Frugal Strategies for Young Families that Pay Off as Your Children Grow

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Capybara Nurses Young

As my family grew from a small to a large one with six children, I developed efficient ways to save money. Items that are small expenses with two small children become big ones as the family grows.

Below I present ten money-stretching strategies for young couples with a growing family. It takes discipline to stick to these guidelines, but the effort pays off over time. The benefits are not just financial.

    1. Teach kids that it’s okay to be different. This gift to your children pays off again and again. Empathize with them when you won’t buy things their friends have, but stick to your principles. Train them to listen to their own instincts, and not the crowd’s pronouncements. Most important, model this attitude yourself.2. Breastfeed. Breastfeeding saves a bundle on bottles and formula. And the hormones and immediacy of breastfeeding are a shortcut to developing a loving relationship with your child, important no matter your financial status. Statistics show that benefits of increased health for mother and baby continue long after your baby or toddler has weaned. If you’re having trouble, seek out the volunteers at La Leche League, a lactation consultant and other supportive, experienced breastfeeding mothers.

    3. Gradually train children to be responsible for themselves. With patience and encouragement they will show you when they are ready to do things on their own. Picking up after one child is not so hard, but picking up after three or four is another story. This will free up your time and energy for more fun and productive activities.

    4. Cut food costs. Even a family with only two children will see its food bill double as the kids become teenagers. Young families can start by avoiding processed foods, offering babies a variety of table foods as soon as they are ready, emphasizing whole grains and legumes over a diet based on animal proteins and treats, choosing water over juice, and avoiding special meals for picky eaters.

    5. Cultivate relationships with families who have similar values. You can trade babysitting, leftovers, equipment, school supplies, clothes, skills, and more. And your children will grow up knowing other adults they can count on.

    6. Try and avoid daycare, or at least minimize time spent there. Daycare is one of the biggest expenses for young parents. While having both parents working full-time outside the home may generate the most income on paper, it can be stressful for the family and incur hidden costs, such as convenience foods and emergency babysitters. Consider saving on daycare costs by having one parent work from home, or on a different shift. Calculate whether the amount saved by doing things on your own (see #10) is greater than take-home pay once childcare, wardrobe, and transportation costs have been deducted.

    7. Involve your children in your daily life. Parents who perceive their children as interfering in their lives end up overusing daycare or babysitters, or having to pay for convenience food and cleaning help. Never refuse an offer of help from a toddler or preschooler! Let them dust, sweep, wipe, sort, and measure, even if it makes more work for you at first. They may be cooking meals and washing floors long before they are teens.

    8. When it comes to possessions, less is more. Books, balls, blocks, arts and crafts and dress-up clothes are better than the latest Fisher-Price. Celebrate birthdays and holidays with fun traditions instead of expensive gifts and exorbitant parties. Children don’t need possessions; they need to explore their curiosity, develop their skills, and establish their constructive role in the family.

    9. Make home a fun place to be. This is another investment that pays off when kids grow. Read to them, play games indoors and out, and make up performances. Then they won’t need to look elsewhere for expensive entertainment.

    10. Learn practical skills. A few generations ago most people did their own hair-cutting, gardening, cooking, home repairs, and sewing. The more kids you have, the more these skills pay off. Take a book out of the library and get started. Children are likely to become interested too.

What strategies have you used to save money in the long term?

Related posts:

How to Spend Virtually Nothing when You Have a Baby

Staying Home and Staying Sane: Tips for Balancing Your Needs with the Needs of Your Kids

Is Homemade Food Worth the Effort?

Tips for Starting a Cooperative Camp or Playgroup

D

(Photo credit: Nationaal Archief)

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Comments

  1. rickismom says:

    Excellent post!
    My only disagreement is that a FEW GOOD Fisher Price toys last ten times longer than the one-third priced conterpart. Often (maybe because I tended to have boys in a row), I found one sturdy toy for the “family” rather than individual purchases was best.
    I would also add that each child should have a set chore that HE is responsible for.
    AQnd another point: read labels and check prices. Lately I have discovered time and time again big “big family pack” packages in supermarkets costing MORE per item than the individual item sold separately!!!

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    • mominisrael says:

      Rickismom–Thank you for the compliment and the suggestions.

