Although most American families lack the means to live in a mansion or drive a fancy car, there are plenty of ways to be frugal when it comes to taking care of kids. And whether parents subscribe to the same beliefs as the Duggar family or not, it’s clear that they’re doing something right when it comes to raising kids on a budget.
If you thought that having two or more children was crazy expensive, consider the Duggars and their family of nineteen children. A few have married and moved out of the family home, but that still leaves more than a dozen children relying on mom and dad for food, shelter, and Wi-Fi access.
The Duggars have plenty of frugal tricks up their sleeve, and you may be surprised to know that they don’t receive government assistance. In fact, although the Duggars acknowledge that overpopulation is a problem, they maintain that their large brood serves as a ministry to the world. That’s right- the Duggars feel that their children are a blessing to the planet because of their religious and wholesome upbringing, and that their good intentions will save the world.
Whatever you think of the Duggars’ lifestyles, their frugality is definitely something to admire. Read on for twenty ways they save while raising healthy, fed, and clothed children.
20 Reality TV Talk
We’ve already watched broke teen moms go from homeless to buying mansions, so it’s no secret that reality TV is lucrative. And with such a big family, the Duggars take the spotlight wherever they go. While Jim Bob Duggar has always maintained a job, the boost in income from the family’s TLC shows was obviously more than a full-time wage.
Although the network hasn’t released any figures on just how big the Duggars’ paychecks are, In Touch Weekly brought in an expert, reality TV producer Terence Michael, to do some calculations.
Michael explains that reality-show families can take home around 10 percent of the overall budget of each show. He guesses that TLC spends between $250,000 and $400,000 per episode. By that math, the Duggars are paid anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000.
And get this: that’s not even a monthly or quarterly income. Each episode only takes about four days of filming, In Touch Weekly explains, and with over 229 episodes under their belt with variations of 19 Kids and Counting alone, that’s a ton of cash.
Factor in the spinoff shows and specials, and the Duggars are practically rolling in the dough, if Michael’s calculations are anywhere near the mark. That makes it easy for the family to save tons of cash, but they have plenty of other frugal tricks up their sleeves, too.
19 Mega Church Or Mega Cheap
There have been rumors about the Duggars’ home since viewers of their reality TV series saw it being built on camera. Because the Duggars are very religious, a rumor began that the family uses a tax loophole to qualify their home as a church. That would allow them to save money by not paying property taxes.
While there’s no proof that the Duggars don’t pay property taxes, Romper set up a pretty good argument for the theory. The IRS website notes that it is possible to claim tax exemption for religious purposes. Romper explains that the guidelines are vague, but also that Jim Bob and Michelle claim to be part of a “Home Church” community. That means they worship at home and record the sermons.
But beyond Bible study, the IRS requires organizations seeking this tax exemption to have “some combination of church-like qualities,” but the actual qualities are unclear. One example is that their form of worship is of a “recognized creed.” Others include a distinct religious history and an established place of worship.
In a nutshell, the Duggars likely use this tax exemption “loophole” to get an exemption for their mansion-like home, which apparently measures over seven thousand square feet.
18 Where Kids Eat Free
Despite their frugal nature, the Duggars do occasionally eat out as a family. One still from an episode of the family’s show depicts the kids waiting in line with papa Duggar as he orders pizza. But the pizza joint was the kind where kids eat free- a smart trick for daddy Duggar to save some cash.
While many restaurants have stipulations like one child free for every adult plate, the Duggar family has obviously done their research to bypass that rule. They only go to restaurants where the kids’ meals are free or highly discounted.
While it’s certainly admirable that they’ve found a way to save tons of money on eating out, we’re not sure the businesses they visit are so appreciative. Can you imagine working at a buffet or all-you-can-eat type restaurant when a family with at least a dozen kids shows up to chow down?
Still, we’d also assume that many restaurants give the Duggars a discount or free meals just for coming in. After all, they’re super famous, and exposure on any of the family’s reality TV shows would probably help business. For the frugally minded Duggars, striking a meal-for-reality-TV deal is probably better than visiting the same kids-eat-free restaurants all the time.
