20 Kids and Counting: How to Have a Large and Frugal Family

I’m sure you’ve heard of the show 17 Kids and Counting, then changed to 18 and 19 with new additions. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are expecting yet another child in April 2012.

That will make number 20 for the conservative Christian couple!

With two sets of fraternal twins, Michelle has been pregnant much more than the average woman.  They do not use birth control, instead, leaving their family size up to God.  With shows like Jon and Kate Plus 8 and the outrage Octomom caused, there are many people both intrigued and outraged at families the size of classrooms.

The Duggar children range in age from 23 years old to 23 months old, and there’s even a grandbaby!  How do you fit that many kids in 1 house?  Every teen couldn’t possibly get their own car, can they?  And how on Earth are they coming up with so many names that start with J?!

One of the biggest controversies people bring up is the cost of raising a family so large.

So how could you possibly be frugal with 20 kids?

How Frugal is the Duggar Family?

Well first off, Jim Bob Duggar is no stranger to handling money.  He’s a commercial real estate investor, and was recently interviewed by Credit.com, confessing his money mistakes [Glen: There are some other real cool people in that article too!].  The Duggars have mentioned several things they do to save money with such a large family, including buying used and saving the difference. They have a family van for transportation to fit all the children, and they also have an investment property.

They’re also debt free, which is amazing in its own right!  They built their own home, and clothes aren’t as big of a problem when there’s almost always an older sibling who outgrew their previous duds.

How Can You Live Debt Free With a Large Family?

Large frugal family

How does a family so large live frugal and debt free?

You can certainly learn a thing or two from the Duggars.  Making a decision to live debt free is the first step, then it’s time to come up with an action plan.  Maybe you want to be fruitful and multiply, but you think it’s impossible to do it in this economic climate.

Don’t let the television series fool you; sure, the Duggars may be getting a check from TLC for broadcasting their lives on television, but they were debt free before they got their first documentary, 14 Kids and Pregnant Again.

You might not want to have enough kids to play 5 on 5 basketball with substitutes, but these tips can help you no matter how large your family is:

Eliminate your debt

You can’t live debt free if you have debt, that’s pretty clear.  Some people want to be completely debt free, while others are okay with a mortgage and a car note.  The decision is completely up to you and your family.  However, consumer debt definitely has to go.

Aggressively start paying down those balances until they disappear.  Start a debt snowball, and agree to not get back into debt.

Be a hawk for deals

I’m sure you’ve seen Extreme Couponers (TLC really has all the shows, don’t they).  Most of the people featured on the show got into couponing out of a need for it.  Whether the income was decreased or things just weren’t adding up, they were committed to never paying full price.  You don’t have to get to extreme couponing, but definitely utilize discounts, deals, and coupons.  You can get a price knocked down for just about everything, including clothes and food.

It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Educate your children about money

A lot of personal finance bloggers agree that there is not enough education around personal finance, which is to blame for many people being in debt when they’re older.  Teach your children the value of a dollar, including how to earn it, how to spend it, how to save it, and how to invest it.  Stress how important it is to not buy something just because.  Inform them how to use credit wisely and invite them to be involved in family finances.

Master DIY

Trent at The Simple Dollar has a great series called Pennies or Dollars, where readers mention frugal scenarios and ask how much it will truly save you.  A lot of the scenarios mention doing things yourself, such as making your own laundry detergent, household cleaners, and even tomato sauce!

It’s no secret that stores have a markup, since they have to make a profit.  However, a lot of the things you buy in stores can be made at home.  Consider looking into instructions for doing things yourself, including building your own home like the Duggars did.

So what do you think?  Are the Duggars absolutely crazy, or are they geniuses for having almost a score of kids and all within their budget?

For the parents out there, how have you been able to raise your kids frugally?

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Published or updated November 7, 2014.


  1. That is absolutely crazy! I can’t imagine having 20 kids and managing finances with that big of a family. More power to them though.

  2. Well Heeled Blog says:

    I’ve heard that the Duggars actually do quite well. There’s the TLC money, of course, but they also built their own house in AK (place with low cost of living), own other properties, I believe, and the oldest Duggar son has a car dealership and didn’t go to college (no tuition to pay). It’s not the way most people want to live, but from my limited outside view, finances-wise they are doing fine.

  3. @20’s Finances: I couldn’t imagine it either. Somehow, they’re making it work!

    @Well Heeled Blog: They do great! Any family that’s debt free is already doing better than me haha.

  4. My issue with the finances of the Duggars is the sustainability of it. Will each one of the 20 kids be able to afford to have a large family? They’re certainly learning good money habits, but they might not have the financial opportunities that the parents have, and they would end up with an expectation that large families are the norm and wouldn’t be able to provide for their own. Also, what if the kids do want to go to college or travel or do something else expensive? I’m not saying that Mom and Dad should pay for it (even in a small family) but I think it would be difficult to even emotionally support that decision if your resources and time are really stretched thin.

    • How many families with 3 or less kids can actually support all of their kids wishes? Probably not many.

      If they are doing the right thing, they are instilling in their kids the tools their kids will need in order to live the lives they want.

  5. Wow! 20 kids is amazing, and the grocery bill alone is likely staggering. The Credit.com interview was a new one for us — thanks for sharing!

  6. @Emily: I’m sure they encourage their children to pursue whatever dreams they have in mind, but it would definitely be difficult to support 20 kids like that.

    @Credit Sesame: I would feel ashamed if my grocery bill was more than the Duggars haha, but they’re pretty frugal. They made have me beat!

  7. This shoows you anything is possible! Managing the finances is the least of ttheir issues. How do you split your time to really have an impact on 20 kids?

    • Individual time for each kid must be hard to come by (though not impossible). But these kids have the added dynamic of time with each other. They grow up as a unit, looking up to older siblings and helping raise younger ones.

  8. @KC: It’s gotta be hard! I’m sure it’s hard to split your time between 4 kids. 5 times that? I’d love to read a parenting book written by them.

  9. Jovie Onyema says:

    they must be really able to plan cos having that much children with a great range of needs is a lot!

  10. Many people struggle at managing money with at least one parent not working — with 20 kids, it seems you’d really need BOTH parents not working! Imagine all the dentist appointments, the parent-teacher conferences, the trips to Target … coordinating that schedule must be incredible.

  11. Some great tips listed here. I had the privilege of meeting the Duggar family in NYC last year. Great people!

  12. If your able to do it and have the heart to follow… well by all means do it. I have seven of my own and in all reality there is so much you can do without. We work as a whole. One pot in the middle and each person does their part to make it work. It is a blessed life when God is the center. He provides!

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