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  2. I wish more parents – or maybe I should be honest and write “my students’ parents” read your post.
    I completely agree with your emphasis on practical skils.

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    • mominisrael says:

      I never thought about it from the teacher’s point of view.

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  3. Terrific article!

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  4. Bravo on that photo. I just love it.

    As someone who used Day Care a little bit, I can say that it helped me keep my sanity. Many of us moms need a break. When my boys were little, I got to take one art class at a time. And when my daughter was little, I could finally start my business. I didn’t do it full-time. And I think even babies benefit from being around other babies. And from learning to separate from mommy. It’s not just about money.

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    • mominisrael says:

      Thanks, Leora, I’m exploring using stock photos to illustrate posts. I’m glad this one worked! As for day care, it’s a very individual decision. Babies will be ready to separate from their mothers at different ages.

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  5. Katherine says:

    great post. have to say, to be very blunt here, it was either pay for some daycare, or pay for the loony bin for me. And I don’t think I could have kept on breastfeeding from the loony bin! I love my son, and I don’t think he is an especially difficult kid, but staying at home with him killed me. I couldn’t do it, even though I had initially planned on going back to work 2 days a week, and only after 6 months. Now he is in day care 5 days a week, for 8 hours a day, and I am much saner as a result. I hope I make it up to him in other ways, and I do try to make sure the time I spend with him is quality.

    I agree with everything else though – I think this is a fantastic set of ideas, and am glad I read them now.

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    • mominisrael says:

      Katherine, being at home with a baby can be very challenging. A decision to send to day care is very individual.

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  6. “Cultivate relationships with families who have similar values.”

    i think this is the most important point. once you have this, it is much easier for everything else to fall into place. a big mistake many of us make is settling in communities where we really don’t belong (whether in regard to child rearing expercations or anything else). then we have no recourse but to become bitter and rant on blogs :)

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    • mominisrael says:

      “we have no recourse but to become bitter and rant on blogs :)”

      LOL. Do we know anyone who does that?

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  7. what about not shunning hand-me-downs, whether clothing, toys, books, baby furniture, etc.

    i know we’ve certainly saved money on clothing this way. except for socks and underwear, we haven’t really bought any clothing in a while.

    be very gracious when people give you bags so they know you want more in the future.

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    • mominisrael says:

      LoZ, I mention that in #5. I agree about being gracious, even if you don’t end up keeping most of the stuff.

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  8. I agree with every point except, as a working mother, about not using day care. While it’s true that some mothers may not clear much money after all expenses are accounted for, the financial benefits of staying in the workforce are huge. There are future raises, promotions, and bonuses that are forgone when mothers stay home “because I’m not making much money after the babysitter’s paid for.” Someday those kids will all be in school, and even the most educated mother may find herself unemployable. That’s great if the father’s income is enough and can ALWAYS be relied on (of course, this is impossible to predict), but not great if the mother’s earnings will be needed in the future. Families with two incomes have a lot more security in recessionary times.

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  9. i wansn’t interested in getting into the day care debate, but i will echo tesyaa. i just heard this week about a patent lawyer who took off a few years. when she was ready to go back no one wanted to hire her. luckily she had also had a pharmacy degree to fall back on.

    also, it’s misleadig to consider only salary. even when not high, the benefits make make it worthwhile. (for example, remember that the most affordable healthcare here, short of medicaid, is through work.)

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    • mominisrael says:

      LoZ and Tesyaa, I can’t argue with your points. However, for this post I chose strategies that are as much about parenting as well as frugality. While I can see how many families view daycare as necessary for many reasons, I still think it should be avoided as much as possible.
      Perhaps I didn’t make my point clear. I realize that two-income families are not going away anytime soon. When I wrote “as much as possible” I also meant limiting the time spent in daycare.For example, I have a neighbor who leaves the house very early in the morning to be able to pick up her kid from gan (kindergarten) at 1:30 and avoid putting him in the after-gan daycare. Her husband gets the kids off to school and comes home later in the afternoon.

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  10. LOZ-I just wrote a post on “new to you” shopping. I almost always take my kids with me, so they are used to the idea. In fact, I’m headed out to pick up one kid now and go shopping. He is down to two pairs of pants that fit and don’t have little holes.

