How homeschoolers cut back to a single income

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.



76 replies
  1. karelys
    karelys says:

    I am an example of this.

    We don’t even make it to the $64K mark. And guess what? we feel rich and secure now but we didn’t before when we had two incomes.

    My husband stepped up and left his job to be a full time parent and educate our child. I worry constantly that he’ll grow bored. But we figured out a way.

    And so far, we’re happier and healthier (because we have no choice but to eat homemade fresh foods – I know! the horror! the sacrifice!!! ;)), we have less money to go out and eat and get distracted so we go on walks because they are free. He golfs and is we spend more time with family. Mostly because we’ve realized how ridiculously important family is and in turn they have been an incredible support making this transition. So we’re healthier and happier this way.

    And you wouldn’t believe it but we’re pretty busy too. Apparently cutting back on income doesn’t equal sitting around bored from not having money to spend on going out to the movies or dinner or wine tours and vacations. Who would’ve thought!?

    • Tracy
      Tracy says:

      I love that your husband is a full-time parent. I know there are men who at home with the kids, but it seems so few and far between to me. I know a couple of guys I feel would have gone for the stay-at-home-dad thing if they had known other dads who did it too. And the more dads doing it is bound to make a difference in the same way people go on about more women in tech. So three cheers for everytime I hear about a dad being full time parent!

      • Karelys
        Karelys says:

        He’s something else.

        If no one asked or volunteered the information people wouldn’t know he stays at home. He’s the typical guys’ guy that always wears a Seahawks jacket with jeans and boots. He’s got a pretty good tan because he works outside and golfs quite a bit.
        I think there’s quite a bit women could learn about men staying at home. It seems it doesn’t bother them to “have to do it all.”

        Or maybe everyone falls over themselves when men stay at home that they feel no pressure to do all as long as they do great in the parenthood and husband department.

        Women look frazzled while men walk around like “look how cool I am.”

        • of 5 under 10
 of 5 under 10 says:

          Not the same…but its a bit like when my husband takes 3 kids to Target and people are literally honking and waving from car screaming “way to go…great Dad!!!”…but if I go to Trader Joes with 2 they are waiting for us to mess up..

          • karelys
            karelys says:

            I think that being a dedicated dad increases your sex appeal to other women (who may or may no the ovulating but definitely dreaming about finding someone to make a good life with).
            But being a dedicated mom makes you frazzled and possibly fat. Definitely gives you dark circles haha!

            I can hear the women swooning in their heads when we go places! I am not imagining it (because I was like that once before getting married).

            But when I am out and about with or without the child I feel invisible at best and like I draw pity from people at worse.

            To be clear, I laugh at myself. I know it’ll get better in the time juggling department. It’s just interesting that things take this turn. But if that’s how the game is rigged then let me tell you, we made the absolute best decision for him to stay at home and for me to work. Not only for our personalities and ambitions. But because you make more of a splash when you screw with people’s preconceived notions of how things should be :).

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        One of the things that has held women back in terms of advancement and salary is the residual expectation that men are earning for a family and women are just earning for themselves.

        As this expectation is dispelled, women will advance farther and earn more.

        As one reaches the upper echelons of the business world, more and more women have stay-at-home husbands. It’s – _we’re_ – like their secret weapon, the way to get off the mommy track.

        There are more stay at home dads around here (and more homeschoolers) every year.

        • karelys
          karelys says:

          When people find out about the set up we have they automatically assume I am “successful” (meaning a splashy career or glamorous job title).

          Then they are even more interesting when they realize we’re a run of the mill family.

          At first it was odd, like too much of a luxury, to drop one income when the one job on the table wasn’t that of a CEO or something “big.” I felt like I had to apologize to the people that had no choice.

          And then the moms. All crazed and frazzled. I just felt bad to be so happy even when tired, and to have a husband who has a kickass tan from golfing even when we’re not wealthy. I just felt like I had to apologize and hide left and right that I was ecstatic, so so happy about our newfound freedom!

          But then something happened, realizing that I was working to provide for a family gave me the aplomb and gravitas I needed to get rid of the worry I’d come across as bitchy in the work world and just be straight up and honest, offer my best and ask the best in return.

