Be Not Afraid: Reflections & Financial Advice From A Mother Ten
by Beth Preuss
“At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture, which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.” – — Pope Francis to the US Congress, September 24, 2015
I was deeply grateful that Pope Francis chose to mention both ends of the challenging spectrum couples face when considering being open to children. For many, the dollars and cents impact of children on a family is daunting. Likewise, in American culture, we face a battle of another kind – how to weigh children on the balance scale of disposable income and opportunity.
My husband and I have ten children. We love them, and have worked hard to give them what we believe are “good beginnings.” And, we have spent/are spending a pretty penny on each. I don’t recall being much concerned about how we would cover the cost of raising each child. I don’t recall having a set number of children in mind or set ideas of spacing. It was far more organic than that.
I do know that having lost seven children to miscarriages, we never took for granted that we would see a pregnancy to term. So, we were keenly aware that each life was incredibly fragile and precious.
Our childhood experiences no doubt influenced our plans. Growing up in families where Mom stayed home and Dad worked, we may have not given much thought to other options. We also knew that if we needed more on the financial side of the equation, I was willing and able to work.
Three decades have brought us to a very different time. We certainly encourage our children to take full advantage of their professional and educational opportunities. That is not to say that I didn’t have the freedom to do so also, but I never really considered it much. By the time our second son was born, I had very little desire to be away from the home. This was also before technology made working at home much of an option.
Our family also began before Google, which gives one access to any number of estimations on the costs associated with child-rearing – all $245,000 worth by the age of 18 – and a dizzying array of advice and scenarios for family life options. So, it may have been an “ignorance is bliss, we’ll figure it out” scenario.
Still, we have experienced many a moment of financial creativity to help us get the job done. And we have been fairly judicious in our choices of elective expenditures.
A Scripture passage that I have turned to frequently as a litmus test for caring for our family is: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life” (Matt 6:25-27)?
Money Saving Tips
One thing I learned early on in parenting is that babies don’t have any sense of style. Many of the decisions I made as a young mother where because of what I wanted the child to sleep in, wear, stroll in, and not because of the child’s needs. We learned quickly that what mattered most was getting baby to sleep, then fed, dressed, and out for fresh air. It didn’t matter whether the baby blue jeans cost 50 cents or $20. Everyone wanted to check out their fat rolls, not their labels.
We live the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” motto. What we no longer need, we give away, believing that our needs will be provided for in good time. What we need, we ask for, first from among family and friends.
Here are some tips we have used to keep costs in check. Often times, there is a trade-off of time for money because cost-saving methods usually take more time to execute. That said, children have a healthy understanding of the importance of time over money and many of the ideas implemented here have afforded us more time with our children.
• Shop locally at markets or farms. Pick bushels of apples and tomatoes, berries and beans.
• Plant a garden. Eat in season. Try canning the fresh produce or freezing for winter use. The taste, the nutrition, and the knowledge of where food comes from are often better.
• Limit the amounts of processed foods purchased. Make what you can – from Greek yogurt to granola bars, bread to beer.
• Explore the many delicious non-meat dishes like lentils and bean soups, which provide great nutrition for little expense. Farm markets often provide bulk beans for purchase.
• Buy a chest freezer and share a half of a cow or split up a large quantities of chicken. Smaller families can share both the meat and freezer costs. Often farm fresh, high quality meats require less quantity to satisfy, even for growing teens.
• Start a food co-op or share a warehouse membership among families to purchase paper goods, shampoos, bulk- packaging of toothpaste. Set a time for friends to break down the bulk purchases, bringing recycled containers for refill. We store large quantities of flour and rice in painters’ buckets.
• Buy store brands (often less than national brands, even with the clipped coupon.)
• Watch for bulk purchase sales on store brands. My husband’s favorite is the summer B-B-Q sauce which leaves me with another 6 bottles to get through between now and June!
I recall after one of our daughters was born, my husband went shopping and brought home a 25 lb. bag of rice. I’m sure I cried big postpartum tears, trying to imagine how I would ever be able to feed the new baby and use up all that rice. But, the cost savings were substantial and we have never gone back to purchasing small quantities of items with long shelf lives.
