You probably don’t need to earn money while you homeschool
I coach a lot of people about how to earn money from home while they homeschool. Many of them have a spouse who is either living with them or paying child support. My answer is almost always: “Forget it. Let your spouse take care of the money. You take care of the kids and maintaining your sanity while you’re doing it.”
Financially it’s not likely that the psychic and emotional cost of revving up a side business to do from home, in between managing kids, is going to be lucrative enough to justify the extra work it requires. It’s much easier to just cut down on the money you spend.
Remember that most people think they will have an easier life with 20% more income. But after two years of more happiness, that feeling that you need 20% more comes back. That’s how we are made. It’s in our DNA. If you collected berries in a cave and decided you always had enough, soon you wouldn’t. And you’d starve.
We can’t stop wanting more berries.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I make lists of goals for my life every other day. Because I know that if you don’t have goals you won’t reach them, and I know that writing goals out by hand is such a pain that the very act of doing it is an expression of commitment to those goals. So, like many things in my life, I have faith in the research and force myself to act on it.
When people ask me how I homeschool and have a startup and earn so much money and not fall to pieces, the answer is that I never, ever do something that is not related to my top three goals in life.
I have three main sections of goals: Family, work, and spirituality.
I break them down. Family has four sections: My older son, my younger son, Matthew, and my brothers. Work has three sections, my blog, my startup, and coaching. Spirituality has three sections: exercise, religion, and gardening.
But what am I doing with gardening? I spend a huge amount of time and money on my garden so it’s important to me to figure out where it fits. It’s unlike me to spend so much time on something and not be able to make money at it.
But I can’t figure out how to earn money at gardening in any way that’s appealing to me. In fact, I have found that the best way to learn about gardening is to travel all over the Midwest buying twelve of something at a garden shop, planting it in sets of three and learning how to grow it and design with it.
Then I saw the way Melissa cropped this picture (above). And I realized that I garden because I love making fun places for my kids to play. I watch them out the window all day long, seeing the paths they create while they kill plants in their way. I rearrange to make stepping easier, I put subtle shrubs in corners to direct the turns the kids take.
I buy benches that are just a little too small, because I miss when they were young. I buy weather gauges that are a little too complicated in case they want to learn among the roses.
I make the garden because I like making it for them. I don’t tell them that. I spend way too much time on it for them to ever believe me. And also, they might start to feel less too guilty when they trample parsley during a fight.
There is no question that my kids have ruined my life – the life I had before kids. Everything you strive to create after college is destroyed when kids come. The whole game changes. But I remember thinking, in my 30s, when I had mastered the game of earning money and looking hot and having people wish they were me, that I was bored. I could have done that forever, but it would have been monotonous.
So my garden is the place I build that I can control, that keeps my life interesting while I focus on kids.
When you ask yourself if you need a career while you’re homeschooling, ask yourself why. It might be that you just need a garden. A career is a huge, psychic commitment that chips away at your control over your life. A garden gets you the same type of high learning curve and creative opportunity, and you can get immediate feedback from people around you.
That’s what we want, I think: challenge, learning, and the ability to see progress in a context that you can control. And when you have kids, a garden gets you that in a way more manageable way than a job.
I taught myself to sew when I became a stay at home mom. First I thought it was for my kids. I made them clothes and costumes until they stopped wanting to wear my projects. Then I tried to make a business of it. What a horrible business! Sitting at craft fairs and working out a fair wage for making clothes felt ridiculous. I still can’t figure out how people on Etsy make money. Anyway, now I think about it as something that I do for myself to stay sane. Sewing challenges me. I have to concentrate and have patience and there is always something new to learn. I like the culmination of a sewing project when all the details come together to a finishing point. Homeschooling and housework are all about process. On hard days I find happiness in the perfect french seam while dishes pile up in the sink. It has taken me ten years to claim sewing for myself. After 10,000 hours, I find flow at my sewing machine and that is something I didn’t have when I started. Thank you for this post today. It feels nice to share our sanity projects.
Abby! It’s so nice to hear from you! I love your comment – love the idea of each of us sharing our sanity projects. I really feel like me starting my company is a sanity project, not a money project, but maybe only people reading this blog could understand that.
