I can’t help it.
I love controversy.
Not scandal, where someone cheated on someone with someone else, but controversy, where people have strong opinions and aren’t afraid to voice them.
I love a good controversy because I believe that bringing lots of strong opinion together, hearing them all out, and then forming an opinion for myself not only make me stronger in my convictions, it enables me to make a decent argument for what I believe in.
So when I saw this article in my Facebook news feed I just HAD to click on it. It really was too good not too:
“How I Made Sure All 12 Of My Kids Could Pay For College Themelves”
I already stirred up a whole lot of opinions with my article about why I won’t be paying for my daughter’s college, but this kind of astounded me and made me love this family so much! I mean, saving for college for one kid is daunting enough, but saving for 12? Good lord, I can’t even image. And that’s exactly why I was curious. Is Parenting expensive if you’re doing it right?
My wife and I had 12 children over the course of 15 1/2 years. Today, our oldest is 37 and our youngest is 22. I have always had a very prosperous job and enough money to give my kids almost anything. But my wife and I decided not to.
I will share with you the things that we did, but first let me tell you the results: All 12 of my children have college degrees (or are in school), and we as parents did not pay for it. Most have graduate degrees. Those who are married have wonderful spouses with the same ethics and college degrees, too. We have 18 grandchildren who are learning the same things that our kids learned—self respect, gratitude, and a desire to give back to society.
We raised our family in Utah, Florida, and California; my wife and I now live in Colorado. In March, we will have been married 40 years. I attribute the love between us as a part of our success with the children. They see a stable home life with a commitment that does not have compromises.
Here’s what we did right (we got plenty wrong, too, but that’s another list):
I really encourage you to click over and read the full article. I’ll be pulling quotes from it, but the article as a whole was really a very good representation of the opposite of the entitlement and greed that causes so many problems in younger people today.
But what I got out of it, more so than a great blueprint for raising responsible kids, was that parenting, if it’s done right, might be expensive. I’m all for frugality, but parenting is more about “doing it right” than it is about keeping it cheap. Sometimes, lessons have to be learned that will cost us, as parents money, but that our kids desperately need to learn.
Case in point: chores:
Kids had to perform chores from age 3. A 3-year-old does not clean toilets very well but by the time he is 4, it’s a reasonably good job.
They got allowances based on how they did the chores for the week.
Now, I know that there is a lot of debate about paying kids for chores, but I’m all for teaching kids to associate monetary rewards with a hard work and a job well done. Especially as kids get older, as the chores get more complicated, and the payout gets higher, paying kids for chores could get quite pricey – and shouldn’t it? After all, if they’re doing a great job, and have a great attitude, shouldn’t you reward them for that?
More broadly, food was interesting. We wanted a balanced diet, but hated it when we were young and parents made us eat all our food. Sometimes we were full and just did not want to eat anymore. Our rule was to give the kids the food they hated most first (usually vegetables) and then they got the next type of food. They did not have to eat it and could leave the table. If later they complained they were hungry, we would get out that food they did not want to eat, warm it up in the microwave, and provide it to them. Again, they did not have to eat it. But they got no other food until the next meal unless they ate it.
Food: we keep our food budget quite low, but we’ve found that as we’ve increased the quality of our food – organic, fresh, healthy ingredients – that the cost of our food goes up, even though we aren’t buying more volume. Eating a healthy diet isn’t cheap, and can actually get quite expensive, but isn’t the expense worth it?
This family also held their children to high academic and extracurricular standards. They were required to take all AP classes, and if their grades weren’t high enough to warrant admission, the parents when to the school and demanded that they be allowed in. Then, this couple put in the hours with their children teaching them what they needed to know to master those AP courses. By the time the second of third child rolled around, they knew that the parents would do what was necessary for their children to succeed in AP classes and did not put up a fight.
All kids had to play some kind of sport. They got to choose, but choosing none was not an option. We started them in grade school. We did not care if it was swimming, football, baseball, fencing, tennis, etc. and did not care if they chose to change sports. But they had to play something.
All kids had to be in some kind of club: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, history, drama, etc.
They were required to provide community service. We would volunteer within our community and at church. For Eagle Scout projects, we would have the entire family help. Once we collected old clothes and took them to Mexico and passed them out. The kids saw what life was like for many families and how their collections made them so happy and made a difference.
Sports, music, club activities, and even community service are not cheap. Sports alone can cost thousands of dollars per year, and I know from family members who have been in Boy Scouts that taking trips for the clubs can also run you thousands of dollars. These parents were more focused on enriching their children’s lives, broadening their horizons, and making them responsible adults than about the cost of keeping them in all those activities. Plus, when you factor in that they had 12 kids, I’m sure they paid out a ton in activities.
Is the cost worth it?
But the biggest, most expensive way that they taught their children, was by letting them do things on their own:
When the kids turned 16, we bought each a car. The first one learned what that meant. As the tow truck pulled a once “new” car into the driveway, my oldest proclaimed: “Dad, it is a wreck!” I said, “Yes, but a 1965 Mustang fastback wreck. Here are the repair manuals. Tools are in the garage. I will pay for every part, but will not pay for LABOR.” Eleven months later, the car had a rebuilt engine, rebuilt transmission, newly upholstered interior, a new suspension system, and a new coat of paint. My daughter (yes, it was my daughter) had one of the hottest cars at high school. And her pride that she built it was beyond imaginable. (As a side note, none of my kids ever got a ticket for speeding, even though no car had less than 450 horsepower.)
