How Large Families “Afford” Their Children

Those of us who aren’t wealthy, that is.

Whether it’s a nosy Walmart employee or a random internet searcher, it seems like I am constantly having to explain that we really can “afford” our children, even the ones we haven’t had yet. But I never seem to get down to the brass tacks of it. How? How will we house them? How can we keep shoes on those growing feet? Where will the money come from to feed these bottomless pits?

Even though my oldest is only eight, I already have two kids calling for seconds at meals before the echoes of the “amen” have faded away. And there are three more children right behind them! So how are we doing it? How can we hope to keep this up in an uncertain world?

As I’ve said before, despite the frightening numbers that “experts” in the media are constantly pushing on an ever more gullible public, children are not expensive. It’s lifestyle and material expectations that cost so much. In this wealthy nation, many of the things that we deem essential to a happy and productive existence are really just icing on the cake.


How Large Families "Afford" Their Children

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.--Proverbs 15:17

Our cake has less icing.

We can afford to raise our kids, but there are a lot of other things we can’t afford:

  • A housing-bubble priced house. Our family has been priced out of buying our first home for the last ten years, thanks to all the geniuses buying and selling houses as if they were some of those new-fangled tulip flowers. We never felt comfortable with the prices, so we just didn’t bother. Thanks to that big POP! you heard a while back when reality hit the real estate market, we’ll be able to buy a modest home soon. We hope. In the meantime, we rent.
  • A room for each child. Our kids share bedrooms. Small ones. This is unthinkable in a society where everybody has not only his own bedroom, but his own TV to keep him in it. I grew up that way, my dad grew up that way, and I don’t see any reason my kids shouldn’t grow up that way. I find that my kids like each other more because of the close proximity.
  • Nice, new cars. A beat up 2006 mini-van (oops. Beat that one up a little too good. Replaced with a nearly-identical 2005 Sienna.) and the little Kia to get Jesse to work will do just fine. We’ll need a bigger family vehicle soon, but we’ll still be buying used and, most likely, ugly.
  • Expensive clothing, food, etc. I do most of the shopping, and I have to admit, I’m not the best bargain shopper. With my sensory processing issues and attention difficulties, once I get into a busy public environment, I get confused. I usually miss the best deals, forget something on my list, or pay too much for something. I minimize the impact of my disability (OK, maybe it’s more of a personality problem) by shopping as little as possible, eating plain food, and buying the good-enough-for-the-likes-of-us brands instead of name brands.
  • Cable television. Honestly, we wouldn’t pay for that anyway. We have the internet and Netflix. That’s plenty.
  • Dates, live entertainment, eating out. For fun, we look for free and cheap things to do. Mostly, though, we just hang out at home and with our extended families. We like each other. It’s OK! I budget for a couple of nights of take-out a month, also, but that’s something we could do without if we had to.
  • Vacations We cheat a little bit on this one. My in-laws take us to the beach with them sometimes. If we had to do it for ourselves, we’d do without.
  • College funds. Judging from the comments I’ve seen about this elsewhere, not sending your child to college is tantamount to child abuse. If my children want to go to college, they’ll have to do it on their own dime. My plan is to pay for all of their living expenses as long as they need to in order to save enough money (starting with their jobs as teenagers) to attend college. It is my hope that they can do it debt free with community colleges, scholarships, and hard work. I don’t consider college to be necessary to happiness or success, though. There are lots of ways make an honest living. (Catholic Sistas (no I am still not Catholic) has a good post about that, also.)
  • Debt. We absolutely cannot afford to pay banks or individuals for the use of their money.
  • The admiration of more materialistic people. No names (obviously), but there are people who have treated us rather poorly because we wear the wrong clothes, drive the wrong cars, and eat the wrong foods. Frankly, this makes me glad we don’t have much in the way of material goods. It weeds out the insincere. We can’t afford those kinds of friends.

It could be that if we didn’t have our children, we’d have more of these things I’ve listed. We might have a fatter savings account, less financial stress, fewer grey hairs. It is also possible that, lacking the frugal mindset our children give us, we’d be squandering our money on all of the above things and would look and feel wealthier, but our bank accounts would remain essentially the same.

It is my belief that children, in the long run, have a pretty small effect on a family’s finances. Our financial habits and earning potential seem to me to have a great deal more influence on our net worth than the number of mouths we have to feed.

While the math (not to mention my stress level) sometimes goes a little bit wonky, I’ve found that there is always a way to stretch the budget to feed one more—whether it’s one more child in our family, or one more family coming over for dinner. The One who provides for our family does so abundantly, even when the bank account doesn’t look so good.

