21 Ways Our Large Family Saves Money

21 Ways our Large Family SAVES MONEY // jessconnell.com

  1. Discount grocery stores— this is currently my top budget-slicing method. At Costco, one basket costs us about $300-400. At my discount grocery stores last week, I got 3 basketfuls of groceries for just over $150. It takes creativity, and a little more time (we went to 2 stores, 45 minutes away, rather than just 1 store here in town), but for us, it’s a no brainer. This one choice saves us boatloads of money and allows us to purchase specialty items and organic foods that we normally wouldn’t spring for. I stock up on good deals and then cook from what’s in my pantry.
  2. Thrift stores– our favorites are our local Goodwill “pay by the pound” bin-stores (I’ve not seen these in other cities we’ve lived in, but I feel certain this can’t only be a Portland  thing), even though it means more digging. But if I don’t have time to dig and need a particular style and size, there are thrift stores (like our local “Value Village”) that are more sized and organized so I can still get a bargain rather than paying full price. (A few things I don’t do this with: undergarments, big boys’ shoes starting around adult size 3, and boys’ pants start being hard to find around size 5/6.)
  3. Stay home. Truthfully, no matter what, when we head out together, I spend more than I’d planned. Gas fill up. Should we run by that store we keep forgetting? Oh we need this too– put it in the basket! Uh-oh, forgot the snacks. Oh, we’re right here, why not stop by Goodwill on our way home? Need to grab dinner because we’re out later than we planned. Etc. It’s better just to stay home and keep the money in our pockets. The more we stay home, the less money we spend. It’s just true.
  4. Coffee filters to divy out snacks in the car. If we’ve got snack time going in the car, instead of doing individual-packs for each child, I can grab one large box of nuts/crackers/dried fruit and use these pennies-a-piece cone-shaped coffee filters to make a tidy little bowl for each child to use, and discard afterward. I keep them in the front drivers’ door pocket so I can always tell when I’m running low. It keeps the van cleaner (ha! our van is a mess… so don’t think this means our van is clean. It’s just cleaner than it would be without these), and we save the money we’d spend on getting the more expensive individual packs.
  5. Use storage bins as a bedbase. When our 5-year-old recently asked if he could move in to the room (closer to us) where his 2 little brothers sleep, we pulled out a toddler mattress (because there’s not much space in the room and he still fits in that size bed) but didn’t want to buy an entire new toddler bed set for $100. This season passes so fast, before they’re on to a twin-sized bed. So I used 4 of my favorite clothing storage bins (psst: they’re much less expensive at Lowe’s/Home Depot!) to make a perfect-sized support for his mattress. He was delighted, and I was glad to have the bins tucked away. We also do this with my daughter’s full size bed (it’s supported by 10 storage bins).
  6. Use Facebook groups and Craigslist to find deals. We’re planning out a garden path, so I’ve been scanning Craigslist for weeks, pouncing on “free brick” ads. And since I’ve been jogging lately, I got this $240 jogging double stroller for $60 on a Facebook group. Barely used! This last weekend, I scored 6 1-year-old laying hens AND their coop and play yard for $50 (when getting feed at the farm store, I saw a much smaller coop for $475, no lie!).
  7. eBay is still a good option. Occasionally when we need something specific, I’ll go and look, and voila! There it is on eBay. No getting in and out of the car. No gas usage. No hunting, digging, or waiting. Click. Buy. Done. I did this recently with sprucing up my maternity wardrobe and am very happy with my eBay finds!
  8. Choose friends who share our values. It’s hard to cut back and be frugal if you’re the only one doing it and everyone you know is living high on the hog. But if you’re a part of a group of families who prioritize family and saving money over big TVs, fancy birthday parties, staying up-to-the-minute on fashion, and eating out often, just that one fact about your life can total up to big bucks saved over a years’ time.
  9. Scissors & sewing. I bought this sewing machine from Amazon 6 or 7 years ago, and it’s still going strong (and is still listed at a great price)! When I’m sick of a skirt for me or it gets a stain, I can usually trim it down and turn it into a skirt for my daughter. Or a kitchen apron for my son. MeiMei (my almost-10-year-old daughter) and I make clothes for her dolls, and I’ll often do homemade costumes for the kids. If pants have holes, we trim them down into play shorts for summertime! I’m no amazing seamstress, but having basic sewing skills saves us money and enables us to make double use of many garments.
  10. No cable/Netflix subscription. We have an Amazon Prime membership for $99/year, because we do so much of our shopping on Amazon, and that ends up paying for itself and (bonus!) gives us tons of viewing options for times when we do want to sit down as a family and watch a show. So we don’t have to mess with other services, or a massive cable bill.
  11. It's totally not as bad as this. :)

