Mainly I Want to Talk About Having 13 Kids

The article I would like to draw your attention to exists out of time and is called, “How To Retire Early With 13 Kids” but really it should be called, “OMG 13 Kids, Here’s How We Pay For It,” or better yet, “See, You Only Have One Kid, Everything Is Fine.”

The facts: Catholic Dad makes $110K a year, plus some lawn-mowing (him) and tutoring (her) side hustle that adds another $5K. The kids are between two and 24 years old — the eldest is married, one lives at college, the other 11 are still at home. Their house is paid off, they save a LOT ($2447/month), they have no debt. You can find their budget in the article — they spend $1,260 a month on food, their highest monthly expense — but how do they live? “Pleasant, if simple lives,” Dad says, which I do buy.

My main questions of course, and my main anxieties, lie with the teens: how do you pay for college, and how do they all get around?

My kids all start working and saving at a young age. By age 12 or so they are babysitting, cutting grass, shoveling snow and doing odd-jobs for people. So far they have all been good savers. Which is a good thing because they pay for their own iPods, phones, cars, gas, car insurance, and college.

The kids buy reliable (we hope) used cars and pay for all the maintenance, gas, insurance etc. We try to find cars that old people no longer need. They are usually well maintained and have low miles. All five of the older kids have cars. Plus my wife and I have three between us. It looks a lot like a used car lot in our driveway. I’m sure our neighbors love us.

EIGHT CARS in the driveway. And their kids are graduating college debt-free:

My kids are responsible for their own college funding, if they choose to go. One is done with her schooling and four are currently attending college (Two seniors, one junior, and one freshman). My wife and I encourage them to go for at least two years and then decide if they want to continue on. So far they all have. We have a great community college so they all go there for two years, usually for free, then they transfer to a 4-year state university. State tuition in our area is around $8-10k per year. Some of my kids have been able to get enough scholarship and grant money to pay for all of it and some have paid up to $5,000 per year. None of them uses student loans. They are all finishing their undergrad work debt free.

My parents both paid for their own school and cars, and I do like the idea of making my kids do it, too — in theory. Character-building! My parents always told me they wouldn’t be buying me a car when I turned 16, on principle, but then they totally caved and got me a used Honda Civic ($3,500) when I got my license, telling me I had to pay for the gas (enter: my first job). Then they paid for a big chunk of my college tuition — whatever FAFSA said they could afford, basically, which came out to about 1/3rd of the total.

I do like the way this 13-kid family works philosophically, though in practice I can imagine some lizard-brain thing will kick in and I’ll want to do that whole middle class aspirational thing where you want your kid to have it better than you did. Or you know, the Singularity will happen before I have to worry about any of this. Stay tuned.


37 Comments / Post A Comment

wrappedupinbooks (#1,426)

Everything else aside, I can’t get past the idea of giving birth that many times. I’m pretty sure I just felt my uterus clench in terror.

Meaghano (#529)

@wrappedupinbooks Yes! The 13th kid is a foster child but 12x — and no twins! She spent half of the last 25 years pregnant, is all I can think.

@fo (#839)

@Meaghano ” She spent half of the last 25 years pregnant, is all I can think.”

Well… 12*9 = 108 months = 9 years, or just over a third of the last 25 pregnant–but probably *over* 2/3s of it either pregnant OR breast feeding.

bgprincipessa (#699)

I was worried this was going to be that guy who made his kids like build their own computers and cars, and gave them like 30 minutes of free time a day, and completely glossed over the expenses. Please somebody find that and link it again, so that we can talk about the vast difference in tone and providing real numbers between that asshat and this guy.

Aunt Scar (#5,377)

@bgprincipessa This one, right?

I spy with my little eye a creepy regimental religion!

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Aunt Scar YES, ugh it still infuriates me. It reeks of unrecognized privilege. And if my parents had forced me into a sport past around 6th grade, I would have never forgiven them.