My husband and I (before we had kids) spent some time on the edge of real financial disaster, so I’m not saying bad things can’t happen. I am saying that no matter how lean or fat the times are, it’s not my job to try to predict the cost of the children God places in our care. Nor is it my place to complain if our material circumstances aren’t precisely what I wished for. It is my place to work, pray, be realistic in my expectations, and trust God to provide.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

–Matthew 6:25-32


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Stephanie@Bowmania September 6, 2012, 8:22 am

    YES! YES! YES!

    It saddens my heart when I talk to people and they say, ” I am only having one! Kids are too expensive!” And then I get THE LOOK!
    Our kids have what they need! They are HAPPY! Happy with clothes that have been given to them. Happy with toys that are not brand new. Happy with meals at home , not the HAPPY MEAL’S from the fast food chain. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we do take them out to eat. There are times when a NEW toy is bought, but that isn’t an everyday thing, and that is okay! 🙂

  • Sharon September 6, 2012, 8:32 am

    You know, just last night I had an “episode” with a family member. Okay, it was my parents. My husband and I have and 8 year old and a 3 year old. I was holding a new baby of a friend at church and my PARENTS had the audacity to say out loud and with sincerity “Don’t get any ideas.” What the????? Don’t get any ideas????? Did they forget that I am 35, married and that we don’t depend on them for anything? Why would they even say that? It makes me angry and sad. Because for a long time, I didn’t value children like God does (as gifts) and apparently they still don’t.

    • Rosanne September 6, 2012, 6:32 pm

      Sharon, Prayer can change your parents, just like someone’s prayers for you probably had an impact on how you now know and proclaim the truth (take heat ;). Besides if God gives you more kids, who are they to argue with him?? Stay under his wings and rest in his love even when theirs is lacking 🙂

    • William September 12, 2012, 5:48 pm

      LOL, at your thoughts about their question.

      I’m laughing and I have been there!

      I too have not always valued children like Jehovah does and it baffled me when I began to value them,that too many people in the church did not! I naively thought for sure this would be a place where GOD’s values will be uplifted, sadly I was wrong.

      The propaganda surrounding children and the overall desire of men to try and control this world has confronted or affected all of us at one point in life. I pray that your parents eyes are opened and I pray that you no longer submit your thoughts or views to anyone besides HE who sits on HIGH!

  • Stacy @Stacy Makes Cents
    Twitter: stacymakescents
    September 6, 2012, 8:38 am

    You are 100% correct! Children are NOT expensive….a child’s lifestyle IS. It all depends on what type of lifestyle we decide to show them.

    And I’m with you – I think sharing bedrooms rocks!

  • Joy September 6, 2012, 10:23 am

    Yes!! Yes to everything you said!! Our children do share bedrooms. We do not have all the name brand clothing. We cut our cable and just have netflix. I have learned that having materialistic items do not make a family happy! To me, the less we have the more we have as a family!! Thank you for sharing your heart!!

  • kelli- AdventurezInChildRearing
    Twitter: AdventurzNchild
    September 6, 2012, 11:37 am

    love it- as usual – you hit the nail on the head- sharing! 😉 enjoy your family my friend!

  • Kim @ Not Consumed September 6, 2012, 1:08 pm

    I LOVE this line…”children are not expensive. It’s lifestyle and material expectations that cost so much.” Excellent. Being a single mom with 4 kids who chooses to homeschool instead of have nice things, I completely relate to the criticism. But when I look at my purpose in life- to glorify God and enjoy Him forever- “nice things” doesn’t seem so important anymore.
    Thank you for sharing your heart!

  • The Husband September 6, 2012, 4:54 pm

    Those borderline catastrophes? My fault.

    We were not (with some few exceptions that prove the rule) well trained as a generation in matters of stewardship. On a private and national level, we collectively bought into the debt culture.

    This has been on my mind a lot lately. My wife, as usual, has summed it up quite well. Love the post, hon.

    • Cindy September 6, 2012, 5:04 pm

      Aw, shucks, sweetie.

  • Diana September 6, 2012, 5:12 pm

    As usual, Cindy… you rock. 🙂

  • sonya schroeder
    Twitter: WomanofGod_37
    September 6, 2012, 5:19 pm

    Oh my I LOVE this post!!! So very well said! It is SO true that kids are NOT expensive, what the world is really saying is that kids take away from ME, meaning the house I want, the car I want, the clothes I want, as so on and so on. Thanks for the great reminder! God will provide all our needs to carry out His plan for our lives!!! Hugs

  • katy September 6, 2012, 5:35 pm

    This is all good and fine but there are people out there who really cannot afford to have more children. I know one person in particular who has 5 kids with one on the way and I recently found out that they don’t ever take their kids to the dentist or well-child checks despite having health insurance. That is neglect! Im sorry but basic needs, need to be met. If you cannot meet basic needs then dont have anymore. There are too many really poor people out there having more and more kids.