    It’s totally not as bad as this. :)

    Drive beat-up old vehicles we wait, watch, and pay cash for. I’ll be honest, this one is sometimes not super-duper-fun to live out, on the front end, but on the back end, we’re always glad to own our vehicles outright. We purchased our last (12-passenger ext. cab) van for $2600 (from an ad on autotrader.com), drove from Texas to Missouri to pick it up, and ended up selling it for a small profit when we moved up to Washington. The 15-passenger van we have now has a broken side door (so we have to open it from the front passenger door), an almost-non-responsive volume button on the radio (but when it responds, it responds! So you can go from barely able to hear it to blast-your-ears-off in 3 seconds, ha!), and other quirky features like a persnickety gas tank that auto-shuts-off about 87 times for every fill-up. So each gas-fill-up is an exercise in patience for me. :) But we got it for only $2000, cash, and after 2 years of driving it, the mechanical side of things are still dependable and strong. With 300,000+ miles you might think it’s on its last leg, but we got it just after it got a completely new engine, so it has many years of life left in it. Because we pay so little for our vehicles, it does take patience on our parts (to deal with the uncomfortable things), but we have no payments. For us, that’s a huge win.

  12. Don’t buy the latest gadgets. We tend to wait to buy things, and enjoy what we have. So upgrading phones isn’t as important to us as making full use of the ones we already have.
  13. Stock up on unusual bargains (like end-of-season sales). Last year, I bought my daughter some long jean shorts on a rack at WalMart (in Sept? Oct?) for $2.00. This year, they fit her perfectly. At the end of summer last year, we also bought 2 oscillating fans on deep discount at Target. When a thrift store was selling kids’ jeans for $1/each, I bought 15-20 pair in all varieties of boys’ sizes. I only do this for things I know we’ll use, but I’m always glad to have done it when I can pull out items from our bins or closet, rather than paying full-price when I need it.
  14. Wait until we can pay cash. We recently did this for my computer. We went to the store, paid for it in full, and headed out with it in a bag. No ongoing payments, no signatures. Good feeling.
  15. Always ask, “can I walk away from this?” before purchasing something. This is something I picked up… from, I don’t know where. But I realized that when in the store, looking at an item, I would often justify poor choices by saying, “well, I’ve never seen one like this…” or “we can probably use it.” or “This will probably fit him.” But by asking, “can I walk away from this?” it helps me sort out what’s really needful, and gives me permission and the willpower needed to walk away from the “maybes.” (Sidenote: I’ve never been sorry when I’ve walked away.)
  16. Store old clothes and reuse EVERYTHING we can. We have 6 boys, so I’m quite cautious about throwing out boys’ anything. Yes, we’ve read and put into practice KonMari’s style of reducing what we own, but for the kids, I’ve not been nearly as vigorous in purging.  Because the likelihood is, someone WILL wear it. Even when not in the most pristine condition, I hang on to extra t-shirts and play shorts for summer. Extras rarely go unused, especially with active boys.
  17. I buy convenience foods for occasional use. This might sound like it contradicts #1, but it doesn’t because I’m talking about cook-it-in-a-pinch options. The reality is this– there are some nights where 4/5pm rolls along and the last thing I want to think about is putting together a meal. Safeway makes a great chicken enchilada pan that they put on sale often for $8.99. Paired with a can or two of refried beans, it feeds our whole family. Convenience foods give me a fall-back option that only costs $10-12 rather than eating out (which for us, costs $30-65 a whack).
  18. We buy eyeglasses from Zenni.com. For all the glasses-wearers in our family. We pay $30-45 for 2-3 pair of glasses. Yes, that’s the total price. It’s shockingly inexpensive, and we’ve always been very pleased with the selection and quality.
  19. I give haircuts to Doug & all of our children. We use this classic Wahl set of clippers and color-coded guards. The color-coding makes it easy to determine which guard is which length– especially nice with all my boys!! I watch YouTube videos if there’s ever something a child wants that I don’t know how to do (like Maranatha’s side-sweep bangs last year). In an average year, I probably give 40-50 boys haircuts, 15-20 husband haircuts, and 2-3 girl haircuts. ($$ saved? even if each of those was just $8/pop? roughly $520/year!!)
  20. We willingly accept hand-me-downs & other gifts shared by friends. If someone wants to split up their hosta plants, offers raspberry shoots, or asks on Facebook if anyone would like a bucket of plums from their trees, we take them up on it! We show up at a time of their convenience and are happy to use things that are free to us. Just last week, a friend offered his organically-grown leeks, and it inspired me to make homemade chicken noodle soup. Confession: I’ve never used leeks before in my life, but what a gift! This goes for hand-me-down clothes, too. We’re definitely not “too good” to accept cast-offs from others, if we can put them to use!
  21. We have extra freezers and bulk-buy meat whenever we can. Even buying the 20-pound pork shoulder at Costco yields a better price-per-pound than getting it from the local store. We use Zaycon (which has amazing prices on basic meats like chicken breasts, chicken thighs, bacon, and ground turkey) and we once purchased half a cow’s worth of beef from a local cattle rancher. Any opportunities we have to get meat at lower prices, we take it!

