When my husband and I decided to have more children, it didn’t take long before I realized I was going to have to refine my existing money skills to manage a budget for a large family.
Budget Advice from Mommas Who Actually Do It
Today, with a family of eight and full of hope to add one more, I certainly don’t have it all figured out. But I do have more experience, and critically, a community of fellow “large family mommas” who generously share their wisdom with me. Between us, we’ve tried at, failed at, and learned a lot about managing our families’ finances.
Here’s not only what we know, but what we actually do to maintain a budget that works for our own large families:
The Budgeting Do’s Don’t Change. But They Do Get Creative.
Momma, I have news. Even with a larger family and greater needs, each of the “old rules” of budgeting still applies. You just have to be more attentive to them because, if you feel like there is less wiggle room to mess up with a big family, you’re not imagining it.
1. Save for the unknown. You should still save first and live off the remaining percentage of your income. Having a large family, unexpected expenses related to family life are often bigger and more frequent.
How to do it big: The one-size-fits-all way to do this is on payday take 10-20 percent of your income and move it into a savings account. Does that feel like too much? Do what you can. Pennies do add up. But if your large family needs every dime of income to get through the month or is starting with a deficit, it is worth it to get creative.
Many of us “large family mommas” don’t work but have learned how to leverage our time to increase our families’ incomes even just a little by doing something we are already doing. Can you babysit just one more kiddo for a couple hours each week while your own kids run around? Cook an extra meal? Maybe you’re one of those creative types who crafts for sanity after the kids go to bed?
Even if it’s irregular or not very much, dedicate that additional income to savings.
2. Save for the known. You should still plan and save for the expenses you know are coming. If bad teeth run in your family, don’t wait to save for braces when you may have seven sets you’ll need to buy. Preparing for college is stressful for families of any size. Save for it now.
How to do it big: Timing and method matters. And because saving can be challenging for large families, this money should go into an account that can grow on its own apart from your general savings. Start a 529 or IRA for each of your children at birth. (Though it is genuinely never too late to start one.) If you can, jump start the fund with what you can of your own cash and contribute as you can throughout the grade school years – maybe a little bit of your annual tax return goes in! Ask grandparents to contribute for birthdays in lieu of unnecessary gifts, and the older kids can contribute money from summer jobs. All the while, the money grows.
Those seven sets of braces? Though some banks offer similar programs, you could save for that known expense over time using an automated investing program like Acorns. It does work.
3. Take stock and stick to lists. It is still a good idea to know what you have and then make a list for what you’ll need. Whether you’re meal planning or tallying up the month’s expenses, lists help you assess what you have, think ahead about what you’ll need and hold you accountable.
How to do it big: First, my mommas strongly recommend getting a paper calendar with room to write. You will need a way to meal plan, note extra grocery store expenses and track bills. (You might prefer one calendar for meal planning and another for bills. It can get hairy.)
For meal planning, start with what you already have in the fridge and pantry, then plan your family’s meals for the week. The week’s grocery list comes from what you’re lacking to make it all come together. When you go to the store, stick to that list. One momma smartly recommends instituting a weekly leftovers or “soon to expire” dinner night. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and does wonders for food waste.
For bill planning, taking stock of upcoming bills then listing and paying them by due date helps spread expenses over the month. Consider aligning them with paychecks. (Don’t forget to cross-reference your giant paper calendar for the dentist’s copay times three that is coming up later in the month.) In our house, we use online bill pay to set up as many of these payments as we can in advance, so they are automatically paid just after a paycheck hits the bank account. This means I only have to sit down once/month to list out and pay bills.
4. Get smart about extracurriculars. It is still true that your kids do not need to be in every extra activity open for registration. And with a big family, the logistics of getting all your people where they need to go alone will force you to simplify whether you want to or not.
How to do it big: Look for opportunities for multiple kids to participate in the same activity at the same time to rake in that family discount and minimize carpooling. Many YMCAs offer extracurricular activities at a much less expensive rate, you only ever have to drive one place, there’s often a pool, and you get a gym membership out of it.
Also, big families do not need more toys or candy. (Can I get an amen on that?) Large families can reduce expenses by asking gift givers to buy that new leotard instead of a giant stuffed bunny at Easter, for example, or contribute $5 to gymnastics classes instead of bringing toys as a gift to a gymnastics-themed birthday party.
Finally, momma, maybe you don’t need these extras at all for a time if the budget is tight. There are plenty of free, enriching activities that are great for kids of all ages and cost nothing.
5. Community. It is still true that you still need community. Yes, even to manage your budget. With a large family, you will need ideas. For everything. My community of large family mommas has been invaluable.
How to do it big: Look for social media groups for large families – they’re out there. You’ll find groups for everything from large family meal planners to parents with multiple special needs kids. Ask questions. They’ll answer! (We moms are so eager to share our experiences and opinions, aren’t we?)
Beyond that, seek professional help. CPAs, insurance brokers and financial planners, though they, yes, often get something from you out of it, can genuinely help with the more complicated money topics like taxes, life insurance and retirement.
And finally, don’t discount the knowledge of your elders. They may not have had the large family experience you are walking through, but they have made it farther down the financial road than you have. Hear what they have to say first, and then determine whether you can apply it to your beautiful, big family’s budget. It may not work. And that’s okay. Because then you’ll know.
And that brings us to what you should not do to budget for large families. Stay tuned for the knowledge my generous tribe of large family mommas and I have to share about that next month.