    • Cindy September 6, 2012, 5:57 pm

      I grew up without going to the dentist and without well-child check ups. My parents were not only not neglectful, they were wonderful parents! In spite of my lack of dental care, I am glad to be alive! Your idea of basic needs may not be the same as others’. Also, if they have health insurance, why do you think this has anything to do with how many kids they have? Obviously, they can afford it, they just choose not to.

  • LutheranEmily September 6, 2012, 5:52 pm


    if they have health insurance, then it is not that they cannot afford the children they have, but that they are not very responsible people, which is an entirely different problem.

    Aside from that well-child visits are not basic needs. Maybe in the last 50 or 60 years or so people have considered them as basic needs, but they certainly are not. In fact, I know plenty of people who choose to bypass them altogether and see them as unnecessary as long as the child seems healthy. A lot of people don’t vaccinate anymore and when I was going through my not vaccinating phase, I wondered why on earth I was taking my kids to their well childs. It just took time out of my busy day, and i knew my kids were healthy. They were.

    In many countries of the world, it is a privelage to brush your teeth, not a right.

    America is spoiled.

    Yes, we go to the dentist. We have great dental coverage! But to say that going to dentist is a “basic need” is offensive to a whole lot of the world.

  • Jennifer G September 6, 2012, 7:12 pm

    This is something we are struggling with…the whole “kids are expensive” thing. We originally anticipated having an only child and we have spoiled him. Now we are expecting (on purpose) his little brother. And we are having to work on “unspoiling” big brother, who will be 5 in 2 weeks. It is LOADS of fun, as you would probably expect 🙂 Thankfully, some things are easy. He would much rather eat at home than go out to eat; though he does love himself a happy meal…but I have recently figured out that is only because of the toys, so I have begun offering to feed his piggy bank if he will forego the kids meal and/or toy, and he is more than happy to save for something he really wants rather than getting a “free” piece of junk toy.

  • Jessica September 7, 2012, 9:39 am

    Wow. Did I write this? Because I think you’re me. Or I’m you. Or we were separated at birth. Maybe I should no longer answer people in the store. I should just give them a link to your blog!

  • Dawn@OnefaithfulMom September 7, 2012, 2:59 pm

    Once again, you’ve hit it right outta’ the ballpark.
    Because we have ten kids, people assume we live in some HUGE house. And they assume that my hubby makes a ton of money. Ha!
    We have raised our kids in a double wide mobile home. They have shared bedrooms always, and we set up two tables for meals.
    I think folks assume we are better of than we are because my children are always clean, nicely dressed, hair brushed and fixed, nice shoes, shirts tucked in, etc. Truthfully, we buy nearly all our clothes at thrift stores, and shoes are just WalMart or Payless.
    To me, the point is to take care of your things. A hairbrush goes a long way to making a little girl look cute, and spot remover helps keep clothes nice and clean. Clean teeth and clean bodies, along with excellent manners makes any child appealing.
    And that, my friend, doesn’t take a lot of money!
    It honestly surprises me how often people at church comment to me on how my kids are always dressed so nicely, with hair fixed, etc. Yet our clothing budget is next to nil.
    Children aren’t expensive…but sometimes their parents’ taste is.

    • Heidi April 4, 2013, 12:21 pm

      I realize this is an older post, but just wanted to AMEN you, my kindred spirit! We are raising 9 kids in a mobile home, and dear hubby doesn’t make a lot of money. Part of the solution is to maintain a thankful attitude and conversation. If the kids sense that you are discontent, they will be also. Like our pastor says, “Live simply, live godly”.

  • Rikki-Leigh Stevens September 7, 2012, 3:04 pm

    Thank you for the encouragement! We have 5 kids ages 13 months- almost 8. My husband is finally working on the last leg of his education(masters program) after earning his bachelor degree last spring. It took him 7 years to get that bachelor degree because we chose to have our family at the same time which meant my husband had to work full-time and do school part-time. I would not trade any of it in spite of how difficult it has been at times! But people are so discouraging and negative sometimes. Its so nice to hear positive things from people like you who remind me that my children are worth the sacrifice!

  • Ann Riffle September 7, 2012, 9:25 pm

    I just stumbled across your page today and I’m so glad I did. My husband and I have just decided to try to concieve (I have two children from a previous marriage). I desperately want to follow wherever the Lord leads us, and I honestly feel that another child is in His plan. Like others, we are dealing with family who make comments like “Don’t get any ideas,” and “You don’t need any more kids” anytime we see or mention a baby. We have a very supportive church family though, and for that I’m thankful. I’m looking forward to reading more posts in the future.

  • Sara Sweetman September 11, 2012, 7:34 pm

    Well I just gotta join the choir here! The idea that kids are expensive is one of the biggest lies of our generation. Competition for materialism is what gets families in financial trouble, not the mere birth of a child. This should be a no-brainer!