Meaghano (#529)

@bgprincipessa omg. “All the kids were required to take every Advanced Placement class there was. We did not let entrance scores be an impediment. We went to the school and demanded our kids be let in. ” what does that even MEAN

Aunt Scar (#5,377)

@bgprincipessa I am pretty sure based on experience and some of the details that the article family is Mormon which would explain some of the childraising methods. I am definitely sure that the author is a smug dick.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Meaghano exactly!! I want to grab that guy by the lapels and force him to think about what that kind of pressure is doing to his kids, and to think about how the quality of those classes would be if every overachieving parent did that!
@Aunt Scar ugh. It’s not okay.

ThatJenn (#916)

@bgprincipessa @Meaghano My parents totally supported me in trying to talk my way into courses I didn’t have the prereqs for in high school, but it was up to me to convince the school, not them. (Then again, [a] they were less hands-on in my education than these parents seem to be, so my performance was basically up to me anyway and [b] it was just a less hands-on-parents time, I guess, when I went to high school 15 years ago.)

I also would have run away from home if I’d been required to keep doing sports throughout school. Though I was required to keep busy in general, once my mom realized that sports and ThatJenn did not mix – she said she’d always planned to make me get a job in high school and decided against it only because I filled my time with extracurriculars she thought were worthwhile. If I hadn’t done that, she would’ve made me fill my time somehow, and I generally do support that. But let kids find their own strengths and interests, perhaps?

Meaghano (#529)

@ThatJenn YES. I was about to come back and freak out about the mandatory sports thing, too. I would have died.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@ThatJenn See, that is a huge difference. You WANTED to be in those courses. Forcing students into them isn’t doing anyone a favor – not the student, not the other students, and not the teacher.

And I already said this above, but SERIOUSLY, if I had been forced to play a sport there would have been a problem. Oh, let’s take some humans at probably the most vulnerable stage of their lives, force them to do something they’re not good at, and to do it with some of the typically not-the-nicest demographic at the school (typically! I know not all athletes are bad). And that thing is sports where it’s so easy to look like a fool.

Aunt Scar (#5,377)

@bgprincipessa My father kept saying, “you don’t have to join the swim/track team–you can just practice with them!” I do not think he 1) knew how HS sports teams worked or 2) realized I was terrible swimmer and couldn’t breathe when I ran. Nice work paying attention to the kid you have, not the kid you want, dude. Individuality, who needs it?

E$ (#1,636)

Wow, I lived down the street from a family with 7 kids growing up and I thought they were extreme!

I babysat from around age 13, occasionally for my younger siblings (for which I didn’t get paid, it was just part of the deal). But I was luckier/more privileged than these kids in a bunch of ways. I didn’t work a lot because my folks wanted me to study (and allowed me to do extracurricular activities), and money from working mostly had to cover fun things. I saved some for little expenses in college. I wasn’t given a car but I was allowed to use my dad’s old car, and my parents reimbursed me for gas, in return for carting said siblings around and doing other random errands. They probably wouldn’t have been able to do that with 13 kids, but my parents are not the 13-kid-haver types, I think.

Also, there was no iPod around to buy! Kids these days! I remember purchasing my first CD burner, though. That was a special moment.

@E$ Aww that reminds me that my mom, my brother, and I delivered flyers to buy our first computer. Flyers! Do you know how many flyers one had to deliver to buy a computer in 1996? Several years worth of a weekly flyer route if I recall correctly.

ThatJenn (#916)

I love the tags and slug on this one.

Also, I’m super glad to be an only child and not personally planning to procreate, right about now.

andnowlights (#2,902)

13. I just… no. No no no. That seems like it would completely wreck your body on the inside. I am super impressed by their saving, though, with that many kids! One of the reasons we don’t plan on having kids is because of the cost. It’s not the main reason, but it’s certainly a contributing factor.

