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.