A reader named Rob recently left a comment on the FI Laboratory post saying that according to the FI Tracker, he’ll be able to retire in 13 years.
While achieving financial independence in 13 years is great on its own, what makes this number extremely impressive is that he’s doing it on a single income and he has 13 kids!
I asked Rob if he’d be interested in writing a guest post to tell his story and thankfully, he said yes.
Take it away, Rob!
You have how many kids? 13.
Seriously? I wouldn’t joke about something like that, cry maybe, but joke? Never.
Don’t you know what causes that? Well, yeah we do know what causes it, we like it.
Catholic or Mormon? Catholic.
Are they all yours? Yup.
Same parents? Yup again.
Any twins? Nope.
Those are some of the more common questions one gets when one has 13 kids. My wife and I get all kind of questions and comments, some nice and some not so nice. It is amazing what total strangers will ask you when you are out in public as a family.
Hi! My name is Rob, and my wife and I have a rather large family. We are a single-income family, and we make it all work, and we are thriving in all ways. Below is a bit of how we do it from a financial perspective.
My wife and I have been married for 25 years. I am 49 and she is 46. We have 13 kids ages 2-24. The first 12 are our natural born children. The 13th is a 2-year-old that we have legal custody of. He started out as a foster baby at the age of 12 weeks. Eventually we hope to adopt him but that is another story.
My wife is from a large family and has always wanted one herself. I knew this when I proposed to her. As a matter of fact when I asked her to marry me, I told her “who else will give you 10 kids, a house with a white-picket fence and a dog?” Her response was “kill the dog and make it 11 kids and you got a deal” (no actual dogs were killed in the making of this family, but many rabbits died).
Our oldest is 24 and married. She finished grad school just after her 21st birthday and is enjoying her career. The next four kids are in college, two will graduate this spring. Two are in high school, two are in middle school, two are in elementary school and two are pre-school aged. All of the kids are homeschooled by my wife until college. For the high school kids we use tutors two days a week to supplement what they learn at home, this costs about $2500 per kid per year. All the kids finish their high school one or two years early. More on that and college below.
My wife and I have both always been frugal. Which turned out to be a darn good thing indeed. Other than a mortgage we’ve never had debt of any kind. No credit card balance carried, no car loans, no student loans, no nothing.
In addition to having kids (lots of kids) right away, we also never made much money, especially early in our marriage. We were married in 1989 and had child #1 in ’90. From 1990-2000 we owned a bookstore and worked it together. It was our main source of income, other than side-gigs here and there. Grass cutting, odd jobs, etc… During the 90’s our income topped out at $36k per year. Needless to say there wasn’t a lot of money put away for retirement savings. In the summer of 2000 we closed down the bookstore (thanks Amazon and others). I should have gotten on the internet bandwagon early on. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.
After we closed down the bookstore I went into the computer software field at the urging of a friend. It has worked out well for us. Not a lot of money early on, but a steady rise from $40k a year to my current $104K. I also have a company that provides great benefits: health, dental and vision insurance, vacation, 401k among other benefits. Adding in the income we get from side-jobs (more on that below) we probably make around $110,000 per year. Which is a nice amount but is tempered by the fact that we have 11 kids still at home (one is married and one lives at college) and live in the suburbs of D.C., which is not exactly a low-cost area of the country. We do get some nice breaks come tax time. And starting around 2005 we finally had enough wiggle room in the budget so I could start adding to our retirement accounts. Before that point in time our retirement accounts were so thin that they made super models look fat.
Here is a financial snapshot that is current as of early 2014:
Yearly Salary: $104,400
401k: $867 ($346.80 is employer match)
My IRA: $300
Wife’s IRA: $300
HSA: $500 ($200 is from my employer)
Taxable Index Funds: $210
Regular Savings Acct: $300
Total Automatic Savings: $2,477
Most months there are some extra dollars, anywhere from $50-$500, that we are able to come up with and save. So our annual savings rate is around 35% give or take a few percentage points.
A few budget highlights/lowlights from 2013:
Food: $15,120 ($1,260 monthly) that works out to 99 cents per meal per person. Better deal than McDonalds.
Utilities: $465 per month (big old drafty house)
Medical: $225 per month. Paid out of pocket so HSA can grow. I learned that great trick from the Mad Fientist.
Gasoline: $150 per month. I work from home, which is an awesome money and time saver.
Kid’s activates/sports/trips/fun: $200 per month
Plus a bunch of other things :)
Our retirement/investment/savings currently total $180,000. Plus we own our house out right (more on that below). Plus we currently have $6,000 in an emergency fund.
Each summer I make about $3500 from a side-gig (grass mowing) and that goes into our IRAs to max them out. Plus any extra money we get through the year goes into one of the various savings accounts. My wife does some small babysitting and tutoring jobs, about $1500-$2000 per year. We also sell stuff on eBay when the opportunity arises, anywhere from $500-$2,000 per year. But that will probably slow down a lot or stop. I’ve sold everything around here that we don’t need. The only thing of value left is the kids but I’m sure eBay has rules against that.
We should end up with $35-$40k saved for the year. Towards the end of the year if we have any extra $$$ I’ll bump up my 401k contributions, but I don’t see that happening. I did just drop an extra $1000 into my IRA. I turn 50 later this year so I get that extra catch-up amount. I am trying to get to the point where I front-load more of my 401k and IRAs but it’s tough with our budget. A little at a time, and hopefully in a few years I’ll be able to front-load a lot more.