But also, I want everyone to know that Abby was the first mom I got to know well who homeschools. It was way before I decided to homeschool and it was absolutely shocking to me how normal Abby’s life is, how sweet her kids are, I liked everything about her family and I couldn’t make sense of that since they homeschooled. It was not anything I had ever imagined about homeschooling.
I think knowing Abby is the first step I took toward being able to de-program myself enough to homsechool my kids.
That’s so neat! I also have a friend that was homeschooling before me and helped desensitize me to the “those weird homeschoolers” stigma.
My friend plus this blog plug Lisa Nielsen = me homeschooling for life.
I do nothing to earn my own income. I don’t have the time right now. But when my mom retires in a few years and my youngest is over 5 I plan on refurbishing old furniture and selling with my mom, just for fun. That’s the limit to my artist/creative side. To help me stay sane I watch the stock market and treasury yields all day. Lame, I know.
This is precisely the conflict I spend hours ranting about in my journal rants. The thing is, no, I don’t technically have to work, but if I go too many months without a paycheck, I start making life hell for everyone around me because I feel so worthless. what I really want to do is do writing that’s not grant writing and it’s not likely I’ll be making a paycheck from that soon enough to avoid a nervous breakdown. Yesterday, I escaped to a matinee because I was so bummed about non being a wage earner I was just being a monster. I was half depressed, half inspired after seeing “In a World” – written, directed and starring a gorgeous, childless drama school peer of my sister.
Sheela, I’m not so sure it’s about the paycheck. I think if you were writing op-eds in the New York Times that everyone was talking about, you wouldn’t care that op-eds don’t pay.
What I mean is that I am pretty sure you want to do something that has impact and meaning and I think that taking care of kids doesn’t always do that for everyone. Like, taking kids is not an intellectual pursuit, for example.
I’m just trying to point out another way to look at it – that it’s not about money. That might open up a lot of other possible solutions.
I can totally relate to @Sheela! I spend hours every day vacillating between trying to feel proud of making the sacrifice to homeschool my kids and utter worthlessness for not making any money. And now that I’m starting to make headway in the income department, I feel absolutely overwhelmed. Because I used to be able to focus at least 10 hours a day on work and now I have to fit it in around the kids’ schedule. Or just not do school and then I feel guilty, like I let the kids down. But when I see people like Penelope and other commenters on this blog who are working and homeschooling, I know that I can do it too. I just need to suck it up an get it all done. I’m no stranger to hard work. Besides, it’s great to depend on the husband but what happens if he looses his job?
To be clear, most people who are working and homeschooling are not netting more money. They are spending money to take care of kids and other stuff so they can work.
For example, I have had to add another nanny now that my startup is going full throttle. So it’s not like I am able to make more money and not pay for more child care. There is a direct relationship.
Also, does your husband worry what he will do if you can’t take care of the kids? No. He sticks to his job of earning money. So why can’t you stick to your job of taking care of the kids? Why do you have to worry about doing your husband’s job but he doesn’t worry about doing yours?
I think it’s so important to acknowledge that taking care of the kids is a huge huge job and whatever we do in addition to that is for sanity (re Abby’s comment above) and not for money.
Excellent point as I am currently looking for a part time nanny to watch the kids so that I can put in more time to work. The thought was that I could still do school and the nanny can take the kids to all their activities. So what’s the point, right? I have to make enough money to cover child care AND net enough money to make the extra work worth my while. Which means I’ll have to work even more. And then I miss out on all the fun stuff with the kids. A vicious cycle, definitely. So maybe it is more about me being able to say I am contributing to the household and I have my own money. I love writing but can’t make any money doing it so I’ve stopped writing to pursue things that will earn money. As always, you’ve given me something to think about.
P, I’m also happy to hear that you have help (an nanny or two, personal assistant, editor, etc.) and that you are not superwoman and doing everything by yourself. Makes me feel better about myself. I appreciate your full disclosure because many successful women make it look as though they have it all and do it all by themselves and then make you feel bad because you aren’t as awesome as they are. Thanks for being normal.
I must confess that though I’ve been learning a lot from your blog, I find much of your advice difficult to reconcile. Maybe I’m missing something.
