Growing up, Crystal Paine was the second oldest of seven kids. She and her siblings were homeschooled, which allowed their parents to put emphasis on one particular subject that has stuck with Paine through her adult life: home economics.
In high school, Paine's home ec curriculum included planning her family's menu, grocery shopping, and cooking for the family of nine. "I got a lot of real life, hands-on experience, and my parents wanted to train us and raise us in a way so that we could go out and be very self-sufficient," she explains. Another major piece of this was modeling healthy financial behaviors for their children, paying off all of their debt, including their mortgage, and then saving aggressively in order to pay cash for a house from the time that Paine was 7 years old.
When Paine married her now-husband in 2003, the Tennessee-based couple couldn't help but look up to Paine's parents as an inspiration. Paines' husband was in law school at the time, and they aimed for him to graduate debt-free, then pay cash for their first house. "We set our budget from the beginning, before we were even married," she shares. "We sat down and talked about, 'What would this look like? How could we make this happen?' And we were very committed to the idea that we were going to do this together and live on a budget."
Soon, the couple found out they were expecting their first child. That's when Paine says she fell into blogging. She had been writing about a variety of subjects when she noticed that people, especially fellow moms, were interested in what she had to say about saving money. They asked Paine how they could pay off their debt, get rid of their credit cards, save more money to pay off debt—all while at home with their kids. "They'd ask, 'Is there really anything that I can do?' And I wanted to show them, 'yes, there is,'" says Paine.
The more that Paine connected with other bloggers, the more she realized she could make money from her site. "It was mostly through sidebar ads and then through affiliate links and posts," she says. By 2007, Paine narrowed her blogging focus to money-saving tips on a site called Money Saving Mom. "Not only did I want to give people very practical ways to save money, but I saw that if I had more of a specific topic that I could focus on, there would be a way that I would be able to monetize that blog better," she explains.
In 2019, Paine and her husband became licensed to be foster parents after welcoming three biological children and trying for a fourth, who was born in April 2020. They now are foster parents to a little boy. "Our hearts were really open to the need that was out there," explains Paine. "We had no idea that there were thousands of kids that needed homes. And we had no idea that there was a big shortage of families that were fostering."
Paine is now passionate about pointing out that you don't need to be wealthy to foster. "People assume you need to have a big house or it's going to cost you a lot of money," she says. You simply need to be financially savvy enough that fostering won't feel like a burden. "When we started fostering, we set up a separate category in our budget," says Paine. "You just need to be careful that you aren't overextending yourself financially, especially if you have a teenager who has extra needs."
Now, fostering is very much a part of Paine's life, bustling household, and website. Here, her best tips for making the most of any income and how a family that's interested in fostering can prepare financially (and emotionally).
Start With a Budget
"If you don't know where your money's going, then you're not going to know what you need to save in or where you are spending too much or how you can be saving more," says Paine.
Early on in her marriage, well before there were a bevy of budgeting apps to choose from, Paine's husband would keep a ledger on which the couple would record every single expense. "We'd say, 'OK, this is what we have, and we have to be creative with it,'" says Paine. "Our grocery budget was $30 a week for the two of us, so we didn't eat a lot of money. We got creative with what was on sale."
These days, the couple uses the You Need a Budget (YNAB) app for their business and personal finances. "We can see at a glance where we are in every single budget category," explains Paine.
Stay Positive and Proactive
Paine attributes her and her husband's ability to begin their marriage debt-free to attitude and approach. "If you look at it as like, 'this is so hard, this is awful, this is terrible, we're miserable, we're barely eking by,' you're going to really struggle," she says. What works better is making a conscious choice to stay out of debt and to see it as something that can be achieved with the right step-by-step game plan.
Approach Fostering as a Whole Family
"If you're considering foster care, you've got to all be on the same page, because it is something that is going to be one of the hardest things you've ever done," says Paine. "There are so many emotions, there are so many unknowns, and it's constant."
Paine says that her kids were all tweens or teens when they began their fostering journey, and they would talk about it as a family. "We would not say yes unless every single person in our home was onboard with it, because it is going to mean sacrifice on everyone's part."
This goes hand-in-hand with ensuring that you're in a solid place financially. "Make sure that you're on the same page financially, you have your financial goals, and you're communicating about how the money is going to be spent," says Paine.
Find the Joy in Giving
There are many reasons you might aim to bolster your family's financial health. For the Paines, ensuring that they were living debt-free and within their means has meant they are able to give generously.
"There's so much joy in giving," says Paine. "We want to be intentional with our money so that we can give generously. Through foster care, we're not only giving of our finances in some ways, but also giving our time, which is one of our most precious resources as people that we have."
Ultimately, Paine hopes this philosophy rubs off on her kids. "We really want them to see that stuff isn't what buys happiness and to see the joy that comes from being givers," she notes. "My big heartbeat is to help people get their finances in order so that they can go out and make a difference. Make an income so you can make an impact."