Our current home was a foreclosure we bought in the spring of 2000 for little money compared to the market ($150k purchase price, $50k down, $100k mortgage). We fixed it up and added on to it over the years. It is now an 8-bedroom and 3-bath rambling old house that works great for us. The mortgage was paid off in 2012. Paying off a mortgage early doesn’t always make sense from a numbers standpoint but for our mental make-up, it was the correct choice. We hate debt! And have none at all! The house is currently worth around $375-$400k. And someday in the future we may downsize and harvest some of that equity. Before the mortgage was paid off we were probably saving about 12-15% each year.
In the past 2 years we have used the former money dedicate to the mortgage to bump up our savings rate dramatically. This is an important point. We made a conscious decision to take every penny we had been paying on the mortgage and save it. Just because we were debt free now, it didn’t mean we were going to start spending money on new cars, fancy clothes, designer food or expensive trips. So all the principal, extra principal and interest, about $1600 a month, now goes into IRAs, increased 401k savings, and our HSA account.
Food is now our biggest monthly expense. The little buggers want to eat 3 times a day…at least. Last year we spent under $1300 a month to feed them all. That includes eating out once in a while. And my kids love to eat. And it’s not just the boys (8 of them); the girls (5 of them) and my wife eat like they are going to the chair.
We shop mainly at Aldi, I highly recommend it, and at Amazon. We don’t do Sam’s or Costco or the like, they don’t work for us (too easy to overspend) and we get better deals elsewhere. We buy simple foods: chicken, ground beef, pork roast, rice, taters, fruits and veggies. We aren’t eating one of the new fancy hipster diets, and we aren’t eating the normal processed-crappy-make-you-obese-American diet either. We are in between the two extremes. We make most of our meals. We never waste food! We make extra at most meals and use it for lunches the next day. Breakfast is cereal, bagels, hash browns, eggs, oatmeal etc. We don’t buy expensive cuts of meat, organic produce or prepared foods. Not that we wouldn’t like to, it’s just not feasible with the number of mouths we feed on a daily basis. But all the kids are healthy, at their proper weights and in good shape. The kids do drink a lot of milk, enough that I wish we had a cow or three, and we drink a lot of water (tap, not bottled).
My kids all start working and saving at a young age. By age 12 or so they are babysitting, cutting grass, shoveling snow and doing odd-jobs for people. So far they have all been good savers. Which is a good thing because they pay for their own iPods, phones, cars, gas, car insurance, and college.
The kids buy reliable (we hope) used cars and pay for all the maintenance, gas, insurance etc. We try to find cars that old people no longer need. They are usually well maintained and have low miles. All five of the older kids have cars. Plus my wife and I have three between us. It looks a lot like a used car lot in our driveway. I’m sure our neighbors love us.
The kids finish up high school when they are 16 or 17. There is only so much we can teach them at home (you try and teach trigonometry and chemistry 30 years removed from high school) and homeschooling allows plenty of time to work ahead and finish school a year or two early.
My kids are responsible for their own college funding, if they choose to go. One is done with her schooling and four are currently attending college (Two seniors, one junior, and one freshman). My wife and I encourage them to go for at least two years and then decide if they want to continue on. So far they all have. We have a great community college so they all go there for two years, usually for free, then they transfer to a 4-year state university. State tuition in our area is around $8-10k per year. Some of my kids have been able to get enough scholarship and grant money to pay for all of it and some have paid up to $5,000 per year. None of them uses student loans. They are all finishing their undergrad work debt free.
Some years when doing our taxes we qualify for the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. It’s something all parents with dependents in college should look into.
My oldest kid managed to get her Masters (in one year accelerated program) and graduate debt free. She had a major (social work) that the state would pay for the Master’s degree if you agreed to work for the state for two years. She wanted to work for them anyway so she jumped at that deal. She has now worked for them for almost three years and it’s going great.
So while I won’t retire early like many of you out there. I do expect to be able to pull the plug on work in 13 years, at least according to the new FI Laboratory, so I sure hope the Mad Fientist is right. Which considering our situation, 13 years ain’t bad at all.
I should add this disclaimer. None of the above is written to make it look like its easy having a large family. It’s not. At times it can be very demanding, stressful and expensive. There are the late nights with sick kids, all the expenses that seem to come out of nowhere, the diapers (man there are a lot of diapers), and the never ending laundry. It truly is never ending. It’s currently 30-35 loads per week.
I’ll admit that when half a dozen kids all have the stomach bug at one time and we seem to be drowning in puke, I wonder why I didn’t become a monk and move to the Gobi desert. But in spite of all the hard work it’s all worth it to my wife and me.
I should also add that we have lived in the same town all our lives. We have a great community and a great network of friends. We all help each other out. Whether it’s watching each other’s kids, passing around hand-me-downs, crying on each other’s shoulders or just hanging out together, we all help one another.
We manage to live pleasant, if simple lives. We aren’t deprived (depraved maybe). We have a nice house. We have hobbies we enjoy. My wife hits the gym for an hour each morning and I run every day. The kids all enjoy lots of activities. We go on vacation to the beach for a week each summer. My wife and I are going away for 5 days ALONE (score) next month to celebrate our 25th anniversary.
Thank you for sharing your story, Rob!
Maintaining a 35% savings rate on a single income with 13 children is an incredible achievement so hopefully this article has inspired others to bump up their savings a bit.
I don’t have any kids but there seemed to be many nuggets of parenting wisdom scattered throughout the post as well (specifically about college) so hopefully the FI-seeking parents and parents-to-be out there got a lot out of it.
Please join me in thanking Rob by leaving a comment below and be sure to head over to the blogs mentioned above to say hi!
Financial Independence After Tragedy
A reader named Clay goes under the microscope and shares his story of pursuing financial independence after tragically losing his wife.