About Me,  budgeting,  Family Life,  large family

The cost of having kids

Let’s start by stating the obvious: finances are pretty personal, and as such, everybody’s circumstances are going to look a little different. What seems like an insane amount of risk/exposure looks like daily life for another family. What seems like a nice, healthy income starts to seem a little anemic once you figure in the cost of living and housing in a hot market.

We started riding the Dave Ramsey train before we got married. We read through Total Money Makeover as an engaged couple, knocking out tens of thousands of dollars of debt (almost all of it student loans) in our first 5 years of marriage. We cash flowed our first two babies, lived in sketchy rentals, drove a single car, side hustled, etc, etc. We were ALL IN. And it worked really, really well until we pulled up our roots, sold all our worldly possessions, and moved half a world away to Rome.

After we returned to the US the following year and added baby number three to the mix, we started to see our debt snowball lose momentum. We had sold our (paid off) sensible sedan before our big move, and we found ourselves needing a car to live in the suburbs with 3 kids. We bought a well-used minivan and just like that we had a car payment again for the first time in years.

Time and babies have continued to pile up, and now we’re five kids deep and living in a wonderful home of our own that we hope to be buried in, because that’s about how long it will take us to pay off the mortgage.

We’re mostly happy we bought, except on the day that the mortgage payment is due.

I get a lot of questions about how we “afford” so many kids, and the short answer is: we don’t.

We’re probably overextended from a financial perspective. And yet, we have never gone without.

Working for the Church isn’t exactly lucrative, but it sure is nice getting sent to Rome every year or two for one reason or another.

Having kids is a pretty tremendous upfront cost, but hand-me-down baby stuff comes in handy for subsequent arrivals.

Daycare is exorbitant, but working from home during early mornings and late nights makes it possible to live on one-and-a-half incomes and avoid it.

A good Catholic school is expensive, but having a larger family enables us to apply for – and receive – generous financial aid.

All that to say, things seem to have had a way of working out. As I creep more solidly into my mid-30s, I’m happy we didn’t wait to have kids, or space them further apart.

I’m grateful we weren’t in a position where we felt like we had too.

I think being from large families ourselves, we both accepted early on that having kids meant going without certain things, and saying yes to being uncomfortable. I don’t mean like settling for mediocrity or being reckless, but just having a baseline level of familiarity with the unknown and a little bit of risk.

We’re both working like crazy to get our income up and to pay our debt down, but in the meantime, we’re still having babies, making memories, and learning how to perform a bunch of basic home repairs courtesy of Youtube.

What we don’t spend on lessons, activities, sports, and toys we definitely do spend at the grocery store and in doctor’s copays. We aren’t really saving for retirement or college, but I imagine we’ll get around to it once we’ve finally paid off my degree.

This has ended up forcing us to depend on God in a tangible way, and we’ve seen Him do some pretty remarkable things for us financially over the years.

I feel like it’s worth mentioning that we’ve been committed to tithing ten percent of our income for most of our marriage; it really does seem to open up space for God to work. I don’t mean like He’s magically multiplying our dollar signs (but come Lord Jesus, have your way with those), rather that there is room for Him to work because we need Him to work. We feel a little crazy making that first line item in our budget His, but we’ve never regretted spending “too much” on God.

(Some great causes to give to: FOCUS, the International Missionary Foundation, China Little Flower, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Classical, and CNEWA.)

Do I worry about how we’ll be able to continue to afford Catholic school? Yep. But I volunteer as much as I’m able, support our school financially as best as we can, and gratefully accept the financial aid they offer us, one school year at a time.

Am I worried about what would happen if one of us were to die young? Definitely. Our life insurance premiums are a priority in our budget, even while we’re still paying off those student loans.

I try not to get too far ahead of the present when I think about our family, the future, and what we’ll need when we get there.

We’re trying to strike a balance between prudence and generosity, and to work as if everything depends on us but, you know, trust like everything depends on God.

I will say my stress over finances has decreased as our family size has increased, and I have no earthly reason for that. I guess I’ve mellowed with age? Or perhaps it is the repeated exposure to divine providence; presenting the Lord with one need after another and watching Him come through, time and time again, in a spectacular variety of ways.

