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Household economies

I have two major strikes against my ability to make money: First, the career path that called to me was writer and teacher. Neither has ever paid my way in life. The second is having chosen to homeschool my daughter. There are people who make a good income while homeschooling, but almost all of them were making a good income before homeschooling, and all of them love sleep a lot less than I do!

So when a question came up on one of the homeschooling forums I participate in, it raised my hackles immediately. I had e-mailed about a new Judo class happening in town. A mom answered, How can you afford to pay for these classes?

It was a perfectly reasonable question, one that homeschoolers always have to struggle with. There are those sleepless people I mentioned above. Then there are the homeschoolers who defect into charter school programs that give them a lot of money to educate their kids in return for more paperwork, more government oversight, and yearly No Child Left Behind testing. There are people who are lucky enough to have a spouse who can earn enough to support the whole family.

And then there’s everything else that we do to make ends meet.

In my case, I do have one of the luxuries mentioned above. My husband knew from an early age that he wanted to program computers, and he has applied himself diligently ever since, and since programming is a valued profession, he makes enough money to support a family of four. I feel almost sheepish admitting this, given that so many people aren’t in this position. But isn’t it what we used to expect? It was true of nearly all the families I grew up with, whether the father worked in a factory or in the hospital. True, the factory worker’s house was probably in a cheaper part of town, but the kids didn’t go hungry and they went to free, clean, well-run schools.

So I’m not going to apologize for the result of my husband’s hard work. But aside from that, I have found ways to “make money” as a homeschooling mom that others could do in their own ways.

First of all, I remember to value all the work I do for our family. I don’t need to hire people to take care of our kids after school. I have ample time to go shopping and prepare healthy food cheaply. My husband and I do a lot around the house that we would be hiring out for if we were busier. (And sometimes, frankly, we do hire out when it’s worth it!) According to Womenwork.org, I’d be making $30,000 a year if I charged another family for my homemaking services. And that’s not including my chef-work every evening.

Second, I have been really active this year in bartering. No matter who you are, you have skills that someone else needs. And if that someone else has skills that you need, consider a barter as a possibility. I was a web designer by trade before I had my son, and I still dabble, mostly for schools. But I have also been trading my web design and promotion skills to businesses that do things for my homeschooling. My daughter has gotten great classes for free — or rather, I should value my work by saying that I was paid well for the work I did, but I was paid in services rather than dollars.

Another thing I’ve done is creating new money-making opportunities with other homeschooling moms. We’re all in the same boat, so when another mom says, “I’ve thought of this way to make money, but I need help…” other moms can consider how they might help.

Finally, way back when my husband left his cushy corporate job to start a company, we made a number of changes to our spending patterns that we keep to this day. We only pay for entertainment we really want (no cable TV, we leech off my mom’s Netflix account, and go out to movies only occasionally). We are avid users of the public libraries. We make anything that we can (and find that we enjoy it more that way). We try (and sometimes succeed) to help our kids learn not to be mindless consumers, but rather only spend money on things they really need or will use creatively.

I’m tempted to say that I regret something about this way of life we’ve made, but I’m not sure I can figure out what I’d say. I know that we all make our choices based on what we want, and other people are certain that they have chosen what they want. But when they say that they are unhappy because they don’t get to spend time with their kids, I’m here to tell them that we do it. All of us out there, we figure it out one way or another. I know that I have advantages that other moms don’t have, but I also know that I work hard to contribute to our household economy. Mine may be a barter economy, but it’s worth no less than the full-time job I’d need to take to pay for it all.

Posted in Culture, Homeschooling, Parenting.


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