17 Must-Have Laundry Hacks
If you really want to save money, regardless of how many kids you have, the top frugal trick is to DIY as many things as possible. For the Duggars, laundry is one of the high-cost side effects of having nineteen kids come through the household. While there’s not much they can do about using water and electricity to run the washer, they can save a lot by using unconventional laundry soap.
I recall an episode of the family’s show where Michelle talked about her laundry detergent recipe. Now the recipe is preserved on Duggar Family Blog, a site that claims to be run by friends of the Duggars.
Their recipe makes a huge supply of liquid laundry soap that should last up to 640 loads in an HE washer- which may last the Duggars a few weeks or so!
And although it sounds time-consuming, making homemade laundry soap is something that plenty of frugal families have been doing for a long time. When the cost of laundry detergent is nearly 20 dollars for a month or two’s worth of soap, buying a soap bar, washing soda, and borax for months’ worth of detergent doesn’t compare. There are powdered options too, if sloshing the runny liquid around isn’t for you.
16 No Diapering Dilemmas
While the original Duggar mom and dad have never disclosed whether they used cloth diapers on any of their 19, the next generation is more open-minded about it. Interviews with newest Duggar mamas Anna, Jill, and Jessa reveal that a few of the family have considered cloth diapering if not tried it. However, Michelle never seemed to worry about using disposables on her brood.
Part of that might be because of diaper donations to the family. We’re assuming that plenty of diaper brands were willing to donate truck fulls of Pampers, Huggies, and more just for the free advertising. But the family doesn’t splurge on store-bought wipes, unless, I’m assuming, they are gifts/donationss with no strings attached.
Michelle explained that the family uses a homemade wipes solution that family friends Gil and Kelly Bates shared with them years ago. This frugal “hack,” according to the Duggar Family Blog, involves cutting a roll of paper towels into two halves (the Duggars use Bounty). Then combine water, some rubbing alcohol, and baby oil into a bowl. You can also add baby bubble bath, too. Then put your half-rolls into a 1-gallon container, pour the solution over them, and then tear off what you need for diaper changes.
15 Home Haircuts
Michelle Duggar has probably never paid for a “professional” haircut for any of her kiddos, but that doesn’t mean they walk around looking haggard. For most of their reality TV careers, the girls in the family have grown long hair (and subsequently spent plenty of time elbowing for counter space in the bathroom). The boys, however, maintain closely-cropped hairstyles, and the older ones are often clean-shaven.
It makes sense that Michelle, or another member of the family, would do the boys’ haircuts at home, since paying for even one or two of them to get a pro cut would be exorbitantly expensive. Some of the grown kids with families of their own have continued the family tradition of haircuts at home, like Jessa, who snipped son Spurgeon’s curly locks for his very first cut.
Conversely, some of the Duggar girls have sported fresh cuts and new styles thanks to salons local to them. Heck, even Michelle went to a salon back in a 2012 episode of the Duggars’ show. But it seems as if none of them make it a regular habit, however nice it is to be spoiled once in a while. Even the most frugal of families can appreciate and enjoy the occasional splurge.
14 Marriage Means More
Because of the Duggars’ intense religious beliefs and family rules, none of their children are able to “date” in a conventional way. Instead, they follow a process of “courting,” where the couple has supervised dates with mom or dad or a chaperone present. During courting, they’re only allowed to side-hug.
No kissing is allowed, even during the following formal engagement. Once they’re married, however, PDA becomes a “thing,” plus engagement means they can finally hop on social media.
So far, none of the Duggar children have left home without first getting married. Oldest son Josh was first, and he got married at age 20. Jill and Jessa both got married in 2014, when they were 23 and 21, respectively. But currently, 28-year-old Jana and John-David (twins) still live at home, with neither announcing an engagement or even a courtship.
For mom and pop Duggar, it’s obviously easier to care for (and provide financially for) fewer kids, so it’s to their benefit as the older kids grow up and get married. But for now, they’re still supporting at least four adults who have yet to leave the nest. There’s no telling whether those kids want to get married at all, whether that means leaving home or staying put.
13 Hand-Me-Down Chic
When you have nineteen children, divided almost evenly between boys and girls, that’s a whole lot of wardrobe maintenance. But for the Duggars, it’s not as difficult as you’d expect. The entire family follows a strict dress code that supports their Baptist views. The girls must wear dresses or skirts that fall below the knee. They also have to cover most of their upper bodies- no tank or tube tops for the Duggar girls.