What if one or one’s spouse makes far less than the oft-mentioned $75k/year? What if living in an area with a low cost of living means moving away from one’s friends and family (which, according to the research you cite, is worth $130k/year)? How, even on $75k/year, is one supposed to help one’s child follow his passions (and gain mastery), provide valuable educational opportunities, or pay for expensive medical interventions, all of which you advocate? I don’t see master cello classes, lodging and transportation for those lessons, multiple plastic surgeries, private swim lessons, and trips to New York to do styling workshops–just to name a few–being feasible on such an income, though I would want to do the same for my own child. I also dispute the argument that $75k would support 1 kid as well as 4, when all of the above pertain to only one of your children, while the other has received intensive private intervention for autism as well as his own lessons, etc. (To say nothing of potential medical bills, travel, hobbies, or last but not least, debt for the parents–not all creditors are as accommodating as the federal government with its student loans).
Finally, if one drops one’s career entirely for the 18+ years one is raising children, why bother making a career path through one’s 20s? And how will one “ramp up” one’s career when the kids fly the coop–or is 18+ years an acceptable gap?
I would very much like to homeschool my child (who is not yet of school age), but spend a lot of time wondering about whether it would be worth it if it meant not being able to afford supporting glorious but expensive interests, living near people we care about, paying off a mountain of student debt, and visiting family in other states and countries. Having another child only to shortchange it seems unethical. I would also like to be in a position to find fulfilling and decently compensated full-time work when my children are grown. Unfortunately, like many of your readers, I do not have the opportunities for highly lucrative, flexible part-time work that you do.
MG, your comment is not actually about homeschooling, it’s about standard of living. You are saying that it’s more important for kids to have middle class lives than to be able to have freedom to learn what they want.
That tradeoff doesn’t make sense to me. Your kids need to be able to learn what they want more than they need to have stuff they can buy. Of course my kids don’t need music lessons and travel in order to homeschool.
I also want to point out that we did not have a middle class life until a few years ago. We lived four people in 500 square feet in NYC. Neither kid had a crib, and the second son did not have a bed until he was three. We had a babysitter quit because there was no food to feed the kids, and we had our electricity turned off in our house in Wisconsin.
This is all to say that I think there is a big difference between having basic necessities met, and having tons of lessons and extra stuff.
Kids need to be with their families and have freedom to learn what they want more than they need a the comforts of a second income. I think we all know this. It just feels uncomfortable.
I am thinking, now, actually, that society tells us that things we can buy are worth more than spending time with our kids, so then we feel guilty trading money for family time.
I don’t want to buy into that.
Thank you Penelope. My husband spent years in school, and then started a business, and we didn’t make over 40,000 dollars til we were 8 years into our marriage. I felt like I could preach to people then, but now that we are making good money, and enjoying lots of those homeschooling perks, I feel like I lost my street cred as far as living frugally. Sure, it is nice to sign up for cool things, and have a bigger cushion, but we really aren’t any happier- life was good.
It is hard to swim upstream all the time! But I know for sure that our lifestyle is the one I want. It’s hard to endure the looks or groans when I tell people that I homeschool my kids. But I would rather be with my children every day, watch them grow, support their passions, and share in their memories. It’s hard not to take vacations to warm destinations in the middle of winter when I watch other people fly away. But I know that my choice to make (almost) no money is so that at the end of the day we know we gave our children everything we possibly could.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, Penelope! The luxuries of an added income that parents provide are often used to relieve the guilt of creating a latch-key childhood. Trust me, I was a latch key kid whose parents traded time for money. Needless to say, I didn’t come out any better.
It feels very uncomfortable for society to recognize this problem because they don’t want to admit how truly self-sacrificing good parenting needs to be. Parenting has very little to do with money that it’s amazing how much people emphasize throwing gadgets and toys at kids who just want their families to spend time with them and raise them.
Such timely a topic for me because lately I have been searching for a part time job or business where I can homeschool and earn some money. I agree with P. that it is about having control — I like being able to have my own money to spend ( even though I am the household money mgr). I also want a paycheck because there are many homeschool enrichment classes for kids that I’d like my kids to take. I know they don’t need them but I am mentally wrapped up in the “I want to help my kids find their passion” quest. I read about homeschool parents and kids doing these amazing things and somehow I wonder if I’m doing the right thing ……………..
