What We Teach Our Children (or not) Through Family Economy

Face it: we live in a society where an “entitlement mentality” is growing all the time. More and more, money seems to be falling from the sky to a generation who really doesn’t know there is no such thing as “free”. Someone I know recently made this comment: “I love free insurance…no medical bills, yay!”. She really does think it’s free. Obama’s health plan feeds the notion that “we all deserve health care”. It would be nice, certainly. But it’s not an inalienable right.

I’ll never forget hearing one of the young men (single, strong, able, employed) who once lived with my parents in an assisted living-type ministry upon a return visit: “Man, Obama has to do something…I’ve got bills to pay.” Yes, this is the generation we have raised.

And a recent proposal by the President will work wonders to further state-dependency rates: it mandates that in a school where 40% or more of the students qualify for free breakfasts and lunches, every student will be given free breakfasts and lunches. Why? To eliminate the stigma. Like manna from heaven…free for all. Don’t get me started on “eliminating stigmas”.

“We desperately need to teach our children, by real life experiences, the basic connections between earning and spending money, and trading effort for income or benefits.”

We are witnessing a generation who has essentially transferred what they were taught in their childhood to their adulthood expectations. If I spend my childhood being given everything I want, all my favorite clothes, movies, electronic devices and sports equipment, (because everyone else does and I may be stigmatized if I don’t), if I get a new car when I turn sixteen, insurance paid, and gas money to putter around, if my mother does all the housework and cooks all the meals and my father makes all the money to pay all the bills while I spend most of my time having fun and receiving all that I want with little exchange of effort, I will likely grow up with an entitlement mentality.

Family economy is so misunderstood and underrated in the typical American home. Because we love our children, it *feels* like giving them everything they want is a good thing. And while I love to give my children gifts as much as the next parent, we need to distinguish between gift-giving and a daily practice of proper economy.

We desperately need to teach our children, by real life experiences, the basic connections between earning and spending money, and trading effort for income or benefits. The value of work can only be felt by the opportunity to spend or save its pay. The value of things can only be appreciated if there is some investment made. Likewise, the motivation to work can only be felt by a lack of the desired thing.

Obviously, there is balance in teaching this to children. But here our some ideas we hold about family economy:

  • EVERYONE is an important part of the family and that belief needs to play out tangibly. “Teamwork” is verbalized; each member knows his presence is treasured and needed.
  • Little ones learn to help with basic chores; older ones grow into age-appropriate responsibilities (looking different in every home). We need to be deliberate in affirming this idea.
  • Think in terms of “multiple-income family”. This is something I’ve been mulling over. When we marry, we are one, and therefore our income is one. We have one account and all expenses/needs/wants are paid out of it with no distinction about who made what. What about our children? Should money they make go into this “family pool”? And if so, how do we teach them the distinctions between a socialist attitude (where money is forcibly taken from one and given to another) and a “family-is-one” economy? Just thinking out loud on this one. Would love your thoughts. I love what Kevin Swanson says: “We’re a seven-income family”. Bottom line is, we all work and we all reap the rewards.
  • We all participate in making/saving money or exchanging work for food and shelter. Not to be overly simplistic, but a child needs to understand that while Dad may earn the money to buy food and Mom may cook it, he contributes in some way to the process (taking care of his chore so Dad doesn’t have to). Or though Dad pays the power bill, we are all responsible to use energy wisely. If a child disregards his job of conserving, charging a fee or requiring extra chores can help him see the importance; to learn that “nothing is free”.
  • A word about “housework”: I have seen so many families instill awful habits in their children by treating Mom like a maid. My job is to manage my home. That includes work but doesn’t exclude other members from sharing that work. It’s an enterprise. We all work, we all eat, we all glean the benefits from the joint effort of family. We all have clean clothes because we all play a part in the laundry. We enjoy a clean home because we all do our part to keep it that way. Mind you, this requires constant reminding and training, but the outcome is worth it.
  • Encouraging productivity…going through our years of being laden with debt and scraping to make ends meet (and many months the ends did NOT meet), was an invaluable time of learning. We were forced into a new level of creativity and my children learned more than ever the value of saving a dollar. Now they all seem to share a love of making gifts, making and selling crafts and pursing business opportunities. From the pencil-sketched portrait business my son keeps busy at to my 9-year-old upcycling enthusiast, they all know that each gift they make and the money they earn builds our family economy and they delight to know that God can use their talents in a variety of ways.

