A decision to home educate may affect more than just the children. Often it will represent part of wider changes, perhaps a more organic or holistic way of life for the whole family, also involving reductions or changes in the family earning power. Having rejected an important part of mainstream culture and embraced the pretty much unknown, home educators are strong and positive thinkers, determined to take on the system and win. But however rosy a picture we home educators may paint, this approach will usually affect your earning options in some way. Not a bad thing in itself – home education has encouraged me to totally reassess my life – but unless you have a large inheritance stashed away or have chosen home education as an alternative to independent schooling, you may be interested in making a few changes to shave off unnecessary expenditure or make better use of your money. The following ideas are particularly geared to home educators, but many will also be useful for any families on a tight budget.
PLAYTIME Although there are many home schooling groups that organise visits and classes, your daily activities needn’t be elaborate or expensive. Children enjoy and learn from natural, day to day events such as shopping, sitting in on your meeting with the bank manager, chatting with a neighbour, going to church, looking after a pet. Remember outdoor activities, such as gardening, digging, cycling in the park, collecting leaves, going to the allotment/beach/ nature reserve, depending on your geographical location. Make use of other people’s knowledge and talents, perhaps arranging a visit to a friend or relative’s workplace, or learning how to cook, knit, or mend something with the help of an expert in your street. Visit charity shops and jumble sales as well as arriving early at car boot sales to pick up bargains. Look out for other people’s unwanted items that you can collect for free (or giveaway) at freecycle.co.uk or snaffleup.co.uk. Buy second hand at online auctions, or books at sites such as greenmetropolis.co.uk. Collect free DVDs and CDs with newspapers or ask relatives to look out for them. Remember to make use of your local library and keep a careful note of due back dates to avoid fines.
HOLIDAYS AND TRAVEL Think carefully about why these are important for you and your family. Do you feel a need to get away, do nothing, meet new people, practise a language, or are you just looking for a bit of a change and some fun? Remember holidays are a life-style choice and travel is not obligatory. You may decide to stay at home one year and just have a few special days out, or visit some relatives or friends you may not have seen for a while. Investigate networking or hospitality sites such as hospitalityclub.org. If your budget is slightly wider, camping is cheap and a lot of fun, you could even camp in a friend or relative’s garden. Caravans are a slightly more expensive alternative, in exchange for more comfort and less exposure to the elements, and youth hostels are also reasonably priced – see yha.org.uk .
CLOTHES If you are working less, or from home, you will need fewer outfits and can probably manage with a few hard wearing and well-loved items. Buy dark or brightly coloured children’s clothes that don’t show the dirt so much, and try to make everyone’s clothes last a few days before washing. Do some old fashioned mending or alterations now and then – turning up trousers, sewing on buttons, patching knees, rather than discarding anything that is less than perfect. Use old clothes for cleaning cloths or pet beds. Cut your children’s hair yourself for as long as they will let you.
FOOD AND DRINK Decide on a budget and stick to it, planning meals in advance wherever possible. Look for local seasonal fruit and vegetables and try to grow some of your own. Avoid buying juices and cordials and stick to water. When out and about take a packed lunch, which is usually the cheaper as well as healthier option. Be clear on options for ice creams and treats as these can become expensive if your children expect them every time they go on a trip. In the same way avoid takeaway coffee or hot drinks, preparing a flask before you leave.
SELL SOMETHING With the help of internet auction sites and car boot sales, you can sell just about anything these days, including your children’s old clothes and shoes, electrical items and furniture. With your changed circumstances, you may decide to sell a bigger item and save energy and money – like the car perhaps. You could rely on public transport if you no longer need to commute to work each day, or you could sell the huge fridge freezer you bought, thinking you would never have time to cook and buy a small fridge instead.
BE REALISTIC Just as your children grow older and develop different interests and personalities, your family goals, dynamics and finances will constantly change. You may need to reassess and reorganise when necessary. Be ready to do without the car for a bit, decide to rent for a while or take in a lodger, go without a holiday, spend nothing every Monday. Remember to consult your children too, and include their reactions and opinions in the overall picture.