Oh and there’s one more thing —- retirement!! I’d like to make a few bucks so that I have something set aside for that rapidly approaching time in my life.
Woman, you’re nuts sometimes! But I keep reading this because it’s chokeful of good links and because the ideas make me uncomfortable. And if something makes me uncomfortable is because my understanding of life is being stretched.
I agree I agree I agree. I know that I want a husband who can support me, our little hobby farm, and a bunch of kids that I’m going to homeschool. And I’ll have a little creative hobby-business to keep me sane. Absolutely.
But I’m 21 years old, never been in a long-term relationship (where do I even find a husband?), not in school and unemployed, and bored out of my mind. I’m at least a few years out from having kids and a farm and the life I want. What do I do in the meantime? How do I find engaging work (I’m an INTP – can’t stand anything mindless or repetitive) when I know I don’t really want a career in the long run?
Molly, this is such an incredibly important and brave question that you ask: what do you do if you don’t want to work and you want to get married and have kids but it’s not time to get married. It’s as if people like this are invisible. No one wants to talk about them. I wonder if other people have answers: what do to? I am not sure I have a great answer except to continue being brave enough to say who you are and what you want in a world that is not very accepting of this.
My advice for Molly is to put yourself in places and situations where you can meet the kind of man you want to marry. Off the top of my head, the best place for this would be college. But there might be others. A large church, if you are religious etc.
Molly, I think you should do whatever you want! Travel might be a good option. Do you enjoy something passionately? whatever that is, do it!
I’m hoping this doesn’t sound condescending, but I think at 21 (I’m 29, so this was me 8 years ago) you’re at an age where you basically know who you are and what you want… now the rest is icing on the cake and fun self-development. The bonus is that you just might meet the person you’ll love while doing it.
Good luck! I’m dating an INTP (I’m an ENTP) and he’s just like you (except we don’t want kids). I love money, making it, and earning respect through my work, and he wants to learn and devote himself to it.
Molly, to find the husband you want to spend the rest of your life with, fill your time with the pursuits you envision being intergral to your future married life. Develop the skills that will make you an asset to your future husband, such as money management, homemaking skills, read good books on marriage and family relationships. Develop and grow who you are, your character, your faith, your passions, your physical well-being, your inner beauty. Practice giving your time for the benefit of others. Then widen your circle of social interactions and connections in the areas that will be important to you in future years. Those will be the places to meet a man who shares your values. I agree with considering men who are older and already past those early years of career focus. They are going to be the ones who are able to recognize their need for a life partner who can help them rather than compete with them. And that’s when you are going to be a sparkling gem among a bunch of dull rocks.
My 20 year old son recently read Meg J’s book called the Defining Decade. It gives some great advice about what you should be doing in your 20’s.
Molly, if you want a side business later, start it now.
AndI think you will meet someone when you are doing something that you love whether it’s paid work or volunteer work.
Molly, I’d say that if you’re 21 and know yourself really well make sure you shoot to meet someone in their 30’s because that’s when men normally are ready to have kids and they have had 10 years to work on their career.
And normally the men that want to have these big money making careers are the ones that want a stay at home wife that will (excitedly) take care of kids). So shoot for older men. And make yourself responsible. And make sure to be extra hot. That’s like part of the job description and the trade off when you’re shooting for older rich men that want a wife that stays at home.
Check out the book called “Joyfully at Home” and website, LadiesAgainstFeminism.com both by Jasmine Buchannen. She’s a young lady like yourself who advocates for the old fashioned aapproach that an unmarried woman should help her father. Very beautiful and inspiring.
God bless you, girl!
Your garden represents your parenting choices. Beautiful!
For me, it isn’t about the paycheck–it’s about paying bills. I want to homeschool, but we would have to make some major changes for me to do it and not work at the same time.
There are days I think we could make those changes, but then I realize how much we would give up for a slight change, and I weigh the work against the change and stay where I am.
One day I think I might give it up.
It isn’t really worth it most of the time. I’m not sure the few times it is worth it makes it work it all of the time.