Even when Michelle and Jim Bob renewed their wedding vows and Michelle made an appearance on Say Yes to the Dress, she wore an undershirt to cover the “indecent” parts of her body while trying on dresses.
The boys, on the other hand, keep a uniform of polo shirts and khakis, although they can often be spotted in jeans and t-shirts, especially when they’re younger. All of that dress code regulation means that when an older child outgrows an item of clothing, it’s still in line with the younger siblings’ style.
There’s also the Duggar family’s closeness with another large family- the Bates. Their family also holds similar beliefs and so adheres to the same dress code. Odds are, they pass hand-me-downs back and forth, too.
12 Thrift-Store Shoppers
When Michelle and Jim Bob can’t manage to trade or DIY an item that they want, they go thrift shopping instead. Michelle even has a mantra that she likes to throw out every time someone asks her about the family’s frugality: “buy used and save the difference.” Obviously, the family is saving a lot by using these methods, since they still claim to be living debt-free.
That means the family refuses to pay for brand-new items, and Michelle has even been known to haggle down prices on the show.
When you consider the difference between buying a shirt brand-new for $20 and finding one for $3 at a thrift store, the numbers add up. Especially when you’re trying to clothe 19 children.
Plus, some of the family are quite handy with sewing, Michelle has said, and that means they’re able to modify items they find or even DIY outfits. With the family’s dress code, that makes sense, since they are strict about sleeves and showing skin.
Although when it comes to the kids spending their own money, they have been known to save up for things that they just have to have. But frequenting yard sales and thrift shops means the family can afford to spend money on other things, like their food budget, which is likely their largest expense overall.
11 Kids On The Job
With a huge house full of kids, obviously, the children will have responsibilities that contribute to the household. From the early days of 17 Kids and Counting, Michelle and Jim Bob had expectations for their kids’ help around the house. The family devised their own system that involved “jurisdictions.” Even now, their Duggar Family website lists each child’s jurisdiction if they don’t yet have an occupation.
Jurisdictions range from kitchen duties to laundry to general cleaning, and kids have a checklist of sorts to cover each day. The kids usually rotate preparing meals, too, and it doesn’t seem like Michelle is often around to help. That said, the kids are mostly self-sufficient, evidenced by their ability to keep things running and avoid disaster when mom and dad are out.
The good news is, this frugal tactic by their parents has helped the children prepare for life on their own. And while the Duggars distinctly separate “girls” versus “boys” tasks, at least most of the children will be able to do their own laundry and cook a meal when they leave home. Then again, most of the girls learn all the domestic tasks that will make them great housewives, and so far that seems like the Duggars’ only goal of raising up girls.
10 Bulk-Buying Are Their Best Bets
Back in 2014, Michelle Duggar sat down with TLC to answer fan questions. One revolved around the family’s monthly grocery budget. Michelle explained that while the family used to budget about $2,000 for food and household goods for the month, over the years it’s grown to about $3,000.
Michelle attributes the change in price to both the rising cost of groceries and her teenage sons’ seemingly bottomless bellies. And while most of the older kids have married and moved out of the house at this point, odds are, Michelle and Jim Bob are still paying a fortune to feed their remaining brood.
In 2014, Michelle explained that the family mostly shops at discount grocery stores, warehouse clubs, and co-ops. They buy in bulk, she notes, and stock up on staples every month. She also returns to the grocery store every few days for fresh produce. As far as keeping the grocery cart full without overspending, Michelle, as well as her daughter-in-law Anna, tout off-brands as another way to save money at checkout.
There’s no reason why families have to meet “the status quo,” Michelle says, adding that if her family wants something but doesn’t have the cash for it, they simply do without until they can get the money together.
9 Family Recipes Rule
The Duggars seem to eat out occasionally, but most of the time, they cook at home. But it’s not easy feeding a large family. Even though some of the older kids have gotten married and moved away, there are still at least thirteen growing mouths to feed. Plus, the kids with families of their own often visit, dropping in for a meal and some family time. Still, the Duggars don’t use any public assistance for their gargantuan food budget.