          It has made me grow beyond belief. It has gotten me closer to the woman I want to be.

  2. Aaron
    Aaron says:


    Home cooked meals.
    No commuting.
    No therapists to undo damage schools do to students

    … if the home schooler is in a secure enough relationship to do this, it’s a huge win.

    There’s the rub though. Secure relationship.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        I had an immediate idea of what Aaron meant by a secure relationship.

        One of the reasons, as PT has detailed here, that more people don’t homeschool is full-time employment of mothers. Somebody needs to stay home with the kids, and this conflicts with the need many men and women feel to be self-supporting and not financially reliant upon their spouse.

        If you give up a professional career to stay home with the kids, it’s terribly hard to get back into it. To do so requires a leap of faith – not only in your ability to be a homeschooling parent, but also in your partner’s commitment to you. You are allowing yourself to be extremely vulnerable, so you have to be very sure of the security of your relationship.

        That’s what I thought of when Aaron said “secure relationship.” It’s the kind I have with my wife, and there’s no way I’d be homeschooling without it.

  3. says:

    You’re right, it is a mindset. I feel financially secure even as a freelancer with unpredictable income. Even while living in NYC and paying high rent, I felt secure despite not knowing where my income came from.

    Why? I KNOW how to earn money, scale up and down as needed and how to focus down to work on projects when my daughter is asleep, or when my husband takes her to play for a few hours on the weekend.

    I personally don’t feel it has to be all or nothing. You can have exciting, rewarding work and be home as a freelancer. Yes, you do have to compromise. You can’t take on every job and you will miss out on certain gigs. And sometimes I’m up past midnight finishing a freelance writing or social media assignment when I just want to crash. But for me, it’s worth it. I get to be with my daughter AND have that creative outlet that makes a big financial contribution to my family.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I feel this way about working for myself as well. I can decide how much money we need, and that’s how much money we make.

      Part of what makes working 9-5 at an office so inflexible is that you HAVE to earn that amount of money even though I think our perceived money needs fluctuate a lot.


      • Susan
        Susan says:

        Definitely. There’s certainly ups and downs to being self-employed, but it’s so preferable and safer to me than an office paycheck.

        My 2 1/2 year old already knows what money and jobs are and has a sense that most parents go to “the big office” except my husband and I. I hope she grows up thinking working from home and having a flexible schedule to do whatever we want is the norm.

  4. Aaron
    Aaron says:

    Secure Relationship:

    Im no expert. But I’d posit this:

    – Married or committed into some legal arrangement after you found out exactly what you hate about that person, but decided to commit anyway. (tongue and cheek way of saying… made the commitment w/o influence of lust or shotgun)
    – No emotional manipulation either way.

    Those are the basics…

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    This all sounds like good advice to me.

    I really just wanted to say I love that doorknob in the photo.


  6. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Me too! I love every little old thing in our old farm house. My kids, on the other hand, think patina is another word for dirt.


  7. Erin
    Erin says:

    Instead of wasting my teen years fitting into the mold of public school, and wasting my 20s “finding my true self,” I wish I’d been an artist from the get-go. Launching a career as an artist at this stage requires too much of me. I want the option of scaling back, like you guys are talking about.

    I hate it that I have to choose between kids and work.

    I know it’s taboo to have regrets. But I have regrets. So many wasted years. I could have figured out the right path for me in ways that would have cost me much less.

    If for no other reason, this is why I will homeschool my daughter. This is why I am passionate about it. It may be too late for me, but I will make a difference for her.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      Ugh when people say you shouldn’t have regrets is like when people tell me to calm down while my blood is boiling. Look! It’s not helping and it’s not going to work and you’re making it worse!

      Whatever. I have lots that I regret but I figure that if I find something to make me better out if it I still win. Haters to the left.