Each day feels like something different, and that’s because I’m a woman with deep feelings that are interwoven to the truths of the daily grind. What feels overwhelming one day is manageable the next. Homeschooling is interwoven amid all of that mess.
“Kids need to be with their families and have freedom to learn what they want more than they need a the comforts of a second income.”
It is so true!
Thank you so much for writing those things: I agree so much!
Feminism has a good side but it broke something important for kids: a stay at home mom who has enough time to take care of them: it is so important!
Far more important than nice shoes, holiday trips and new cars!
What do you do if your spouse is paranoid about job and financial security, and wants you to work? It comes from the fact that he grew up without much of it…
I think paranoid is the most important word here. You know it’s not a rational thought, and you know that your kids lives should not be determined by someone’s paranoia. So it’s fine if your husband has issues to work through from his childhood. But it’s not fine to run your family life around someone’s paranoia. You need boundaries.
am-buy him this book, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke
By Elizabeth Warren, Amelia Warren Tyagi
They talk all about how one income families are actually more secure financially than two income families :) I think i heard about it from Penelope.
I just checked out this book as my husband falls into the paranoid “my children shall never know the life I had” category. Just a fair warning here that this book was written/published in 2004. Not saying that they don’t make good points, but I would be curious how many of their point hold up after The Great Recession and global economy collapse in the intervening decade.
On my way to do further research for similar books, but published in the last year or two.
In my view, the following years only helped demonstrate the fundamental accuracy of Senator Warren’s projections.
The image that sticks with me from her book is of a kind of brittleness in a family that is maximizing income but is mortgaged to the withers and obligated to within a cent of their ability.
During the downturn we saw a lot of families like that break.
One of the hardest things about increasing your income is holding the line on your spending. If your spending rises at the same rate as your income – especially that spending that is not negotiable, such as daycare and mortgages – then you are not actually improving your stability, you are hurting it, because a sudden loss of income or unexpected major expense (medical expenses cause most bankruptcies) will hit you even harder.
A one-income family has greater flexibility and resources in reserve. It’s like hedging your bets rather than going all-in.
In terms of your children never having to suffer what you did as a child, I hear you there. My children will never have their water glasses freeze by their bedside, or rats sitting on them at night to keep warm. And I hope they will never have to donate blood plasma for food money. But I do not have to have a job now to achieve that.
The strongest argument Penelope makes for homeschooling is that we don’t know what the future is going to hold, we don’t know what jobs our children will have twenty years from now, and the absolute worst way to prepare them for it is to filter reality through the sclerotic bureaucracy of the education system.
I remember hearing in the nineties that software companies wouldn’t hire anybody with an MS in computer science because that meant their skills were out of date.
If we want our children to be best prepared to succeed in the extra-scholastic world of the future, they should encounter it sooner rather than later. The best thing we can do for them is to remove the artificial barriers like school curricula and school teachers and facilitate their direct and early understanding of reality.
If you are going to have a full career you can’t really homeschool, and your kids will be spending their days at school, spinning their wheels in nonsense.
Include your children in your financial discussions. It’s them you’re talking about. They won’t understand much at first, but eventually they’ll catch on.
Include them in your workplace politics discussions for similar reasons. Let them come to understand what is necessary for the breadwinner to succeed.
Without being caught up in the generational politics and senseless rejection engendered by the school environment, they’ll be more open to learning about the world their parents work in. If they can start off adulthood with a realistic perspective instead of going through a lost decade of extended adolescence, it will help secure their financial future.
An alternative take on goal-setting:
I thought it was pretty good stuff.
I’m totally doing this. Only 20 hours a week, so snail-like, but doing it anyway. Homeschooling 5 kids ages 4-12. Biz 1: Editor/proofreader. Biz 2: freelance writer for parenting mags and ebook author. Biz 3: The Kindle Pixie, helping ebook authors promote their Amazon works. Slow and steady. Not major money but it pays for the extras like a roof, an oven, gymnastics class so I can have one hour to work in the bleachers, braces, and heading toward a goal of moving to the country and traveling as a family. Inching along ;-)
Molly – I agree with the others up above who mentioned starting your own business. My husband and I are 50 and 46. We have mentioned numerous times that we wish the internet opportunities we have now would have been available to us even ten or fifteen years ago. Our life would be much different.