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    • mominisrael says:

      ON, I kept checking my reader to see if that post was yours. It was different from your “bread and butter” posts but excellent as usual.

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  11. Great list and I agree with all the day care comments, both from a financial and mental health perspective.

    Everyone in my family is happier after a busy day at gan.

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  12. I don’t necessarily agree on the daycare part. There are lots of reasons why two parents working outside the home might be better for that particular family. I readily quit my job when baby #1 came along because it was just a job, with a company I didn’t like much, that came with a salary that wasn’t enough to justify my leaving my baby BUT also because being with my baby became my tafkid (i.e., filled me in other ways than just occupying me during the day) and was enough for me at that point in time. Some people have jobs/careers that they find extremely fulfilling, beyond just the salary/benefits; why should that take a backseat if they can make it work?

    Also, are you coming from the perspective that your three year old will be in gan? Because every SAH parent needs a break :-) Even Ames & Ilg, who were writing in the ’70s when a stay at home mom was the default, advise some chance for mom and kid to take a break from one another!

    Anyway, overall I really like this post. A big part of the reason we are making aliyah is to be close to my BIL & SIL, whose values are very close to our own and with whom we can really cultivate sharing responsibility. Even though we have been in our community in NY for almost a decade, we’d be hard pressed to pick someone to call in the middle of the night for an emergency–it’s an uncomfortable spot to be in.

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    • mominisrael says:

      Kate, see my above comments. I do think that babies should be with their mothers for as long as possible and that that is worth financial and professional sacrifice. I’m glad, though, that I gave everyone something to argue about.

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  13. Excellent post, I agree with all your ideas except “try and avoid daycare”. Other commentators left reasons why that is not a good idea for everyone. I will add the following:
    1. Even if you do not make enough net salary to cover daycare, in Israel both the employee and employer are paying into a pension fund. That is tremendously important, even to young parents. It is never too early to worry about retirement.
    2. In Israel parents pay a sliding scale according to income at daycare centers making it much more cost efficient for both parents to work.
    3. When parents “juggle” child care with alternating shifts while both working they often wind up never seeing each other, being cranky and not enjoying life.
    4. In many if not most cases, having a SAH mom requires hubby working long hours to make up for lost income. This results in the kids not seeing dad often. What is better a SAH mom who is basically a single mother or two dedicated parents? working moms give dads the ability to function as parents.
    5. Ditto ditto ditto on the looney bin comments.

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    • mominisrael says:

      Hi Ariela,
      I do want to clarify your points.
      1. True, assuming the fund is managed well. :)
      2. That is only if you use institutionalized daycare, which is often not the best choice.
      3. Good point, but it could apply just as easily when parents work conventional hours because of meetings, overtime, etc. Then you have stress in addition to long hours of daycare. Even if “split-shift” working requires added daycare hours to avoid “juggling,” it might still involve less daycare overall.
      4. My husband would work long hours regardless of my career commitments. It’s part of his job, and he doesn’t get paid overtime.
      5. Looney bin–obviously I can’t argue with this point. But I do want to give my own perspective on it some day.

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  14. I also would add hand-me-downs to the list.

    As for the question of staying at home – for me it’s not just a matter of money. I stay at home and enjoy witnessing every single step in my children’s development first-hand. Yes, sometimes it’s hard, but I take small “breaks” for myself and try to take everything with a good portion of humor – I would not trade my position with a job outside the house.

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  15. Anima, again, I don’t think it’s a problem for a woman to do what she enjoys if her husband’s income is sufficient and can be securely counted on for the foreseeable future. I agree that telling a wealthy woman who loves children and child development to work or use daycare just for the sake of it would be silly.

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  16. Aron Grinshtein says:

    Fantastic article. I really like it. I have been thinking about starting to grow a garden. I think it is great family time as well as it is good for cutting costs. You might want to add that.

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    • mominisrael says:

      Aron, I mention gardening in number 10. Thanks for “tweeting” and the positive feedback.

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  17. I like to mix up my posts between current events and financial tips. I used to do more posts on taxes, shopping, financial tools. Don’t know what hit me this morning (probably the realization that my son was down to 2 pairs of nicer looking, fitting pants), but I pulled a never published post out of the dust bin and finished it up.

