kids don’t cost too much

i recently told the news of our the new twins coming to the lara family to a good friend of mine from college. what follows is an ‘email’ exchange (via myspace) on the cost of raising a family, the struggles of young “thirtysomethings” and ministry life. and mostly my views on the subject of finances.

with his permission here are excerpts from our ‘conversation’.

(the initial reaction and question)
Twins huh?
no didn't know that.
How can u afford that many kids?

If I could afford more kids I think I might have more.
. . .
Congratulations on the twins. I will tell (my wife)!
(signed ‘friend) [in case it isn’t obvious i’ve taken out their names for their sake]

(my full response to his question)

the short answer: kids don't really cost that much and we manage our money well.

the longer answer: kids don't cost that much. piano lessons, soccer team, and every other kid's program that the neighbor kids are doing, "gap kids" clothes (retail), extravagant birthday parties, cars that parents really want but justify as needing because of the kids, vacations to theme parks as "family time", and eating out all the time IS what costs too much. but kids themselves . . . not so much.

people who don't manage their money well would be hurting for money regardless of how many kids (or no kids) they had.

this really is the key to your question. now i can give you some of the other "specifics" of how we're able to do what we do and some of the blessings we have received. but until anyone understands that it's because we manage our money well that it all works they will only see those things as excuses saying, "well no wonder you can do that, if my life was like yours i'd be able to do that too." to which i would say, "no, you wouldn't". ;-)

so here's the specifics. i work two main jobs (technically 3/4 jobs). i work at the church and at the middle school. (the third job is the "after school program" and the 4th job is i tutor a girl twice a week.) we just filed our 2007 tax return and our adjusted gross income for the year was $23,652. in case you didn't know that is below the u.s. federal poverty guidelines for a family our size. you can see the 2008 #s at this website.

http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/08poverty.shtml

because of this we qualify for medical coupons for our children. (so they are covered health wise) deborah is also covered under medical coupons while she is pregnant and for the delivery. so we've never incurred any medical bills for the delivery of our children.

we also qualify for a sizable amount of food stamps a month. we are frugal in our meal planning. the amount we receive food stamps isn't enough to cover all of our food budget for our family so we do put in some of our "real" money to buy groceries. but the amount we get i would say covers 3/4 of our food budget. so for our family of 6 we spend $400 a month total on groceries. (that amount is separate from eating out or household items)

and probably one of the other huge blessings in our life is our housing. the church isn't able to pay us a full salary but they do own a house that we are able to live in rent free and they also pay our utilities; including our phone bill - except for long distance. but they also pay for our cell phone under a church staff plan so we use that for long distance.

so there's the nuts and bolts of it all. and as the first paragraph implies our kids don't join every single thing that the school or community offers, we get most of our kids' clothes as hand-me downs or gifts, we don't go on extravagant vacations every year, we don't eat out all the time, our kids' birthday parties are meaningful but not outlandish, and we drive only cars that have been paid for in cash.

i hope this answers your question. and i hope i didn't sound too defensive or snobby or angry via this text email. i'm simply passionate about this subject. and i don't think that anyone that wants to have kids (their 1st or their 10th) should limit themselves because they think that kids are too expensive.

so by all means, go forth and have kids. and if nothing else, have fun "trying". ;-)

later (friend),

abe

(their response back) edited to include some of the pertinent parts

Abe,

I have been considering some options as far as parsonages locally even offering to pay rent within the parsonage if it will be less than what we pay to rent the house we currently live in.

Housing really eats up most of our money and I have been trying to find ways around it.

Utility costs have been able to be reconciled since we got on a "comfort heating plan" in this county where we pay the same amount every month through the summer and winter. . . . Your county utility company might have something like that and maybe if u went your church could get a break on their utility costs for the parsonage. One time they agreed to pay the next 4 months of our bills as a discount.

School bills are what I struggle with. Everything else has been manageable.

I used to do what u do and have between 3-5 jobs on any given time.

