Frugal living ideas for large families

Large Family Savings

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Large Family Savings

Our family has five children. We have two teens, two that are elementary age, and one toddler. I would love some advice from other large families about meals, household chores, vacations, activities, and time management. It has been physically and financial challenging to meet the needs of a big age range of kids.

Managing Household Chores

I have a large family, and there are a couple of things we have done for the chores that have helped quite a bit.

  1. We have a daily chore chart that rotates simple chores between the children. The chart includes things like feeding the dog, setting the table, clearing the table, emptying the dishwasher or doing the dishes.
  2. Everyone's room (and bathroom) must be clean by Monday morning. I try and not worry about their rooms during the week. If they clean it once a week, it is at least manageable. If they do not have it clean by Monday, then I can give them an extra chore (in addition to finishing their rooms) that must be done after school, before they can have any privileges (i.e. friends, phone, computer, etc.)
  3. Lastly, I have dubbed the first weekend of month an "extra chore" weekend. Each of the children is assigned two extra chores that must be done sometime over the weekend. These chores are a little more involved than the daily chores. They include things like dusting a room, vacuuming a room, mopping the kitchen floor, etc. Although it is done just once a month between all of us the entire house gets clean over the course of the weekend. I have found that if I give the kids an entire weekend to get their jobs done it eliminates the problem of varied schedules and everyone is responsible for finding time over the weekend to get their work done.

Allyson in Virginia

Easing Family Squabbles

We also had five children in our combined family and found a great way to ease several daily squabbles among the kids. Each person in the family, including parents, was assigned a day of the week as "their day." They got to sit by the window in the car, picked choices for dinner, and were able to spend one-on-one time with mom preparing that dinner. It was their day so it was their job to clear the table and help mom load the dishwasher. Anything that demanded a choice was directed to that person on that day. Since everyone got a turn once a week, it was easier for the others to accept. Even mom and dad had their day. No one complained about the extra chores on their day because they were allowed to make decisions all day long. It worked great for us.
Christie in Poulsbo, WA

Many Hands Make Light Work

Regarding raising large families frugally, I think one thing people forget is that many hands make light work! We often scratch our heads and wonder how in the world families in the "olden days" managed to raise multiple kids on often quite meager earnings. But keep in mind that children were considered an asset because they were able to work on the family farm or help at the family business when they were old enough.

These days, most of us don't live those rural farm lives, but the same principles still apply in different ways in modern large families. Older kids can do a lot of the chores around the house and in the yard, as well as help out with younger siblings, and even bring in money by babysitting or part-time jobs. The littler members of the household can do age-appropriate tasks, too. This isn't child slave labor. This is teaching them valuable life skills and a good work ethic.

As for food, your larger family is the perfect candidate for bulk buying. Stock up on the basics (a separate freezer will probably be worth its weight in gold in savings) and let the kids help with meal planning, shopping and cooking. And don't forget that hand-me-downs keep clothing costs down in large families.

As for activities, many kids' sports leagues charge less per child when more than one from a family joins. Vacation plans often offer family rates, and when you eat out, order three or four entrees and enough plates for everyone so you can share. Many plays and shows offer group rates, and some events have a flat price for a whole family. Daughters can learn do each other's hair and nails, and borrow each other's clothes if they're the same size.

One thing to consider, especially with teenagers, is making a schedule for morning bathroom use. Encourage them to do things that don't require the bathroom, like hair and makeup, in their bedrooms. Perhaps some could shower in the evening and others in the morning. Keep one all-purpose shower gel, shampoo, body lotion and conditioner in the bathroom for everybody's use, or have each person keep a basket or tote filled with their own personal items in their rooms. Use a different colored towel for each family member, and install enough racks or hooks for everybody's towels.

Yes, there are added costs in having a large family, but savings can be found. Learn to cooperate, delegate and work as a team. Mostly, enjoy and appreciate your loved ones as the blessings they are.

One Task at a Time

We also have 5 children. We have told the children that their bedrooms are their domains and have to be kept tidy by them, not Mum! I give them clean sheets, covers and pillowcases and they make the beds themselves each week. They have to put their dirty washing out for washing in the laundry hamper. They have to vacuum their own rooms. They are given their clothes washed, folded or ironed and they are responsible for putting them away in the drawers. That eliminates a huge part of Mum's daily chores and only takes a few minutes each day for each child. Plus, they have no one to blame if they have rooms of their own and have a pride in a job well done.

