19 Kids and Counting… Pennies
The Duggar household spends $3,000 a month on groceries, eats 16 boxes of cereal a week and washes about six loads of laundry a day. In fact, that’s what mom Michelle Duggar was doing when I caught up with her for our phone interview. “I’ve made my own spot treatment,” explained Michelle, whose family is featured in the TLC hit show 19 Kids and Counting. “There’s this really simple recipe and I’m going to see how it works.”
Family Recipes Save Money
With 19 kids, stains are inevitable. And making her own spot treatment is just another way Michelle is trying to save some money. If it goes well, you can expect the recipe to end up on their website, DuggarFamily.com, along with recipes for their famous tater tot casserole and homemade liquid laundry soap. Michelle says they save hundreds of dollars a year by making their own detergent. “That recipe makes ten gallons for $3,” says Michelle.
Michelle Wasn’t Always Frugal
Money experts say financial opposites usually attract: spenders marry savers and savers marry spenders. And when it comes to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, Michelle says she’s the spender—at least she was until Jim Bob rubbed off on her. “When I met Jim Bob I didn’t know the first thing about being frugal,” laughs Michelle, who turns 45 on Sept. 13. “My parents weren’t wealthy, but I didn’t learn a lot about being a good steward with my money.”
Jim Bob grew up in a family that often relied on God to supernaturally provide for basic necessities like food and electricity. Michelle did not. “I was spoiled I guess,” she says. “I didn’t earn what I got.” When the two got engaged nearly three decades ago they started hitting up yard sales for furniture finds. At first Michelle resisted, preferring the idea of brand new household items, even if it meant making payments. “Then it became an exciting adventure and each week we would plot the yard sales out on a map,” she remembers. “We’d head out at 6:30 in the morning so we could be first.”
Becoming Like-Minded in Finances
Even though Michelle was the spender and Jim Bob was the saver in their relationship, they say a personal finance course they took early on in their marriage set them on the right path. The Jim Sammons Financial Freedom Seminar helped them to become like-minded in the area of finances. “That would be the first thing you’ll hear us encourage people to go through because it made such an impact on our life,” says Michelle. And it continues to impact their children’s lives. Michelle says they regularly review Jim Sammons’ lessons as a family.
Chores Don’t Provide an Allowance
Financial education happens naturally in everyday life at the Duggar home, according to Michelle. The kids don’t earn an allowance, but chores are mandatory. The older children are paired up with a younger “buddy” and assigned a jurisdiction. This could include a chore like laundry, vacuuming the stairs or cooking. “We all understand that we’re a family,” she says. “We’re a team and we work together to make things function in our life.” Therefore, household chores are simply a responsibility, and not one that is rewarded with money. However, the children are given opportunities to go above typical duties if they want to earn money. This could include organizing the garage or cleaning a car. “The little ones could get a dollar for rubbing daddy’s feet,” Michelle laughs.
Relying on God for Provision
Michelle says her kids are just like any other—they’ll ask for toys and gifts that don’t fit the household budget. “When they want something they need to desire it for a while,” she says. “I’d say ‘you need to pray about that because we can’t afford to buy that and you’ll have to save up. The Lord may provide it in a supernatural way.’”
She says years ago one of the children received Play-Doh for a birthday gift. But in a common childhood mistake, the Play-Doh was left out, only to dry up. Despite the child’s tears, Michelle explained that there wasn’t money for more Play-Doh. “[I said] ‘why don’t you just pray about it,” Michelle recounts. So the child prayed and not long after God answered that prayer at a yard sale. “This has never happened before or since,” says Michelle. “The whole card table was full of Play-Doh. God heard their prayers and cared about those small details.”
Resisting the Temptation to Make Life Easy
Michelle knows the easy thing would have been to run to the store, buy more Play-Doh and put an end to her child’s sadness. But she often tries to resist jumping in the way of what God can do. “A dear friend wisely said years ago the surest way to make life hard for your kids is to make it too easy for them,” she says. “We’re not teaching them to trust Him and go to Him instead of asking us.”
Waiting on God’s Time
Several years ago Jim Bob got the idea to build a new 7,000 square foot home, using the construction project as a living classroom for the older children. He hired skilled workers willing to not just do the job, but to also teach the Duggar children the trade. Over the course of four years the family was able to build their Arkansas home completely debt free while learning valuable lessons about carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. When the family was finally able to move in there was one thing that hadn’t been completed. “We didn’t have air conditioners because we had to save up,” remembers Michelle. “We went through that first summer without AC and we were sure happy when we saved up enough to buy those air conditioners.”
A Growing Family Requires a Growing Budget
Since they have no house payment, Michelle says more resources are freed up for other household necessities. As they’ve continued to add to their growing family, Michelle says she’s noticed her household budget expand as well. But every time God blesses them with another baby, he also blesses them with what they need to provide for that addition. “We have just seen Him open up doors and make provision for us in miraculous ways,” she says. “We can say without a shadow of a doubt, God’s work done in God’s timing does not lack God’s resources. When God orders something he’ll pay for it and we don’t have to worry about it.”
Although Michelle appears to have a constant sense of peace and enough patience to last forever, she says often feels overwhelmed by her ever-growing to-do list. With 19 kids to care for, a new book just hitting stores this summer and a hit TLC show, Michelle says God is using her and her family in ways she never imagined. “When we get to that place of feeling overwhelmed, we’re right at the beginning of where we need to be for God to do great and mighty things,” she says. “Our most important things are not on our checklist, but what God has allowed to happen in the midst of our checklist beyond what we imagine.”