(Also, @thatjenn had to point out the tags to me, but YAY I’m so glad the link was able to help you with a post, ha ha)

Meaghano (#529)

@andnowlights Ha, yes! I sent the baby cost to Dustin and he was like, Great you tell me this NOW. Whoops.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Meaghano It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission! ;)

dotcommie (#662)

Naw man, I don’t see the romance in making your kids pay for their college in this day and age. I am benefiting every day from that gift my parents gave me of going to an elite school. I’m gonna help my kids go to the best college I can afford. One of the ways I will afford it is by not having 13 kids. #diffrentstrokes

ThatJenn (#916)

@dotcommie Yes, I think this often when my friends and internet strangers mention that they plan to make their kids pay for school. I understand the reasoning behind it, in general, but I’ve seen that where I went to school and the fact that I have 0 loans made a massive difference in my 20s, at least, which seems to setting the stage for a different life in my 30s than most of my local peers who paid for school. I don’t think it’s fair, and I don’t think I’m any smarter or better or more deserving of what I’ve got than any of them, but if I were planning to have kids I’d still want to give them that privilege if I possibly could.

Meaghano (#529)

@ThatJenn That’s a good point. In my romantic, character-building scenario these children are getting scholarships or using their savings at somehow magically well-paying summer jobs to pay for in-state tuition, rather than saddled with debt. Even though that is not at all how it was for me, and how my parents paid for school, when it was like $3k/year, is a thing of the past.

Kthompson (#1,858)

@dotcommie Every few weeks or so I thank my parents for paying for my college tuition–and I graduated college 6 years ago. I cannot thank them enough for how much that helped me get a step up in life. I graduated in 2008 right in the middle of the bust, so incredibly fortunate to have no debt. I look at my friends who graduated with some debt, couldn’t find jobs, so they went to grad school, and now have even more debt and still can’t find a good job. I am so extremely lucky that I wasn’t saddled with $50k of debt when I started out my adult life. It is so very important for folks to help their kids with school.

(Not that I didn’t pitch in. I took AP courses and paid for summer classes at community college, so I graduated a year early. I also worked part time and earned a scholarship for free room and board. And I made a prudent school choice, choosing a cheap in-state one that offered me the most money. [But I still got that silly English degree!] Kids should definitely chip in, but to cover it all on their own can cripple their financial life in their 20s, 30s, and even beyond.)

@dotcommie I think it depends on what having your kid paying for college looks like. Should you make an 18 year old take out 100k in loans for school? No. But can your kid work part time and go to the local community college for 2 years? Yes

Not everyone needs to go to a fancy private liberal arts college. Also not every parent can afford to pay for their kids college tuition, even if the child is going to the local community college.

There is a way to go to school with minimal to no debt. It just takes a bit more ingenuity and time researching scholarships and other grant programs.

ThatJenn (#916)

@TheDoctorsCompanion There’s such a gulf between “we can’t afford to send you debt-free to [fancy-pants college OR any college at all]” and “we think that regardless of what is best for what you want to do in life and our financial means, it is better for you to pay for it all yourself even if it means not pursuing certain career paths because our local university doesn’t happen to have a major in it,” though.

I do think that parents of any and all means absolutely should talk to their kids about making a wise investment with their college degree and what is affordable under the circumstances (for instance, on the *extremely* privileged end, I was limited a little in where I could go with my parents paying the bill, based on where my scholarship would pay a big chunk of the tuition, or on the other end, parents who can’t afford to contribute should be 100% up front about that and what it means for long-term finances, to the best of everyone’s ability and knowledge).

I know now, on the other end, that my parents came out just fine from under the cost of my fancypants private education (after my scholarships), but if I went back in time with my current sensibilities I’m not sure if I would have picked it, given the price. But I’m certain that I’m thankful to have had the choice, and given that, if I had a kid and the means, I don’t think I could tell them that I wouldn’t give them the same choice.

dotcommie (#662)

@TheDoctorsCompanion I understand that not everyone can afford fancy colleges for their kids. If I can, though, and the kid wants to go and is able to get in, I want to help them get there. Sure, they should contribute, but there’s no way in hell they could ever afford it on their own. I don’t really think going to school without any debt for parent or child is the ultimate goal. Sure, it should not be excessive debt, but a reasonable amount of debt to get the kid on a better life path through a better education is a worthy investment imho. Probably a better ROI than buying a house.

