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Home / Spotlight / How one family is promulgation 13 kids to college, vital debt giveaway — and still skeleton to retire early
How one family is promulgation 13 kids to college, vital debt giveaway — and still skeleton to retire early

How one family is promulgation 13 kids to college, vital debt giveaway — and still skeleton to retire early


Sam and Rob Fatzinger, second and third from right, of Bowie, Md., have 13 children, including, from left, Barbara, Robert, Kolbe, Alex, Mary, Cecelia and Dominic. (April Greer/For The Washington Post)

Sam Fatzinger prowls a aisles of an Aldi grocery store with an engineer’s precision. Workers hail her, mostly by name.

She puts several trays of duck into a outrageous cart. Then it’s on to uninformed blueberries for $1.79 a pint, in February. And she recalls a time a no-frills store had a sale on potatoes: 10 pounds for 99 cents. She bought 60 pounds. Her father loves them.

To get these best buys, “it’s usually examination and watchful and knowing,” Sam says.“Every cent counts.”

At a cashier, her groceries fill any in. of a circuit belt. My wordless guess: $250 in all. The bill: $127, half of my estimate.

Very impressive. But not as substantial as this:

Rob and Sam Fatzinger, lifelong residents of Bowie, Md., lead a single-income family in one of a country’s many costly regions. Rob’s income never surfaced $50,000 until he was 40; he’s now 51 and earns usually north of $100,000 as a module tester.

They have 13 children. Which means they need things like a seven-bedroom residence and a 15-passenger van. Four children have graduated from college, 3 are undergrads and 6 are on a runway.

Yet they paid off their debt early 4 years ago. They have no debt — never have, besides mortgages. And Rob is on lane to retire by 62.

This family gets a bullion award for being frugal. This family is a Einstein of economical.

These days, debasement is not about writing coupons. It’s about rethinking your finances, and maybe your life.

Rob’s philosophy: “Spend income on what creates we truly happy and on what we enjoy. … The thing that people need to know is that we don’t feel deprived or poor. … We collect and select carefully.”

The Fatzingers are removing it done.

Could you?


A Fatzinger family mural with, from left, Caleb, Kolbe, Alex, Mary, Joey, Cecilia, Barbara, Dominic, Lizzie, Robert, Rob, Eric, Sam and Ray. Not pictured: Joshua. (April Greer/For The Washington Post)

Frugality is frequency new. In 1789, George Washington wrote to Marquis de Lafayette, a French troops officer who fought for a American Revolution: “Nothing though harmony, honesty, attention and debasement are required to make us a good and happy people.” And we were a spare people good into a 20th century. Then came a epoch of present credit, prevalent consumerism and record personal bankruptcies.

Recently, debasement has gotten a boost interjection to hundreds of personal-finance bloggers, and no interjection during all to a Great Recession of 2007-2009. Many concentration on FIRE, an acronym for financial independence/retire early.

Aspirants mostly essay to save during slightest 25 percent of their take-home compensate over a years, or even twice that — or some-more — to feel financially secure or to pursue a new career. Others crave to quit their jobs for a prolonged haul, even in their 30s.

One heading blogger grew adult on food stamps. Others schooled about income from their parents, for good or ill. The best are innovative, humorous and surprisingly philosophical as they draft a march for change and places unknown.

They’re about ideas and possibilities, not suffering. And millions are listening. Until a integrate of years ago, Rob Fatzinger had a blog called Sardonic Catholic Dad, focusing on family, faith and frugality. Two of his hits: “College on a Cheap — How a Sardonic Family Does It” and “How to Retire Early With 13 Kids,” that he wrote as a guest post on a FIRE site Mad Fientist.

Frugalism is mostly about math, determinationand meditative a bit differently. A few pivotal principles: How many we save, as a commission of your paycheck, will predict when you’ll be means to build your possess business or retire. Small financial changes can make a large impact. And it’s not unequivocally about your income; it’s about your savings, says Pete Adeney, a over operative from outward Boulder, Colo., who combined a renouned Mr. Money Mustache blog.

And afterwards there’s a “miracle” of compounding interest, a present that keeps giving as your investment’s seductiveness spawns a possess interest, time and again.


Dinnertime can be chaotic for a Fatzingers, nonetheless they’ve schooled shortcuts to speed a routine by pity and flitting silverware. (April Greer/For The Washington Post)

The Fatzingers would never claim to be financial magicians. But to outsiders, it competence demeanour that way.

