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I am a mother of 16 and have never received any benefits and am debt free. This is how I provide for my family with just one wage

WE are all feeling the hardship at the moment as the cost of living increases it can be difficult enough to make ends meet as a family of four.

So think of Jeni Bonell, who has no fewer than 18 hungry mouths to feed.

Jeni Bonell has never been in debt or claimed benefits despite being a mother of 16 children

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Jeni Bonell has never been in debt or claimed benefits despite being a mother of 16 childrenPhoto credit: Bonell family
The mother spends around £300 a week to feed her children

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The mother spends around £300 a week to feed her childrenCredit: thebonellfamily_/Instagram
She says she's been able to keep costs down thanks to her huge stash

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She says she’s been able to keep costs down thanks to her huge stashCredit: thebonellfamily_/Instagram

The Queensland-based mother-of-16 admits her budget has skyrocketed in recent years and she’s struggling to boost electrician father Ray’s family income.

But despite all that, Jeni, 51, has never relied on welfare or even gone into debt while looking after her family, and says it’s all because of the way she shops.

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

“It’s like stocking my own convenience store and customizing my meals from what I have around the house.

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“I have enough so that if something happens we don’t have to go get anything but fresh bread or milk.

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

For those hoping to build their own stash, Jeni suggests starting small and slowly building your pantry.

She says: “Start small with an item or two a week that you can afford and just stock up on those extra items and set them aside for a rainy day.

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

There are currently 11 Bonells living at home, but Jeni says up to 25 people can sit at her dining table when her older children come home and bring a partner or the grandchildren for tea.

At the moment she’s typically spending around £300 a week on food, although she admits it’s a bit more than she’d like.

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

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

“When you’re not thinking about it, you plan it, you buy it, you prepare it, you cook it and then clean up afterwards.

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

The mother of Australia’s largest family wants each of her recipes to last multiple meals.

She continues: “If you make pikelets or pancakes for afternoon tea one day, you can have them the next day and put them in school lunch boxes if you make enough of them

“Maybe you make fried chicken one night and have enough left over to make chicken mayonnaise sandwiches for school lunch the next day.

“Double the ingredients so you only have to do a lot of prep and have less to do than buy.”

The mother-of-16’s system is pretty watertight, but she says that despite all her preparations, there have been instances where the family just got by.

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

Jeni Bonell

“Raising kids is expensive and I’ve been very fortunate to stay home with the kids, but with an income it means we’ve made sacrifices so I can do that,” she says.

“There were definitely times when we’d just scraped through and I’d be standing in the kitchen frantically thinking about what I might find for school lunch tomorrow.

“When you go through times like this, you realize you need something to fall back on, and that’s where stockpiling comes in.

“I’m not a crazy stash collector, but I always have enough. I have an average sized kitchen and a small pantry, but my kids call me the queen of tetris boxing.

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

One of the reasons Jeni can keep her monthly expenses so low is that she doesn’t have a mortgage.

But the mother isn’t an heiress or a lottery winner who pays off the mortgage on her home with just one income and says her secret is simply determination, as the couple is adamant not to rely on bank loans.

Jeni says: “We’ve been mortgage free for years, we’ve always planned to pay it off as soon as possible and for everything else we like to sit back and save.

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

Make no mistake, Jeni’s extreme approach to saving doesn’t come without sacrifices as the family leads an incredibly frugal lifestyle to support themselves.

She says: “We’ve always lived a very simple, frugal lifestyle and that has allowed me to make extra payments on things like mortgages.

“It’s about prioritizing your money, and when it comes to paying off your mortgage, you’re going to find a way to pay it off quickly.

“We’ve spent our lives using second-hand furniture or accepting donated garment bags.

“The same goes for our children’s toys, used toys are often in incredibly good condition, so why not go for these cheaper versions?

“Our kids have never been interested in brands when it comes to their clothes. We have very confident kids who are happy as long as they have shoes on their feet.”

Even though she’s long since paid off her mortgage, Jeni continues to put a little money aside whenever she can.

“We’re still putting money aside,” she says, “if you don’t think something’s going to come out eventually, I think you’re deluding yourself.

“A car will always break down, a washing machine will no longer work.

“I learned the hard way when my own washing machine broke down and we didn’t have any savings so I had to hand wash all the clothes for all these kids for weeks.

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

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“Even if you put aside just 5 or 10 pounds a week, that adds up to a lot over a year.

“Money disappears very quickly and there’s always something going on, so you have to be careful.”

The family is solely dependent on the income of Ray, who works as an electrician

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The family is solely dependent on the income of Ray, who works as an electricianCredit: thebonellfamily_/Instagram
Jeni says the family often gets by with second-hand goods

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Jeni says the family often gets by with second-hand goodsCredit: See caption
She shops to stock up on groceries

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She shops to stock up on groceries

https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/17908108/mum-16-never-been-debt-mortgage-free/ I am a mother of 16 and have never received any benefits and am debt free. This is how I provide for my family with just one wage

Dais Johnston

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