How We Live on One Income to Make Homeschooling Possible
Have you ever had the really nosy desire to look through someone’s finances to see how in the world they are able to afford the stuff they have?
I have! I have been doing our family’s day to day finances forever, so when I see a friend doing something a bit pricey – I admit – I wonder what their budget and credit card bills look like for them to afford so many vacations, that amazing car, or that insanely expensive traveling sports team.
How are they able to swing that kind of lifestyle? My nosy, type A, budgeting self wants to know these things!
Turns out that my husband and I are also living a “high end” lifestyle and we didn’t even recognize it! We are not rich by any means, but it would appear that people want to know how we manage to survive in today’s culture and economy on one income while I homeschool our three girls.
One of my husband’s friends came right out and just asked one day because he was mystified about how he and his wife could manage on one income. I have received similar questions through this blog, so I decided that I will do for you what I have always wanted – pull back the curtain and let you see how we make it work!
I am not going to share money-saving tips that will save you a little bit here and a little bit there – like turning off lights, taking short showers, buying paper towels in bulk, etc.
Those have their place, but I want to share with you the four major tips that help us save the MOST amount of money every year and make it possible for us to live and homeschool on one income!
12 Tips to Homeschool on One Income
1. You Need A Budget – YNAB
Before I was a stay-at-home mom, I was an Emergency Room RN for 7 years. Going from 7 years of two incomes and then suddenly dropping to one income…was an adjustment.
My husband and I had been arguing about money for years, so going to one income was just another thing to add to the pile of issues we already had. We both believed that our kids should have their mom at home…but how we were going to make that happen was something we often disagreed about.
My husband thought my Excel spreadsheet with our budget didn’t make any sense, and in hindsight, he was totally right. I used the spreadsheet to try and track our upcoming monthly bills, and stay organized with our financial goals…but it just wasn’t working and we were often frustrated.
Enter YNAB (You Need A Budget)!
[FYI I am NOT an affiliate for YNAB – I just LOVE them] Five years ago, I happen to see a college friend post on Facebook about how YNAB had helped her reach some pretty amazing financial goals. I was interested (and jealous) and looked up the website.
I was impressed with the technology, plan, and education YNAB had in place. It definitely beats the pants off my excel spreadsheet! I went ahead and purchased it and I have never looked back.
What is it exactly?
YNAB is a website you can pull up on your laptop AND an app you can pull up on your phone. It helps to break down your money into an online “envelope system.” You may recognize the term if you are familiar with Dave Ramsey.
The idea is that you assign all of your dollars to a category such as gas, phone bill, water bill, tithing, rent, groceries, clothing, savings, hair cuts, etc. Every single dollar must be assigned to a category.
Every time you spend money or pay a bill, you can quickly update your app on your smartphone.
Before you buy something, you can easily check the app to see how much money you have to spend in that category (i.e. only $10 left in the eating out category this month).
What’s so great about that?
Everything! When my husband and I started doing this, it completely changed everything about our finances. For the first time, our finances were truly organized and we could both clearly see what we were doing with our day-to-day budgeting. I told everyone I knew that they should get YNAB!
No Bill Paying Stress
Before YNAB I remember always going to my spreadsheet to make sure we had enough money to cover our monthly bills. Did we spend too much during that weekend trip and now that check for the power bill is going to bounce? I was always running my calculator and adding up our bills to make sure there was enough. What a waste of time and stress!
Now when we get paid, all I do is move the money to the appropriate “envelopes” on the app for our bills. So for example, if my power bill is going to be $100, I move $100 to the power bill category (this just takes a couple of clicks).
I do this for all of my bills and then I can clearly see how much money I have leftover to budget for fun things like eating out or date nights.
I always know that the bills are covered because the money is safely in the online “envelopes.” The money I spend at Starbucks and Amazon is only the money leftover after the bills are taken care of.
When I update YNAB on my laptop, it immediately syncs that information with the app on my phone. That is important because my husband and I both have the app on our phones.
Let’s say I stop for gas close to pay day while running errands with the kids. I update the app that I spent $30. Later that day, my husband is coming home from work and stops for gas. He looks at the app and sees that we have $20 left in the gas budget, so he gets $20 worth of gas. We stay on budget without even talking to each other! That is huge!