    I have found that shopping used has improved the quality of the items we buy (once an item has been washed several times it is easier to ascertain if it of quality). I used to find going into a thrift store to be somewhat headache inducing. Now I truly enjoy the variety, and if some of the things get ruined or rejected, I won’t feel particularly bad about it. And, kids mostly destroy clothing.

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  18. There are lots of second hand places here. You can save a lot. Of course try to shop half year ahead at sales time for yourself and the kids.
    Walk, roller skate/blade and bike places. It’s free, instead of paying for expensive “activities.”

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  19. Katherine says:

    returning to the daycare debate – sorry to hijack the post – clearly this is a sensitive topic and you need to write a post about it in particular. One of the reasons I couldn’t hack it as a stay at home mom was a complete lack of family support, and community. I didn’t have other moms to hang out with and compare experiences, or swap a few hours of babysitting for a bit of off time, nor a mother around to come and help me, or give me tips etc as to how to deal with a difficult baby. Funnily enough the caregivers at my son’s nursery have been really helpful – given me lots of tips and advice which were really useful, and also been supportive and helped me to be able to keep on breastfeeding. Modern society is all kinds of messed up – the way we live with no extended families, long commutes, isolation of mothers etc is just not healthy. I had other things to say but I forgot them!

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  20. @tesyaa: I don’t think a family living on a teacher’s salary can be considered “wealthy”…

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  21. I agree with most of your points. A great bit of advise for young parents is to move to a community that has good “public” daycare and good schools. I know that the daycare in my community is excellent, which is one of the reasons we moved here.
    As to the debate of whether it is better to be a working mom or stay home mom – that is every family’s personal choice and there is no right or wrong. What works for one family will not nessesarily work for another.
    I only wanted to clarify that being SAH is not a financial benefit – I am sure there are other wonderful benefits, but your post was about frugality.
    great post.

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  22. How about #11 on your list – saving electricity (and water) saves money: Hang laundry, wash the floor with bathwater, check if clothes are dirty rather than automatically throwing them in the wash, etc….

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  23. mominisrael says:

    I’m working on a laundry post now!

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  24. I can see many people wrote about daycare.
    With the first kids I could afford to stay at home, after that we had the expense of them to afford (yeshiva high schools, college etc!)

    But something MII did not mention is the idea of what is called abroad Playgroups (here popular for 2 year olds),
    That is the compromise, if you are a SAH mom, but need the time to yourself getting together with between 2 and 5 (or even 6) other moms in the same position, lets you be frugal (save money), be with kids, have time to yourself, and even get back to work.

    I have friends who have playgroup for their 2 year old, while they are at home with their new baby.
    I know someone who works part time as a teacher and is part of a playgroup, and even a friend who worked 5 days a week and did her day on Friday.

    Obvioulsy this arrangement has to suit you and your character.

    However, this goes with what MII said about finding like minded friends.

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  25. mominisrael says:

    Keren, thanks for your comment. Here’s a post I wrote on the subject: http://www.amotherinisrael.com/2007/07/04/tips-for-planning-a-cooperative-playgroup-or-camp/

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  26. “I only wanted to clarify that being SAH is not a financial benefit – I am sure there are other wonderful benefits, but your post was about frugality.”‘

    As an accountant, I do feel the need to chime in because I’ve actually run detailed spreadsheets figuring out where work is of benefit and where it is a hinderance. Much depends on the career path and potential benefits, it is very difficult to predict the future. Some jobs are more difficult to re-enter in the future.

    I can say that I have worked with more than one family where the budget is being hurt by having a secondary breadwinner. Note I didn’t write mother because in many cases the secondary breadwinner is the father who is working, but not at enough wages to pay for the resulting day care.

    For me it was a natural choice to be home. . . although I work enough on my own contracting and self-employment projects that I’m far from income free. I’ve been thinking a lot about what advice, if any, one can give to families where the father is weakening the budget and would be better off staying home. If we find that mothers are having a difficult time being home, what about fathers for which such is highly unnatural. Yet sometimes putting a father with little mazal in earning a parnasah could be the different between sinking and swimming until the kids are school aged and he could try to re-enter the workforce.

    Perhaps I will continue with some thoughts on my own blog because this is a subject that weights on my mind as of late. . . . .

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  27. SL

    You’re bringing up extreme examples, in a bit of a straw man fashion.

