Sunday, February 26, 2012

Embracing a Frugal Life: 8 Tips for Homeschool Families

I was recently asked advice on how to make a frugal lifestyle more practical, so I decided to share some of these tips. A lot of them may be things you already do, or intend to do, but sometimes, having the reminder to embrace these tips can be helpful.

1. Appraise your needs vs. wants
To make living on a single income work, evaluate what you need versus what you want. Assess these needs in all areas of your life. Shelter is a need, a large house with property can be categorized as a want. Transportation is a need, two or more vehicles is a want. Where can you downsize or simplify? Examine what you can go without, and implement the practical practice of it.

2. Leave the consumer lifestyle behind
We are a consumer-driven society, but the more you watch how and where you spend your money, the easier it becomes to use less of it. In her book, “Radical Homemakers” author Shannon Hayes portrays this concept in depth through interviews with various families who have reclaimed their domesticity from a consumer culture. The following is an insightful excerpt from the introduction to “Radical Homemakers”:
"Mainstream American culture views the household as a unit of consumption. By this conventional standard, the household consumes food, clothing, household technologies, repair and debt services, electricity, entertainment, health-care services, and environmental resources. In order to be a ‘successful’ unit of consumption, the household must have money. Ruth and Sanford's household was not a unit of consumption. By growing their own food, living within their means, providing much of their own health care, and relying on community, family and barter for meeting their remaining needs, their household was essentially a unit of production (just not by the standards of a market economy). Thus, their income wasn't critical to their well-being."
The book is a valuable and insightful tool to starting or improving a lifestyle not based on consumer-driven values.

3. Pre-buy and store it
Clothes, food, books, toys for Christmas, all these are examples of things you can buy throughout the year when the price is right, instead of when the time is ideal. The bulk of your children’s clothes should be purchased in the off-seasons, when you can take advantage of the best sale prices. You’ll still be filling in the gaps here and there, but you’ll save hundreds of dollars per year. Obtain a chest freezer. Life on a single income can often fluctuate when unexpected expenses arise, so having a chest freezer stocked with essentials can get you through the months when you have to hold off on bigger grocery trips. For our family, it also means freezing fruits and vegetables from our garden and storing the venison from a successful hunting season for my husband. Being frugal also means taking advantage of resources as they are available. This means you will need to designate certain areas for storing unexpected resources. Allow yourself a craft drawer or tote, and make room for the storage of out-of-season clothes, pre-bought toys and gifts or garage sale deals.

4. Stock the car with snacks
Bottled water, raisins, crackers, juice boxes, dry cereal and pretzels are all examples of things you can keep stored in a snack tote in the car. Keep a soft cooler in a convenient location in your home so you can quickly pack things like string cheese, apples, or yogurt before you head out the door for day-trips. We like to hard-boil eggs the night before a big field trip because it’s easy for the kids to eat while traveling. This avoids unplanned trips to fast food places. Kids get cranky when they get hungry (so do adults, for that matter). When outside appointments, errands or outings inevitably run longer than planned (with kids, this is always inevitable), having some food always on hand to hold off until you get home saves you the surprising invisible expense of stopping through a drive-thru, and it’s healthier, too.

5. Make use of free materials
There are a number of books out there that show you practical ways to make the most of materials that are free. “Homeschool Your Child for Free” by LauraMaery Gold and Joan Zielinski ( is a great place to start finding a wealth of resources both on and off the internet. It takes more initial work, but it saves you a fortune in supplemental curriculum for core and non-core classes. Also, good ‘ole Google finds you just about any free lesson plans you could ever need on any subject. Also, wonderful websites like Freely Educate ( and the Homeschool Share ( will never let you down.

6. Arrange a toy/book/clothing swap
Our homeschool group has an annual toy/book/clothing swap, where everyone brings in items they don’t need any more and it’s up for grabs to anyone who can use them. It’s a wonderful blessing and a win-win for loosening up your clutter while obtaining new items you need for free.

7. Make use of your library
For homeschoolers, this is a no-brainer, but your local library truly is a vast, unending resource to utilize. Let your librarian know you are homeschooling and ask about the availability of online inner library loan, which opens up the availability of resources to any and all surrounding libraries through the use of your own.

8. Be grateful for what you have
In the book, “Home Schooling on a Shoe String” authors Melissa Morgan and Judith Waite Allee point out the importance of recognizing your riches: “When Susan compared her husband’s childhood to her own, she saw that there was little difference in their economic status. Puzzled, she wondered, ‘How come he thinks he grew up in a poor family and I don’t?’ Part of the answer, she realized, was that her family always gave to the poor. If you give to the poor, how can you be poor? Feeling rich does not necessarily mean having your pockets full of money. Sometimes it is simply the result of counting your blessings—maintaining a grateful perspective which keeps financial stress from ballooning out of proportion.”
Check out “Home Schooling on a Shoe String” for a treasure of further tips and ideas for making the most of free and low-cost solutions to home education.

Simple habits make a huge difference. Before you know it, living a purposeful and frugal lifestyle will not only be possible, it will be part of the adventure!