Easy process to save money
YNAB prompts you to consider saving regularly for multiple things – Christmas, car expenses, computer expenses, medical deductibles, etc. The process is so simple!
All you have to do is make “envelopes” for those categories and start putting a little bit of money away every month. Once the money is separated out (you can still easily get to the money if something changes during the month) you kind of forget about it and the money does add up quickly over months.
This little feature has helped us incredibly to plan for expenses, stay on top of our financial goals, and stay out of debt.
We will probably live years longer because of the decreased stress in our lives. I cannot remember the last time we had a fight about our budget!
Seriously, if you are considering going to one income or if you just need some peace in your life with money – check out YNAB! It is so worth it!
2. Meal Planning is Everything
By using YNAB, I realized that the biggest area we spend money is FOOD! I couldn’t believe how ridiculous our food bill was – it was embarrassing!
I had thought that the food bill wouldn’t be that bad because we rarely ate out and I cooked a lot at home. Nope. We were spending enormous amounts for only 2 adults and 1 child at the time.
I ended up setting a budget for food with YNAB…but how was I going to stick to it?
How do you do it?
Every week, I sit down with a plain piece of white paper and a pen and make a simple calendar. I fill in the week with meals and then make a corresponding grocery list that includes all the ingredients and all the other stuff (i.e. coffee, cereal, etc.).
I try very hard to only go to the grocery store once a week because the less you go, the less you spend!
Once you have shopped, you have everything you need for the week and you can just glance at your calendar to see what you’re making that night. No need to run out at the last minute for a missing ingredient or order out because you can’t think of anything to make.
3. Discount Grocery Stores
Your dollar will go A LOT farther if you look into discount grocery stores in your area.
Yes, you may have to explore some new brands. But, with a little time, you’ll get used to them!
Take some time to visit the closest discount grocery stores to you and price compare. I have found that not all “discount stores” are created equally.
Our “go to” store is Aldi. We have been shopping there for years and we have not been able to beat it for quality and price.
If you have one near you, you have to take a trip and check out their organic selection!
There are some things that Aldi does not sell, so I make a separate (much shorter list) for those things.
Once we moved to a bigger city I started using Instacart ($9.99/month plus a small tip to the driver) to deliver food from Aldi. I believe Instacart has saved me tons on gas money, time, impulse buys, and my kids begging for junk food we don’t need.
Instacart has also saved us money because when I put the order in on the computer I can see the total before I purchase. This is a big deal when you’re trying to stay on a budget! I love being able to take some things out of the cart or add things in based on the total.
5. Four Gifts for Christmas/Birthdays
We actually started doing this before we ever considered homeschooling, but it has ended up saving us a lot of money over the years with three kids (2 of which have birthdays close to Christmas).
If you are not familiar with it, the 4 gift rule is that your child receives something to wear, something they need, something they want, and something to read.
That’s cute and it rhymes, but it was hard for me to keep track of, so we just do 4 toys for Christmas and 4 toys for birthdays.
I read about this concept years ago and started doing it with our oldest when she was around 3. It has been a hit for our family!
I don’t ever worry about everything being even between the girls or if there will be “enough.” They have grown up with 4 gifts from us and a couple from the grandparents and it has always been more than enough! We still somehow have too many toys everywhere and have to purge every now and then.
I like that it saves us from spending too much money on things that will end up in a landfill and it also helps prevent my kids from becoming entitled and spoiled. They are genuinely so excited and thankful for what they receive – which is the spirit we are trying to grow in them.
***UPDATE: We are now in the phase of “friend” birthday parties. Wow, it can get expensive! Especially for a family with two birthdays within a month of Christmas. We have told our kids that we can do “friend” parties every other year. On the year that they have a party, we don’t get a “big” gift because the party is the big gift. Keep in mind that they get tons of gifts from their friends too.
6. Christmas Savings All Year Long
Christmas is a time where many people are guilty of overspending and racking up an incredible credit card bill while spending in the moment. I don’t want to come across as judgmental, but I honestly don’t think that’s how Jesus wants us to honor His birth.
Thanks to Dave Ramsey, we put aside money every month for Christmas. I treat this the same as the power bill or my cellphone bill – it has to be paid every month.