Reading over this post seems a bit like I’m stating the obvious. It seems only natural that parents understand the importance of helping their children make these vital life connections. But I’m afraid our super-busy lives and hyper-stimulated minds often just forget these basic concepts that once ran naturally through the course of life. Let’s allow God’s truth and common sense to guide our parenting instead of the pressure of popular opinion.

47 Responses to “What We Teach Our Children (or not) Through Family Economy”

  1. You are stating what SHOULD be obvious. But the message needs to be heard again because it doesn’t seem to be getting through, even among Christian circles. Not in the USA, and definitely not up here in Canada. Recently the NDP (about as socialist as a one can get without being called a communist) party became the official opposition for the first time. Perhaps this step in the wrong direction will shake people up a little and move it to where it ought to be.

    Great post!

  2. Jacinda is right “You are stating what SHOULD be obvious. But the message needs to be heard again because it doesn’t seem to be getting through, even among Christian circles.”

    What you write only reaffirms what I’ve been teaching my daughters and gives me a few more ideas to think about.

    I recently heard a Christian Mom say she didn’t give her daughter chores because her daughter worked so hard all day at school. What?

  3. Lori says:

    re: “Should money they make go into this “family pool”?”
    I say no. In the Bible private property is strongly protected. So you’d have to make the case for anything to the contrary. Prov 31:31 actually states that a woman is to have the product of her hands. The dowery was strictly hers as well. I’m not saying that a woman has to beg her husband for money anytime she wants to go grocery shopping because it’s husband’s money and not hers- aspects of the family budget will be part of her domain in the division of labor. Otherwise, your post is right on! :)

    • Jen P. says:

      I agree with you Lori. Perhaps, rather than insisting the child put the money in the family’s bank account, the child becomes more responsible for buying not only his wants but some of his needs (new clothes, a vehicle, car insurance, gas money, etc.)?

      • LaughingLady says:

        I think you’re on the right track here. I loved this post, but I really wondered, too, about how, exactly, you’d avoid a socialist mentality (tough for us Canadians!) if you wanted to implement the “family bank account” idea. But I like this plan of children maintaining their own accounts but taking some of the burden of financial care off the parents by being responsible for purchasing some of their own necessities.

        Some really great encouragement and food for thought here. As always!

        • karen says:

          I like this idea of children using their own money for some of their own needs instead of putting it into a family account. To take this out further than a young family at home, think of the families with adult “children” who depend on that family “account”( what is yours is mine ) and how badly that belief can go . It does not teach responsibility to put everything together like that( however I think the husband and wife have become one body ) children are in the position of learning and being trained so they are treated differently in a lot of areas while they are in learning mode. Maybe as older teens it would be helpful if they paid some of their own needs including chipping in for part of the food electric etc . And yet keeping their own saving and spending money to them selves. Karen

          • Ginger says:

            Ditto all of that. I really buck at the idea of my kids’ money being “our money”. My husband provides for all of us w/ his income b/c that’s his role- the provider of the family. I saw a special on a certain mega-sized family recently and the oldest son was paying for the family’s groceries out of his own debit card. I thought that was terrible. (Not to mention really sad that it of course made it onto the show.) He shouldn’t have to do that. It’s not his family to provide for. That will come later and he will need his money then.

    • Raine says:

      I also agree with this. I think a child who works should have that money to spend. If it is so important to use that income as a family budget, then maybe some of their toys or even clothing can be bought with it, but if they earn it they should have a choice in how it is spent.

      I see chores the same way. I think everyone should contribute, but that children should not have a lot of chores while they are in school, either public or home school. At that point in life, learning is their main job. Most stay at home moms wouldn’t dream of asking their husband to come home and do a bunch of housework after working all day, so I do not think it is fair to expect children to do too many chores while they are also doing schoolwork, especially if they are working as well.

      I think some women maybe take their role in managing the family too far, as use it as an excuse to be lazy. We can delegate many things, but the mother should still be the main keeper of the home, and the father the main provider. If the children are expected to do most of the housekeeping, cooking, or childcare to free up time for mom then something is wrong and mom need to examine herself for laziness. I would say the same if dad implies that he has to rely on the older children’s income to support the family, rather than working more himself.