We as parents allowed kids to make mistakes. Five years before the 16th birthday and their “new” car gift, they had to help out with our family cars. Once I asked my son, Samuel, to change the oil and asked if he needed help or instruction. “No, Dad, I can do it.” An hour later, he came in and said, “Dad, does it take 18 quarts of oil to change the oil?” I asked where did he put 18 quarts of oil when normally only five were needed. His response: “That big screw on top at the front of the engine.” I said “You mean the radiator?” Well, he did not get into trouble for filling the radiator with oil. He had to drain it, we bought a radiator flush, put in new radiator fluid, and then he had to change the real oil. We did not ground him or give him any punishment for doing it “wrong.” We let the lesson be the teaching tool. Our children are not afraid to try something new. They were trained that if they do something wrong they will not get punished. It often cost us more money, but we were raising kids, not saving money.
The kids each got their own computer, but had to build it. I bought the processor, memory, power supply, case, keyboard, hard drive, motherboard, and mouse. They had to put it together and load the software on. This started when they were 12.
I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to see the dollar signs really add up. Sure, buying junk cars isn’t that expensive, but those parts can really run up the bill, and so can the lesson about the oil change, and building their own computers :-)
The whole article was very straightforward, almost like a blueprint of how to raise kids who can handle their own lives, but the overarching theme (not in the title) that I saw was that parenting is expensive. Our daughter is only two, so we haven’t reached many of the things this father of 12 talked about, but instead have been focused on trying to reduce the costs associated with parenting. Our $0 nursery, how we paid nothing for disposable diapers for 2 years, and of course, no paying for her college – and that’s all great stuff.
This father ended the article by saying this:
We were and are not our kids’ best friends. We were their parents.
And I have to say that I completely respect that.
However, doing that is easier said that done. Sure, I want my child to pay for her own college, to learn how to be a functioning adult, to contribute to society, and to have a life that she can be proud of.
But how much does teaching her those lessons cost?
If it’s done right, is parenting expensive?
I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences, or even just comments on this family. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the frugal, that we forget that some things are just supposed to be expensive. Is parenting one of them?
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Ali @ Anything You Want says
I don’t think that parenting has to be expensive (although admittedly I have no children and therefore no experience), but anything multiplied by 12 kids (!) is going to be expensive. To me, it seems like the best way to keep child rearing costs down is to only have as many kids as you can afford to raise in the manner you choose. Of course, there is a ton of variation in how you raise your kids. When I was growing up, my family had 1 computer for the four of us, not one per person. Little things like that can make a big impact.
It’s always interesting to see how other people do things.
I am home schooling my 2 children. There are plenty of things I think they can do without. In fact, for the time being neither of them are in any classes or sports and I’m fine with that. We make friends at the library and the park and we do our art, cooking, and playing without a class fee. I’m not opposed to formal lessons, but I don’t think they ALWAYS have to be in something.
We are determined to pay for our kids to go to college. My husband had his parents pay his way through school and he is forever grateful that he was able to start off his adult life with no student loans. He chose a community college so he could live at home which saved a ton of money. We will encourage our kids to at least start school the same way to avoid the unnecessary expense of a dorm. I am working a night job to help make sure the money will be there when the time comes.
My children do get paid for chores, I will pay for nice school supplies and also spend a good deal on art materials for them. Those things are worth it to me. I very rarely buy toys, movies, meals out, etc.
I think it’s all about choices and priorities for each family. There are so many ways to teach kids responsibility and gratitude.
Ooh, this is a good subject. I have fourth and fifth grade girls, and we’ve managed to keep costs low, BUT there are still costs.
I think the biggest expense is clubs and activities. We only have to pay for lessons for two kids, and to us it’s a big expense. We don’t make them do sports, BUT we do exercise with them on a daily basis. Both children chose to pursue their interests in the arts, and that’s not cheap, BUT after much discussion my husband and I decided the experience, developed talent, and character building are priceless. So we pay for the lessons happily.
We do keep other costs low and feel that we have a wonderful life. Family activities are usually free or low cost. We don’t eat out often. We don’t have tons of clothes, toys, or stuff. (Hooray! Less to clean!) Through budgeting as a whole family, my kids have learned the value of what they have. I kind of feel like that is a miracle. I did not grow up that way and always felt like I was missing out on something. My kids are in charge of their meager clothing budgets and often have money left over. We shall see how long that lasts into the teen years.
Great topic. I hope more people jump in on the conversation. I would really like to know how other people handle kid expenses.
Emily @ the John & Jane Doe Guide says
My parents paid for my college, my husband’s paid for his. We each went to grad school and they didn’t pay for that. Of course, undergrad for us was mostly in the 80s and a college education was cheaper. But we both want to be able to cover our daughter’s undergrad education, and save for it in a 529 plan. I’m not sure it’s the most frugal thing, but I think it’s part of my parental obligation. (Then again, we have one kid who’s still 13 years away from college. I may change my mind as life changes.)