When my husband and I started having our tribe of kids, I was an elementary-school teacher at a small Christian school and my husband was in seminary (yes, one of those Catholic conversion pastor stories—but that’s another story. . .) And by the time we became Catholic with 4 children under the age of 5, my husband had the full-time job as a Youth Minister at a Catholic church. I stayed at home with all of the kiddos. Needless to say, we were not rolling in the dough. Money was tight.
In the world’s eyes, we seemed incredibly irresponsible as baby number 5 was soon in the works and we still had trouble making ends meet. But perhaps the best lesson that we can give here is that 1) God provides. Even though we were NFP failures and probably made thousands of bad decisions, we lived a life of prayer, offering our lives to God (complete with failures).
God never let us down. He always provided.
In fact when we were searching for an apartment in a city that was doable both financially and size-wise for our growing family, the only apartments we could consider were in less-than-desirable places, triple-locks-on-the-door/rats-in-alleyways kind of places. I remember weeping with our new baby in my arms as we took a tour of one of these apartments. It was then that the parish where my husband was working “happened” to have an empty convent house that the sisters were no longer using. I was thankful for the vocation crisis. We had a large clean house that we could rent at a reasonable price right next to our parish. And we have countless other stories like this where God provided us with food, extra cash, and even a mini-van once.
So before you write our “poor” family a check to help us pay for our next grocery trip, let me tell you that God did eventually provide our family with a more than adequate salary, and a wonderful house in a great community. Life was looking rather plush. And then, our children started attending college. . . say no more. Back to saving money.
I wanted to share this backstory with you to give you a little understanding of my expertise in frugal but full living. I could write a whole book on the subject, but I wanted to give you a little sample in some bite-size pieces of the ways in which I save our family money. I do realize that some of this will not work for you at all and probably many of these ideas you may already be doing. Please check back to my blog at www.SmartMartha.com or subscribe to catch all 10 best practices that could save your family money.
#1 I hate to list this one first because it sets a precedent for the others. You’ll think, “Ho-hum, tell me something new.” But bear with me as I explain this one, and I promise for original and creative ones to follow. One of the best things I did and still do for my family is use second-hand clothes. Of course you can imagine with a large family how many folks cast their hand-me-downs to us. And I gracefully and thankfully accept them all. (Perhaps in the future I can have another series of articles on decluttering, because all those clothes can end up overflowing drawers and closets.)
When the hand-me-downs and donations leave some gaps, I make it up with shopping regularly at thrift stores. I probably make a monthly trip to a thrift store or two. I have a list in hand of what the family’s needs are. For example, recently I was looking for: a new pair of men’s khaki pants, size 28; gym shorts, YL; a couple of short-sleeve shirts, size 4t, and a new blouse or something springy for me to spruce up my wardrobe. While I am looking for these, I will keep my eye out for any bargains of top-quality clothes for something we might need in the future, like those practically-brand-new baseball pants, a pair of AE size 28 young men’s jeans, that incredibly cute 4t sundress, etc. Although we live a fairly uncluttered life, I do have an extra bin in everyone’s closet for those “next year’s clothes” full of great quality hand-me-downs and treasured finds from the Goodwill store.
I am not a fashionista, or clothes snob, but do try to keep up with the latest styles and brands. I like wearing quality clothes. But speaking of cheap clothes, if I find that we need to actually purchase new clothes, I comb the clearance racks at Target, Walmart, K-mart and Kohls. Sometimes I have to rely on sales these retail stores when the thrift store is lacking. If you can stay ahead of the game, foreseeing what clothes you may need, this will save you from purchasing at full price. In most cases, if you don’t see what you like at a price you like, walk away!
There are emergencies—like that school play costume, a cousin’s wedding, swimming at the lake, etc. But even in these cases, a little planning would have sufficed. Surely you were given 3 months’ notice for the wedding, and you probably knew that swim season was around the corner and your daughter outgrew her swimsuit from last year. Perhaps the only true clothes emergency might be a funeral—no warning for this! But here again, it’s good to keep one formal outfit for every child for weddings, funerals, Easter, and Christmas!
Suits, dresses, and other formal attire are the best things to find at a thrift store. These clothes are generally pricey when bought new. Plus, these clothes are usually only worn a few times so they are often in great shape. Every year, our Catholic school holds a very fancy gala. The attire is formal. My husband and I serve as hosts every year, welcoming everyone and visiting with the “big donors.” There are lots of pictures taken, even newspaper articles. And needless to say, I have to wear a different dress every year. Is this a problem for me? No, because every trip I make to the Goodwill store, I visit the formal dress section. Since other ladies usually only wear their gowns once, there always seems to be a large selection of these throughout the year. I may not find it on the first, second or even third trip, but by the time the gala comes around, I’ve purchased 1 or 2 options for me to wear. This has saved me hundreds of dollars! (And don’t forget the shoes. I get them there, too. One year I found the dress AND perfectly matching shoes!)
Boys grow out of suits so quickly, it certainly doesn’t make sense to ever buy one of these new. I have a nice assortment of suits including 3 tuxedos that have kept our family formally attired for all kinds of affairs—from concert solos, to weddings, and many proms. Yes, it does take up 2 feet of closet space in an upstairs closet to store all of these, but with 8 boys, you can imagine the savings, just from proms alone. I also loan these out to friends all of the time. If this seems a little overboard, then be the one who borrows from friends. This is the best of both worlds: no cost, and no storage!
Shopping at thrift stores, but looking like you don’t, is an art. I consider it one of the many talents that make up the art of homemaking. Dressing ourselves and our families desirably requires creativity, style, and know-how. It requires paying attention. There may be times that the energy required to carry out this art may be totally exhausted. That’s ok. It’s certainly not the end of the world to get a cart full of clothes at Target. I just want to encourage moms to take another route to not only save their family money, but also to live a less consumeristic lifestyle.
Wearing used clothing is a type of recycling. It’s good for the environment. Less packaging, fewer materials used and less fuel (which runs the factory and delivers the goods). According to National Geographic Society, “It takes around 700 gallons of water to make a cotton shirt, and 2,600 gallons to make a pair of jeans — most of them to grow the cotton. On average, every dollar you spend on clothes and shoes costs about 23 gallons of water!”
And I won’t even begin to write about the sweatshops where many of the clothes we wear are made.
So any way you look at this it’s a win-win.
And while you are looking for clothes, take a few minutes to look for some of the other goodies you might find. I’ve found strollers, baby carriers, desks, purses, backpacks, soccer cleats, baseball bats, and bikes among many other things. I often joke with people about my “Shopping Angel” who always seems to bring me the best bargains. Maybe it’s just my guardian angel, who happens to love a good bargain, too.
Copyright 2016 Tami Kiser