“How do you afford all those kids?”
It’s a question we have been asked…dozens (if not hundreds) of times as parents with a fairly large family.
We usually respond with something funny like “We can’t! 😂” or something true, (albeit nebulous and non-specific) like “By the grace of God.”
Today I’m going to share the nitty-gritty.
7 DOLLAR STRETCHING LIFE HACKS
The first thing to know is this — whatever we do – we do NOT waste money on dumb stuff that in no way benefits us or our family.
1. IMPATIENCE = LESS MONEY
I’ll explain: you see, back when all six kids were still at home, we paid for everything with either debit cards or on ZERO interest credit cards. For at least a decade. Credit card interest would have left us with even less money than we already had. The opposite of what we needed. And we avoid buying expensive depreciating assets in the first place. Much less would we buy them on credit (even with low interest.) An already inflated purchase price + interest unnecessarily take up money.
We can wait.
And that one little superpower saves so much! It leaves money available to use for our family. Things like brand-new cars, or this season’s expensive designer clothing or footwear are not something we do. We don’t buy anything that will lose significant value the second we purchase it.
2. VEHICLE HACKS
For example, the last time we bought a brand new car was in 1992. (The car I got right after college) and that car lasted over twenty years. But as a life hack, Dan (my husband) and I only buy late-model, new(ish), reliable vehicles with 30k – 50k miles already on them. Just by waiting a couple of years, we end up with nice cars – for around half the price. That saves us a minimum of $20,000 per car.
3. DOUBLE YOUR MONEY & LOWER YOUR TAXES
The dollars we do earn, we maximize. We always put away the maximum in 401k that is employer matched. And we teach our kids to do the same, even at their little jobs. Failing to do this is…foolish. Because any money we put in a 401k or in a normal retirement account reduces our taxable income. (So we end up paying less taxes) + when an employer matches whatever we put in – it doubles the money we’ve saved! So if you have an employer match 401k and you aren’t doing the maximum match – you’re probably throwing away free money plus paying higher taxes than you needed to. We disciplined ourselves to participate in employer-matched 401k whenever it’s available.
We never throw away free money.
4. DAILY-LIVING DOLLAR STRETCHING
There are smaller things we do that add up to thousands of dollars a year.
- We haven’t had cable TV in decades.
- I switched to a Magic Jack instead of our landline.
- I grocery shop at Aldi.
- We accumulate rewards points on 0% interest credit cards.
- We switched all our home light bulbs to energy-efficient ones.
- We energy audited our home to hold heat and A/C better.
- We buy the best quality clothing usually on clearance and hand them down.
- And then ultimately we donate them to a charity – getting a charitable deduction on our taxes.
- We use the car that gets better gas mileage far more often than the one that doesn’t.
- I try to run the clothing dryer late at night when electricity rates are lower.
- I took defensive driving to save 15% on our car insurance.
- Dan is constantly in touch with our cell phone provider making sure we have the best deal available.
All of these little things add up to having a whole lot more money left at the end of every month.
5. CHOOSE YOUR “DUMB” STUFF
That withstanding, we still waste money each and every week. Almost daily…Really.
But it’s “wasted” on frivolities that we consciously choose. For example, my husband really likes to go out to lunch during the workday. It’s an expenditure that brings him joy, it breaks up his workday, and doing so seems to improve his quality of life. Whereas I really like having: Amazon Prime, Netflix, Paramount+, etc (commercial-free entertainment options.) Our kids like to get video game upgrades, and we redid our kitchen and bought light fixtures that bordered on the ludicrous. (Remember my app-controlled new stove, the bird lamp & butterfly chandelier?) 😂
Accept that very few people can live happily under never-ending austerity. We wouldn’t be able to stick to any budget while remaining in harmony as a couple and family if we didn’t indulge a few of our quirks, interests – and impulses.
6. A STASH
(This is probably my most controversial hack.)
Get ready to be mad with me for this one. Because it probably makes no sense on a spreadsheet, but in real life – it just does.
We became the kind of people capable of having money that we just don’t use.
Money that has no assigned purpose. Not even necessarily for “emergencies” or unplanned expenses.
Keep in mind, I am not talking about hoarding large sums of money. That’s simply NOT going to help anyone afford nor care for their family. I’m talking about developing the ability to resist spending almost everything you make or get.
Here’s an example: suppose right now, without your knowledge, something you picked up at a yard sale had… a forgotten $500 in it? No matter how tight finances ever got, you would manage to survive without spending that money if you didn’t know it was there.
Now…once you found this unexpected money — what would you do with it? If you don’t already have a cash reserve or an emergency fund, would buy something with your new found money? Would you pay some bills? Would you treat yourself?
If so, it means you are simply not comfortable being one of those people who has money.
And that reality messes up your ability to be financially comfortable, regardless of your family size. Being unable to allow yourself to just have money…money that you won’t spend inevitably leads to one of three things:
- being in debt,
- living paycheck-to-paycheck,
- or always being broke.
My hack? Pick a dollar amount, even if it’s just…a fifty-dollar bill that you decide not to break – and learn how to just…have…money.
Discipline yourself to live for a few weeks, then months, then years with some actual money in your wallet – or in a bank account, CashApp, or Venmo. Learn to have money that you just won’t spend or blow. This builds up your “saving muscles” and helps you to master delayed gratification. (A valuable life skill.)
7. SAVING AN EXTRA BUCK = MAKING AN EXTRA ONE
The end result is exactly the same. It’s a neat trick to making dollars stretch. We afford all these kids by finding ways NOT to spend an extra buck (without reducing our quality of life) and by maximizing the opportunity to increase the dollars we do have with 401k matches and tax breaks. Altogether, these tactics have conveniently come in handy over the years. Through unexpected job losses, medical situations, six different unpaid maternity leaves, four kids in colleges in 2019-2020. 😳😬
Even with two very different personalities like mine and Dan’s, (one of us is admittedly sort of neurotic, while the other one is definitely laid back) providing for a family of even 8 people – can be done.
*Disclaimer – this is NOT intended to be financial advice. I am not a financial advisor nor even a mathematician. Speak to your own accountant or financial advisor for specifics on how to maximize your own personal finances.*
Soooo… thank you for coming to my TED talk about dollar stretching life hacks?!?
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