These are 21 ways WE save money as a large family.

IN THE COMMENTS, SHARE: What would you add to my list?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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27 Responses

  1. Stephanie says:

    We do many similar things to save money. Goodwill and second hand store shopping is a huge one, we have a store that is only kids clothes and we find the majority of our kids clothes there. We do buy ahead ad for shoes when we find a nice used pair because they can be harder to find but we know feet will grow. We don’t use smartphones, we can text and call and do prepaid do its only $100 for the year for each phone. I’m home alot and just use a kindle fire for easy email access at home and my husband is on a computer at work all day and when we are out we don’t need internet access. We also use cloth diapers, we have cheap water. We live in a smaller house (1400 square feet for 8 of us). Having frugal friends help so we usually picnic when we go out or have friends over to play games. Our family hobby is board games. We live 30 minutes from the bigger city so it almost always hits a mealtime when running errands so we often pack a lunch to eat in the van as we are running around rather than stop somewhere.

    • Jess Connell says:

      WHOA! We could save a lot of money on phones. I need to think through that and tackle it the next time we come up for reconsideration on our phone plan. Thanks for sharing your actual dollars spent. That’s helpful!

  2. Kelli Motzkus says:

    Do share the discount grocery stores you shop at:)

    • Jess Connell says:

      They’re called “Everyday Deals” and there are 2 in Gresham area, not far off the 205, and one is right across the street from a Franz discount bakery. So I typically do that “run” of 3 stores 2 times a month. There is also one in Vancouver near Clark College, but I have found that I can’t get everything I need when going to that one and it’s far from the others so I typically go to the ones in Gresham area.

      Typical deals:
      $2 for the mega-size of Ranch dressing
      $1 for BBQ sauces
      29 c/pound for apples
      29 c/pound for sweet onions
      cheap price I can’t remember for potatoes, sometimes $1 for a 5-pound bag?
      The produce is where they really shine. Things are so inexpensive.
      3 avocados/$1
      Big bags of salad for $1
      Flats of 12-20 yogurts (the good kinds… Greek, or Activia, or organic blah-blah) for $2
      Free-range eggs for $2/dozen
      Big bags of chips 2 for $1
      Cheapo individual-size pizzas (I keep these on hand for an occasional lunch for the kids) 3 for $1
      Breakfast cereals $1.59/box
      Those flavored pork roasts from Hormel ($2/pound)
      Bacon $2/pound
      Lots of other stuff too… my brain has gone blank.