If you have any specific questions feel free to ask them, and I’ll try my best to answer in a way that’s helpful. Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the expenses of having kids, and people have different priorities and consider different areas of the budget to be less negotiable than others. Eager to hear what other big or bigger than average families experience in the realm of personal finance!


  • Remi Lessore

    We had 3 girls and 5 boys and now have eight grandchildren.
    Materially, it can be tough. I have had spells as a firefighter, student, teacher and police officer – none of them highly paid jobs. BUT really, the worse thing is worry. And worry over what? We have never missed a meal God’s munificence is amazing. – Worry over lack of faith.
    People have given us so many clothes that our kids have always been very well dressed;
    we have had outrageous windfalls of money when generous people have simply and completely unexpectedly given us large sums;
    When things have been tough our church community has intervened;
    We don’t go in for huge presents but everyone buys everyone else inexpensive baubles and sometimes we all chip in for someone’s big needed present – a bike, or a good musical instrument, and there is so much unwrapping and laughter that you would know that God has smiled on us.
    And the kids… The joy you experience in seeing their eyes light up as they enter the room and start unwrapping….
    Our non-Catholic friends think we are crazy, but they love us and my wife’s pregnancies seem to be contagious. I remember that although as I was mildly berated by other firefighters when I announced she was expecting the 5th, within a few months 3 out of the 13 on our Watch announced that their wives were pregnant – “If Remi could do it, surely we can as well,” seemed to be their thinking.
    We are not crazy and neither is the Church – materially speaking. The temptation the Devil whispers to us is that we are throwing ourselves off the Temple roof and testing God, challenging him to catch us in our profligacy. But he says that because he hates children and if you think about it, these large families are a necessity, socially and personally. –
    – All of those people who are afraid to have a 3rd child because of the extra cost always love the first two more than their lives and certainly more than their possessions. But they fear depriving themselves of a new car or other THINGS rather than loving another child and bringing him or her into the lives of those they have already. That is crazy.
    – And soci0-economically, if we do not produce the children to keep the economy going when we retire and earn less and pay less tax, then who will keep the nation going? You have the crazy situation in Europe where foreigners have to be encouraged to come to Germany and elsewhere to work in the factories – simply because the Europeans have been too timid and complacent and comfortable to produce enough of their own children. And while I am not an advocate of barriers to immigration, we cannot pretend that the sudden change in culture demographic that some places experience is without it’s own very serious problems.
    So, I would say that it is the the World which is crazy not to encourage large families. People deprive themselves of this joy, and of the joy of experiencing God’s providence; and the nations deprive themselves of renewing the population.
    Thank God for the Church and Her teaching.
    I used to tell people that you make a vow of poverty and get on with it. You go without little luxuries like bread and potatoes but it’s not so hard.
    Sorry – this is British humour.
    The large family is worth EVERY PENNY! And God provides.

  • Deb

    Jenny, can you elaborate on your early morning/late evening work schedule that (presumably) doesn’t interfere with precious family time? My husband works from home on his own business; I work full time for the Church but on a generous/slightly abbreviated schedule, and I serve on the side as an NFP teacher. Through all these endeavors, we both put in extra hours to make business practices go smoothly. I find it challenging, though, to spend the right increments on the businesses AND our family time so our kids don’t feel like we’re always working, which it feels like at least to me. So I suppose this question isn’t directly related to finances per se, but how you successfully structure the time you do have to make the most of both those aspects (outside of the typical 8-5 work week). I always enjoy your insights!

    • Jenny

      Sure! So I’m starting to be more careful with evenings as the kids get older (and stay up later) which is cutting into our alone time. I’ll typically work for an hour in the morning before anyone is awake if I have a hard deadline or know it’s going to be a crazy week for school or travel or Dave’s work schedule. On a more typical day I will get the big kids up and off to school and then let the little kids watch an hour of PBS kids while Zelie naps. That’s really my power hour where I answer emails and check in with my office and get my work structured for the day. After 9 am though it’s pretty much catch as catch can until after bedtime. So if anyone naps, I might put the awake kid(s) in a semi structured quiet time activity and work for another hour. Wed, Th, F my 3 biggest kids are in school all day, so if the baby and the toddler both nap those days, I might have up to 2.5 hours straight of writing time. I try not to work in the evenings on a regular basis, but I’d say I have about one late night a week typically. All in all it adds up to 20-22 hours a week all cobbled together from various chunks of days. Sometimes I’ll knock out a solid chunk on a Saturday morning, but I’ve been trying not to take family time away on the weekends. I used to have a mother’s helper when the kids were younger, because frankly I needed her for my sanity! As they’ve gotten older and started school and as I’ve grown in my endurance for parenting, I’ve been able to let her go and save some money by not having regular babysitting. I’ll probably find one again come summer break though! Hope that’s helpful.

