Leaving my family on weekends during the spring and summer home school conference season is tough, but it affords me a unique opportunity to meet you—homeschooling parents—and to learn firsthand about your successes and challenges. This year, more than ever before, parents tell me they are struggling financially, and worry about their ability to continue home schooling when it is so difficult just to pay the bills. With twelve kids, mortgages, car payments, and on and on, I feel uniquely qualified to give advice on how to squeeze every nickel.
Put your grocery bill on a diet.
When it comes to food, Americans typically eat too much of the wrong things, and our grocery bills are expanding as fast as our waistlines. A few simple tricks can help us provide meals that are cheaper, easier to prepare and more nutritious.
First, strictly limit the amount of prepared food you purchase. Besides having the nutritional value of library paste, pre-packaged, powdered, preserved food is tough on the wallet while remaining mushy in the mouth. Typically, for the same price as a box of powdered “potatoes au gratin,” you can buy ten pounds of fresh spuds.
Second, sugary treats should be an occasional luxury, not a major food group. Try to buy “mixes” for cakes, cookies and brownies. That way the children can enjoy an occasional goodie, but they have to take the time to prepare it first. Limit soda pop consumption to holidays, and serve ice water on a daily basis. I’m not sure that restricting sugar will improve your children’s behavior, but I guarantee it will not make it worse, and at the same time, will shrink waistlines and prevent shrinkage of your bank account.
Third, don’t waste food. If the bread gets stale, make bread crumbs and store them in the freezer. If the bananas get brown and mushy, make banana bread. If you have leftover meat, add it to pasta or rice and make a casserole. Every time you throw away spoiled food, dollar bills go into the garbage can right along with it. Use leftovers before they grow a beard in your refrigerator.
Speaking of leftovers, planning ahead makes mealtime simpler and thriftier. Years ago when I was feeding eleven people on an annual income of less than $25,000, I bought one turkey and one ham every week, and stretched them to last. Sunday, we had stuffed turkey; Monday, baked ham; Tuesday, turkey fricassee; Wednesday, ham, potato and cheese casserole, Thursday, turkey soup, Friday, macaroni and cheese; and Saturday pea soup or potato soup from the hambone. Don’t know how to prepare these types of meals? Look up recipes online.
Finally, meat is expensive and Americans eat way too much of it anyway. Try to base your meals around beans, or pasta or rice with meat in the sauce or as a garnish.
Curtail the Car
For years I drove a fifteen passenger van. When the car died of old age, we didn’t replace it right away because we were broke that month. Twelve years have gone by and we never replaced it. That meant one less set of car payments, insurance bills, fuel bills, and repair bills. It has been a bit inconvenient through the years, but overall we simply got used to being a one-car family and tailored our habits accordingly. I shop on weekends when my husband is home or hitch a ride with someone else. My kids walked or rode their bikes to activities. When necessary, we would carpool by the kids riding with another family to the activity and I would do pick up after my husband was home with the car.
We are lucky enough to live in an urban area with nearby shops and public transportation. I realize many families simply must have a second car, but considering the price of gas and repairs, most of us should drive less. Try to set aside one time per week, maybe Friday afternoons, to schedule all your errands.
Be energy conscious
Stop giving so many hard-earned dollars to utility companies. Use energy efficient light bulbs and lower wattage. Turn off overhead lights and lamps during the day. Keep the TV off unless someone is watching it. Unplug chargers when they are not in use.
Most of us are doing too much laundry because it is easier for the kids to throw a perfectly clean garment into the hamper rather than fold it and put it away. Tell kids that clean clothes will be confiscated by the laundry police and held hostage until they clean up their act. Install a towel rack in the bedrooms and ask the children to reuse their towel for a week. It’s only wet with clean water after a shower anyway.
For years I saved on natural gas by hanging my clothes during the warm weather months and found it to be more efficient in some ways. Because I was conscious of getting the laundry on the line early in the day, and bringing it in and folding it before darkness, laundry chores had a beginning and an end. Since I started using the dryer, it seems as if laundry is a never ending task, and I am still folding towels at midnight!
Nobody ever died from hearing the word “no.” In fact, denying oneself is good for the spiritual life and builds character. Most of us can live without the gizmos and gadgets, overstuffed drawers, resort vacations, and all the other stuff that surrounds us. Simplify your lives, and gain a new appreciation for the easy pleasures of good times spent with family and friends.
Our Faith teaches us that suffering has a purpose. It is just possible that our present hard times will teach us detachment from material things and to value a simpler way of life. Through the years, when I whined about our lack of discretionary income, and worried about paying this bill or that, I found it helpful to remember mothers in poorer countries who worry about feeding their children, and who have no hope for even the basic essentials of life. By meditating on their lives, and generously praying for them, we can gain a serene acceptance of the tribulations that come our way.