      The one in Vancouver, though, is where I go when we’re in Portland on the I-5 and it’s already lunchtime and I have nothing planned at home… I’ll stop by there and they usually have those little custom all-in-one salad kits for $1/each. So I typically piece together a meal for the kiddos from that for $6-8 so we don’t have to scramble when we get home. I try to view it like a half-price healthy “fast food” place in that instance. Instead of caving in and running by Wendy’s or something I just go there and spend less and the kids eat healthier.

      The thing with shopping discount stores is this: you have to buy from what they have on hand. And that changes from time to time. So while there are some “norms” of what I know I can get at those places, it’s much more of a “keep a full pantry, and cook from your pantry” approach than it is a “write a list of exactly what you plan to make and go buy those exact products” approach. So then I keep my pantry full, and I put together my meals from what I have on hand and what sounds appealing to make.

      And things are closer to their expiration date so you have to watch that. So it takes more sorting and leg-work. For me, it’s worth it. Not everyone feels the same.

      I’d love to bring you along sometime and show you the rounds. Let me know an afternoon when Jake gets off early or maybe when you’d be free to go with no kids and maybe we can head down together.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Great list! We do most of these as well! I love that you listed #8 – it is so important!

  4. Charisa says:

    I would add that we also have our own chickens, which equals cheap eggs, and so we eat a lot of eggs for breakfasts. Where we live in Canada, groceries are expensive and there are no discount options in our village – so homemade cooked breakfasts are much cheaper than cereal. And we try to grow a garden each summer. With a bunch of small children our approach is “something is better than nothing” and so we simply do what is manageable each year. We tend to grow things we can preserve for the winter: squash, apples (for pies, applesauce, and eating fresh), cucumbers (pickles), tomatoes (canned and salsa), etc. Being a pastor’s family in a rural area also means we are given lots of produce and meat, so that helps our grocery bill tremendously!

    • Jess Connell says:

      We just got a backyard flock here in WA, after leaving our TX flock behind two years ago. I’m loving it! I love the way they use up our scraps and give us wonderful eggs! The grain costs are minimal because they’re so good at foraging. :)

      And yes we also definitely get random blessings from people because we’re a pastor’s family. I’m very thankful for their generosity!

  5. Melissa says:

    Thanks for the ideas! We don’t have a large family, but I’m never opposed to saving money.

    One huge thing that has helped us, both in saving money and maintaining a minimalist lifestyle, is a Wishlist challenge (usually an Amazon Wishlist). Whenever we have the urge to buy a non-essential, we add it to the wishlist, then challenge ourselves to see how long we can live without it. Can we make it 2 weeks? 2 months? More often than not, the desire for the item fizzles out, and it gets deleted from the list instead of being purchased.

    Other money-saving ideas we use: Cloth diapers, library books/movies, trading kid’s clothes back and forth between families (easier with girls’ clothes since they usually don’t get as much wear-and-tear).

    • Christy says:

      Ooh, I like the Amazon wishlist idea. I know when I have an urge to buy something, it feels so good to hit the “buy” button or the “add to cart” button. But adding to the wishlist instead of the cart would insert a level of restraint there…allowing me to “save” the item for future purchase if I still need to get it, but making me think about it for a bit first. I’ve really noticed in helping our kids to wisely spend their birthday and Christmas gift money, if I give them a timeframe in which to consider their wished-for item, they often don’t end up getting it.

  6. Melissa Bauska says:

    Loved reading your list Jess! So much is what I already do, but will be checking out your local shopping places for food next time I’m in Portland. I also like Grocery Outlet in Longview – it’s hit or miss with what they have and Cash & Carry in Kelso often has better prices on produce than the grocery store. A few weeks ago at Cash & Carry I got a 15 lb bag of Yukon Gold potatoes for $2.49 where a 5 lb bag was $1.97 at Winco.