  • Liz

    Thanks Jenny & Remi!! ! I love to see how other large families have and are doing it! It gives me peace. I can relate. People do think we are crazy with our 6 kiddos. But, I wouldn’t change my life for anything this world has to provide.

    • Remi Lessore

      Thanks Liz,
      6 – great! As our Charismatic Renewal friends would “God is good – ALL the time!”

      May I suggest, as a man who is often accused of imposing an his wife (they obviously don’t know my wife), that you go into women’s groups (we have something called mumsnet, for example), and share your experience.
      There are so many who would also find joy and fulfilment in this and they are being pressured and intimidated in pursuing careers which stress and frustrate them rather than experience the fulfilment and joy (and tears, anger, exhaustion, etc) of being the fulltime CEO of a family, I.e. a mother.

  • M

    I’ve never been able to get on board with all the Dave Ramsey principles… for better or worse! But I will say when my husband lost his job recently, I was really glad we prioritized building up savings over paying off student loans. I’ve kinda fretted over the trade off the past couple of years wondering if maintaining 4 months-ish of expenses in an account was worth it when we’re racking up interest on loans. However, with small kids & my past jobs not being lucrative enough to afford daycare + living expenses, I’m really glad we went the savings route.

    • Jenny

      Yeah that has kind of been our undoing since buying a home. We spent the first several years paying off debt, then paused to build up a down payment, then bought at the absolute top of our price range in a crazy housing market, and now it’s a struggle to get the savings back to where it needs to be to avoid slipping into credit card debt. I do wish we’d been less aggressive in paying down the student loans we took care of early on so that we’d have savings now, but hindsight and all.

  • Sophia

    Thanks so much for this post. Thank you for being so forthright about tithing, when it comes to the Catholic Family costs. This is our struggle currently, as the family grows and student loans/debt is still there stubbornly. We volunteer and attend fundraisers whenever we can. But we’ve never been brave enough to do 10%. We do give in the basket during mass, but it’s just not tenth of our monthly pre-tax income. I feel like we are not setting a good example to our children, by not tithing. That, and of course, the scandals of this past summer have made us timid. But agree that our faith would strengthen if we properly tithe. Is it advisable to start at 10% from the beginning, or build up? Do you give all 10% straight to your parish or to other church-related causes like seminaries? I’d look forward to another posting about this hard subject.

    • Jenny

      Oh we definitely worked our way up to it! We started with like 5% total I think. We’ve always tried to split it like 50/50 between our parish and other organizations we find compelling. We’re hovering right around 10% now, with 5% going to the parish and the other 5% split between a few Catholic charities that are doing demonstrably good work. We re-evaluate our giving every year or so and make adjustments as necessary. We’re reaching for a stretch goal right now to support our parish building campaign, and that has made this month really uncomfortable. I’m great about tithing up front, but I’m bad at following up with the necessary adjustments later in the month, like saying no to an impromptu bottle of wine or a trip to the thrift store or something. Work in progress for sure.

      • Sophia

        Thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my question. I admire the faith behind tithing, and I hope our family can follow your example. Part of me (and yes this is ironic as I am not 10% tithing yet) wishes that the Church made a bigger deal out of the importance of tithing by everyday parishioners. – the only time we ever hear about giving to the Church during mass is when there is a VERY big sum benefactor/ess OR paradoxically, the Bible verse about the widow’s offering. Between those two extremes, I’ve often reached for dollar bill(s) in my wallet, thinking that “I’m not that rich plus the widow’s example = amount doesn’t matter.” Thank you so much for taking on these sensitive topics and God Bless you in your ministry.

