How the Duggars, With 19 Kids, Live Debt-Free

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Here’s another great story from our friends at Business Insider:

You’d think with 21 mouths to feed and 20 acres worth of property to maintain, a modest family like TLC’s The Duggars would be right behind Octomom Nadya Suleman in the welfare line.

Think again. Before they started reeling in royalties from their hit TV show, the family lived 100% debt free—even when patriarch Jim Bob was scraping by at a local grocery store and they could barely afford a vacuum cleaner.

Jim Bob Credits His Financial Success to 2 Sources

And those would be God, and a 16-hour “Financial Freedom Seminar” by Jim Sammons. ”After just seeing the first session, the truths from God’s Word being taught through Mr. Sammons began to convince me of my need to ‘owe no man anything but love,’” he said.

After the seminar, Jim Bob bought several commercial real estate properties. Before the show became a hit, these were the family’s main sources of income. He turned this 37,000 sq. foot chicken hatchery into ten rental units and makes major bank renting out a cell phone tower to mobile phone carriers.

They Were Debt-Free Within 7 Years

It took them about that long to save up to pay for their first home in cash. Here are the stats on their current digs:

  • 7,000 sq. feet on 20 acres
  • 4 bedrooms
  • 1 massive family closet
Here’s how they kept costs down enough to stay out of debt and maintain their 20-acre home:

The family washes 35 loads of laundry per week. To cut costs, they have their own recipe for DIY laundry soap. Total cost: $1 per month.

They get all their bills itemized. Thanks to an itemized hospital bill, they realized they’d been charged incorrectly for 86 bars of soap. “For hospital bills, phone bills, anything–ask for everything to be itemized. Especially cell phone bills, they always add extra expenses,” Michelle told Parenting.com. “They automatically put stuff on. We call them and get them to take it off. You have to keep an eye on every one of those.”

They spend $3,000 on their grocery bill alone each month and use their entire garage as a pantry. Here’s their shopping list:

  • 3 dozen eggs
  • 5 pounds turkey bacon
  • 20 biscuits
  • 10 oranges
  • 4 pounds grapes
  • 3 loaves whole wheat bread
  • 4 pounds sloppy joe meat
  • 3 pounds green beans
  • 3 pounds potatoes
  • 2 watermelons
  • 2 family-size bags lettuce
  • 4 pounds spaghetti noodles
  • 3 loaves french bread
  • 2 pans brownies
  • 1 gallon vanilla ice cream

They save thousands of dollars by cutting their own hair. They set aside just $100 per month for entertainment. (That means no cable!) Most of the fun happens at home, where they have a full basketball court (and enough players to make up four teams).

Also on tap:

  • A trampoline
  • An indoor playscape
  • A pool table
  • Education software games
  • Pianos and violins that each kid learns to play

They’ve never bought a new vehicle in their lives. Their garage is home to five Suburbans, two sedans, one van and a 45-foot tour bus.

The bus used to belong to a hockey team and has 15 bunks. They snapped it up at auction for a mere $2,100 (original value: $50,000).

They buy in bulk. In a scene from their reality show, they filled up 11 grocery carts.

You won’t find them at the mall. Michelle Duggar: “We get our clothes at thrift shops. You can find really nice name-brand stuff. Our girls love it. They will find tons of stuff.”

They outfitted their home with energy efficient light bulbs and appliances. Total utility bill: $695 for phone, electric and water.

And they refuse to let their kids drown in student loan debt. Michelle’s in charge of educating the kids at home, but the family’s been criticized for not encouraging them to attend college.

But that’s not the case. At least six of their children have enrolled in CollegePlus, ”an on-line, fully accredited system that allows students to earn their college degrees at home and graduate without a mountain of debt.

Image via Business Insider

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  • Eva

    This is such a respectable family. I admire their outlook on life and now it’s great to know that they are also great role models when it comes to money. I do wonder how much they get paid for being reality television stars, but that surely comes with its ups and downs. I would love to see LearnVest talk about how ordinary people without a lot of start up funding can create investments (like rental property, etc.) like this family has.

  • ImpulseSave

    Wow! They certainly manage to keep a full life on a modest budget. Most amazing to me was the entertainment bill. $100/month is barely enough to take the whole family to a museum! However, they seem to have a lot going on at the house, so I’m sure they are never bored!

  • Virginia Haines

    Even better than thrift shopping for clothes can be the free clothes pantries. We cloth our seven kids for less than $300 a year with the help of clothes pantries and clearance racks. Other than the outfit I got married in on Valentines day I haven’t bought a stitch of clothing this year (other than under garments socks and shoes we’ll do used over new all the time) while losing 5 pounds a month and losing 4 clothing sizes this year.