Kthompson (#1,858)

How do they go to community college for free? Does Dad work there? Community college is much cheaper than a 4-year school, but the ones I know of still cost some money. State tuition sounds like what I paid for going to a crappy college, so I buy that. I assume they make the kids get jobs very early if they have to fund their own school and they buy their own cars and luxuries (unless the kids have debt? Did the kids take out loans?). What about the house size? With 13 kids, I’m going to assume the kids double or triple up–so that would mean a four or five bedroom house, or maybe they turned a finished den into a barrack? Assuming they live in a relatively cheap place. They can’t possibly be somewhere in California or DC, right?

(I’m at work and don’t have time to read the article; these are just my first impressions at the post.)

kentuckienne (#4,294)

@Kthompson I also didn’t read the entire article due to being at work, but FAFSA/student aid generally are kind to people with more children, assuming they can’t afford to pay as much toward school. I’m thinking they are benefiting from that.

ThatJenn (#916)

@Kthompson Not sure about them, but between Pell grants and tax credits [perhaps not applicable to the kids in this story], my husband’s community college tuition for 2013 was paid back to him almost in its entirety by the federal government. Now, that doesn’t help with books, which are close to tuition costs at a community college, but it’s still pretty awesome. And that’s without any kind of additional merit scholarship. (Admittedly he was not enrolled full time the *entire* year, but even if he had been, it would have been less than $1,000 more – something one might be able to find a scholarship to cover.)

Aunt Scar (#5,377)

@kentuckygal He actually admits that due to the many kids, their tax situation is very favorable in regards to the kids getting financial aid.

highjump (#39)

@Kthompson About half of community college tuitions are completely covered by the Pell grant (~5500). I’m guessing because of their family size the kids qualify for partial (or maybe even full?) Pell grant. That might change for the younger kids though, when the family size shrinks.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@Kthompson This is a Question I Can Answer! For many community colleges, K-12 students are eligible to take classes for free. It seems like the kids were homeschooled, so if they didn’t “graduate” until they were 17/18, then they could take classes, get a head start on college, and fulfill any school district requirements that the parents didn’t consider qualified to teach.

Heather F G (#6,074)

I don’t at this point in my life want more than one child, but I’m TOTALLY making them buy their own car. Whatever little character I have, being responsible from a youngish age for keeping myself on the road in the suburban public transit desert I grew up in definitely built it.

Karebot (#5,803)

It’s tempting to want to tear these people down, but after reading the article it is impressive. I will point out that they are of a different generation than us 80s babies who are starting careers/families in a recession so it would be hard to replicate that kind of success.

1) How is there that much work babysitting and mowing lawns for all those kids? I know three adults with day jobs in my neighborhood who do that, and I feel bad for the kids around me who are squeezed out of work.
2) They say they’ve stayed put in the same community their whole lives and draw on their network of friends and family. Honestly, I think this is a game-changer. No one I know does this any more but I think that’s the key to how big families make it work. I’ve always wondered how Mormon families can be so big and prosperous, and not moving/having a network of support seems to be the answer.

The $200/ month for travel/activities/fun for 13 people makes me sad. And 99 cents per person per meal! I would rather retire later and enjoy life a little bit more, but I think that comes from watching some family members pass away early.

I assume their retirement budget is as frugal as their current one and they aren’t saving to travel around the world or anything. It would have been interested in why they feel they want to retire early.

samburger (#5,489)

@JNC Don’t be sad! There are real people who like, go on walks and throw a baseball around for fun. And they feel no deprivation at all!

Crazy, but true.

CheddarCheesus (#4,629)

$6k in an emergency fund for 15 people! I get nervous as a single person having that much.

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