We are fortunate to work from home. He’s a graphic designer and I’m a curriculum developer/blogger/writer. I create and sell curriculum on Teachers Pay Teachers as well as my own site. We also homeschool/quasi-unschool our daughter. This is the life we dreamed of and prayed for for many years and we are SO thankful that we are here. But we have made a lot of personal and financial sacrifices to do this. And medical bills over the past eight years have made it even more challenging.
I often wonder in another fifteen to twenty years how many homeschooling parents are not going to be ready financially for retirement. So many of us are making significant financial sacrifices to homeschool because we know it is so important. But I do wonder how it will all work out in the end for those of us who have gotten by, but not flourished financially.
I really enjoy your blog, Penelope. I started reading you when you were on Yahoo! Finance. Love how you work in the MB stuff all the time. (I’m an INFJ.) :-)
OK. But the growing season is over in WI. Now what?
I get the comparison now. It’s spot on. It’s just an extension of who we are that we have complete control over.
“Spirituality has three sections: exercise, religion, and gardening.”
A very good article on exercise – how it affects our brains to make us happier, be more productive, improve memory and overall health, improves mood and sense of calm – http://blog.bufferapp.com/why-exercising-makes-us-happier .
Whether it’s on my gym equipment in the basement, riding my bicycle, walking, canoeing, hiking, or working outside in the yard, exercise is important and not an option.
Just a heads up for those of you who are in the thick of raising young children… If you’re a devoted parent who makes your kids’ needs a priority, you’ll likely be dealing with similar issues (work vs. your needs vs kids’ needs) even when your kids are grown! I was a stay-at-home mom of 3 kids, now in their 20’s and doing great (self-supporting, involved in meaningful work, happy) and I still grapple with being available to them vs my needs. I always thought I’d be working full-time once they left home, but what I really want is flexible, part-time work that allows for maximum freedom and mobility so I can visit them and help them out when needed (like when they move to a new city). I have no regrets, but it’s still a juggling act!
Aww Sylvia, this is so awesome. You must be a great mom!
I think I am just going to go to bed and cry. It’s been a long day of just trying to figure out how to work with my children’s brain issues and that they actually RETAIN the information I am trying so hard to teach them.
I really enjoy your post Ms. P. Reading on here helps me to keep balanced and also makes me feel a little less alone and that it is “OK” to sometimes not be perfect in everything I am “supposed” to be doing.
Blessings & Shalom to you and yours.
I love this post. I have a blog because I love it but my prime focus is not my blog. It’s my family and my faith. Everything else either fits with that or doesn’t. =)
I have wanted to home school my son since he was young but I am single and have been in school, on assistance, or receiving school loans. I never thought it was manageable since I didn’t have a job or a spouse to support us financially.
I believe my child would greatly benefit from home schooling, but I am unsure of how I would take care of us if I were not working. Is this somehow do-able?
I’m the married mom of an older teen with Asperger Syndrome. I have been home schooling since grade 7 (This Fall he’s going to be in 11th!). I am very educated and have so much to offer and NEED to work but the Recession and our need to educate at home has decimated my chances of finding a job. Even low level positions pass me by. I am so frustrated because I try to get psyched up for interviews and do what I can to earn SOMETHING (my husband does not make much money). It’s been defeat after defeat. I know home school is the best for our son but I am not able to earn anything! It’s hard to keep trying and being passed over for a jobs over and over. I’m a home school mom, and have a child who cannot be home alone too long. So it’s one of those endless struggles to stay afloat.
I love having a career and a child. But I specifically built my career around flexibility and creativity I find fulfilling. I’m a freelance writer and editor and pick 1-2 clients that pay well enough to make a significant contribution to my monthly household income. All other clients are for fun + money. As such, I make little money as a family travel writer, but travel for free and get to take my child with me lots of fun places. Then I get to write about it, which I also love.
Work + kids doesn’t have to be all or nothing. And it probably can’t be 50/50 or work seamlessly. But if you’re going to work, find something that fits with your family lifestyle. Don’t fit your family into your work.