After marrying 27 years ago, Sam and Rob started a tiny Christian bookstore in Crofton, Md., and shortly had a daughter. Rob pronounced a integrate never warranted some-more than $36,000 a year in a business. Still, they saved 10 to 15 percent of their earnings. By a time they shuttered a store in 2000, they had 7 kids.

About 10 years ago, Rob got a pursuit contrast software. Earnings of $40,000 gave approach to $60,000 and are now about $110,000, counting a few thousand from mowing neighbors’ lawns and other tasks.

Back in 2000, they bought a five-bedroom residence out of foreclosure and after combined 3 bedrooms. Nine children, including a youngest, who is 4, live there now.

The good news: The home cost $150,000. The Fatzingers paid down $50,000, saving seductiveness on a 15-year mortgage.

The bad news: Sam pronounced their priest, visiting to magnify a new home, “walked in and said: ‘Should we do an exorcism on this house?’ ” The place was in critical disrepair.

“Relatives gutted it and finished it livable,” Sam said. “Youth groups were over here, ripping adult carpet, holding down walls.” Someone gave them a timber stove. A relations means them a used couch. Later, another cot was left on a quell for anyone to take. Score.

Years later, they lengthened a kitchen, regulating dual zero-percent financial offers good for 12 months. Eleven months later, they paid off a loan, though profitable any interest. The plan cost $28,000, with family members doing many of a demolition, portrayal and decorating.

Now they have dual refrigerators, dual stoves, dual dishwashers and a welcoming, gentle home. (Even a garments washer is a champ. Sam estimates that a family cleans 42 loads a week, though never on Sundays. The usually children who don’t do a rinse are a 4- and 6-year-olds.)

Since a debt was paid off in 2012, Rob and Sam have turbo-charged their assets rate, now investing about $3,000 a month. Even so, they don’t go without. Sam has a $10 monthly gym membership, and Rob and Sam go out for lunch on a 20th of any month, maybe during Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews in Bowie, imprinting a day of a month they got married.

Occasionally, Sam and Rob are angry by strangers during a grocery store. “People still say, “Oh my God, we have so many kids!” pronounced Sam, a righteous Catholic, as is Rob. “I have this ‘Don’t disaster with me’ reaction. I’m not your typical, quiet, pacifist woman.”

Rob, 51, is soft-spoken, a work-from-home father and a former “American Idol” fan. A few years back, he finished a 50-mile route run — and kept going to 54.

Sam, who is 48, home-schools a children by high propagandize and is approved to do so. The kids also get outward tutoring. Her nonacademic lessons extend to a manners and shortcoming of money.

“My kids all get jobs as shortly as they’re aged enough,” she says, and they “learn to discern between needs and wants. They compensate for their cellphones, they compensate for college, they compensate for their possess gas.” Allowances? Nope.

Daughter Barbara, 20, a rising comparison during a University of Maryland Baltimore County, started babysitting during 11. She got her initial “real job” during Rita’s Italian Ice. Babysitting, she noted, “paid approach some-more than Rita’s.”

When she was 15, Barbara bought a 1994 Ford Escort with 30,000 miles for $2,600 from her savings. “It sat in a expostulate until we got my driver’s permit,” she said. Five years later, “I still expostulate it.”

The family shops during sales or secondhand stores and checks out a Freecycle Network, a site for giving divided belongings.

Friends and strangers also chip in. “We always have someone dropping off a bike,” Sam said. “We would get things and not even know where they came from.”

Someone stranded an unknown $500 present label on a Fatzingers’ front door. And a span of distance 3 white boots for church wound adult on a doorstep for a immature daughter who could use them.

“Bowie usually does that,” Sam said. A crony from church gave them a used car, and Sam’s sister gave her a used red Chevrolet Suburban. And later, an comparison white Suburban.

Fine. Except this is America. Surely a kids are operative cauldrons of Nike-deprived resentment.

Or maybe not. “I always had a ton of clothes,” Barbara said. “I would go with Grandma and buy any lovable garments we wanted.”

Older hermit Caleb: “I can see how some people would consider … we competence have been deprived. It was never like that.” He played soccer during a tiny Christian school, was a advisor during a summer stay and swam during a village pool. The kids had wire TV and high-speed Internet. In village college, Caleb said, he “knew we didn’t have what some other kids had, though it was never out of control.”

