us do what we want with 90% of that.  It's really a small amount when you think of it that way.  It's hard to get started, but He is faithful to supply ALL our needs when we are faithful to Him.

So to sum up part 1 of this answer, no, we don't get help from the government, but yes, we do get help from God.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The State of My Health

Many of those commenting on the article about us, A Dozen Blessings, seem concerned about my health.  That perhaps having all these babies is hard on my health and I might not live until menopause.

Okay, first I had to stop laughing at that one.  Now I can go on and write this post.

I guess I can't give an official word from my doctor.  I haven't seen a doctor in, oh, something like 10 years and that was a complete waste of time and money.  My midwives have not seemed concerned about my health.  They don't consider me a high risk pregnancy in spite of my age (43.25 yrs) or number of children I have had.

About the only health concerns I've ever heard from medical professionals regarding myself would be the time when I was about 21 that a doctor told me that I would probably never be able to conceive a baby, and the time after our 7th child was born that the ultrasound showed blockage in one of my fallopian tubes.  The diagnosis was 50% reduction in fertility, but the doctor said why worry about that with 7 children already.  We agreed.  If God wanted us to have more babies, He would make sure it happened.  And if not, we're happy with what we have. 

I eat a healthier than average diet.  I have never been a smoker.  I don't eat at fast food restaurants anymore--I think it's been 5 or 6 years now.  I haven't had a taste of alcohol since my first pregnancy.  You know how when you are pregnant or nursing you are extra careful with your diet and even what medicines you might take?  Imagine how healthy you would be if you were that careful for 22 years straight.  Yep, that's me.  How many women can say that?

The risk of many cancers decreases when you are not ovulating or menstruating.  By next week I'll have been pregnant 106 months of my life.  In addition to that I have had about 6 mos of suppressed cycles due to nursing after each baby so that's another 66 mos.  So there's a total of 172 mos of no cycles.  That's good for me.  I'm not citing sources of info here because I've read it in so many places now that I consider it common knowledge.

Most people look at me and wonder how I keep so trim and young.  Um, maybe it's all the kids? Maybe it's my healthy diet? Maybe it's a blessing from God because He has this plan for me to keep up with all these kids? Maybe it's just genetic.  My 92 yr old grandmother had 8 children and is still going strong.  She bowls 3 nights a week!

Aside from fertility issues, every doctor or midwife that has ever been my caregiver has agreed.  I was built for having babies.  My body snaps back and does well with it.  I do have an abdominal issue where my muscles are split--called diastasis recti--and can get quite uncomfortable.  I've been praying through that this pregnancy and so far the prayer is helping a lot.  I have a Great Physician who is the best Healer ever.  If you haven't met Him, you ought to give Him a call because there is no one better.  It's easy to reach Him.  Just bow your head in prayer and He's listening.  No long wait in His waiting room and no insurance needed.

If I live long enough to reach menopause, it's because God has given me the blessing to live that long.  He has numbered my days and He decides when I will live or die.  But meanwhile, as the steward of the body He has given me, I am working to keep it working great.  I intend to live a full and happy life and in order to do that, I need to maintain the best possible health.  So far I've been successful with that.

I probably could stand to exercise more, but other than that I bet it would be hard to find many forty-something mothers in better health.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lieutenant Mother

We were recently featured in the Abilene Reporter News.  Somehow they thought it was news for a family in a small town to have a large family.  As three-year-old Ezra says, Whatever.

As I read through the comments on the article, I found myself wanting to answer some questions that people have.  Some are legitimate questions that I would also wonder if I were trying to look in from the outside.  I am a curious person and often wonder how other families and individuals tick.  I am also fairly willing to share my life because it continues to amaze me that others might possibly find it interesting.

So I'll be doing a series of blogs about these things.  If you have a question--not a criticism--about how our family works, feel free to ask in one of the comments.  If I want to answer it and can get around to it, I'll do so.

So the thing I'm starting with is the criticism in the comments about calling Grace the Lieutenant Mother.  I'm starting with this one because it really bothers Grace.  The term was coined by the journalist, not me.  He had asked me to run through each of the kids and give a brief synopsis of their personalities (as if you can truly do anyone justice in a brief synopsis--and if you know me, you know I don't use words in any sort of a brief way.)  I was telling him how much she loves to help me and he came up with that phrase.  It fits her because she has the glorious gift of loving to serve.  I greatly admire that trait in her.  I absolutely have not forced it on her.  I think if I'd tried she would resent it and not love serving people.

About a year ago, I began to really struggle with my relationship with Grace.  I felt she was trying to take over my job as mother.  I did NOT want her to have to do so much work with her younger siblings.  I am the oldest daughter in my family and I didn't want Grace to struggle with the guilt of growing up and leaving younger siblings "uncared for" (my perception as I grew up, not necessarily reality).  I didn't want her to be burned out on cooking before she even had her own household.  Yet the more I told her no, the more unhappy she seemed.  I finally began to let her help and she loves it.  She often asks me if she can go make dinner or lunch for me.  In the newspaper article there are pictures of her fixing the fruit salad.  Why was she doing that and not me? Because she WANTED to.  Letting her help me has restored a great relationship.  Sometimes she works alone, other times she comes and works beside me so we can talk.  I'm clearly the mom, but there will be a lifelong friendship.

She was in Colorado helping out with her new nephew for the month of February.  She had to step back while there and not do the cooking.  She was bored.  She loved seeing her nephew and sister-in-law (I don't think any of the kids add the in-law part, but I did for clarification) but missed feeling needed and useful.  When she came home we were all used to functioning without her and she got a bit depressed, confiding in me that she felt she had lost her place in the family.  We didn't seem to need her anymore.

All the kids have chores.  So do I and so does Roger.  How else do you keep any household functioning?  I suppose I could do it all myself, but why?  Why is it wrong to let them be a part of the family and know their lives have purpose and meaning and that they are needed in this world?  Look around you.  So many kids today are pampered and spoiled.  And are they happy?  What I see is a bunch of kids who have no purpose and just get sullen and withdrawn.  I don't want that for my kids.  When my older ones were younger and I saw that in some of their peers, I purposed to STOP doing everything for them and allow them to have meaningful lives. (Ask any mom, it's usually easier to do it yourself than to teach a young child to do something right.)  Maybe cleaning a toilet doesn't seem meaningful to an adult, but my 5 yr old Gloria (Happy Birthday, Sweety!) lights up when we "let" her clean a toilet!

When we make chore assignments we look at several factors. 
  1. What needs to be done?
  2. Who is the youngest person capable of doing this?
  3. Is that person the best choice for this job, or is there another job he/she would enjoy more and therefore do better with?
  4. Is there an older sibling that could train someone to start doing this job so the older one can give it up?
  5. Who WANTS the job?
And yes, most of the jobs get requested by someone.

Grace does a lot of the cooking and she LOVES playing with her younger siblings.  She hates cleaning bathrooms.  She doesn't get the bathroom job.  It goes to whoever requested it.

And just so you all know, after reading the comments on the newspaper article, I joked with Grace that she's no longer allowed to help me in the kitchen or tickle Ezra because I didn't want to take away her childhood.  I could hear the catch in her voice as she said, "If you were serious, I think I would cry."