I'm taking a break from packing the butler's pantry (packing crystal and china is fairly tedious), to celebrate my birthday by hopping up on one of my favorite hobby horses. (Look! Real content!) And today's favorite hobby horse is... the real cost of a large family.
We've all heard it. Raising children is expensive. This idea is supported every time one of those reports comes out that tells us exactly how much we spend per child to raise each of them. It's an extremely high number. A number that cannot be even remotely correct because I'm pretty sure J. and I have never made that amount of money and we have raised a couple of children to adulthood already. They each seem to have survived, so I'm feeling pretty good not believing the numbers.
Let's look at the costs of raising a larger family realistically, shall we? Of course if you have more children, you will be spending more money. It would be silly to argue the reverse. It's just that it's the degree of how much that I think surprises people. Two things happen when you start adding children. One, you realize that adding one more child does not cause that much of a bump in a budget. The second is that as you add children, you realize that you don't spend money on things you used to, often just because of the sheer logistics of how life works with more.
What does cost more?
Food. Aside from health insurance, this is our single biggest monthly outlay. I currently spend approximately $200 per week for food. We get by with this number because I make a lot of food from scratch, we limit the amount of processed snacks we buy, and many of our staples are bought in bulk. I also do not go out of my way to buy organic products. I realize that that is somewhat akin to saying that I feed my children wallpaper paste on a regular basis, but I cannot afford it with this number of people to feed. (Please save the comments. I'm OK with it, and you telling me how I will offset our high doctor's bills by eating organic food won't do much to change things. Our high doctor's bills wouldn't change with diet. I get tired of people shaming others for their food choices.)
Insurance. We are blessed with very good health insurance through J.'s job. I purposefully don't look at the total amount of the paycheck which vanishes before I see it every month, because it would be too depressing. Instead, I look at what we do have and focus on that. I realize that not everyone is in such an enviable position, and this is a valid concern.
Shoes. While our clothes often come from thrift stores, hand-me-downs, and what I make, shoes, especially as children's feet grow, are harder to find that way. Sometimes we will handed some shoes that work, but usually I have to buy them new. I will admit, this is painful, and I try to spread the new shoes out over the course of the year. I also use a credit card for convenience, which has points, and will often use those points for new shoes for people. I do hand down shoes which are still intact, but these are usually dressier shoes which don't see as much wear.
What doesn't cost more?
Utilities. More children do not use up more heat or air conditioning. They may use up more electricity if they are prone to leave the lights on, but I just spend more time turning them off. They may also use up more water, if you have multiple people in the 'perpetually showering' stage. (I'm really looking forward to having a well and not paying a water bill each month!) But in general, these are things you are paying for regardless of the number of people who live in your home.
Electronics. There is no divine decree that says children and teens need small electronics. Sure, mine have them, but most of those were purchased with their own money that they earned. Sometimes one would be given as a gift, but small personal items are usually self-purchased. This is also true for any high-priced ticket item strongly desired by a child. If you want it, earn money for it, or wait for a gift-giving occasion where it might be a gift.
Lessons and classes. This falls under that 'things I don't pay for anymore' category. The more children we had, the less we signed up for outside activities. I know if I were to leave that there, it would sound as though we were horrible, selfish parents who don't care about the well-being of their children. We do sign children up for things, but we are very picky about what those things are. They must fit several criteria, and older children take precedence over younger ones. Believe it or not, young children do just fine hanging out and playing at home with friends and family in their free time and every second doesn't have to be filled with an organized activity. I personally believe it is actually better for them. It is certainly cheaper.
School supplies. For traditionally schooled children, this could be a huge cost . But, this is where homeschooling comes through for the win. Every fall, I read the list of school supplies friends are purchasing for each of their children. I cannot imagine doing this times 9, which is the number I currently have in school. I'm not sure we even use as much as one list's worth in our day-to-day learning existence. Yes, I buy curriculum and supplies for them, but for everything... books, workbooks, activities, supplies, lab equipment... my total is usually around $2000 spread out over the course of the year. That's for nine children. For everything. Once again, we reuse a lot, and I avoid consumable books if I can.
And the one thing everyone wants to mention...
I'm shouting that because I have lost track of the number of times someone will tell me they don't have a large family because of paying for college. Ask any mother of a larger than normal family, and she will tell you it's a 'thing', this business of a stranger of acquaintance explaining to you why they don't have more children. No, I don't know why this is. It's odd. One of the biggest reasons people use is this college one.
Let's think about that for a moment. A family is willing to not have a life long relationship with a potential child because of four years out of that child's life. It's a little crazy, if you ask me.
Yes, college can be important. Yes, college can be expensive. But not all children are going to go to college. And there are more ways to 'do' college than the traditional, go to the expense university, live on campus, and rack up the student loans route. If a person really wants to go to college there are ways to do that even if their parents cannot foot the bill. (And frankly, with the cost of college these days, what parents can afford to send even one child to school?) Living at home, going after scholarships, taking a part-time load while working, doing community college classes for part of it, ROTC programs, colleges which are lower cost than the 'big' names, are just a few of the ways college can be made to work. Books have been written on the subject, so I'm not going to do more here, but once again, this is something any family with a child will face, it is not a unique problem to large families. We just get to face it more than once.
Raising many children can get expensive, and there really are things we don't do because of the number of children we have. (Disney World is one that jumps to mind.) But like with so many things, there are trade-offs. We happen to think that the trade-offs of getting to raise these funny, loud, crazy, and utterly lovable human beings far outweighs what we miss in the checkbook.