      • Keri Hurley says:

        Our older children still live at home.They are 27 yr.old daughter,24 yr.old son, and 22 yr.old son..Our 19 yr.old daughter worked this summer but does not have another job yet..They all work and they have all bought their own cars with cash. Our oldest daughter has had two years of college and while we helped her..she worked and helped.When she ran out of money..she came home and paid her tuition off herself.They all buy their own clothes, shampoo’s, etc..gas and insurance. They are pretty responsible and they sometimes take us all out to dinner or lunch which is nice.For the first time starting this summer..we started having them pay rent..$25.00 per week. They know this is cheap and they are all really good at saving money.Our oldest son has enough money to buy a foreclosed home which there are tons of here.(we live in Florida)They are not as able to help with chores because of their work schedules but we do give them things to do to help out on the weekends.They have watched us live off one income forever and when my husband had to resign his job almost 2 yrs.ago because of lack of work..He was a partner in Construction business..they saw we were going to make it. He know works for himself..If you teach them when they are young..They will be responsible..It is an interesting thing to watch.. The Best thing to Watch is when they want to help somebody else with their own money!!
        Just thought I’d share my 2 cents here..lol..since we are at that point and hope it’s an encouragement to all of those with younger kids!!I am still homeschooling a 16yr.old and 13 yr.old..

    • Word Warrior says:

      Those are the thoughts I’d been having…it certainly doesn’t *feel* right to suggest the children’s income should be pooled with the family’s…just wondering if it’s something we may have been thinking wrongly about, going with what seems normal.

      I’m also thinking of older children who may (wisely) opt to live at home until marriage. There definitely needs to be some hard saving going on but also some financial contribution to the family. I’ve seen a family struggle where two men earned an income because the oldest son saved and spent all he earned…that doesn’t seem right to me. If there is a financial need in a hard-working family it seems fair that the older children pitch in. And I would say not that they are forced to; but that they have been raised with such a mindset that it is natural to.

      • Kelly L says:

        I think you are right, Kelly. Making non-adult children pool money is leaning towards the wrong side.
        However, when adult children are waiting to marry and living at home, they should have jobs and contribute to your family’s economy. You are then have a renter. Requiring them to pay some rent and have more responsibilities around the home teaches them (a little) what having their own home will entail. As adults, I would let them become privy to the monthly budget as well. Showing them how to effectively manage their $ by allowing them to see how you have done it will be a great asset to their independent life.

  4. We teach our children to be busy with productive endeavors. Our oldest at home daughter teaches violin lessons and tutors another homeschooling family’s children one day a week. Our oldest son works with his dad editing programs and dvd’s for the American Family Association’s new branches of The Homeschool Channel and American Family Studios. Our next son will soon be working with dad as well learning how to write sound tracks. The younger children are following along. They all also work hard to contribute to the work at home. The oldest son is in charge of all the gardening (we all help with weed control and such) and the next son is in charge of the chickens. The girls do much of the cooking and we all handle clean up. As far as contributing to the income of the home, my children who earn money keep their money. They buy their own clothes, son pays his portion of the car insurance,(we have two family cars that we all share) those who have a phone pay their phone bill. We encourage them to save, save, save so that they can have a good financial foundation when they marry.

  5. Rebecca Fulcher says:

    In our house we have chores for the children. They are 6 and 2. The 6yr old gets allowance when she does her chores and not if she doesn’t. When she wants something it comes out of her money because I believe this will teach her how to keep up with and work with her finances for when she’s older. This includes money that she puts in church as well as having to save 1/4 of it. This is what my mom did with us as children and it has really helped me in the long run with how families work together and how to keep my finances in order. I love the bit about conserving and being given extra chores to make up the difference I had never considered that!

  6. Sarah says:

    Truth will always be timely–thank you for speaking (writing) it. After being blessed to spend a few years abroad in a different culture and circumstance, the absurdity of the entitlement mentality here stands out that much more. Someone I know made a comment awhile back that “the government wants [her] homeless” because she was upset that her cash assistance for housing was cut back (which she continuously gambled away anyway). She “makes” about the same amount of money from the government each month as my husband does working a full-time job. I’ve watched as she’s passed on her debilitating mentality to her teenage children and the effects have been heart-breaking and devastating. I hope, by God’s grace, to foster a very different attitude in my children!

