Holiday celebrations are important. Over the years we’ve focused mainly on simple, handmade, joy-filled ways of celebrating. Our crowd’s favorite kind of birthday party typically includes a special birthday snack, a gaggle of kids, and a fun place to run around. I encourage my children–and their friends–to give gifts of the heart: treasures from nature, homemade goodies, special handmade items, lovingly selected hand-me-downs, thoughtfully chosen items. We’ve stepped away from commercially prescribed traditions and created our own. We have consciously shaped many heartfelt traditions that we can replicate year after year even when the budget is meager.
I love books. I love reading, and my children love reading, too. In the years before children, I frequently bought brand-new books. But I don’t anymore. We make it a point to visit the library on a regular basis. If there’s a reason we need to own a particular book, we seek out a used copy. We have used bookstores in our area, but there are also many used-book sellers online. There are also book-swapping websites where you can receive used books in good condition for the price of postage if you also offer books to others. Of course, we could buy a new book if we needed to, because our “book budget” rarely gets tapped (with the occasional exception of library fines!).
One of my priorities is for my children to be able to participate in enrichment activities, but lessons and classes can be hard to make happen on a limited budget. All of my children play musical instruments; one is a budding circus performer, one studies ballet, two participate in a weekly wilderness school, and my math lover has benefited from tutoring and advanced classes. We all go to fiddle camp for a weekend in the summer, and there are other local camps that round out our summer schedule. How do we do it? With a lot of creative negotiation. We’ve found scholarships and financial aid available for the asking. I’ve been able to arrange barter, both informally and through our local Time Bank, to offset some activity expenses. I’ve worked out payment plans allowing for small monthly payments instead of one large payment. In some cases, we have arranged monthly or twice-monthly lessons instead of weekly. I encourage my children to practice their skills regularly at home; they might only take one class a week or one lesson a month, but if they practice daily, they’ll get more out of that one class than someone who has two classes or weekly lessons and never practices.
I’ve found it essential to involve my children in becoming more conscious about where our money goes and how I stretch it to support our goals. Conservation is a theme that we explore in many ways. We talk about being good energy stewards, and how turning off unused lights, lowering the thermostat, hanging the laundry to dry, and taking shorter showers not only help the environment but also lower our bills. We explore the cycle of food, from our local farms to our table to our compost pile; as we become aware of how much work goes into growing our food, we realize the importance of not wasting it, and by wasting less, we also save money. By learning to maintain and repair household items, we build helpful skills, keep these items out of the landfill, and save ourselves the expense of replacements. By maximizing what we have and use, we are able to conserve resources and free them up to apply to areas where we don’t have as much flexibility.
The most important thing to keep in mind is your own family’s priorities. Maybe your family is deeply devoted to competitive winter sports, or running the family farm, or being near the mountains, or living on a houseboat. Maybe your priorities are more basic: healthy food and a safe place to live. Craft your budget around your priorities, then be flexible in your expectations about everything else. If it’s appropriate, be open to your children’s thoughts on what is most important and what can be adjusted to support homeschooling. You may discover rich opportunities for your family to learn more about priority-setting, budgeting, community, resource stewardship, and many different kinds of self-sufficiency. Homeschooling may be an economic challenge, but with courage and creativity, it can also be full of homegrown riches.
Amanda Witman is a homeschooling mother of four, musician, urban homesteader, enthusiastic lifelong learner, and Oak Meadow’s Social Media Coordinator. Visit Oak Meadow on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and their blog, In the Meadow.