Physically speaking I can't do that anymore since my back injury. It sucks. I can't even run fore than 150 yards without significant pain. [side-note: this friend used to be an excellent long distance runner in college. so i can tell this is hard from him] I also like to see my kids now so I just settle for one full time job and the volunteer work at the church. (my wife) works too, but her hours have been significantly cut back since she works at macy's and they have been hit pretty hard since (a competing location) has been adding allot of retail and people don't come to (our area) mall as much because of all the new development in (nearby).

(My wife) and the boys are on medical through the state as well but we don't apparently qualify for food stamps. Wish we did. We have tried.

Now that I work for a ministry again we will get the housing allowance again this upcoming year which will help in money management matters for us.

The first year of a church plant you cannot claim any kind of housing allowance until at least one fiscal year has been established in the religious non-profit's history. So the housing allowance isn't an option for the rest of our staff yet at RLC.

I think as far as our church team goes I have the best set of boundaries when it comes to our family management of money. So even though (my wife) and I have very little comparatively speaking we are for the most part able to support our family of 4. But I am always looking for better ways to figure things out. We actually had a family leave our church in leadership partially because they went out and bought the fancy brand new SUV because their first baby was coming and they felt they had to have it. He got so busy working on getting promotions at work and trying to buy all the nice new things for his wife and soon to be child that he eventually phased himself right out of ministry...He didn't have the time anymore and the church suffered in the areas of his involvement because he had to make those brand new car payments among other things.

(My wife) and I talk a lot about living like people in the 1950's did. We think it is more sensible. We pretty much drive one car even though we have two...saves on gas. We do things together as a family instead of wasting money and time traveling around by ourselves all the time. We make no major purchases without consulting each other and considering it for at least 24 hrs.

We
budget as best as we know how, and learn from others mistakes. We don't eat out unless it is a special occasion and even then we will have the boys share a plate and (my wife) and I might share something because portions seem so large now days.

We make commitments to not live separate lifestyles financially. That is a weird one to us. We have found that many couples indulge themselves with separate bank accounts and as the years go by they have used that to hide financial in-discrepancies from their spouse and sometimes even sinful behavior that they sometimes end up justifying instead of being honest. We know one couple that it led to major sin and hurt and another that divorced because of the giving into the temptation to deceive.

It sounds like u have a great team going there with your church.
(friend)

(my response back)
hey thanks for the response joe.

it sounds like you guys are doing pretty good. ironically according to the hhs guidelines having one more kid would make you a family of 5 and thus under the "poverty line" which may make you more eligible for food stamps. just so you know, i don't plan on being on food stamps the rest of my life. i hope to some day NOT be under the poverty line. but i'm thankful for the help it provides us at this time in our lives.

as you stated, you budget as best as you know how. i would re-recommend you get a hold of Dave Ramsey's book the Total Money Makeover. reading this book and going through the Financial Peace University course has really changed our financial situation. the course is great but the book has most of the basic info along with motivation stories of people who worked the plan.

you can find it at barnes and noble or other bookstores. or even get the audio version from iTunes to put on an ipod. or even the library for that matter. or at the very least start listening to his radio show.

hey, we'll keep praying for you guys.

God bless, 

abe

PS. i was wondering if i would have your permission to use your initial question about "affording kids" in a blog post on my website? mostly i wanted to post your question and then my response to you. but it'd also be great to include some portions of your follow up email since there's some great advice in there as well. i wouldn't have to use your name if you don't want me to, or any of your specific financial #'s. talk to you later.

(his permission)
I think I would like to keep my annual salary or lack there of off of a "blog" at this time.

But the other stuff we talked about is fine.
Send me the link when you finish it. I would like to read it.
(friend)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
so there you have it. kids don’t cost too much. i’m sure there’s much more that could be said. but this post has gone on long enough.

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// today i'm thankful for:
1. screen sharing in leopard
2. some delicious peach cobbler
3. my sister’s new site
4. my other sister’s new site
5. deb is a healthy 29 weeks along!