In my career coaching life I have noticed many patterns that come up over and over again.
- For example, many women who are 35 and unmarried have commitment issues.
- Many men who are 45 and want coaching have a family with a burn rate that is on track to exceed their earning power.
- First-generation immigrants in their 20s don’t have career problems as much as they have parent problems.
Now that I’ve been coaching people about how to start homeschooling, I’ve noticed a pattern there as well. And it surprises me: The most common struggle with homeschoolers is money. Specifically, many people I coach are a two-income family and would have to change to one income so one parent (mostly) could homeschool.
At this point, I’ve talked through the math with so many people, and I’ve done so much research on the topic, that I have a pretty straightforward answer. The second income matters much more to you before you take your kids out of school than it does afterward. So the psychic cost of going down to one income feels artificially high. Here’s why:
1. Feeling rich is about your head, not your bank. Financial security is a mindset, and it’s relative to the people you spend time with. This is why someone in Paraguay feels financially secure with a much lower income than someone in San Francisco. Most homeschool families live off one income, and the median income for families with a stay-at-home parent is $64K. This means that once you start homeschooling you will perceive that you need less money in order to feel financially secure.
2. Talking about money problems is a way to hide. It’s easier to say you have money problems than to talk about real problems. The real barrier to most parents homeschooling is that they worry they’ll be bored. I’m not saying that homeschooling is thrilling. I mean, taking care of kids is not a thrilling way to spend a day. There is actually great research to back up this assertion even though every parent knows it’s true.
It’s difficult to give up an exciting, rewarding job, and the extra money from that job, to stay home with kids all day. It’s easier to go to work every day. It’s okay to feel this way. It’s okay to talk about it. It’s way better to talk about fears of complete boredom than it is to ignore those fears and talk about money instead.
3. Parents who use schools need more income than parents who homeschool. I realized this when I was talking to someone who moved their fifth-grade daughter from a rich-kid school district in Maryland to a rich-kid school district in New Jersey. And in New Jersey, the daughter was a year ahead of the other kids in her grade.
This is because the median income of the parents in the first school was higher than the median income of the parents in the second school. And parental income means everything when it comes to school.
Something interesting to me is that there is seemingly no way school can overcome the impact of a parent’s income. Even if you put a rich kid at a terrible school, the rich kid will score roughly the same as other rich kids, as opposed to being brought down by the poor kids around him. But a poor kid in a rich kid school will not naturally score high like rich kids.
There are anomalies, yes. But statistically, school spending doesn’t matter. The US keeps increasing spending per student but there is no correlation between school spending and student learning.
Most of the spending in our education budgets goes toward things that homeschoolers do not need—cafeteria personnel, janitors, crossing guards, etc. In fact non-teaching staff comprise 50% of all staff in school districts.
While these statistics are jarring, they are also good news for homeschooling parents:
First, how much money you earn matters much more if you send your kids to school than if you don’t. So taking a big financial hit to homeschool your kids will not have nearly the same negative education impact than if you take a salary cut and send your kids to school.
The other thing that’s a big relief to me is that the pricey infrastructure that schools provide, but individual families cannot, turns out to be unnecessary in the context of homeschooling. All the per-pupil spending that your homeschooler misses out on is essentially a support system for teachers who have to face foreboding student-teacher ratios in schools.