If the bedrooms are not clean and tidy, then no friends are allowed over to play and they are grounded until the jobs are completed. Needless to say, the rooms are spotless in a very short period of time and they can then enjoy themselves with their friends and we can enjoy a clean house!

Mum prepares the meals, but the older two are more than capable of peeling the vegetables and assisting when asked. I write out a menu the night before grocery shopping and often ask for the children to choose a meal that doesn't cost much for one night of the week. By buying only what we need in one grocery-shopping trip, we keep our food bill down.

We also have a "Fridge Friday" night where any leftovers are eaten and we eat out of the pantry. It is a cook free night and the children love choosing what they want to eat. All school lunches and morning and afternoon teas are home cooked by Mum at a fraction of the cost of the shop bought convenience foods. My children are always complimented on their lunch boxes and I am often asked for the recipes! (Requested by their children!)

Holidays are rare, but we do all the free things that children enjoy. The kids love going to the beach or pool, going on forest walks, visiting parks or free museums, or enjoying entertainment in the park for special occasions. We rent a video once a week and watch it as a family instead of going to the movies.

One thing I have found invaluable over the years is one special job a day. It may be as simple as cleaning out the fridge or pantry or cleaning the shelves in the kitchen. If you allocate one small job a day in one room, by the end of the week, you have spring cleaned that room! I may do half the kitchen cupboards in one day and the rest over the next two days. Then I may clean the oven or dishwasher. By the end of the week, the kitchen is finished and I can move on to the lounge or dining room. If you can't manage several cupboards in one day, just do one and the next day do another cupboard. Just keep at it and you will very soon have a lovely spring cleaned house with everything in its place for very little effort.

My husband and I have always told the children that when they leave home, they will be more than capable of looking after themselves and their household. I have seen and heard horror stories of men (and women) not knowing how to boil an egg or clean a house and I am happy to say that our five won't be among them!

Don't Miss This Book

I would recommend that this family read the Tightwad Gazette books by Amy Dacyczyn. She has a lot of great strategies for saving money with a large family.
Glenna in Broken Arrow, OK

Keeping the Kids Straight

I have five children ranging in age from 2 to 16. Every few months, I take one of my children on a "date." We usually do inexpensive things like go to a golf driving range, miniature golf, batting cage, see a movie, or make a piece of pottery at a local pottery store. It is much cheaper to take one child on an outing than all five. Plus, each child feels special to have alone time with mom.

For organization, I keep an accordion-type folder in the kitchen. Each child has an assigned slot in which I keep necessary school documents, scouting stuff, and other miscellaneous things that pertain to that particular child. Before I set up this system, I routinely lost permission slips and missed soccer games, or even took my kids to the wrong game.
Karen in Milwaukee, WI

Join Us Online

As a mother of six children, the best source of creative ideas, money saving tips, and time management ideas is an email group called MOMYS, which stands for "Mother of Many Young Siblings." We share tons of ideas for taming the laundry beast, which hotels offer free meals for the kiddos, which vacuum cleaners and washing machines really last, how to train character into our children, and so much more. There are even some archives on the website at that have been organized by topics. I've been a member of that email list for over eight years. I've subbed and dropped many other subscriptions over the years, but never that one because it's just too helpful.

It's tough raising kids today!
Subscribe to Dollar Stretcher for Parents, designed to help your family 'live better...for less'!

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Some years ago, I was the proud mother and stepmother of four children, two teenage girls and two preschool boys. We managed on an average income that had room for a few lovely trips to Disney World and lots of inexpensive entertainment too.

We rotated chores among the adults and teens, sharing certain chores such as vacuuming, bathrooms, meal preparation and clean up. Even the three-year-old could make his bed and help with small tasks. The six-year-old took out the trash. All picked up after themselves and put their laundry into the hamper. This way, we all had time for more fun.

The teens did not get an allowance. They worked at part-time jobs. The small kids got small allowances and were taught to save part for "extras" they wanted. However, they preferred to give to the March of Dimes because their friend had MD.

The big ones who drove sometimes took the little ones to routine dental appointments. However, they were never responsible for daily baby-sitting. Many family outings revolved around various ball games and baton twirling exhibitions.

Probably the most important factor was that we discussed who would do what. That way everyone was more involved and more reasonable about pitching in. The proof of our method is that my 19-year-old teenager once told me she was glad I made her pay for a car instead of giving her one, since she appreciated what it took to have one.
Barbara in Wallingford, CT

Related: Getting Kids to Complete Chores

From Our Family to Yours

Chores - After dinner, we put some fun music on for seven minutes and everyone helps straighten up the family room and kitchen. If we finish sooner, then someone runs the vac, dusts, or sweeps the kitchen floor. (We all eat dinner at the same time, if possible, and if the teens leave the table before everyone else, they are called back down to help.)