When Christmas rolls around we have a good amount of money ready to be spent, which means minimal financial stress!
If you flip out about money every year at Christmas (or in January when the bill shows up), start thinking about saving all year for it and then only spending the money you have saved. This can be hard at first, but the peace and joy it can bring to your heart at Christmas will be something you will get used to really fast – trust me.
Start by coming up with what you think would be an appropriate amount of money to spend on Christmas. Then divide that by 12 and set aside that amount of money every month. If you can’t set aside that much every month, consider making your Christmas budget smaller to fit your needs.
Remember to focus on making Christmas memories with your family through cooking, baking, decorating, gingerbread houses, church services, driving to look at Christmas lights (a favorite!), Christmas family devotionals, doing acts of kindness for others, or whatever family traditions you already have.
Don’t make the family tradition that you spend too much money on things that no one will be able to remember next year.
7. Hair Cuts
We have three girls, and I cannot even believe how expensive it is to get their hair cut.
Where we live it costs me over $50 total for my three girls to have a straight line hair cut (they love braids, so we don’t mess with layers).
I think that’s crazy!
Thankfully, I saw the Crea Clip on Shark Tank and bought it right away.
It is a large plastic clip with a level on it that was designed by a hairstylist. It allows you to cut your kid’s hair (and even your own hair!) without going to the salon.
The first time I used it, it paid for itself!
Oh, and don’t forget to invest in good hair scissors (I bought mine at Sally’s). I bought cheap ones at Walmart the first time and it was super frustrating.
8. Clothes Shopping with Strategy
I have three girls who are growing FAST, so we go through a lot of clothing sizes at our house.
Thankfully, clothes is an area that you can save money by homeschooling – no need for a full wardrobe of “school clothes.”
Of course, you still need to dress your kids and take them places, so here are some tips for how I manage to keep cost down on their clothes:
- Hold onto clothes in big Space Saver bags. This keeps them nice for the next kid!
- Go through all the space saver bags when the seasons change and THEN decide what you need to buy. You might be surprised that you’ve forgotten what you have or what size your kid really is now.
- Look for large consignment sales in your area. A lot of places we have lived offer a big Spring and Fall consignment sale. Have your list ready and just go to see what they have. Be careful though. Don’t impulse buy for “great deals” that you don’t need.
- Holiday items – dressy outfits and costumes are great items to look for at consignment sales. I have often found beautiful clothes with the tags still on!
- Don’t buy in bulk. In order to check the task off my list, I would often buy a ton of clothes at one time. This was almost always a waste of money! As I did laundry, I noticed my girls recycling the same outfits that they really loved. All the extra clothes just collected dust in their closet.
- Buying a little at a time also means you are more likely to take advantage of a great sale as stores assume everyone else is done with their seasonal shopping.
- Buy shirts a little bit big. My kids wear a lot of their shirts for years because I buy them just a little bit big.
- Repurpose clothes. This really only works for girls, but I hold onto dresses as they grow out of them. If you put a pair of leggings or legging capris under them, the dress is now a cute top! Works for another year 🙂
- Treat spots with Tide with Bleach if you can find it or Oxyclean. I have seen some miracles performed!
- Make a big show of “revealing” the clothes in your space saver bags as you hand them down to the younger ones. It takes a little extra time, but you can organize them, fold them, and give them as “new” when the older kids are getting new clothes too.
9. Work that Librarian
As a homeschool family, the library needs to become your new hot spot.
I have saved an incredible amount of money (and space in my house) by ordering books through the interlibrary sharing program. It is so easy to do from my laptop!
I have also used it to order movies we want to rent or audiobooks (so expensive!).
Many libraries also offer free classes (our library offers a monthly STEM class for kids!), lego clubs, and amazing rewards for their reading programs.
It is definitely worth it to go check out your local library and find out what they offer.
10. Buy and Sell Used Curriculum
As you choke on the price of your curriculum of choice, remember to look for used options! I have found some great deals on Ebay, ThriftBooks.com, and homeschool FaceBook groups. Your homeschool friends might even want to swap with you!
It also helps to know that you can sell your curriculum and it will offset the price of your new curriculum every year.
If you really want new curriculum, the best time to buy is usually around February. The prices only go up as you get closer to spring and summer.