So how do they manage to feed everyone?
And although Michelle claims to shop every few days for fresh produce, the family relies heavily on canned goods for their meals.
Their official blog, Duggar Family, lists recipes like homemade rolls full of shortening and sugar, cherry vanilla punch with ice cream, juice, and soda, and “chicken ‘n a biscuit.” If you’ve ever watched one of the throwback episodes of 17 Kids and Counting, you’ll see the kids making huge dishes with ingredients like tater tots and canned green beans.
Still, cooking at home saves money, and most of the Duggars’ recipes don’t require a ton of ingredients. That means they make the most of their food budget and keep those many tummies full- even the teen boys, who Michelle says are constantly eating.
8 Homeschooling Habits
While plenty of parents with large families rush to buy everyone’s school supplies and clothing when August rolls around, the Duggars have no such dilemma. Rather than private school uniforms or dress-code approved attire for public schools, the Duggars adhere to their own year-round family dress code. Their homeschooling habits mean no one has to wear a specific style of clothes, and no one has to rush for school supplies come fall.
While many homeschooling families go all-out and buy tons of curriculum or materials or join a charter or other program for access to funds, the Duggars go it alone. Since the kids were small, Michelle has been in charge of homeschooling all of them.
According to multiple sources, the family uses a strictly religious curriculum from the Advanced Training Institute.
Michelle also uses the bible to teach her kids a lot of material, including character education and religion, two things that are very important to the super-religious family. While not every fan of the show will agree with their religious ideals, at least the family seems to care about the kids’ education. Plenty of footage from their shows involves the kids using computers or workbooks to go about their daily lessons. There’s also something to be said for real-life experiences like cooking, budgeting, grocery shopping, and music education- all things the Duggar kids do daily.
7 Tame Tech Use
While the Duggars appear to use technology primarily for educational purposes, that doesn’t mean they have a bunch of iPads and smartphones lying around. Early on in the life of 17 Kids and Counting, some of the older children had cell phones. These came in handy when the teens were home alone babysitting while Michelle and Jim Bob jetted off to book signings and wherever else. But it’s unlikely that the family used the phones to browse the internet or join Facebook.
The Duggars have always been vocal about keeping their kids protected from outside influences. I recall seeing an episode of their show where Michelle explained that her children didn’t listen to music other than gospel or music that mom and dad pre-approved. The children learned classical instruments, but there was no dancing allowed at home or anywhere else.
Therefore, fans seemed surprised when the older Duggars started getting married and opening their own Instagram and other social media accounts. For Jill and Jessa in particular, who are both married with kids of their own, using social media seems like a crucial part of their reality TV personas. The two both participated in a spinoff of 19 Kids, using their accounts to drop hints and update viewers.
6 Bare Bones Birthdays
Watching early episodes of the Duggar reality show, it struck me that with so many children, the Duggars likely found it difficult to celebrate every birthday with a “bang.”
And in fact, while it seemed every child received some recognition and at least a cake for their birthday, there weren’t ever any big outings or family trips marking the occasion.
For families with multiple children, it’s understandable to want to avoid spending a ton of cash on a birthday party. Especially when you’re trying to teach your kids to be happy without a bunch of “stuff,” throwing a party kind of goes in the other direction.
And although the younger kids seem to benefit from having fewer kiddos in the house now, the Duggars still keep things low-key on birthdays. Some of their blog updates include highlights of youngest daughter Josie’s birthday tea party, plus a visit to a bowling alley. Years ago, some of the younger kids also picked activities to do for their birthdays, but some wound up staying at home and just having cake.
As far as frugality, home baking a cake and staying in or choosing a low-cost activity for celebrating birthdays is a smart tip all parents can use.
5 Teaming Up Tots
Something that struck me as somewhat unfair about the way the Duggars raise their kids is that every older child is responsible for a younger one. The “buddy system” helps keep all the kids in check, sure, but it also takes most of the parenting responsibilities and drops them in the lap of the teens in the house. Watching the show over the years, Michelle and Jim Bob were often absent or busy doing other things while the older children helped the younger ones get dressed and ready for the day.
Even during homeschooling time, the older siblings were responsible for guiding the younger ones. All the same, that meant the household continued to operate smoothly, as every child was kept in line doing what they needed to do.
