I’m always surprised when folks think homeschooling is only for the wealthy or upper middle class.
The Homeschool Reality is that the socioeconomic status of homeschoolers and public schoolers is quite similar:
Both homeschooled students and public schooled students were less likely than private schooled students to be part of households with annual incomes above $75,000 and more likely to be part of households with annual incomes of $25,000 or less. Twenty-two percent of homeschooled students and 25 percent of public schooled students lived in households with annual incomes above $75,000, compared with 50 percent of private schooled students. Twenty-six percent of both homeschooled and public schooled students lived in households with annual incomes of $25,000 or less, compared with 9 percent of private schooled students. from the National Center for Education Statistics.
It is true that a higher percentage of homeschool families are two parent households:
Fifty-four percent of homeschooled students lived in two-parent families where one parent was not in the labor force, compared to 23 percent of private schooled students and 20 percent of public schooled students. Conversely, about 25 percent of homeschooled students lived in two-parent families where both parents were in the labor force, compared to 56 percent of private schooled students and 49 percent of public schooled students.
It makes sense that homeschooling would tend to self-select for a two-parent one-income family. However, I’ve met many single parent homeschoolers and two-parent two-income families who have found ways to make it work, and kudos to them for their dedication and creativity.
All of this means that homeschool families have to find ways to do more with less income, and hectic schedules. Homeschoolers pay for their own educational materials, including textbooks, workbooks, computers, internet access, reference works, and, of course, library fines. I currently have a fine of $3, and there are four overdue books on my nightstand.
I blame the weather. The library may only be 1-½ miles away, but that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
To do more with less doesn't mean being cheap and scrimping on materials. Children may not fully understand budgeting and the stress of making ends meet financially, but they will know when their education is the place where all the penny pinching is happening.
If homeschooling is important, it will be a priority. The way you spend your time, energy, and money will reveal exactly how you feel about home education to your kids.
This also doesn’t mean you have to spend a boatload of cash to have access to the best resources or the materials that suit your child’s needs and interests.
I think one of the most difficult aspects of homeschooling is actually putting on the brakes and doing an evaluation of your lifestyle and your child’s learning needs. When you decide to homeschool, there is an immediate rush to ask for recommendations, comb through catalogs until it is all a blur, and impulsively buy whatever curriculum looks good and is least expensive.
Money spent badly is still money wasted, even if it's a $1 workbook.
How do you choose what is best for your child, especially when you are first starting to homeschool?
My favorite answer is: “Deschool”.
It's ingrained in our brains that if we stop 'school' for even a moment, our children will fall behind, as if school is a treadmill and unless you keep walking, you will fall off and never recover.
I know the idea of taking on the responsibility for your child's education (and future) is scary, but so many of our fears are of boogeymen that don't exist.
Just breathe. Think about the purpose of education before you start homeschooling. It is more productive to have a destination in mind and plan for the trip than just get in the car and drive in order to say that you are moving. And driving with no plans in mind wastes both time and money, and you risk getting lost.
Whether you have been homeschooling for 5 minutes or 5 years, there are some questions to answer that will help lay the groundwork for how you budget for your homeschool:
- Why are you homeschooling?
- What are your long term goals?
- Have you created short term plans that move you toward those long term goals?
- What are your family's priorities?
- What do your kids want to learn?
- How will homeschooling fit into your family life?
- What kinds of extracurricular activities would your kids like to participate in?
- Use these questions to do an evaluation of how you spend your time, what kinds of resources will work best for your kids, what they want to study, and how much you can comfortably spend on resources.
- Find ways to save money in your home by honestly looking at needs vs. conveniences and splurges. Cancel cable television, look at your mobile phone plan, calculate how much money is spent on junk food or fast food. You may even find yourself asking how many pairs of jeans does a person really need when they can only wear one pair at a time? Limit travel and take a staycation. Many homeschooling families have made hard choices in order to afford to homeschool. We've never taken a vacation, we purchase clothes and furniture at the thrift store, and I do bulk cooking, mostly from scratch. Funny thing is, it doesn't seem at all like a sacrifice compared to what we gain.
- You create the plan, and you implement it. You choose the when and how and where of your homeschool. You must abide by your state’s regulations, but you answer to your conscience, your objectives, and your family for everything else. This might feel scary at first, especially if your kids have been in school and until now you have had the support system of teachers, other parents, set schedules, (mostly) free resources, and predictable expectations. However, now you and your kids are in charge of their education and future.
- Only purchase the books you know you need in order to begin. I generally recommend using curriculum (textbooks or online programs) for core subjects of reading, writing, and math, especially if you are just getting started. If you are going to spend big bucks on homeschooling, these are the areas to do so. They are the foundation for every other area of study.
- Take a look at your local library and the internet for other subjects. You can use the library and internet exclusively for history, geography, science, foreign language, health, and many electives. Some of these resources are free, and many are very low cost. This is also where you kids can express their individual learning preferences and pursue their interests.
- Your time is worth something, so treat your time as precious, and don’t feel guilty if you need to spend more money in some area for 'convenience' in order to free yourself up for something else. Buy the already-shredded cheese for cryin' out loud. Yes, you might be pinching pennies, but you can wear yourself out if you think you have to bake bread every day and knit all your clothes from llama wool. Design your life so there is balance between money saving and time saving strategies.
- Give yourself permission to take some time to think, plan, or regroup. If you are having to stop and regroup every other week, then there may be a fundamental flaw in your plan. Go back and look at the questions above, and see if any of the answers are different now that you've gotten your feet wet.
- Communicate clearly to friends and family that homeschooling is a top priority. Homeschooling is where you will spend most of your time and energy. You may need to spend money on computers, books, high speed internet, and other tools of learning. Your time will be spent overseeing your child's learning, taking them on field trips, answering questions and discussing the realities of life with them. It's OK to tell relatives about your new schedule and ask them not to call or visit during school hours. Invite them to go with you on field trips or take an art class with their grandchild. It's also fine to tell them you'd prefer they buy more useful gifts for your kids, such as gift cards for their favorite book store or hobby shop. If you want your family and friends to think home education is important, then clearly communicate this to them and don't apologize. Expect them to respect your choices.
We can't afford to pretend that life doesn't happen, or spend time complaining about it. Let's find ways to deal with it, to help each other in meaningful ways, and encourage each other to be realistic about the challenges of homeschooling.