SALEM, Ore. (CNN/Money) – If you thought having children was expensive, try super-sizing your bundle of joy with twins or triplets.
Parents of multiples – and I'm one of them – learn quickly that surviving twins means taking extreme measures to budget your time and your money.
"Our goal was to just get through the first year paying everything in full and on time," said Jenny McKenzie, mother of Jack and Audrey, now age 3, and Sage Grace, 3 months. After a scare early in her first pregnancy, Jenny decided to quit her high-stress job and instead put all of her energy into finding ways to pay for twice the family on half the income.
"I spent my pregnancy lying on the couch, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and working on a budget," said Jenny, who in true twin mom fashion recounted her story while working out on her Stairmaster.
Even if you don't have children, you can appreciate the extreme saving tactics used by Jenny and other resourceful parents. They mind their grocery bills, borrow when possible and leave room in their budget to still have fun.
Game plan for groceries
Sometimes the best bargains are at superstores selling everything from lunch meat to lingerie. But as Jenny realized, one-stop-shopping takes restraint.
"I'd go in for milk and bread and walk out with a pair of shoes," Jenny said. To track what she spends and avoid impulse buys, she separates her food expenses from non-edibles by charging her food to a credit card, which she pays in full each month, and buying everything else with cash.
"It took a lot of the pressure off when I knew how much it cost to pay bills and eat," she said. "Once I saw how little it was I was able to take a deep breath and say 'We can do this.'"
Three years later, the family's household income is close to six figures, but Jenny still separates the edibles from the non-edibles. Before shopping, she takes an inventory of what's in the refrigerator and designs meals based on what perishables she has. Then she plans a major shopping trip without kids, she said, to avoid making impulse buys "just to get the hell out of there."
No shame in asking
When Kelli and Will Ewing, parents of three-month-old Alison and Isaiah, found out they were having twins, they decided to take advantage of cheap housing available through Will's employer, the Oregon Department of Transportation.
The couple lives in a remote location – so Will can coordinate highway maintenance – but the price is right, at $115 a month for a three-bedroom house. Moving to the middle of nowhere was just one of their tactics for keeping costs in check.
New parents quickly learn how expensive clothing, furniture and baby gadgets can be – especially when you need more than one of everything. What they don't realize is how much of this is available for free.
"We let everyone know we were having twins," said Kelli, who has been overwhelmed with hand-me-downs they've received. "When they asked us what we needed, we were very specific."
Early on, my husband and I realized that the last thing we needed in the house was two Tickle-me Elmo dolls or heaps of designer outfits that might never be worn. So we set up a 529 college savings plan for each of our daughters and shamelessly told our parents and grandparents that if they really want to spoil our kids they should send a check.
Still having fun
Saving money isn't just about clipping coupons and hinting for hand-me downs. With a little planning and creativity, you can still shop for new clothes, go on vacation and have a life.
"I shop for next winter in January," said Teri West, mother of 11-year-old twins, Sarah and Veronica, Callista, 5, and Jenessa, almost 2. On a recent trip to a department store, she walked out with four bags of clothes for $56. "Regular price for that amount was $308."
For books and videos, the family goes to the library, where they can even reserve new releases and keep them for a week. "If I'm a day late, the fine is 10 cents," said Teri.
For haircuts, Teri books appointments at a local beauty college where a shampoo, cut and blow dry is $3.99 on Tuesdays.
In fact, colleges and universities have deals on everything from gourmet meals to massage therapy.
For less than half the price of a health club membership, I became a booster of a local university where I have access to the weight-room, cardio machines and pool.
Not only do I workout with spry college athletes -- helping to reduce the aging effects of two 2-year-olds -- I've tapped into a network of responsible young adults, a.k.a. babysitters.