Can a Couple with 13 Kids Really Pay Off Their Seven-Bedroom House, Live Debt-Free, and Retire Early?September 27, 2016 • By Candace Bahr and Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP®
If you either want to feel extremely inspired or extremely terrible about your own financial habits, head on over to the Washington Post and read the story of the Fatzinger family. Rob and Sam Fatzinger are devout Catholics with thirteen children. Sam is a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her children. Rob, a software tester, earns a little more than $100,000 a year, but until age 40, he never earned more than $50,000.
You might assume that with 13 kids living in a household with one working parent the Fatzingers are like most Americans – swimming in massive debt. After all, they live in a seven-bedroom house, do 42 loads of laundry a week (by Sam’s estimate), and already have a handful of kids in college, with the rest on their way.
You’d be wrong. The house is paid for. The couple has no debt, and Rob is looking to retire by age 62. We’ll give you a moment to scoop your jaw up off the floor. How exactly is this feat of financial wizardry possible? Are Rob, Sam and their children living in some tiny shack next to a toxic waste plant eating ramen every single day?
Not exactly. In a nutshell, this is how the couple did it:
A Saving Mentality
Over the long term, your financial stability comes from not how much you spend, but how much you are able to save. Even when Rob and Sam were only making $36,000 a year running a Christian bookstore in their early days, they still managed to put away 10 to 15 percent of every paycheck. As Rob’s earnings grew, he didn’t let that inflate the family’s lifestyle. He still kept putting money away each month, and the miracle of compound interest supercharged his savings.
The Washington Post article begins with the reporter watching Sam expertly navigate the grocery store and take advantage of special offers on in-season food. “It’s just watching and waiting and knowing,” Sam says in the article. This laser-like focus on good deals has seeped into the family’s mentality. They shop in secondhand stores and use the Freecycle Network. In 2000, the couple bought a dilapidated five-bedroom house in foreclosure for just $150,000. Rob and Sam used their savings to put down $50,000 to get a better interest rate and took out a 15-year mortgage. They paid off their house in 2012. Guess what they do with all the extra money? Splurge on a vacation to the Bahamas? Nope, they put even more into savings! (Learn Six Savvy Tips to Spend Less and Save Smart.)
Being Part of the Community
Sam and Rob don’t do it all alone. In fact, one of their best money-saving secrets is to know when to ask for help. They were able to get a great deal on their house, because it was in terrible shape. Rob remembers that their priest asked if he should perform an exorcism instead of blessing the house. To turn their house into a home, Sam and Rob recruited their children, relatives, and their local youth group to entirely gut and rebuild the house. Over the years, they’ve also received many donations from their community, including bikes and even two vehicles from Sam’s sister.
Teaching Their Children Fierce Independence
You won’t find any allowances given out in the Fatzinger household. Each Fatzinger child knows that if he or she wants a car or a cellphone or spending money, they have to get a job and buy it for themselves. This has taught each child to be fiercely independent. One daughter, Barbara, started babysitting at age 11 and purchased a 1994 Ford Escort with her own money even before she got her license.
The Fatzingers’ strategy for paying for college for 13 children? You’ve probably guessed it. The children are expected to put themselves through college. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Fatzinger children, each steeped in the frugality mindset of their parents, have chosen to go to community college first. With a mix of scholarships, financial aid, and the use of personal savings, almost all of the children currently in college plan to graduate debt-free, including those who are seeking masters degrees. (Are you Teaching Your Children the Value of Saving and Investing?)
A Mindset of Plenty
It may seem that families like the Fatzingers must live in extreme want in order to remain debt-free, but that is not how the family sees it. Sure, they don’t splurge on a lot of things or have brand new shiny cars in the driveway, but they aren’t living deprived, sad lives.
Can you learn some lessons from the Fatzingers? Absolutely! You may not exactly have the stamina to raise 13 kids, but taking a few pages from their playbook may be able to help you achieve a debt-free life too. Focus on the long game, which includes saving a percentage of your income each month. Look for great deals on the big ticket items in your life. Teach your children financial independence and how to distinguish needs versus wants. You may even decide to challenge them to pay for or at least contribute to their college costs!
Want to learn even more great tips for budgeting and planning so you can do more with less money? Check out our Budgets and Planning article archive.