Washington Post editor Erica Johnston writes in that paper’s magazine last week about the Fatzingers, a family of fifteen living economically in Bowie, Maryland.

The huge Catholic clan lives off of just one modest income—father Rob makes roughly $110,000 a year as a software tester. His wife Sam homeschools the children and oversees the formidable task of household management.

The Fatzingers cut the typical corners: Sam shops discount at big-box retailers; all the kids mow lawns or babysit; community college is expected.

What’s perhaps more surprising, and what the Washington Post article does a good job highlighting, is just how well the family manages considering the substantial demands upon their budget. They have gym memberships, an eight bedroom house in an expensive region of the country, and clothes that most normal teenagers wouldn’t turn their nose up at.

“I can see how some people would think [that] we might have been deprived, [but] it was never like that,” says brother Caleb.

The family seems to have done this in large part by avoiding almost every sort of debt, investing every spare dollar, and buying smart.

Of particular note, however, are the intangible advantages that the Fatzingers enjoy as part of a supportive community. Parishioners from their church helped clean and renovate their house (bought on foreclosure). Cousins sent spare couches and bikes. Grandparents help with college loans.

It’s a simple principle, really—one that’s made clearer in this case only because of the scale: Life, with thirteen kids or three, is apparently a lot easier when you do it with a safety net.

When we talk about civil society, family-rearing serves as something of an acid test. Can the members of a community rally around each other in such a way as to help raise children? If not, more formal measures—like, say, rates of organised philanthropic giving in that community—should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt.

In her essay, Johnston harkens back to George Washington’s early hopes for a frugal, honest, and hardworking citizenry; she then blames “instant credit [and] rampant consumerism” for the dissolution of these virtues. That’s a bit of flash-sociology that would take some more time to validate or disprove, but suffice it to say that Washington would see in not just the Fatzingers but their neighbours and friends, too, the sort of people capable of meaningful civic charity.


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