One of the greatest impediments to homeschooling involves the costs associated with it. It generally entails one parent staying at home and foregoing a full or part-time income. I’ve stayed home with my kids since they were born. I gave up a nice income in a comfortable corporate setting with excellent health insurance and fun travel to do so. Adjusting to one income plus children really put our minds to use. There have been sacrifices and challenges, but never any that made my husband and I feel that we shouldn’t be homeschooling. If you think that the financial aspect is going to be tough but are determined to head down this path anyway, I want to share some tips and lessons my family has learned to help us homeschool on a small budget.
Our budget has been extremely tight at times. Especially considering the fact my daughter and I have type 1 diabetes and require expensive insulin and medical supplies at all times. Also, my family has always made quality food a priority and that means our grocery spending is a bit more than it otherwise could be. Our health insurance hasn’t been what it was when we married, in fact, it’s become more expensive each year, with less coverage of the kind my family needs, leading us to spend consistently more on healthcare with time. I truly empathize with those worried about making ends meet on one income, especially when you’re not so much worried about limited extravagances, but serious matters like health related costs. In our minds however, there was no public school option to fall back on and that helped us see our decision through.
We learned that we had to lean on the purchase of used items in order to make it. It took me a while to get used to this. Nevertheless, people regularly comment on our ability to “dress well”. People shop for so much clothing these days that shopping at Goodwill locations or consignment stores near nice neighborhoods renders loads of gently used and quality items. I take them home and wash items two or three times in hot water or fully sanitize shoes, and have rarely regretted a purchase. My family thinks long and hard before buying something. Often, the “need” for certain things goes away if you wait a few weeks. Clothes for homeschooling kids obviously doesn’t need to be fancy so it helps me to keep in mind that I don’t need a lot of dressy items. It’s hard not to want to keep up with others and their purchases but keep in mind we’re homeschooling for our children’s sake and nice clothes and shoes shouldn’t ever get in the way of that.
An expense that we do without is cable TV and streaming services. We grew up with a lot of TV watching, my husband and I, and we saw that it only came between parents and children and generally pushed a toxic culture onto everyone. I remember my little brother wanting everything he saw in an ad and being miserable when he couldn’t have it. Once my husband and I got married, upon seeing that we didn’t have a tv, a relative gifted us their old one as well as a dvd player and that’s what we have used to watch documentaries and select movies from the library. Speaking of the library, we use that as our primary resource for books, which serve as the foundation of our elementary age homeschooling resources. Youtube has so much wonderful free content, it also serves as a resource - we just don’t let the kids surf there on their own.
I mentioned that we spend plenty on quality food, which is true, but we still manage to save quite a lot due to rarely eating out, and eating mostly from scratch. Cooking, if you’re not used to it, takes time, energy, and concentration. I promise however, once you get the hang of it, and get into some routines, you barely think about what you’re doing and can swiftly and painlessly create a fine home dining experience for a fraction of what you’d pay at a restaurant. You can save a lot of money and eat very well - you just have to dig in consistently and get past the learning curve. To whoever the family cook will be, you’ll definitely get gratitude from your loved ones for this and you’ll be instrumental in keeping everyone nourished and healthy.
A common concern is doing without vacations. Ask yourself if homeschooling has the potential to make your everyday life better, and if so, does that comfort and joy being spread out like that possibly outweigh the comfort and joy of one or two yearly vacations? My family has taken day trips and only two weekend trips in the last 12 years. My kids have never been on an airplane. But we don’t need vacations to relax because we enjoy our daily lives immensely. And while we would love to be able to take the kids to more places, we are fine going when and where we can and really soaking up the experiences we get to have. Kids like happy and relaxed parents who can enjoy daily life with them. I bet they prefer this to having less time with parents and a yearly week at Disneyland or the beach.
Homeschooling on a budget is your ultimate opportunity to let your creativity shine, for the maximum benefit to you and your family. The other day my kids felt they were in a rut so I suggested a camp-out in the living room—they loved it. What kid doesn’t love a blanket fort? Sometimes we’ve camped out in the backyard or nearby woods. We’ve gone all over town hiding clues for a scavenger hunt for their dad before. Or I’ve ordered something inexpensive for the 2 kids to dissect and surprised them with the challenge. Sometimes we’ve driven around town listening to a science podcast. Or we’ve made up the backyard table for a feast and a card game. On rainy days we might turn on some music and draw or paint. Or we go outside and splash in puddles. Or do math class with M&Ms or fruit or Legos. We’ve gotten together with others homeschoolers for “gym class” and other activities. Be creative, frugal, and problem-solving and your kids will be also. Before you know it, like mine, they’ll be coming up with their own ideas of things to do. And much of it will not cost any money.
Your sacrifices must be unique to your family for we all have different needs. If you’re concerned that you’ll regret the decision to give up one income, I can say that I understand. I can also say that I have made due without a lot over the years and while that isn’t always easy or enjoyable, it still doesn’t outweigh the huge benefits we’ve derived from our decision. The experience of homeschooling is the most wonderfully rewarding one of my entire life outside of marriage and having children. And the joy of having a great relationship with our children is priceless to my husband and I. Our kids take our advice and we don’t have fighting or miserable chaos in our lives. We love our weekdays as much as our weekends. We’re liberated from too much stuff. We’re forced to focus on each other, nature, and what we can produce or create instead of what we can buy. It is a very fortunate and wholesome way to live.