  • Stephanie September 14, 2012, 8:17 am

    Our country in general is spoiled as to what is necessary. We are expecting #5 and have been asked if we are buying a bigger house or remodeling– no, we just need to get rid of stuff (although a second bathroom would be lovely). My kids were actually arguing over who got the baby in their room. We have had little things on cars break that don’t need to be fixed so we don’t worry about it (like the tire pressure monitoring system– um, we drove 15 years without having it so it will be okay and I know how to check tire pressure), but I have a friend who saw that as an immediate need to be fixed when hers broke.

  • Iris Lancaster September 17, 2012, 10:31 am

    Love this blog…. Hopefully this will subscribe me? Couldn’t find where to subscribe to your posts

    • Cindy September 17, 2012, 11:20 am

      If you’ll scroll up to the top of the page, there are some handy subscribe icons. Or, I could just give you the link. Here ya go!

      Thank you!

  • Roxeanne de Luca February 4, 2013, 11:56 am

    I don’t have kids, but a few thoughts:

    College: my dad paid for college because his dad had paid for college. We had a deal: I would bring home straight As, be responsible, do my chores, play a sport every season, and work full-time during the summer, and he would pay for four years of college. I am ridiculously fortunate that he could afford that, but if he hadn’t, I had options: outstanding schools were throwing merit-based aid at me. (My older sister had several athletic offers; she was one of the best runners in the state.) State U would have been free, and almost automatic entrance into the honours programme, based on my class rank.

    Not to be snotty, but if you aren’t rich, and you aren’t that smart, or you aren’t a good enough athlete to go for free, why are you going to college? To ape the lifestyle of the rich mediocrits around you? Would you also buy your kids a Lexus because rich parents can give their kids those cars? Send them to Europe because the kids of rich parents can afford to futz around for years on end?

    If you’re good enough to go to college, someone will pay you to do it. If you’re not good enough to go (not smart enough or not dedicated enough), and your parents are rich, you might still go, but otherwise, I’m not seeing the rationale. Again, it just looks like aping the lifestyles of those with more money than you have, which is silliness.

    Cars: back before the recession, a lot of my friends made fun of me for driving my ’91 Volvo. I said, hey, it’s cheap to maintain, there’s no car payment, and it’s safe and reliable. A lot of them sold their new, leased cars at a frightening financial loss when the recession hit.

    Location: if you want to raise a family on one income, don’t do it in expensive, blue-state cities. You can live fine on one average American household income in flyover states – don’t let the New York elites say that you can’t have kids since you can’t afford them in Manhattan.

    • Cindy February 4, 2013, 11:58 am

      This: Not to be snotty, but if you aren’t rich, and you aren’t that smart, or you aren’t a good enough athlete to go for free, why are you going to college?


      • Heidi April 4, 2013, 12:33 pm

        Actually, I was a little put off by that particular comment. I do not think college is necessary, in fact, I believe it is usually a waste of time and money. I have a son who wants to be a chiropractor. We will not be able to pay for his college. He is a hard working, kind young man, a B student. Because he is not rich, scholarship smart or a great athlete, he should not attempt to pursue his goal?? What happened to working your way through college? Perhaps I am misunderstanding Roxeanne. BTW, I do agree with her comment about location. We moved from NJ to Alabama 14 yrs ago and are so thankful for the less expensive and more family-friendly atmosphere. And Cindy, I agree with your bottom line…it is our responsibility to be obedient to Christ and His promise is to provide for us (as He sees fit).

        • Cindy April 4, 2013, 1:24 pm

          I’ll bet your son is plenty smart, and working your way through for a goal shows that you’ve got what it takes to make something of the investment. I don’t remember this conversation much, but I doubt that’s what I meant.

  • Lindsey Whitney February 10, 2013, 8:03 pm

    Great post. I agree it’s the parents who are spending, not the kids! Sure the food budget goes up, but all the “little extras” we want to give our kids to make them “happy” is what really sends the budget for a loop. Teaching contentment is a better strategy. I find they get enough from extended family at Christmas and birthdays. We almost never buy toys and we always buy our clothes second-hand.

    Lindsey @

  • John Bell February 24, 2013, 7:18 pm

    Stumbled upon this site. Interesting opinions here.

    I don’t agree with most of what you wrote but here’s my take: As long as you aren’t on government assistance (Medicaid, Food Stamps, etc) and you aren’t getting a bigger tax refund that what you earned for the year then have as many children as you like. It’s nobody’s business at that point, especially the lady at WalMart. I have only two children and my salary is higher than most but we are still frugal. We don’t buy expensive clothes, we live in an average sized home, and both cars are more than 7 years old. We do spend quite a but on entertainment but I also spend quite a bit on life/health insurance and college funds in case I don’t live long enough to support my family. It’s not about money, it’s about personal responsibility.