The secret is to Make a Budget and Stick to It. Okay, we all know that, and I know you've heard it a hundred times before, but this time is different because I'll give you the tricks and printables to start a budget that’s not only realistic but so easy to follow you can get started today! Follow these simple budgeting steps, download our worksheets, and you’re well on your way to successfully budgeting your money.
1. Where does the money go? Don’t make any major spending changes for at least one month while you pay close attention to exactly where your money goes. Keep detailed records about what you and your family buy. Download this Track Your Spending Worksheet to help you get organized. Most importantly: Be consistent, write it all down, keep your receipts, and your budget will be accurate and easy to follow.
2. Cut back on the spending Now that you’ve seen where you really spend your money, you may already be thinking about changes you can make when it comes time to write that budget. Lunch out at McDonald’s with the kids just once a week can add up to a yearly bill of $480.00! Grabbing a quick soda at a vending machine a few times a week can add another $312.00 by the end of the year! Small changes like cutting back on junk food and carrying bottled water and carrot stick snacks around with you in the car can save you tons of money as well as make your family healthier.
3. Never too old for a Wishlist. One of the best ways to spend your money wisely is to be organized. Plan ahead so that when it’s time to shop, you’ve done your homework, you know what to buy and where to buy it, and you’ll stretch your dollar farther. Write a list of big household items you need (like a new air conditioner) as well as a list of homeschool items you need. Download our Beginning School Year Lesson Plan and Record Keeping files to help you plan your homeschool year. With this plan, you can easily figure out what materials you’ll need to purchase and how much money to set aside for it.
4. Tackle that budget! Armed with accurate information about how much you spend and a good idea of what you want to buy, you can write up a successful budget plan. Download this Budget Template to get started. Personalize this sample budget to meet your family’s unique needs and Stick to It! Keep this budget on your bulletin board or somewhere very accessible. Change your budget as your needs change, but don’t waver. If you don’t follow your budget, it won’t help you save money!
Real Life on a Real Budget
Homeschooling expenses can vary anywhere from $30.00 to $2000.00 per child per year. According to Dr. Brian Ray in Strengths of Their Own (NHERI Publications, 1997), homeschoolers spend, on average, $546 per child. It's important to decide how much you want to spend on each child; otherwise you may spend more than you mean to while looking for that perfect resource. If you can pick up used curriculum or use free resources on hand (like the library) you’ll spend less than the parents who choose distance learning or complete curriculums.
This may seem hard at first, but saving money will become second nature once you get used to it. Here are some tips to help you find bargains and save money…
- Beware of complete curriculums:
Buying a complete curriculum (a system that covers all of your child’s resources for a full year) can seem like a good deal but may end up being a waste of money. After you’ve spent your life savings on these curriculum you may use them faithfully for about a month and then you'll begin to notice that your child is really getting reluctant to do the work. Most of these sets are based on a lot of worksheets and reviewing, so that learning is no longer fun for them. In other words, complete curriculums tend to burn children out fast. They’re great for materials but they’re expensive and you could end up feeling guilty for spending the money and not using all of the worksheets or doing all of the activities.
- Be creative: You’ll find homeschool materials easier if you’re creative, flexible, and open minded to what can be used as a resource. For example, you could make your own flash cards for math and reading or, if you need to study art history, you could look for free tours at your museum. Used curriculum can also be a great money saver. Check out our Ask-a-Mom for the best places to pick up used curriculum online.
- Ask for discounts: Educators, including homeschoolers, can qualify to get a discount on items they’re purchasing to use as educational resources. Sometimes these discounts can be as much as 40% on the right day. Homeschoolers get discounts from big named companies like Borders, Apple Computer, Wal-Mart, and even Microsoft. It’s worth asking for a discount, even at your local craft store. Companies want your repeat business so encourage them by saying that you’ll tell all of the local homeschoolers that they get a 15% discount. Everyone wins!
- Do the math: Keep a master list of things you buy often (canned soup, toothpaste, etc) and their prices so that you can tell if a sale item is really a bargain. I keep a small calculator with me so that I can figure out if buying in bulk is really a deal. If you’re shopping with your kids you can easily turn bargain shopping into a math lesson.
- Cook in bulk: Buying in bulk can save money (if you do your homework first) and so can cooking in bulk. Cook up big pots of chili or soup, make a huge batch of burritos or lasagna, and then freeze the meals. You now have healthy, homemade meals your kids can snack on any time or if you just can’t get to making dinner after a long homeschool day, you can rely on your frozen stash rather than calling out for pizza. Plus think of all the time you’ll spend with your family instead of in the kitchen!
- Homemade gifts: Rather than breaking the bank every time someone has a birthday, make fun personal gifts instead. Get the kids involved and make a craft day out of it. Read our Clever Homeschooler on Fun Gifts to Give for some great ideas.
Hands-On Experience: All of these budgeting ideas can easily be turned into an educational project. Use these same steps and have your homeschoolers make a realistic budget using certain amounts of income and living situations. Or, if you’d like, you can even have them help with your budget. If you get your family involved with the budgeting, they’ll help you save money and you won’t have to feel like the bad guy every time you say no to more spending. Plus just think of the wonderful life skills you’ll be teaching your kids that will help them manage their own money when they grow up!