Saturday, November 15, 2008

Saving Money: Homeschool Edition

First, go read Yahmdallah's post on Depression-style thrift. I second all of his suggestions, and here add the money savers that have worked for the Opinionated Household. Please add or link your own, and remember: everybody starts at a certain level, so some tips will be unnecessary (already doing them), and some will be overkill (you don't need to save that much).

1. Don't bathe/shower at all. This is just to one-up Yahm, who suggests bathing every other day to save water costs. This, my friends, is because he lives in Colorado, where you never go to bed naked and lying on top of sheets, with the fan blowing directly over you and your beloved, and still wake up drenched in sweat.

But in the summer, we go for weeks without bathing the children just by letting them go swim every day in the neighborhood pool. A few hours of chlorine soaking, followed by a hair rinse in the cold-water shower, and they're cleaner than the bathtub could make them. If the grownups can get up at a decent hour, morning lap swimming can replace showering at least once in a while.

2. Radicalize. You're already hopelessly eccentric just by virtue of homeschooling, so why not take one more step off the grid? Don't reduce your cable: stop watching TV. Don't order off the dollar menu: stop going out to eat. Stop using credit cards, or use them only for convenience, paying them off every month.

And did Yahm say that was like saying "Stop driving"? Well, stop driving. Walk, bike, use the bus. We haven't given up the car completely, but we use it much less; and a side benefit is that Offspring #1 has discovered the liberation of being able to get around without relying on parents for a lift.

3. Stop selling your unused books and curriculum. This may seem counter-intuitive, but think about it. If homeschoolers stopped selling to each other, and just gave away what they weren't using to other homeschoolers who needed it, we'd all be getting free curriculum. You say you can't afford to buy Curriculum Item X if you can't re-sell it later? Then you can't afford to buy it at all--there's no guarantee it will be in sellable condition later, or that it won't have become undesirable for some other reason. eBay won't let us buy and sell curriculum anyway, and the used book stores only give us pennies on the dollar, so why squeeze money out of other homeschoolers who are also trying to make it on one income? Bless someone else with it, and trust that what goes around, comes around.

4. Take groceries seriously. Eudoxus and I have been doing competitive shopping, and at this point we're feeding a family of five for $100 a week. I took a notebook with me for weeks, writing down the unit prices of the food I bought for our week's menus, and doing a lot of comparing, between brands and between stores. That's how I found out that CostCo actually saved me nothing: if an item's on sale at CostCo, it's on sale at H.E.B. (I strongly suspect the wholesalers are doing the discounting). The only difference is CostCo makes you buy a huge amount of whatever it is. Wal-Mart for medications and personal items (sunblock, toothpaste, etc.)--only buy food at the grocery store.

Like Yahm says, store brands are usually just as good; and in this part of the country, you can often get Mexican brands that are just as good and usually cheaper than even the store brands.

The big grocery savings, though, come from replacing processed foods. Nearly any processed food we were buying, we discovered we could make at home from scratch for less money: applesauce, pesto, muffins, boxed mac and cheese.... Now I just need to get baking my own bread and bisciuts.

5. Hanging out the laundry is working well. My main concern was the time it involves; but I need to hang out laundry about every other day, and it turns out that I'm outside with the little ones at least that much anyway, so I just combine toddler supervision with mild clothesline aerobics; no time lost. I only use the dryer now if it's raining or so soggy with humidity that nothing is going to dry, and we're saving quite a lot of energy.

6. Did I mention no going out? That includes fast food. Even little people can fix their own sandwiches, throw them in the soft-sided cooler with a piece of fruit and some crackers, and there's the day's lunch-on-the-run with no effort to Mommy at all.

7. The big energy expenditure around here is, of course, air conditioning. In the real dog days, I'm not above taking the kids to the bookstore and letting them read in comfy chairs, taking advantage of the free AC. Swimming in the evening takes off the edge so everyone can sleep. Fans, lots of fans. People did once live here without air conditioning, you know. This year, the AC is our big challenge for saving money, so other tips in this regard are welcome.


Blogger Love2Learn Mom said...

It's particularly refreshing to hear someone say #3. I really believe in that! I've started just this summer by hosting a (annual? semi-annual?) book swap at my house for the locals, though not everyone's quick to catch on. Even so, shoveling stuff out the door that is useful to someone else is rather satisfying. :)

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello! I just happened upon your web site while looking for images and inspiration for a drawing for my daughter's first communion in May. I read with interest you note about Jewish girls that posed for first communion photographs in order to keep up the ruse that they were good Catholic girls. You commented that the young girl in the photograph looked much older than the typical 7 year old. Having recently moved to Switzerland I discovered that children here in Europe make their first communion in the third grade at the earliest and often now in the fourth grade. First communion in the second grade (and hence 7 years old) is unheard of here. My daughter will be just shy of her 9th birthday when she makes her first communion. Bye from Switzerland.

12:47 PM  

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