We also have chore sticks, which I made out of popsicle sticks. Each stick has a chore and there are chores appropriate for the older kids and the younger ones. Color distinguishes the age group. Each week, they pick 2 or 3 sticks and that tells them what they have to do. If they want to trade with their siblings, that is their business, as long as everyone agrees. This keeps the chores rotating and different each week. They earn points for the chores completed, which they can store up or use each week. The rewards are agreed upon by all. Some examples include extra bathroom time, extra phone privileges, double dessert, later bed time, sleep overs, etc. They can get money but only on certain chores and only when we can afford it.

Meals - I have all of our favorites laminated on cards and each person gets to pick a meal that they would like during the next week, if they complete their chores during the prior week. I also have PB&J on hand for those moments when someone's going to be late or the little ones don't like the meal. It's nutritious and they'll eat every bite.

I try and buy my meat in bulk at Sam's, but also check the grocery store on Wednesday and Thursday when they tend to have some of the meat marked down before the weekend. I watch the grocery ads on Sunday for 99 cent per pound chicken breasts, etc.

Related: Top 10 Ways to Save Money on Meat and Poultry

Time Management - I keep a family calendar to plan the days, weeks and months out. Homework is completed when they come home from school, after a snack. I try and stagger as much as I can in the evening after dinner. While the little ones are getting baths, I help the older ones with any homework, or listen to them practice their musical instruments. Computers and video games are off 30 minutes before bedtime and everyone reads or watches a quiet movie to relax.

Vacations - We don't take any. We just visit family out of state during the summer. We rotate the family around so that everyone gets at least one day or evening with Granny and Papa.

Networking is Key

We have a large family as well with six children. Their ages are 15, 14, 12, 11, 7 and 6. Five of them are boys who seem to be constantly hungry so grocery dollars must be well spent. First, we buy half a beef from a local farmer, a whole pig and numerous whole chickens. I spend Sunday afternoons preparing snacks for kids' lunches. The Sunday evening meal is usually quite large as the leftovers form the basis of the meals for the week. For example, if I prepare a roast dinner, the leftover roast can become beef stroganoff, beef stir-fry, sweet and sour beef strips, etc. later in the week. This helps to make the meal planning for the week a bit easier (and quicker). We cook from scratch and make things like beef and cabbage buns, homemade pizza pops, burritos, etc. in large quantities and freeze them for those hungry teenagers to eat as snacks.

Related: Frugal Meals for Big Families

Vacations that involve eating out or hotel rooms are out of the question. We purchased a used travel trailer that sleeps all 8 of us and our vacation time is spent camping. We camp about two weekends a month from May through September, as well as take a one-week trip to the Kananaskis in Alberta (about two hours away from our home). Our family spends the day hiking, biking, fishing and enjoying the evening educational amphitheater plays put on by the park's interpreters. So I can enjoy the camping experience, I prepare and freeze meals that just need to be reheated.

Kid's activities are carefully chosen. There is only so much that we can do or afford, especially as we are a one-income family. One thing that helps with the activity budget is that I ask grandparents or anyone else who buys my children presents for activity type gifts. These are things like swim passes, movie passes, or a membership to a science museum. My husband and I organized a hockey league where anyone who shows up to the rink is divided into two teams and plays for the allotted ice time. All six of our children play (at different times given their age). All six also play soccer on five different teams. We are fortunate that we live in a small community so everyone pitches in to help. I may take someone else's child to their game and they may take one of mine to another. This is the time of year where my slow cooker and I are best friends as the kid's activities may cause them to be home for supper at different times. The older kids also participate in school sports such as football and basketball.

Time management is crucial. I have a day timer. One column is for me and my tasks (banking, cleaning, errands, meal planning, etc.), one column is for my kids' activities, and one is for school activities (library day, band festival, parent teacher interviews). The main calendar in the kitchen has large squares for each day and shows a month at a time. This is purchased at Costco. This is for my family to see at a glance what is coming up in terms of activities, doctor appointments, etc. You can assign each person a "color" and write anything that pertains to them in that color.

My best piece of advice would be to network. Ask friends and family how they deal with meals, chores, allowances, etc. and you may be able to utilize or adapt their advice to suit your family. There are days when I feel overwhelmed but these are outnumbered by the many, many days I feel so very lucky to have such a large family.

Reviewed April 2017

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