    I also have a prepaid Tracfone and the one I got a year ago is actually a “smart” phone. We don’t have cell phone service at our house, so I only use it in town and that isn’t even very often. I ordered it from QVC and it was $100 plus included a year of service, 1200 of minutes, 1200 texts, and 1200 data units. I’ve had Tracfones for years and they are the way to go for me. When your service is up, as long as you buy more service, your minutes roll over. You can buy more minutes, but I always just buy a year of service for $100 which includes 400 minutes, but they triple the minutes on most phones now – so it’s 1200 more minutes, 1200 more texts, & 1200 more data. Probably sounds confusing, but it’s not.

    And yep, staying home is cheaper for sure. We took the kids to pizza yesterday at Papa Pete’s after the “free” Home & Garden show, but that ended up being $65 – what a rip off! :( I hate eating out anyway because it’s so expensive.

    • Stephanie says:

      How do the data units for tracpone work? I’ve been thinking about doing that but not sure how they work. Right now we use plain tracphones.

      • Melissa says:

        I honestly don’t know how it works (maybe the Tracfone website gives a little insight?). I have actually used the data quite a lot when we’re out and about for the GPS feature as well as looking up random things that we wanted to know and I have a ton of data left. It’s also wifi capable, so I use the wifi when I can (and at home too as I do the Ibotta app and a few other shopping ones). I know some people are super attached to their phone and just leave the data on, if this is you, than this phone is probably not what you want, but for me, I love it. It’s so cheap. My hubby and I just share it, but sometimes we wished we each had one, so I will have to look for a deal for him at some point.

        • Stephanie says:

          Thanks! We currently don’t have smartphone s but though it might be nice for traveling and such to have one. So I can’t imagine we would use much data.

  7. Maura says:

    We do a lot of these as well. I’ve actually been impressed with some of the haircuts I’ve given my boys without training or youtube videos.

    I would add using the local library to your list. Did you know you can now borrow e-books? You don’t even have to go to the library for the books that you want and you can choose them from home while the kids aren’t running around your ankles. The last time we went to the library, I picked up a flyer about something called Hoopla. I haven’t tried it out yet, but apparently a lot of libraries have it and you can borrow movies, e-books, and music for free over the internet. You may want to go to hoopladigital.com and check it out.

    One other thing is using coupons. I don’t go way out of my way like some folks do, but I do check coupons.com or Target.com now and then for good coupons. I also clip the coupons I know I will use that come with the weekly flyers. Hobby Lobby always has a 40% off one item coupon online.

    Just so you know you’re not alone, the inside handle for the side door on our fifteen passenger former prision van no longer works. We often open that door by reaching through the window to open it from the outside. :)

  8. Jenny says:

    I have been reading this with interest as we are in the process of moving to the States.

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned, for those with smart phones and family/ friends in other areas, is WhatsApp. It is an internet based messaging/ calling service and we just use it with wifi so it’s completely free! You can send pictures and videos too. We find it an amazing way to keep in touch with people far away!

  9. Catie says:

    I love the coffee filter idea!

  10. Kristin says:

    On the eye glasses, does anyone in your family have a strong prescription? I’m tempted to order for my son, but he has a very strong prescription and am wondering if his would be good to order or still go to an optical store.

    • Jess Connell says:

      I don’t know how strong you mean, but we have a bit of variety in our 3 prescriptions. My son’s is stronger than mine, and his comes out great. Both my husband and I have astigmatisms, with varying strengths. Mine gets worse each time I have a baby. None of us are “coke bottle” glasses but we have all been pleased with our prescriptions.

      This lady (with a daughter who has a strong prescription) seems really pleased with the results & gives a full review: http://wantnot.net/2008/01/31/the-want-not-review-zenni-optical/

      • Kristin says:

        Thanks, and his would be “coke bottle” if they didn’t make his lenses thinner. Of course they’re more expensive. Normally they would be over $200 with insurance, but on the above website a pair would be $72.

  11. Jenni says:

    Republic Wireless has helped us save a ton of money on my phone bill. Previously $65-80/mo with mainstream provider. Now $11-21/mo. We’re happy :)

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