    Families that aren’t managing even on two incomes is more of a budgeting issue rather than a “Is it worth it for the woman to work?” issue.

    I think that if the family isn’t covering childcare with the second income, interrupting a career and creating holes in a resume should be the absolute last resort, after cutting everything else in the budget, including school tuition, food, car, even housing, or trying to increase income through other means (ebay, telemarketing) hasn’t yielded results.

    Also, unless a man is really committed to being a SAHD, i can’t really see that suggestion being good for a family, whether he has or doesn’t have mazel in parnassah.

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  28. Interesting blog post to check out

    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/05/12/stay-at-home-parent-worth-six-figure-salary/

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  29. mominisrael says:

    Thanks, Keren. What bothers me about the discussion here is that it puts mothers under pressure to contribute financially when their children are young. They’ll never work again, they’re at risk if a husband loses his job, they won’t build up savings, insurance etc. Mothers are under enough pressure and I’ll say it again, having both parents work when kids are young is extremely stressful for many families. Especially if both parents have demanding careers.
    My laundry post is up, by the way: http://bitly.com/gcL3F

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  30. Hi Hannah,

    Any chance of a post exploring options and experiences on when and how to go to work or stay at home with a small child in the near future? There’s certainly demand.

    ~ Maya

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  31. In the time it took me to read the comments on this article, you gained two new subscribers. Mazal tov. :)

    ~ Maya

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  32. Re: Pressure to work. I don’t really think it’s the discussion that’s creating this pressure, rather, this is the nature of the modern world and this recession couldn’t make the point much more clearly. Families that rely on one income have less income security than families that have two incomes. It’s less likely that two parents will get fired, rather than one, though I’m sure it has happened to many families around the world.

    It’s stressful having two careers, but it’s also stressful to have the main breadwinner lose his job and have nothing to fall back on (neither savings nor a second income)because the family was relying solely on that one income.Or Gd forbid the breadwinner dies or gets too sick to work. You can’t really predict what will happen in the future and while it’s all in Hashem’s hands, I think it’s our responsibility to also be prepared for such emergencies.

    In the same vein, it’s our responsibility to save for retirement, and I think it’s a lot to expect the main breadwinner to support the family and save for both their own and their spouse’s retirement (not to mention an emergency fund). You’d have to have a really large salary and be really frugal to do all that on a monthly basis.

    I don’t think mothers are helping themselves or their families if they don’t take these issues into account.

    Lastly, I’ll bring up an issue that we’d all like to think has died in the last century but it’s still very much an issue: women who don’t work are more likely to get trapped in bad marriages because they have no way to support themselves or their children. Many feel that it’s to hard/ too late to start a career and make a decent living for themselves. I personally know of two women who are stuck in situations like this.

    For that reason alone, I think it’s imperative to encourage mothers to have some kind of career for themselves.

    Also, I don’t think having two careers means both parents work 20 hours a day. Many mothers and fathers manage to work it out that one parent has a more flexible work situation to be more available for the children. (at least that’s the case with me, and I doubt we’re the only family who’s figured this out).

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  33. Re Orthonomics’ comment on SAHDs: in my observation, men are less cut out for this role, but they could adapt. The bigger problem is the lack of socialization for these men. You know, women get together, go to the park, share a coffee, share babysitting. How many women feel comfortable chatting with the lone SAHD while they push their kids on the swing? (I know that a lot of chitchat between SAHMs is about the husbands, unfortunately). How many women would do a round robin playgroup with a SAHD? I knew a man who was trying to make it as a writer while his wife worked in a good tech job. By default, he was largely a SAHD. I think he was really doing a good job, really trying, but it was very difficult.

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  34. At least in the U.S., the amount of money saved by breastfeeding over formula feeding is enough to buy a major household appliance (like refrigerator, stove, washing machine, etc) every six months!!! Amazing!

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  35. Enjoyed the article … just wanted to let you know that I’m sharing the link to it on today’s “This ‘n That Thursday” post on my blog.
    http://myreasonstoblog.blogspot.com/
    Hope you’re having a great day!!!
    ~ Joy :)

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  36. We are a conservative Christian homeschooling family with 9+ children, and I’m really enjoying your site. It’s amazing how alike our lives are!

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