In an alternate universe, Jon and Kate Plus Eight‘s Kate Gosselin could have been the mom we all love to hate: children with coordinated outfits, a spotless home, every detail of her life meticulously planned and executed. However, in this universe, Kate Gosselin gave birth to twins, followed by four years later by sextuplets – and with her type-A personality subverted by the constant chaos of eight children, she’s become one of reality televison’s most sympathetic characters. When I went to interview Kate at a New York City Brandsaver promotion, two hundred female fans were lined up outside in the freezing cold, hoping to get a moment with her (along with a handful of Proctor & Gamble coupons). Babble talked to Kate about her obsessive money-saving strategies, why text messaging is her favorite form of communication, and how the Gosselin kids really feel about living on camera. – Gwynne Watkins
So, you’re here to talk about saving money. How has your own financial situation changed over the past couple of years?
Well, actually you know, we’re still the same. We’re still clipping the coupons, saving the money, watching for sales. That’s me. I’m still the same person.
Did you ever have a moment of financial panic before the show when you thought, “Oh my God, how am I going to do this?”
Well, seeing as how Jon was unemployed for nearly a year and we had eight kids, yeah! That is when my coupon-clipping and my sale-watching and my literal obsession – I had a “prices/places” book that I started back then and still have, to figure out the cheapest place to buy any number of things – toilet paper, everything toiletry-wise that we buy, food, whatever – down to the tenth of a cent.
You literally keep a list of the prices of every single item you buy at every place you shop?
It’s a book that I wrote out. Sam’s Club drives me nuts because they keep changing prices by four cents. [Laughs.]
How old were the kids when Jon lost his job?
He lost his job before they were born, because of the pregnancy, and of course I lost my job because of the pregnancy, that goes without saying. He was unemployed for ten months, so we survived. We got smart fast. We learned what to cut out and it was then that I realized that saving money is not optional; it’s mandatory.
On the show, we rarely see your kids with anyone except you or Jon. What kind of help do you have?
Very minimal, because we want it that way. We patch our help together as we need it, but it’s important that one of us is with the kids 95% of the time. We’ve always switched our shifts off and on, like Jon would work days, I would work evenings back when we had two kids and then he would work days and I would work weekends when we had all eight. Now we’re blessed enough that we can work from home, but then when I travel he is home, and when he travels I am home. As much as possible, we want to be the ones to raise them, so it’s important.
Is he home with them now?
Yes he is, holding down the fort. And he does a good job.
When you check in, do you call and talk to every single kid?
I have him call me. He’ll know my general schedule, and then he’ll call me because it’s loud there and he’s got to have the chance. Like, it doesn’t help if I’m available at five o’clock but the kids are eating dinner, because he can’t hear me. Texting works best. And I always say my motto is “No news is good news.” [Laughs.]
What is something people could do to save money that might not occur to them?
I don’t think enough people realize that coupons are money. The other thing is, you can save money by really looking at what you spend and shaving down those things that aren’t necessary.We all have to buy food, and there are the extra things, the little treats that we all deserve because we work and it’s nice, but there’s all that stuff in between that you can save a bunch of money just by cutting down.
Is there a sacrifice you’ve had to make in particular?
Back in the beginning, it was very difficult just to wrap our minds around buying shoes and clothing for eight kids. You know, going from two to eight, obviously the shoe bill alone went through the roof. I feel like we made a lot of sacrifices, but parents make sacrifices for their kids and it’s worth it, and you don’t think twice about it. If they need new clothes, they get them, and if you need clothing, you’re a little lower on the list. You do that because that’s what parents do.
What is a common misconception you think people have about you, from watching you on TV?
“The other day, I challenged myself to step over a crumb on the floor and keep walking.” I know people think that I treat Jon horrendously, which, that’s the way we communicate. It’s not always wonderful, but you know, I’m working on it. Aren’t we all working on our relationships? I think it comes across that we yell at each other, but we’re really yelling over the noise a lot of the time. When you have to talk that loud it tends to sound like you’re yelling instead of talking, but we’re all works in progress and none are perfect.
One thing that comes across on the show is that you are very orderly and like keeping things a certain way. Has having kids caused you to relax at all, or has it made you tighten your grip?
