Frugal lessons I learned growing up in a large family

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There are some frugal lessons that you can only learn from experience. Some of the best frugal living lessons I know, I learned by growing up in a large family. My parents worked hard, but I was the seventh of eight kids. There never seemed to be enough money. During my teenage years, I often wished our family had more financial advantages.  I wanted a new car when I turned sixteen and big birthday parties. Geez! Sometimes I just wanted more clothes. But now as an adult, I’m grateful for the frugal things I learned by growing up in a large family. Growing up frugal helped me get through college without student loans, stretch our money during my husband’s year-long job loss, and keep our costs down as we’ve raised our young family. Here are the frugal lessons I learned from growing up in a large family.

Be content no matter what you have

One of my favorite treats growing up was ice cream. My parents loved it too and would buy it in the rectangular cardboard box. When it was time for dessert, they would unbox the whole carton of ice cream and cut it into ten equal portions with a knife. That was their best way to ensure fairness. We’d eat our square ice cream and savor every bite. I had friends comment on how weird it was that we only got a small square of a small carton of ice cream. But it was perfect. We were content with our serving size because it’s all we had and all we knew. We loved it. You don’t need a lot to be happy. It’s possible to be just as satisfied with a small portion of ice cream as the huge triple decker scoop.

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Comparison leads to unhappiness

Oh sure! Sometimes we all look around at what others have and get jealous. Some of us even fall into the comparison trap and go into debt trying to keep up with our friends and neighbors. But I learned pretty quickly in my childhood years that it doesn’t matter what my friends have. In such a large family, it often didn’t even matter what my siblings had. My parents made the best decisions for us individually as kids. One of my sister’s spent a year in Europe doing a foreign exchange program during high school. My parents did everything they could financially to get her there. It would have been impossible for them to do that for each of us eight kids. But, for my sister, it set her on a path that has benefited her life in so many ways. It was the right decision for her and my parents knew that. They made similar, yet very different financial decisions for each of my siblings and myself. You don’t need what everyone else has. Stop comparing and you’ll be happier (and have more money).

You are capable

Early in my marriage my husband and I remodeled two pre-foreclosure homes. We usually didn’t know exactly what we were doing. We looked things up, asked questions, and then worked. This was a skill I learned growing up. I learned that I was capable of anything. I was doing my own laundry at eight and started my first job cleaning bathrooms at thirteen. Growing up in a large family taught me that I am capable. Financially, this means I’m much more willing to do something myself than pay for someone to do it for me. My husband and I have cut our own hair, changed our own oil, and mow our own lawn. In most cases, doing things yourself saves you money. You are capable. If you don’t know how to do something, you can learn.

Hard work matters

When you need money, one of the best things you can do is work hard. Saving money is hard work. You do things yourself. Cook meals instead of going out. Mend that hole in your son’s jeans instead of buying new. Frugality means work. I learned to work hard at a young age because my family couldn’t afford anything else. And it was good for me. Now I understand the value of my work. I also learned that my work was essential to the success of my family. If it was my turn to cook dinner and I didn’t do it, we didn’t eat. People were counting on me. Your hard work matters. People are counting on you, even if it is just yourself.

The best gifts don’t cost a lot

Our Christmas’s growing up were awesome and everything seemed special. My parents tried their best to make things meaningful. On the years there wasn’t a lot of money to go around, my mom would wrap pairs of socks individually so there would be more to open on Christmas morning. Sure, there was some disappointment occasionally. But that also happens in smaller families with much more money. I learned that sometimes the best gifts don’t cost a lot of money. Some of my most treasured gifts were made by my siblings for our Christmas gift exchange. It wasn’t that they spent a lot of money, but that the time, thoughtfulness, and effort was meaningful.

Growing up in a large family wasn’t always easy. It always seemed like there was never enough of anything to go around. But I am so grateful for the frugal living lessons that I learned. They have helped me save money and stay debt-free as an adult. Not to mention, I have a horde of supportive people who love me.

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