At the same time, the relationship between the siblings could have turned into more of a parent-child relationship, at least when the littles were young. However, since Michelle’s last child was born in 2009, she and Jim Bob have not added to their clan of 19 kids. That means the older kids had fewer responsibilities, and the ones still living at home have less babysitting to do as they all grow up together.
4 All In The Family
Another way the Duggars depend on family ties to save money is with babysitting by relatives. On older tapings of the family, Jim Bob’s cousin Amy was around a lot to help out, even going on trips with the family. Jim Bob’s mother, Mary Duggar, is also on hand often to care for the children.
With babysitting costs being insane for just a couple of kids, let alone a brood of 19, it’s doubtful that the Duggars have ever used a nanny or babysitter. In fact, in all my viewing of their shows, I’ve never heard them mention another caregiver outside of family members or their older children. It almost seems like Michelle takes for granted the fact that her older children can help care for the younger ones. Although, she probably did put in a lot of long hours when her kids were all younger and there weren’t any older ones to help out.
Also, none of the children have ever gone to daycare or public school. However, they may have frequented nurseries at the family’s churches over the years. But now that the family claims to do most of their “worshiping” at home in their own private mega-church, there’s no free daycare of that nature anymore.
3 Creative Construction
If you thought that managing energy costs for a small family is hard, think of what it would be like to manage water and electricity consumption in a family of 21. As frugal as they are, the Duggars have to use a lot of energy to keep everyone clean and fed. But they thought ahead when building their seven thousand square foot home, Bustle explained.
In addition to a radiant heat floor to cut heating costs, the Duggars also used a tankless water heater to supply hot water on demand. But that’s not the only perk that came with the home. In 2000, they began construction on the gigantic house after buying a vacant lot. But at that time, the family was already internationally well-known. And that benefitted them when it came time to both build and furnish their home.
Discovery Networks helped finish building the house, even recruiting local construction works to donate their time. The home was finished in 2006, the Dallas Morning News reported, and Discovery networks even helped with painting, decorating, and furnishing the house. They even gave the family a fully-stocked pantry and helped with appliances before all then-18 of them moved in. What a way to save some cash!
2 Basic Business Model
Long before the Duggars became famous (or infamous) on TLC, they were already living a debt-free lifestyle. Or at least they claimed to have been! The couple followed strict rules on never buying anything new and not borrowing money from anyone.
Some of their reality TV shows hinted at mom and dad’s business model. In early episodes of 17 Kids and Counting, some of the older kids tagged along with Jim Bob to some of his rental properties.
The kids’ duties included cleaning and fixing up rental homes after people vacated them.
Now, however, Jim Bob is a licensed realtor and owns commercial properties as an investor. Back in 2007, he told Today that he and his wife were both real estate agents, and it appears to remain true. They also hosted “Financial Freedom Seminars” that are Bible-based. Jim Bob also served in the Arkansas House of Representatives, although he lost a bid for U.S. Senate.
And while Jim Bob started out as a mechanic who repaired and resold cars, he and his wife later started a towing business that they eventually sold for a profit. They tend to avoid publicizing their business endeavors, but Michelle also has her own income from interviews and a book deal.
1 Television Tendencies
As ironic as it sounds, the Duggars have never had TV service at home. Despite their worldwide fame because of their reality TV show, they’ve never subscribed to cable TV themselves. Although they are “not against TV,” according to the Duggar Family Blog, they “do not agree with much of the content portrayed on the tube.”
That also means the family skips paying a cable bill every month- the epitome of frugality. And while most of us skip cable TV in favor of the cheaper subscription services like Netflix- or just watch YouTube videos and free content online- the Duggars don’t do any of that.
They claim to see their TV show as a form of family “ministry,” they explain, and their family entertainment consists of doing devotional exercises and playing games together.
However, even though they’re not interested in cable TV or bingeing on Netflix, the Duggars do have internet service. Michelle and Jim Bob have shared their internet safety tips for kids, publicly endorsed the family-friendly filtering software they use at home, and described how their kids use the internet for their homeschooling lessons. They even block the children from using search engines, they say, but the older kids are able to have cell phones when they get their driver’s licenses.