I still like a schedule that runs properly. I still like order. I still like organization. Everything has its place because with eight kids, if you lose track of those things and you relax too much, it will spin out of control. The flip side of that is while I still enjoy all of those things, I cannot be as ridiculously over the top as I once was and I feel like in the last year or two I have really started to chill. Like, I’ve forced myself, whereas once if I saw a crumb on the kitchen floor I would swoop to get it no matter what I was doing and now, just the other day, I challenged myself to step over it and keep walking. [Laughs.] It’s like my own little therapy and I did it, and didn’t someone come along behind me and pick it up and throw it away! I made no mention of the crumb, I just stepped over it and someone came along and threw it away, and I thought, “Alright, that works too.” But the point is, I have relaxed. I am a lot better than I was. I feel a lot better being that way and I know that if I try control every little facet of every little thing, I’ll go insane.
That’s really funny; one thing I’ve noticed since I’ve had my baby, a little tiny life thing that no one tells you about, is you’re carrying him to another room and you drop something, you can’t stop and pick it up all of the time.
There are all these little tiny ways that you used to have control, and you suddenly don’t anymore.
Now take something that little, and add up five of those things and you could maybe go nuts. And that is the truth.
What’s been the hardest phase of motherhood for you so far?
The first year, with unemployment, with six additional people in my house. Read Multiple Blessings, you can see that I really, really struggled. Hard, very hard. Love my kids, so glad it’s done.
What’s an advantage that you have over people with small families?
Well, we have eight times the laughter, eight times the noise. We’re a sports team in and of ourselves; we can split into two and be two full basketball teams playing against each other. We Christmas carol and we’re a whole Christmas caroling group. We don’t even need company to have a dinner party. Those are our advantages, I’d say.
How is your family dynamic changing as the kids get older?
Their personalities are really coming out and we’re starting to see who they are and who they will become. The kids are close. They love each other. I’m starting to see, like, by the time they get to high school, don’t mess with them! They’re a group of six – back off. That tightness is there. We’re really starting to see it. They help each other out. They take care of each other when they’re sick. That kind of stuff is neat.
Jon said early on in the series that you had a much harder job than he did, being the one to stay home with the kids. Have you ever felt ambivalent about being the one who has that job?
Never. While I enjoy getting to do a little more of this kind of [publicity] stuff, home is where my heart is. I enjoy cooking and providing for the kids in that kind of way, doing the laundry. I’m probably close to the happiest when I’m in my kitchen or doing laundry. I don’t like to fold it and put it away but I do love doing it; it’s just those mom processes that I love. I never envied him.
“I feel like doing the show is normal and healthy for our family.” No? If you could switch with Jon’s job for a week, would you do it?
I feel like we have switched a little bit recently, but no, back in that day, no.I worked on Saturdays for those years at the beginning of the little kids and I was gone for eighteen hours, every Saturday. By the time I took the leap of faith and quit that job, we still needed the money, but I couldn’t take away a Saturday from my family every week. I mean, I was absent. It was huge. So every Saturday for a year and a half after quitting that job, I’d get up and make pancakes and say, “Oh, I’m so glad to be home.” I really felt strongly about being at home, and the girls cheered when I told them I quit my job. They had missed me on Saturdays. So that was nice.
You have faced some criticism for having your kids on camera 24 hours a day. What’s your take on that?
I feel like it’s normal and healthy for our family. I feel like we’re inspiring and helping a lot of people. I feel like as long as it’s safe and healthy and normal for our kids, it’s fine. The added benefit of the show that we never forget is, again, we work from home. We work many nights until midnight, finishing up e-mails and things that are due for tomorrow. The kids are playing and living life. It’s the hardest job we’ve ever had, but we’re very thankful for it because we can work from home and our kids are with us 95% of the time. Never in a million years did I think that would happen, so I’m really grateful for it. It’s working for us and I think that our kids – with the traveling experiences, with the different life experiences that they get – they’re all the better for it. I don’t expect other people to understand it because they don’t live our lives so they really almost can’t say without being in our situation. It’s a weird situation, so, that’s what I have to say about that.
Do your kids have sense that other kids don’t get followed around by cameras?
No. Little kids at this age, their normal is normal. I’m sure they assume that ever child at school has cameras following them. They’ll figure it out later and be like “Oh, alright. Cool.”