As for a givers: Sam’s sister, Joan Salvagno, who is 11 years comparison than Sam in a family of nine, pronounced her sister’s family “needed a automobile some-more than we did. … You don’t unequivocally consider of them as gifts. … We’ve gotten some-more than we’ve given.”


The children conduct down a expostulate for a family bike ride. (April Greer/For The Washington Post)

These days, even a childless can be shocked of college costs, so usually suppose carrying 13 kids. But a Fatzingers have a strategy, and it’s working. The plan: Start in village college, don’t design a welfare from Mom and Dad, and connoisseur debt-free.

So far, Alexandria, a oldest during 26, graduated during 21 with a master’s grade in amicable work. Joshua, 25, graduated from a University of Maryland with a grade in kinesiology and became a missionary.

Caleb, 23, is in a final year of a doctoral module in earthy therapy during a University of Maryland during Baltimore. And Lizzie, 21, graduated in May from a University of Maryland with a math major, while also cleaning houses and tutoring. All 4 graduated from college debt-free.

All 5 oldest Fatzingers have left initial to Anne Arundel Community College.

In Barbara’s initial semester, her tuition, textbooks and gas income were lonesome by scholarships and other aid. In her second semester, she spent “probably $500” in tuition. The subsequent year, she paid $700 to $1,000 per semester. After dual years, she had paid about $2,500 during most. It came from assets and her pursuit in a child-care core during a gym.

In September, Barbara started during UMBC, a open university with aloft expenses. Her initial year there cost about $15,000, after receiving a $5,800 grant formed on grades and financial need. Money was tight. Again, she paid with her savings, that enclosed income from a grandparent, who gives any child a one-time present of $5,000 for college. Barbara used some of a present income to stay in school, though she’s saving many of it.

She will shortly start her comparison year during UMBC. She has a $7,500 contribution for fee and 5 tiny scholarships “that will fill a holes.” In lapse for a stipend, she’ll work for a state child-welfare program.

Barbara has motionless to live during home this year, that means she’ll be travelling and “won’t be spending during all,” she pronounced in a content message. “And we WILL connoisseur debt-free.”

Next year, she’ll follow in oldest sister Alex’s footsteps, posterior her master’s grade in amicable work during another school, that could take one or dual years. A Maryland module will compensate many of her tuition, and in exchange, she’ll work for a child-welfare group for dual or 3 years after she graduates.

In total, roughly speaking, Barbara has paid about $17,500 out of slot for tuition, books, reserve and fees for 4 years of college.

I asked if she had paid for all her losses in her initial year during UMBC. The $15,000, she said, “was all of my income that I’ve been saving given we was 8 years old!”

But even a Fatzingers can’t outpace a college-cost steamroller.

Caleb was excellent in village college, where he paid “essentially nothing,” in partial since of his good grades and aid. And he graduated debt-free during Towson University, a open state school, where he worked in a admissions office.

But when he began a doctoral module in earthy therapy dual years ago, he had to take out a loan. With assist some-more wanting in grad school, he pronounced he’ll finish adult overdue roughly $90,000.

“I consider about it a good amount,” pronounced Caleb, who started operative as a earthy therapy technician during 18. “I try not to worry too much.” He hopes to compensate off a loan in 10 years.

He has one some-more year to go. He works during a propagandize gym some days during 5:30 a.m. and slips into category during 9:30. “I consider I’ve finished a best we can,” he says.


Barbara goofs off with Cecilia and Mary. The Fatzingers have a seven-bedroom house. (April Greer/For The Washington Post)

The Fatzingers’ new challenge: Joshua, a oldest son, is removing married in Nov — in Arizona. Could they all get there?

There was substantial concern. With 13 kids, a need to be spare never takes a vacation.

At a end, they got 3 craft tickets for free, regulating atmosphere miles. Then they bit a bullet and bought 10. They’ll all be during a wedding.

My advice: Never gamble opposite a Fatzingers.

Erica Johnston, an editor during The Post, never knew she came from a “small” family of 9 until she met a Fatzingers.

E-mail us during wpmagazine@washpost.com.

For some-more articles, as good as facilities such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit The Washington Post Magazine.

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