  7. Andrea says:

    Thank you for this timely commentary!

  8. So much food for though! My two are still just babies, but this kind of training starts early :) Thanks for the post!

  9. Deana Holmes says:

    Here’s your reality check:

    You compared getting a poor kid getting a nutritious meal at school in the morning to kids getting sporting goods or a car? You think that getting a nutritious meal, maybe the only decent meal a child might have that day is the equivalent of a teenager getting a car? I am absolutely gobsmacked at your sheer heartlessness.

    Not every kid lives the charmed life that you have provided for your children. You need to get out of your bubble, go to one of those “bad neighborhoods” you probably avoid like the plague and actually find out why there is poverty and why it is not a sin or a crime for the government to give a little money (pennies in comparison to the defense budget) to give kids one decent meal five days a week.

    And yes, this is a dissenting comment. Feel free to delete it; it will be posted elsewhere.

    • Word Warrior says:

      Deana,

      Your hatred for *me* gets in the way of your ability to read/understand clearly. I did not compare the two things you suggested. I said Obama wants to GIVE food to children who CAN afford a nutritious meal. I said *nothing* about poor children who can’t afford to eat. Stick with the point or yes, your irrelevant comments full of spite will be deleted. Our “charmed life”? LOL!

      On “avoiding those places like the plague”: I spent my life not visiting those places but sharing my parents, my home and my life by being sister to children who are poorer than you will ever know. It’s foolish to make ignorant assumptions.

      • Kelly, I am always so impressed/blessed by your graciousness with rude commenters and your ability to give a calm, rational response to comments that deserve much less. Thank you for being an example to all of us ladies who have let our sharp tongues and quick typing-fingers get away from us more than once.

  10. Holly says:

    My suggestion would be that the child have to turn 20% of their income over to the parent for “taxes.” This would emulate real life in several ways, make them a contributor to the family financially (just as taxpaying citizens are to their communities), and help them learn real-life money management.

  11. Great and timely post! I too wonder how best to teach our children to opereate withing a family economy–whether to pool all the money together or let them keep it to themselves. I have a 16yo who began teaching piano lessons this year. So far what we have done to continue with the family economy mentality is require her to use that money on items we would have previously bought for her such as clothes, small birthday gifts for friends, etc. Also, there are times that she would like to treat the family to ice cream, etc….and we think that’s great. We also have an 11yo son who works with his dad and is truly more help than grown men that my dh has paid well for “help”. We do not pay our son,but encourage him that he is contributing and helping to provide for the entire family. There will come a day when we do pay him, but again it will be to earn money for needs he has. Anyway–this is just how it works around here :) Certainly we are open to chnages–still learning!
    Bambi–mom to (almost) 8

  12. Tiffany says:

    Great post!!! i totally agree.

  13. C says:

    My family never necessarily pooled money from us (the kids) but once we got our own jobs and income we were required to pay for all personal items on our own. This wasn’t so strict when I was 16 and not making a ton at my first job, at that time I was only asked to buy my own clothes/frivolous items/help with gas since I was sharing a car with my mom. When I turned 17 my parents bought me a car (used but in very good condition)and although they fronted the bill for the car, I was responsible for gas, maintenance, etc. from there on out. It definitely made me more responsible and I still own that car today 4 years later and it runs great. I’m also in charge of paying for my own college tuition and books, mainly just because my parents never made enough to cover that anyway and I’d be darned if I didn’t get an education. Since I do cover all these costs I get to live at home for free and eat for free, and honestly they’d be lost without me since I’m the family cook lol. Sorry this was sooo long, but just my 2 cents on that subject.

  14. Sarah says:

    You know, the problem of entitlement also comes from a heaven or hell thing. I don’t have to live my life cramming everything into it because, hey, I’ve got eternity with Christ. There is plenty of time. But I think, to those who are perishing, they realize it some where, and this is all that they get. If this life was all that I had, I might worry more.

    Nice response to Deana.

  15. My husband was just an only child, but this so sounds like how he was raised! All I have to say is, when I met him at 18, he was ready to take on the world as an adult, and I was so not! His parents definitely did something right, and it sounds like you are too, Kelly.

