Every Penny Counts: How to Budget Like a Boss
“Look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.”Some Old Lady
Oh, mama! There’s a reason homeschool is classified as private education in the UK, right? This shit is expensive! Like, Eton expensive, when you really think about it. Not only are you likely sacrificing one full income – or both working split shifts to cover the homeschooling – but you are now responsible for all expenses. It really adds up. I was just thinking the other day how true the old expression ‘eat you out of house and home’ now feels when I see my three kids pile into the kitchen for lunch, having spent most of the morning up a tree trying to build a rope swing. These guys are ravenous…and that’s just the start of it.
So, here are my tips for how to homeschool without totally breaking the bank. Let’s get going because, you know, chop chop. Time is money.
How to keep food costs down. We eat mostly a vegetarian diet during the week, with lots of beans and pulses, nuts, wholegrain, and a little fish. It’s a healthy way of living and – guess what? – it’s cheap. If I am going to spend money on meat, I will always buy lean beef mince or steak for its nutritional value, but remember to be economical with meat. A large pack should do a family of 5 for two separate meals, if you pack in plenty of vegetables and freeze half for another day. Clearly, meat and alcohol are going to add to your food budget, so be aware of this when shopping. Where possible, try to cook from scratch. Again, this is the healthiest way to eat, but also it is fun for the kids to join in and – you guessed it – very inexpensive. The ingredients for a large apple crumble, for example, come in at around £4 and this should last you say 2-3 days of puddings if you use a large baking dish. Check out my crumble recipes here.
Activities and clubs. I don’t know whether COVID-19 has had the same impact on your family as ours, but I am realising that when it comes to scheduled activities, less really is more. The whole point of home educating is to provide your children with a more relaxed, nurturing environment for them to grow as people and discover their interests and strengths independently of the conveyor belt of mainstream schooling. So, save money and embrace the importance of free play and ‘down time’ after lockdown by being selective about the classes you pay for. Clearly, if your child has a sport or hobby that they are passionate about, this should stay on your schedule and – agreed – it’s nice to vary things and expose them to new ideas and experiences. But don’t fall into the trap of creating a hectic adult-led timetable which costs you a fortune and isn’t really providing the space for your children to develop their own ideas.
Resources. If your children are of an age where they would like to take examinations in certain subjects, then you may find some textbooks and other resources useful at this point. Before this stage, however (and especially if your children are under the age of say 10) it is more than enough to simply have plenty of books (fiction and non fiction), pens and paper, games and craft resources. That is not to say ‘don’t buy a Maths workbook’ because there are some fantastic resources out there, for sure. But in terms of developing the way young children think and form connections, simply exposing them to a rich learning environment supported by engaging adults and siblings, who are ready to engage in research and conversational learning, is more than enough. I would say that a decent encyclopaedia is a useful investment, although obviously this can also be accessed for free online. Basically, be picky about what you splash the cash on.
Libraries and book swaps. Once public spaces begin opening up again, make sure you have a library card at the ready, because this is every home educator’s go-to place. We usually make a library trip once a week and spend at least an hour there, reading on the bean bags and browsing the shelves. If your children are writing, perhaps ask them to think about the topics that they might like to research this week and jot down a list to take with them. This can be fun and makes the activity suddenly seem very ‘grown up’. Don’t forget that librarians are also a useful source of information and generally know a lot about the books available and children’s authors. Allowing your children to ask the librarian for help with finding a book is a first step towards independent research skills; something many of us only began to grasp after college. If you are new to homeschooling, though, you might also like to know that most homeschool families are very friendly, generous and in the same financial position as you. Book swaps or magazine swaps with families that you are becoming friendly with is a great way to reduce costs and expand the pool of resources.
Online resources. I am a firm believer in minimal screen time for everyone, but I must admit that there are some nice free resources online and – I guess – you don’t want your kids to be total bush babies when it comes to technology. With that in mind, let’s have a quick whizz round what’s out there. Khan Academy is completely free and delivers expert-curated content on a wide range of interesting topics. Duolingo also provides a free platform for language learning and is full of great content; however, as a bilingual family I would generally advise against traditional methods of acquiring another language. Plenty of reading in your chosen language (magazines, story books), listening to the radio and watching TV shows like Peppa Pig or Dogtanian in the language you are studying, will get you a lot further then drilling in verb conjugation. Again, none of this costs you a penny (or a cent, for y’all Americans). 826 Digital and BrainPOP are also worth checking out, as they are easy to use and have some solid content if your children enjoy creative writing and quiz-type activities.
Skills exchange and joint projects. Finally, don’t forget what you have to offer to the homeschool community. Skills swaps are commonplace and an enjoyable, social activity if the children are all keen to engage with it. We normally meet with a family once a month for the whole afternoon, during which the kids mostly play and then in the last hour, I do a French speaking ‘lesson’ which we keep light and fun (lots of language you definitely wouldn’t have on a GCSE syllabus) and then the other parent teaches piano. This works well and is a good way to gently expose your children to a wider range of educational influences, within a supportive and friendly setting. Joint projects can also be fun, for example getting together with another family for a day of giant cardboard modelling, or a nature walk. This might be linked to a topic which the children have all covered, or more likely the different families each bring their own learning and ideas to the activity, making the shared learning even more diverse.
So, off you go and enjoy the day. Home education is a financial strain – there’s no point pretending otherwise – but it is a labour of love and well worth the sacrifice when you take one look at your happy, healthy, confident kids. For more on food budgeting, awesome educational podcasts and a lot more, check out my website. My first book –Homeschool Works – will be absolutely packed with practical advice, so keep your eye out for this later in the year. Money makes the world go round? Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s just that ‘rotating is a fundamental behavior of objects in the universe’. I know Kylie would agree with that.
“It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.”George Lorimer