I'm a mum of 16 & I've never been on benefits and I'm debt free, here's how I take care of my family on just one wage

WE’RE all feeling the pinch at the moment with the cost of living rising, it can be difficult enough to get by as a family of four.

So spare a thought for Jeni Bonell who has no less than 18 hungry mouths to feed.

The mum-of-16, who lives in Queensland, admits that her budget sky-rocketed in recent years and has struggled to make the family income from electrician dad Ray stretch.

But despite all this Jeni, 51, has never relied on benefits or even gone into debt while caring for her family and says that’s all down to the way she shops.

Speaking exclusively to Fabulous, Jeni, who is mum to seven daughters and nine sons between the ages of six and 31 explains: “I don’t shop like most people.

“It’s like I am stocking my own mini store and I meal plan from what I have in the house.

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“I have enough so that if something happens we wouldn’t need to rush out for anything other than fresh bread or milk.

“It could be weeks and weeks and weeks before we ran out of food.The freezer is always full.”

For those hoping to start their own stockpile, Jeni suggests starting small and slowly building your pantry up.

She says: “Start off small with one or two items a week you can afford and just get those extra things and pop them aside for a rainy day.

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“Most average sized families won’t need the same size stockpile we do, you just need enough for a few weeks of extras in case you do get stuck.”

There are currently 11 Bonells living at home, but Jeni says that there can be as many as 25 people around her dinner table if their older children come home and bring a partner or the grandkids for tea.

At the moment she typically spends around £300 a week on food, though admits that’s a little higher than she would like.

When it comes to making sure dinner time runs smoothly, Jeni swears by meal planning and says it keeps her on budget too.

“Everyone hates thinking about food all the time,” Jeni says. 

“If you’re not thinking about it you’re planning it, you’re buying it, you’re prepping it, you’re cooking it and then you’re cleaning up after it.

“I try and meal plan most weeks and I think writing it down is really helpful for the family because they then know what’s being eaten when.”

The mum of Australia’s biggest family aims to make each of her recipes last over several meals.

She continues: “If you’re doing pikelets or pancakes one day for an afternoon tea, if you do enough of them then you can have them for the next day and pop them in the school lunchboxes 

“You might do a roast chicken one night and you have enough left over to do chicken and mayonnaise sandwiches the next day for lunch at school.

“Double up the ingredients so you only have to do one lot of preparation and give yourself less to do as well as buy.”

The mum-of-16’s system is pretty water tight but she says that even with all of her prep in place there have been occasions when the family has just scraped by.

We never use credit cards or personal loans, we just save up

“Raising kids is expensive and I have been very lucky to stay at home with the children, but on one income that means we have made sacrifices in order for me to do that,” she says.

“There have definitely been times when we have just scraped through and I have been stood in the kitchen panicking about what on earth I can find to make for school lunches tomorrow.

“Going through times like that makes you realise you do need something to fall back on and that’s where stockpiling comes in.

“I am not a crazy stockpiler but I always have enough. I have an average size kitchen and a small pantry but my kids call me the queen of Tetris packing.  

“There are tough times, and times that are easier but we never change how we run the family.”

One of the ways Jeni is able to keep her monthly expenses so low is because she doesn’t have a mortgage.

But the mum isn’t an heiress or a lottery winner, paying the mortgage on their house off on just one income and says her secret is simply determination, with the couple adamant they wouldn’t rely on bank loans.

Jeni says: “We have been mortgage free for years, we always planned to  pay it off as fast as we could and everything else we are happy to sit back and save for.

“We never use credit cards or personal loans, we just save up.”

Make no mistake, Jeni’s extreme approach to saving doesn’t come without its sacrifices with the family living an incredibly frugal lifestyle in order to afford their livings costs. 

She says: “We have always lived a very simple frugal lifestyle and that left me able to make extra payments on things like mortgages. 

“It’s all about having a priority with your money and if paying off your mortgage is that then you will find a way to pay it off quickly.

“We have lived our lives happy to use second hand furniture or accept donated bags of clothing. 

“The same goes with our kids toys, second hand toys are often in incredibly good condition and so why wouldn’t we choose those cheaper versions?

“Our kids have never been into brands when it comes to their clothes, we have very confident kids that are happy as long as they have shoes on their feet.”

Despite having paid off their mortgage long ago, Jeni continues to put away a little cash whenever she can.

“We still put money away,” she says, “If you don’t think something is going to come up at some point I think you’re fooling yourself.

“A car will always break down, a washing machine will stop working.

“I learnt the hard way when my own washing machine broke down and we didn’t have savings in place so for weeks I had to hand-wash all the clothes for all of those kids.

“It taught me never to get stuck like that again.

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“Even if you’re only putting £5 or £10 a week away, over a year that adds up to a lot.

“Money disappears very fast and there’s always something going on so you’ve got to be careful.”

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