  • Colleen

    I loved getting to read this, and the comments! We are expecting our 6th, and after 2 months of trying to manage gestational diabetes with diet, exercise and pills, I just had to pick up a $$$ (for us right now at least) Rx for injections of insulin. Worth it to fight against growing a massive baby who needs a NICU stay? I’m sure. With our 5th the GD went undetected and it stunk, emotionally, physically and financially. A few months after her birth, we finally bought our first home! And we love our 1850’s project, but it has taken its share of our attention. I think what has most helped us is getting perspective (from family, some reading of Dave Ramsey, some plugging into podcasts of financial people we trust, finally paying for a little help from a financial planner, and prayer!)–some of these things are just seasons. We’re always the most emotional about our own circumstances: outside eyes have been so wonderful to say “Okay. Not ideal, but you’re not WRECKED. Think long term through these things.” The consolation with that is that we also prioritized life insurance if we don’t get the long-term that we’re aiming for with these plans. But the outside experience to help us think through our options has been wonderful. That perspective has let us realize that we can work and plan and trust the Lord, but also that we aren’t always staring at just 2 different outcomes of success or failure: we are smart, creative, faithful people who can make lots of different choices. I just got to see Jen Fulweiler at a Womens Conference and she mentioned in a story that “Every baby arrives with a loaf of bread.” The Lord provides. Sometimes we haven’t been able to tithe as we would like. Sometimes that meant we made a huge *to us* gift in faith…and God provided, but sometimes it just meant grabbing whatever small bill or two was in the wallet on Sunday and saying “Lord, this FEELS like 10% even though the numbers don’t work out that way.” Sometimes we had to work 3-4 jobs between us 2 adults, and maybe we will have to again. Often it is just simple checks and balances: we each agree to text the other spouse if out shopping and see something on impulse that we want. We agree to ask each other: do you think this is a need? We agree to shop simply. We agree that we can delay many things. The goal is following what God asks, not necessarily being perfect with our finances. We are staring down a furnace repair and injection meds…they’re big ticket and not very predictable items but we can’t argue with the necessity. Health and heat might win the short term over some debts we were hoping to knock out in the next 6 months. I guess I’m trying to say that our family is learning and growing in financial stewardship, hopefully forward, similarly to how we aim to grow in virtue. We stumble, fall, and only fail if we don’t get up and ask for the grace to try again. It’s going to look so different for each family, just like sainthood looks different for each saint.

  • Shelby Mueller

    Thank you for your honest! We are expecting baby number 3 in 5 weeks, are in need of a minivan, just moved and bought our first house in May, and student loans and hospital bills caked high. BUT it’s a beautiful reminder in your writing. Praise God from whom all
    Blessings flow.

  • Amber

    Lovely. Such a positive read. My husband and I have a blended family of 6 children, with twin boys John and Paul being our youngest (7 months). We are both converts to the faith, myself and 3 children all being baptized and myself confirmed this Easter. Thanks be to God. Inside the Church, people are normally lovingly accepting of our large family. But from relatives or associates, we often catch weird remarks or disheartening comments. For instance, my dad and I just had a heated convo which turned into him suggesting that we have no more children. And “what’s wrong with public schooling”. Having a large family is truly a great joy. Each person is unique and brings their awesomeness to the table. We love, we play, learn, and hopefully are helping eachother get to heaven. We love our Lord and His Church. He truly does provide! We were surprised last week with an anonymous card from ” a caring family of 9″ with a Meijer gift card for 800 dollars! Hip Hip Hoooray for big families !!! Sidenote Plus Question, I am feeling called to start a blog. Have any tips on where a mama is to start? <3 God Bless

  • Sarah

    I’m late in commenting, but just came across this post. I married a great guy last year who unfortunately came with about $140,000 in debt (mostly student loans). I’ve always been frugal with my finances, having had parents who always lived on the edge and whom I will never be able to rely on to bail me out.

    We worked very hard last year to pay about a third of the debt off, and thankfully we both have well-paying jobs, but I find myself today worried that I might be pregnant, and hoping that that might not be so, because that remaining $100k in debt looms over us and my fear is we will never get ahead of it, or afford a house, or at the least I will never be able to work less than full time and therefore not be around to actually raise my kids. It’s easy to say well, just pay the minimum and don’t think about it, but if we do that we’re looking at not being paid off til my husband is in his early 60s, which to me is just not an option we can consider.

    May I ask, do you have any tips for having faith when the math just doesn’t work out?

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