Expert Interview with Jessica Fisher on Family Financing for Mint

On Life as Mom, Jessica Fisher writes about keeping a family with six kids under 18 fed, clothed and generally happy. She somehow found a moment to speak with us about how to make a dollar work its hardest for your family.

What are some challenges people don't expect financially from a household with six kids?

I don't really think there are hidden costs to having six kids. I think most people assume that having a large family equals big expenses. I think what might surprise them is that it actually costs less than they expect. While we certainly don't eat out as often as some families or drive luxury cars, I don't honestly know that we would even with a small family. Those hypothetical costs of raising a child assume you will buy new clothes for every child or buy a new high chair for each baby. Rarely do they take into account that hand-me-downs are par for the course in a large family and that the same car and mileage can just as well transport one child as it can three. We don't spend twice what a family of four spends.

How did you budget for children? Were there any surprises once the big day arrived?

We didn't really budget for kids. We've taken each one as God would grant him or her to us and adjusted accordingly. Budgeting for teenage appetites - now that is a different story. We spend about $800 to $1,000 per month to feed everyone, and I think we eat pretty well. One of the benefits of feeding a small army is that I have lots of recipes to share in my cookbooks. Good Cheap Eats is a treasure trove of family-friendly, from-scratch recipes that can help a family eat well on any budget.

What are some fun family outings on a budget?

We live in Southern California, where gas and real estate are the big expenses. Since the weather is so good so often, we enjoy hiking or heading to the beach.

If you could go back and give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Dream big dreams! I wish that my husband and I had put our earning power to good use earlier. I wish we had thought to live debt-free sooner. But, better late than never. Today we live debt-free, have a good emergency fund and have saved up to take our family to Europe for a month. There's been a fair amount of penny-pinching done to accomplish that, but the rewards are totally worth it.

Do the kids pitch in at all? Any advice on making them do chores?

Chores are not a choice at our house. Since they were little, our kids have participated in the workings of the home. They pick up toys, clean bathrooms and do their own laundry. Each child has a kitchen job to take care of after every meal. It's just part of what it is to live here. Make chores the norm, and your family and your house will be much happier!

Did writing about cooking on a budget trigger any insights for you or make you consider things in a different light?

I've always cooked on a budget and I've always shared ideas with my friends, so I don't think this was a new experience, per se. I think the biggest thing I learned was how different food prices and vocabulary can be across the country. My editors are East Coast; I'm West Coast. We use different words for ingredients, like green onion versus scallion. We've been interested to see that pizza is expensive here while boneless chicken is cheap. It's the other way around on the East Coast. It's been fascinating to see that regional differences still exist in this internet world.

What do people not realize goes into writing a cookbook? What are some challenges novice authors might not expect?

Since we're creating a book for folks outside my region as well as outside my country, there's an added challenge to universalize the language and ingredients list. That's been really interesting to me. I am California born and bred, with Midwestern parents. I know very little about the South or the East Coast, yet my readers reach as far as New Zealand and Australia. It's important to make sure I speak a language everyone can understand.

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