    Deana – As someone who grew up in the inner city (my magnet school was considered the most “elite” racially, at 16% white–how’s that for despicable racial profiling??), I have to defend Kelly here. She’s not saying that poor children should not get free lunches. She’s saying that middle class and RICH kids should not get free lunches and breakfasts just because poor kids do. Personally, having seen the QUALITY of these free lunches up close and personal, I am all for NOT giving them to kids who do not NEED them–BECAUSE the “quality” is only likely to diminish further and for those kids who really DO need it, they need the best nutrition our school taxes can afford–and they are ALREADY getting something much, much below that.

    Do poor children need breakfast, even though many of their parents can’t afford it? YES!

    Do middle class kids need a free breakfast out of a sense of socialistic entitlement? Absolutely not! It’s unfair to the poor kids, really it is.

    So, Kelly, as someone who lived in the education trenches, thank you for shining a critical light on this policy.

    God bless,
    Bethany

  16. Oh, and quick thought on the “family pool,” I’m a against it on principal. I do think it’s socialistic, and children who come from a large family especially need to be given a sense that their efforts are occasionally allowed to benefit them as individuals and not only the rest of their family. Teen should be allowed to use their money to support charities they are passionate about (even if their parents are not), save for college, buy a car to start their own business, etc. without feeling guilty–and yes, even the make a few financial mistakes that will teach them valuable lessons they will carry for years to come.

    That said, I DO think that being open with OLDER TEENS (younger children really should not be burdened like this) about what the family’s financial obligations are and inviting them to contribute as they choose would be a wonderful way to allow them to feel pride in helping to maintain and build up the family. Especially when there is an emergency situation, I think this can help teens to feel a sense of autonomy and power, in a very healthy and charitable way.

  17. Kelly L says:

    Love these points! Our daughter is an only child and is required to buy her wants sometimes, and she is only 11.

    Really love your ideas about family economy. You wrote down what we feel (except the one you are unsure of). It will be easy for us to use as benchmarks. Thanks!

  18. Jill Farris says:

    We moved to a part of the country where the entitled mentality is permeating the homeschoolers. They are “entitled” to curriculum money by the government, they are “entitled” to “free” classes from the school “programs” which are designed specially for homeschoolers. The solid and very helpful home education support group which has been going for 27 long years doesn’t “meet their needs” (these entitlement folks tell us)…oh really? Maybe they need to rethink what homeschooling really means. It means committing time and money to educating children regardless of help from others.

    May the strong Lord of Jehovah send His spirit to convict us all of our whiny attitudes and help us to buck up and work with true diligence toward a godly family and church.

    Jill Farris

  19. This is a great post and gives me and my husband some more points to ponder as we are formulating how we envision our family working. I appreciate your blog. You always challenge me.

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  21. Amanda says:

    Interesting post, I’ll be showing it to my husband. Our boys are both under 27 months, but we hope and pray that the Lord blesses us with a large family; looking ahead, I believe that one of the ways that the Lord will provide us with what we as a family will need financially is through our children developing their gifts and talents in ways that shape them into diligent workers who are worthy of their hire! Not for the purpose of, say, paying for mom’s groceries but for funding their vehicles/education/etc. I grew up in a family of nine kids and it has been a TREMENDOUS blessing in my life to have learned to work, HARD, early in life. Saved me lots of misery/need/lack that my friends encountered once they were expected to be “real” grownups….after college!

  22. Amanda says:

    One other thing–regarding the question of “family income”: this is one way in which we can begin to teach our children that providing for your household and taking care of your family is not limited to dollars/cents income. I stay at home with our children, which means that in order to meet our “needs” on one income I cloth diaper, cook from scratch, don’t get to hire even occasional sitters, do very little ‘running around’ since my husband takes the car (and gas budget!) to work, etc…the kinds of things I think lots of Kelly’s readers do. SO: using the money available wisely is an important way to teach our children more “Kingdom-focused” economics since it’s important to avoid the idea that when a financial shortage appears, an addition/higher income is NOT always the solution. Actually, it rarely is….thinking of our government here!

  23. karen says:

    Watching the news last night Lansing Michigan school district was celebrating the fact that every child will receive free lunch . My grandmother paid for her own wants and needs at 14, my mother paid “rent” as soon as she got a job at 14, I began buying all my own school clothes at 11 when I began babysitting. And no that does not mean I was well paid it means I found cheap clothes LOL!!!! For some reason this only pertained to females in our family my brother and uncles all struggled all their lives with finances , they were never required to pay for anything. I never thought it was odd ,I felt proud to have the responsibility .I wish my grandma and mom were still here to ask.