• “New to me” is often key when purchasing for growing children. Sizes change so fast that one is hard-pressed to think that they get their money’s worth out of many new items. We pass clothing, jewelry, belongings both down and up! So, I am often the happy recipient of my daughters’ discards.
• Shop the great underground economy known as the Garage Sale. From babies to college students’ apartments, the garage sale has often been most helpful. Friends can coordinate newspaper ads and split up around the city to scour for deals.
• Shop at thrift and consignment stores and donate to them frequently. Craigslist and thredUp are great online consignment resources.
• Exceptions are the car seat or a big-ticket item that we pass down. Our crib, for example, has traveled to family and friends when not in use at our house.
• Go to YouTube or other helpful sites to learn how to do many household repairs and maintenance skills yourselves. It is great fun to accomplish a project together and avoids the costs of hiring others.
Here is one area where we are particularly judicious. What children crave most from their families is time, and time doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
• Enjoy walks and bike rides, feeding the ducks, watching the sunset at the lake, a day at the beach, or hiking in a park. Being in nature is one of the best avenues for making family memories, and one of the least expensive. Our family’s best vacations have been the hiking, camping and canoeing trips we’ve taken. Even now, when grown children return, they often invite us to take a walk and visit.
• Check out local museums, zoos, festivals for fun outings. Eating at home before the outing or taking a picnic provides substantial savings and is wonderful fun.
• Try “theme nights” for family time: Fiesta Night or “Make Your Own Pizza” night. Enjoy cooking fun foods together. While hunting at garage sales collect decorations for different themes and turn an ordinary Friday evening into a celebration. Have a box for friends to share themes decorations. One of our little ones favorites has been “Green Eggs and Ham Night” complete with red and white construction paper Cat hats! Simple is best.
• Family Movie nights with fresh popcorn and apple cider, or ice cream sundaes.
• Make eating out a rare treat. Kids can help with extra chores to make and save money for that special night out.
• Try quiet candlelight “Date Nights,” as well as sharing babysitting and taking turns with other couples to have an evening out.
• “Clean out the Refrigerator Potlucks” are always fun with other families!
• Consider vacations to places where you know people and can drive to. It guarantees both wonderful spots and priceless moments shared with dear ones. Our 15-passenger green Econoline van had over 200,000 happy miles before we sold it. And among our children’s fondest memories are the annual summer vacations to Atlanta to visit extended family and swim in Grandma and Grandpa’s pool. Simple.
Our eldest took quite a ribbing when his college men’s choir was on a tour that included a performance at Disney World. The students were asked who had never been to Disney World. A handful raised their hands. Who had never been to an amusement park – a few. Finally, who had never been on a roller coaster — our son. It didn’t bother him. He had not experienced that as a prerequisite to a happy childhood. But it did reflect to us, that our decisions were somewhat atypical. He had, however, hiked more than 400 miles of the Appalachian Trail with his family.
These small insights do not touch the highest costs of family life, such as childcare and education, and are by no means exhaustive. They do reflect our family’s efforts not to let the financial challenges of children sap us from the joys of life together. When I talk with our grown children, it is clear that their concerns about the personal and financial challenges of family life are far more pronounced than I recall experiencing. While I don’t believe any of our children will follow directly in our shoes, I do hope that they will recall the richness of a fairly modest childhood, and have hope.
One thing bears keeping in mind. We cannot appreciate what we don’t know. For those who have yet to know the supreme joy of life with children, it is almost impossible to realize how priceless and valuable it is.
“God’s dream does not change; it remains intact and it invites us to work for a society which supports families — A society where bread, ‘fruit of the earth and the work of human hands’ continues to be put on the table of every home, to nourish the hope of its children. Let us help one another to make it possible to ‘stake everything on love’. Let us help one another at times of difficulty and lighten each other’s burdens. Let us support one another. Let us be families which are a support for other families.” – Pope Francis, prepared transcript for the World Meeting of Families, September 26, 2015
“Be not afraid.” Unwed, uneducated, poor, displaced, confused and unsure – this is the family that welcomes the Lord. These three simple words were reiterated repeatedly to Jesus’ family: to Mary, to Joseph, to them both as they fled to Egypt, and returned; when Jesus went missing; when his parents struggled to understand him, and the ways of his heavenly Father. Not much has changed for us. Those words still ring true.