Three Lessons Learned While Raising Children on a Shoestring Budget

For the past 23 years, my husband and I have been raising our four sons, debt-free, on an income which has consistently been under the national US median. In that time, God has taught us three important lessons about parenting with a spirit of joy and abundance on a shoestring budget. 



1. Spending Money On Children Will Not Bring Them Happiness


We often told our boys while they were growing up, “Money is a means to an end, but when it becomes the end, then that’s a problem. “


I’ll admit it! Sometimes, raising kids without a lot of money is no fun. It seems even more so, when you find yourself scrambling to get to the end of the month and still have funds remaining in your bank account. Your life can begin to swirl around an endless cycle of counting nickels and dimes.


However, I will tell you from experience that you must take a big step back from your money maelstrom and remember to make life about more important things. 


Here’s why.


If we measure the value of our life with the amount of money we make, then children begin to believe that money is the key to happiness. We all know that is not true. That’s why the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil.


There’s nothing wrong with earning a good paycheck, but when you begin to trust in your paycheck more than God, then your priorities become skewed. This lack of balance can affect your children’s view of both God and money. 


Instead, begin repeating stories of God’s provision. This is, seriously, the most important thing you can do for your children! It increases their sense of security, reminds them of the importance of prayer, and develops their dependence on God.


Not only that, but you will also be building the faith of future generations. These are the stories that your children will repeat to their children and grandchildren. 


2. You Can Make Memories With Little Or No Money


As we prepared for our first son’s birth, my husband reassured me. “Our children may not grow up with a lot of money, but they will grow up with a lot of love and a lot of fun!” 


For over two decades, we have set out to make that statement true. Early on, we found that many of our friends were giving their children experiences like private lessons in art and music, vacations to exotic destinations, restaurant meals several times a month, and much more. 


Instead of allowing the situation to discourage us, we decided that we would find alternatives to ensure that our kids wouldn’t feel left out.


We searched for and found, activities, which cost a fraction of the price that our friends were paying.


Over the years, we heard amazing music in a whole range of styles at free concerts, scouted out free history reenactments, learned to appreciate and create art at the public library, went to free days at local and regional museums, and much more. 


My sons’ favorite activity was our Friday night picnics. Since going to a restaurant was never in the budget, every Friday night we packed up whatever I had made for supper and headed to a local park.



We took along a frisbee, read aloud, board games, or the Bible. After supper, we relaxed and enjoyed one another’s company. The night before our oldest son left for college, he asked for one last Friday night picnic. 


It doesn’t take money to make meaningful memories. It does take a little time to be intentional, but spending money is mostly optional. 


3. Never Underestimate God’s Ability To Provide When You Can’t


My oldest son has always loved learning. From a young age, he desperately wanted a college education. We explained to him that we would not be able to pay for him to attend and that it was very costly. Yet, he would regularly place his allowance in the bank and declare, “This is my college fund.” Since we were only able to pay him $5 a month, he clearly had high expectations.


 As you may imagine, having worked very hard to get and remain debt-free, my husband and I both urged him that he should not take out loans to attend college. He would smile and confidently say, “Then God will make a way.” 


Through the years, he found part-time jobs and each month, he continued to make the same declaration, never wavering in his faith that God would provide a way for him to get a college education. 


Completing high school, he received two small scholarships and attended a two-year college, paying cash as he went. After three semesters, he was offered and joyfully accepted a full-tuition scholarship to transfer to a private, 4-year, Christian college. 


In May of 2020, he will graduate, with two Associates degrees and one Bachelors. He has not one penny of student debt. He worked on campus and over breaks to pay for his room and board and took out no loans. My husband and I have given him only enough to pay for his books. 


Never in a million years did I actually believe that one of my children would be able to graduate from college. Yet, God had a plan and watching Him work that out in my child’s life has built both my son’s faith and mine. 


The Importance Of These Lessons


Here’s why these three lessons are so important. They showed me that I am truly not in control. In fact, I never was. That’s a hard thing for a mom to accept. We want to provide everything for our children. We want to shelter them from hurt. We want their path to be easier than ours. 


It’s when we step back and realize that our Heavenly Father wants that for them, too, that our faith begins to grow and their faith does too. When we allow God to work and get the glory it is so much better than stewing about what we can and cannot do. It also has the added benefit of allowing us to find real pleasure walking out life with our kids in ordinary ways – like taking weekly picnics. 


Raising Kids On A Limited Income


Those picnics, which could have reminded us that we couldn’t afford restaurant food, instead, became intensely personal and life-giving as we relished one another’s company and fellowship. Raising kids on a limited income can become a wonderful avenue for recognizing God’s everyday blessings and remembering to give Him honor and thanks for the simple things that give us joy.


The author of this post can be found at Under The Median.

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