Five years ago we made the conscious decision to homeschool our children. It was altogether exciting and frightening not to mention a bit overwhelming. Now that we have some experience under our belts it is difficult to imagine living any other way.
There are countless positives to our lifestyle. There are also some obstacles. One of those would be living in a two income world on a single income. My wife works extremely hard to make ends meet but as we all know inflation and day to day living expenses have little foundation or consistency in relation to ones income. In fact when curious families approach us in regards to potentially becoming homeschoolers they express concern over being able to afford the lifestyle more than anything else, even more than the mythology of socialization.
In general, homeschooling lends itself to creativity. My first piece of advice would be to embrace that aspect in order to successfully live the homeschooling lifestyle. There are a number of ways to make ends meet. By exploring the less beaten path there is opportunity. Maybe not endless wealth but the potential to pay the bills and put food on the table. Lets explore some of the things our family of 6 has done to accomplish our goals.
Curriculum: Initially we used a canned curriculum and it was very helpful. It was also a few hundred dollars and with experience we now realize unnecessary. Though it is a nice safety net for beginners there are a number of free and inexpensive resources available.
First of all make friends with your local librarians. Aside from the obvious assets a library provides in the form of books, periodicals, dvd’s and cd’s there are also a number of social/educational experiences available. Everything from technology club to lego club, author meet and greets to local political debates can be found at your local library. Most importantly, for free! Our librarians are on a first name basis with our children and are very receptive to program ideas. They have been so warm that my oldest daughter currently wants to be a librarian when she is older.
We have found websites like amazon.com to be a great place to buy used books and learning materials. With a little research you can easily find books for a penny. The shipping tends to be about $4.99 but $5 dollars for a “school” book is perfect for the tight budget.
There are of course cheaper options. Library book sales, garage sales and thrift stores are great places to find learning materials.
We have also borrowed material and traded with other homeschoolers as well.
Clothes: I know that along with the lack of socialization myth there is an idea that most homeschoolers walk around in homemade denim dresses. Though they do exist they are not the norm. There are a number of frugal options for homeschooling families in regards to clothing.
Locally we have a number of really nice thrift stores and consignment shops. If name brands are important to you there is a good chance you can find something nice on the shelves way below retail cost. If sturdy, clean, wearable clothing is more important than name brands you can find that as well. Last year my wife bought an entire years worth of clothing for our family at a consignment store “bag sale” for less than .20 cents per article of clothing.
As with a number of these subjects garage sales are another option.
There is also the hand-me-down circuit. Our family has never been too proud to accept other peoples used clothing. 99% of it has been in great shape and very stylish. When we outgrow it we in turn pass it along thus helping the next family in line.
Food: This can be a tough one. We all eat so we all experience the outrageous prices in the supermarket. There are ways to eat healthy and ways to do it frugally.
If you are fortunate enough to have a little land a garden is a great way to go. We have taken it to the next step and on 1/16th of an acre have an urban homestead. If you are interested in knowing more about it you can check out my blog for Grit magazine at http://www.grit.com/blogs/whitaker-gardens-and-micro-farm.aspx or my long running gardening blog at http://seedtoharvest.blogspot.com/
The point I am making is that you can grow food for a fraction of the cost of what you would end up paying for it in a market. You can eat it fresh or store it by freezing it, canning it or drying it to eat later. We have vegetable gardens, fruit and berry patches, edible flowers and herbs and also raise chickens for eggs.
Another option are farmers markets. In our experience you can get healthy food for a reasonable price. Plus if you buy when it is in season you can get bulk and then can or freeze some of it for down the road.
Bulk stores also have their benefit but be careful not to get carried away. We tend to stick to things like rice and baby products.
Extra Income: Extra income is always helpful. Be creative. Watching other peoples children is an option. I know some people who have “shops” on ebay who have made some money. Going back to our discussion on consignment shops that is another option for some additional income. We have raised and sold rabbits for a few dollars at farm stands, sold excess vegetables from our gardens and had garage sales.
Though all of these suggestions are rather brief and barely scratch the surface the point is this, it is difficult to homeschool and to do so on one income. It is a sacrifice. But it is a sacrifice that we are committed to and with a little creativity anyone can do it. On some level you just need to reevaluate what it is that is important to you. We can always find ways to make ends meet we will never get this time in our lives back.
Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .