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Molly’s Frugal Homeschooling
By Molly Green
“. . . I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
I can’t imagine a verse that speaks better to the heart of frugality than Philippians 4:11; can you? Learning to be content with whatever I’ve been given has been a lifelong endeavor. I can be willful in my determination to be a wise and thrifty steward, but if I’m not practicing contentment, I’m likely to give into the temptation to spend more than we have or buy more than we need. And if there’s something that tempts the heart of a homeschooling mama like me, it’s a stack of glossy homeschooling catalogs or the aisles at a curriculum fair. I want to provide the very best education I can for our children, and those temptations can sometimes muddle my thrifty thinking into making me want to buy one of everything.
That’s why it’s important for me to be content, as well as to understand that thrifty thinking and frugal homeschooling doesn’t mean I have to compromise quality. Neither does it mean that I can ignore copyright laws and the hard work of those who develop and write homeschool curricula by making copies of educational material I didn’t purchase and without the publisher’s consent. That’s just plain wrong. A frugal homeschooler is someone who is content with what her family has been given and makes wise decisions about the use of their resources to avoid unnecessary expenses, debt, and waste.
Like many of you, I’ve put last year’s studies away, and our family is enjoying a break from our formal homeschooling studies for the summer. But I’m also browsing through those tempting catalogs, reading magazine articles and curriculum reviews, and beginning to gather the supplies we will need to resume homeschooling in the fall. As I do so, there are a few ideas for practicing contentment and frugality that I encourage you to keep in mind:
- Pray for contentment and for the Lord to keep you from temptation. In fact, bathe everything in prayer and in the counsel of His Word. Charles Spurgeon wrote of the foolishness of making any decision without God’s counsel and concluded with this statement: “It is our own fault if we make not free with the riches of our God.” Not only is God’s wisdom free for the asking, but when I fail to seek His counsel in making wise and frugal curriculum decisions, I’m setting myself up for making the wrong, and possibly expensive, ones . . . and it will be my own fault.
Inventory the curriculum and school supplies you already own before deciding what you need for the new school year to come. I talked about this at length last year1 [http://www.theoldschoolhousestore.com/Winter-2010-2011-p/bi-win10-11-p.htm ]. I’m prone to forget curriculum I haven’t used in a while. Without an inventory, I’m likely to waste money by buying things I already own.
Make a comprehensive list of everything you need for every child, when you will need it (some books and supplies can wait a few months), determine that you will stick to that list, and check items off as you acquire them.
Join a support group, church group, or co-op with other homeschooling families. That has been one of the best sources of less expensive or free curriculum for our family. We have swapped, loaned, sold, and/or given used curricula to each other, and many support groups host used-curriculum sales every summer. It’s a win-win situation when we can sell used curriculum we have no intention of using again, as well as purchase used curriculum that was on our needs list.
A public library card is as good as gold. There’s seldom a need for me to purchase a book, music CD, or video that I will use only for a few days or weeks, if it’s available at the library. Most public libraries today provide a variety of resources including CDs, videos, and even some curricula. We live in a rural community in a poor county with libraries in need of better resources. It’s worth it for us to pay a small fee for a library card we can use at a neighboring county’s extensive library system. That system has a catalog available online and offers the capability to borrow audio books and E-Books, as well as foreign language curriculum, from our computers at home. Whatever library you use, make friends with the librarians and thank them for their help.
Building a home library takes time. As nice as it is to have a well-stocked, permanent, home library, it’s wise to be patient. You don’t have to buy everything at once—or at all. We enjoy having great literature on the bookshelves at our home and believe that leaving a well-stocked library for future generations is a good thing, but we have built it slowly—one or two books at a time added to other orders to spread out the costs and avoid added shipping costs.
The Internet is an excellent resource for free educational material and for buying and selling used curriculum. With a scope and sequence, an industrious homeschooler can create lessons plans for many subjects using free resources from the Internet and the library. Internet access can be costly, but most of us use the Internet for a variety of tasks, including online banking and as a communication tool that saves money in gas and stamp costs. And it’s not necessary to pay for the highest Internet speed. We greatly reduced our monthly Internet costs by subscribing to the slowest Internet speed. It does take more time to upload and download media, but it’s good practice in developing patience. If Internet access to your home is outside of your budget, keep in mind the fact that most libraries offer free Internet service, and some fast-food places and coffee shops provide free Internet access for their customers. You could treat yourself to a latte and an afternoon in the coffee shop while downloading worksheets, grade-level scope and sequences, and other online homeschooling resources.
Don’t print more worksheets than you need, and change the printer settings to use less ink for most items. Print in “draft” and “gray-scale” modes and use the smallest font size you can easily read.
Consider using grade-level workbooks with reduced prices at discount warehouse stores to supplement a curriculum or even to teach from—especially with younger children.
Some public school districts offer their no-longer-used textbooks and curricula to the public for free. It doesn’t hurt to ask. The first couple of years we homeschooled, I filled the back seat of my car with free books from the public school district’s warehouse. Because my children weren’t reading yet, I could inject a Christian worldview into these free resources as I taught them, and the pictures in the science books were great for the younger children to cut out.
Read curriculum reviews before making a decision to buy. The opinions of others may help you make wise decisions about the benefits to you of purchasing a particular curriculum.2
Families with several children in different grades can benefit from purchasing non-consumable curriculum that can be reused year after year, especially if they begin homeschooling when their oldest child is ready for a formal education. Instead of buying curricula for multiple grades every year, you would need only to buy curriculum for the oldest child as he/she advances and any consumables needed for the younger children when they are ready.
Using unit studies that can be adapted for use by children in various grades can also be a frugal choice.
However we decide to practice frugality in our homeschooling, I want to be wise in how I use the resources the Lord has provided us and in such a way that I will be an example of contentment for my children.
Molly Green is passionate about cheerful, creative homemaking on a down-to-earth budget. Visit her online home, www.Econobusters.com for tips about frugal and tasty cooking, fresh decorating ideas, affordable family fun, simple but effective organizing, and much more! Sign up for her free weekly E-Newsletter and get a bonus
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1. Members of SchoolhouseTeachers.com have access to all back issues of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, beginning with the Fall 2011 issue.
2. Reviews of thousands of homeschool products and resources may be accessed by anyone on our website at this link.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.