Of course there are tons of free homeschool resources available these days. Definitely check out this post for 100 Homeschool Resources for some awesome homeschool money savings!
***Remember that homeschooling has become a multimillion dollar market. As you look for curriculum, school supplies, and classroom ideas (check out my simple classroom) – businesses will prey on all your emotions and fears. My advice is to start with the absolute bare essentials and then add 0n as you need or want to. I have wasted so much money on things like laminators because I heard other people talking about them and thought I “had” to have one.
11. Set Boundaries with Your Kids
A huge expense as your kids get older will be all the sports, activities, and camps they will want to do.
This can get overwhelming – for your wallet and your sanity – if you have multiple kids.
The guilt of being a homeschool family and wanting your kids to have every opportunity to be with their friends will also weigh on you and your budget.
We realized that we needed to start setting firm boundaries for our kids. So all three of my kids are involved with co-op classes, our scouting program, and one sport/activity of choice.
We used to do one sport at a time, but we are looking to take that down to one sport per year. All the late nights at this age is just crazy!
Anyhow, do not be afraid or embarrassed to set limits with your kids about these kinds of things.
Being choosy will force your kids to really think about what is most important to them.
12. Capitalize on an Allowance
My oldest daughter is 8 years old. I talk in this post about how she earns a dollar a day from doing school work and chores.
This allowance she earns has saved me so much money!
I rarely buy her anything now. Just the other day she was complaining that she wanted a new bike helmet – her unicorn one is no longer “cool.”
I said sure and asked her how much money she had.
When she had to spend her own money, it no longer seemed to be such an emergency.
This allowance has cut down so much on whining for frivolous things and junk because she has learned how much a dollar is worth!
Recap How to Homeschool on One Income
When you decide that you want to go to one income in order to homeschool your kids, you have made a decision about how you want to invest your money. It is really important that you see every financial decision you make through that filter.
My husband and I definitely see people around us living a lifestyle that sometimes looks more fun and more exciting. We have to remind ourselves that we are choosing to not invest in a bigger house, new car, designer clothes, or thrilling vacations because we have already chosen to invest in our kids and their education.
That is hard to remember sometimes!
My choice to stay home means that we have to say no occasionally. It means that we don’t eat everything organic. It means that I shop at a discount grocery store. It means that I have to follow a budget to keep our finances on track. It means that we aren’t going to Disney this year. It means that I don’t have the newest cell phone model.
But, it also means that I get to rock my 3 year old when she gets up from afternoon naps. It means my kids get to stay in their pajamas and have relaxed mornings reading books with me. It means that I get to teach my kids from home in a safe, fun, creative environment that is tailored to them. It means that I can cancel school when my husband has time off from work and we can all be together. It means that they have my undivided attention for the large majority of their childhood. It means that I am the one shaping their character.
When I look at lists like that, all the financial issues fade away. My husband and I are absolutely dialed into what our money is going towards and we are so happy with the choice. If you want to hear more about the benefits of homeschooling check out my post – 5 Benefits of Homeschooling I Didn’t See Coming.
When you are looking at going to one income and making choices about what needs to happen to make that possible, it may look uncomfortable in some areas. But the pay off for your kids and your family life will be immeasurable!
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Would having a large school loan and saving for a down payment for a house be a reason you shouldn’t homeschool? This is my first year homeschooling, and I hope to homeschool my 3 kids until they graduate from high school. If we do homeschool I don’t know how we would ever get out of school loan debt, buy a house, or go on vacations with the kids?
Hi Samantha! You absolutely can homeschool while paying down debt. If I were in your position, I would opt for the “Easy Peasy All in One” free curriculum and keep my eye open for used curriculum sales or swaps. That should slash a huge amount of cost. Keep in mind that sending your kid to public school still requires lots of “school clothes”, fundraisers, school pictures, lunches, bookbags, and an enormous amount of school supplies. It’s not completely free either. As a side note, I would also consider teaching your kids a financial class that showed them how you and your husband are working so hard to pay down debt and invest in the future of your family. They would benefit more out of that class than many other things being taught right now.
Oh, and Samantha also check out this site for more free curriculum choices – http://www.blessedbeyondadoubt.com/free-homeschool-curriculum/