How the Duggars Support 19 Kids and Live Debt-Free

It costs nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise a kid from birth to 18, according to the most recent calculations by the United States Department of Agriculture—and that's before college tuition. Multiply that by 19 children plus mom and dad and it is a little mind bending that the Duggar family, of reality television fame, manage to support themselves without government assistance and, what's more, are completely debt-free.

These days, the family earns its money from their popular TLC program, 19 Kids and Counting as well as from real estate investments. E!Online estimates each episode makes them a cushy $25,000 to $40,000. However, even before the brood hit the big time on television, they were self-sufficient and lived comfortably. How did they do it?

Neither dad Jim Bob nor mom Michelle Duggar attended college. They married when he was 19-years-old and she was 17. They got their start as entrepreneurs by selling used cars which Jim Bob repaired himself. Then they launched a towing business. They sold the business in 1994 and went into real estate. One of their first lucrative deals was to convert an old chicken hatchery into 10 commercial rental units. They also leased land to a cell phone company for its transmission tower. While the real estate business grew, the family was scrupulous about living withing their means.

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Duggar Family Home Economics 101

1. Get out of debt. Jim Bob says the "Financial Freedom Seminar" by Jim Sammons, which preaches independence and thrift, inspired him and wife Michelle to live debt-free. It took years of lean living, but they were able to completely wipe out their debt and start making the investments that led to Jim Bob's success in commercial real estate. The Duggars don't use credit cards.

2. Buy your home with cash. The Duggars borrowed to purchase their first home—a tiny 900-square foot cottage where they raised five children. It took them seven years of scrimping, but they bought their 2,000-square-foot second house, which they were living in with 17 kids when their reality show began, outright for $65,000. Their current house sits on 20 acres and is 7,000 square feet. The family divides itself over four bedrooms and shares one super-sized family closet.

3. Buy used-everything. The Duggars have never owned a new car. One of their vehicles is a 21-seat bus that once belonged to a hockey team. It cost just over $2,000 at an auction and is worth about $50,000. Mom Michelle shops at garage sales and thrift shops for the kids' clothing and shoes. Jim Bob told MSNBC the family motto is, "Buy used, and save the rest."

4. Buy in bulk. With 21 mouths to feed, the family spends a significant portion of its earnings on food. They do a monthly bulk-shopping run for essentials—such as the 48 boxes of cereal they consume a month. Still, the Duggar family grocery bill is a whopping $3,000 per month.

5. Use energy efficient products. The Duggars outfitted their home with energy efficient light bulbs and appliances.Their monthly bill for water, utilities, and phone is just shy of $700.

6. Make what you can at home. The Duggars make their own laundry soap costing about $2 for 10 gallons, which is significant given that they wash about 35 loads a week. Although they purchase diapers, they make their own wet wipes. They also bake their own bread from 50-pound bags of wheat.

7. Scrutinize your bills. Jim Bob and Michelle ask for all of their bills to be itemized. They once noticed that a hospital had erroneously charged them for 86 bars of soap. "For hospital bills, phone bills, anything—ask for everything to be itemized," Michelle told She looks over her cell phone bills particularly closely, "They automatically put stuff on. We call and get them to take it off."

8. Trim the budget of "extras." The Duggars give each other haircuts and limit their entertainment budget to $100 per month. On weekends they play broomball (a form of hockey) and take the kids to the playground or a park.

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