  24. Kelly, do your children get an allowance?

    • Word Warrior says:

      No. We do pay them periodically for extra jobs. Or occasionally we may give them a financial gift. We try to provide opportunities for them to earn money…craft shows a couple times year, etc.

  25. Becky S says:

    A few thoughts that I don’t think have been mentioned; first, we do pay our children for chores. Not an allowance, but a commission. If they don’t do their chores, they do not get paid. It is all or nothing, kind of like a salary. The point being when you have a job, you don’t pick and choose what duties you want to do and get paid per duty, rather you are responsible for your jobs and must do them all to be paid. The commission is then an opportunity for us to teach the children how to manage money properly (saving 10%, giving 10%) of course they can save and give more, but not less than 10%. And they pay for any little extras they want. They also use that money for things like birthday gifts for their friends, etc. BTW, my girls are 10 and 4 (their 17 month old brother is not old enough yet).

  26. Becky S says:

    For adult children living at home, I have heard of families who do not necessarily need the young adult’s money to help support the family, but still want to teach what it will be like in the real world, charge rent but set it aside in an account and when the young person is ready to move out, gift it back to them for a down payment on their first house.
    I agree that it is so important that we raise our children to be responsible and understand the vital connection between work and pay/benefits. Paul says that if you do not work, you shall not eat. Allowing children to grow up with no sense of responsibilty is a huge disservice to them. The idea that because children do schoolwork they should not be responsible for any work around the house is so ridiculous it is offensive. If a mother or father works outside the home, should they also not have to work around the house? This mentality is setting children up for a rude awakening when they are grown and have their own home to manage (and no clue how to do it because they were not taught).

    • Keri Hurley says:

      I have heard of that also.We charge our adult working kids $25.00 per week and right now we are not putting it aside for them simply because they Eat alot of food..lol…and my husband works for himself and doesn’t make what he used to. I also do most of the laundry generally because they are working during the day and it’s just easier to do all the whites together, darks together etc..They do laundry sometimes and all know how..If I’m folding clothes and they are home, I have them all come out and get their own clothes because I jokingly remind them that I am not the maid..I do like to serve them and help them when I can but I don’t want to take away responsibility from them. My 22 yr.old son has had some blood sugar issues..basically from working hard and not eating right and when we came home the other night I was planning to make him a really good lunch for the next day But much to my delight..My 27yr. old daughter told him she was going to make his lunch for him and I didn’t say “Oh-I was going to do that” because I was thankful that she wanted to help him and serve him and let her.(this does not always happen)..I love it when my grown kids Want to Serve Each Other!! I had to laugh when my oldest daughter went away to college and called me and said “You wouldn’t believe that these girls don’t even know how to empty the garbage”..She saw lots of college students who didn’t know how to work..This was a Christian College..Teach them how to be responsible when they are little and they and you will reap the benefits when they are older! On a More Funny Note: My husband and I have had some really good laughs when we see how frugal or cheap they can be when it’s their own money!!!!

      • Becky S says:

        It sounds like you and your husband are doing a wonderful job!

        • Keri Hurley says:

          Thankyou Becky. My main reason for sharing all of this is to let other moms with younger ones know that when there kids are grown that they will see that yes..”The Lord is Faithful” even in the midst of mistakes we make parenting..and we have certainly made our fair share..lol..I would say the main thing..Love the Lord..Love each other(husband and wife) and Love your kids..and Love people!!Kids are very forgiving thankfully!

  27. Erica Miller says:

    This is in response to Ginger. I follow that certain large family’s blog and they make it a point to always pay back their son what he lends to the family. They did not make him pay for groceries. He offered and they paid him back a few days later :)

    • Ginger says:

      They said on the show that the parents always paid him back, but they failed to mention that he offered to pay for the groceries. That makes a big difference in my mind. Regardless if I paid my kid back, I wouldn’t want him to have to buy our family’s groceries.
      But it sounds like he was just being kind.

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  29. […] discussed the hidden costs of working outside the home, earning money from home, family economy, cutting the grocery budget, paying off debt, and a bit about our own personal journey of my […]

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