      • of 5 under 10 of 5 under 10 says:

        I agree. I think people who say they have “no regrets” are either not truly understanding the meaning of “regret” or they are trying to act “cool”. Like “no biggie…it all happened as part of the journey..”
        I regret a ton of things I have done. Now, I don’t often feel guilt. That I am happy for. I use my regret as learning experiences. Guilt on the other hand is a wasted emotion IMHO.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Everyone has huge regrets about something. You just never know when in life you’ll realize it. If the thing you are going to regret is what you did in your late 20s then you won’t know you regret it, probably, til your 40s. So, I guess what I’m saying is don’t be put off by all the people who look like they are scaling back their career and have so many options. They have regrets, too, probably about what they did to get there.


      • of 5 under 10 of 5 under 10 says:

        I agree about not knowing it’s a regret until later. I had things in my past that up until even 4-5 years ago I didn’t see as regrets. Then suddenly they were.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          My regrets are not learning how to take care of a house when I was growing up and learning how to garden. So I’m having to learn all this stuff on the fly because I was expecting my kids to be in school and my house to magically be clean. Let me tell you, having the kids at home with me really makes it obvious that I have just barely functioning domestic skills… my husband often comes home after working 15 hour days and helps clean up.

          Maybe I need to post a job as a “domestic intern” for some tween/teen who wants to be a homemaker when they are older so they can be in an environment to learn those skills and not have to learn once they are out on their own… because when I was growing up I only had to take care of myself or my room and maybe like vacuum once a week or something.


          • Erin
            Erin says:

            I understand what you mean about learning the domestic skills on-the-fly. I have tried to garden every year for the past 3 or 4 years, and each year the garden withers and dies under my terrible care. But I keep trying. Lol. Like a crazy person.

            And my solution to keeping the house clean? When the clutter gets overwhelming, we start getting rid of stuff. It’s funny to me, how I have become less and less of a hoarder over the years. But I just don’t have the energy anymore to manage all the stuff we used to care about.

          • Karelys
            Karelys says:

            Funnily enough, probably the best class in public school is Home Economics but everyone makes fun of it and takes it as an easy credit. But it’s the one class that has the most impact in the real world application.

            I took it as an easy credit and walked away blown away by how little respect it gets.

            My domestic skills are not so great. They are good in some aspects and leave much to be desired in the keeping everything tidy all the time. So my solution is to downsize.


            Our house is only 1200 square feet and we’re going smaller.
            We have an awesome open big living room with tall ceilings. I never decorated it because I wanted to make sure my kid could bounce a ball and run around without me worrying that a vase would break or that he’d get the expensive couch dirty.

            But we’re going even much smaller and making sure we don’t have netflix or anything like that. It’ll be less to clean and if we get bored well then we just have very few options like going outside to play, workout, meditate, or whatever.

            We pared down out wardrobe so we’d have less laundry to do.

            After all that I noticed how I never needed all he extras and the amount of effort required to keep up that life wasn’t even worth the joy it produced in return.

            That’s just my life of course. If a big house brings you joy then it’s a good investment.

            Many people would be surprised at how happy they can still be with half of what they have.

  8. Ariane
    Ariane says:

    I live in a semi-rural area and drive my kids 3 hours/day to go to a very expensive private school in the city. I do this because we live in one of the worst performing/violent public school districts in the nation. I’d prefer to homeschool them, but you’re very right Penelope – keeping up appearances is a huge problem.

    In my case I’d actually SAVE a lot of money if I homeschooled them, however, as an INTJ my biggest fear is not the academics (i’m confident that i can teach them anything), no, my biggest fear is not having enough alone time for myself.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      If it helps any, you make more time for yourself because you think “well….we’re around each other all the time so whatever…you can do without me for 2 hours today! Bye. Tell the sitter what you want for lunch.”

      I don’t have a penny for a sitter much less expensive school. But the guilt of not seeing my child all day because of work and making him stay in daycare had dissipated because my husband stays at home and sometimes I take the kid to work.

      So it’s easier to say “non negotiable. I need time to invest in myself.” And because you’re always around you feel less bad about it.

      It doesn’t happen right away but I guess other people are more adaptable than I am.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      As another introvert, I hear you, Ariane. Children can be truly exhausting for us, especially if they are extroverted. My little girl runs me ragged. I understand how it’s easy for someone to say to you that anyone can do it, but you know that it could exhaust you and make you a worse parent. When I’m exhausted, I’m less compassionate and more snappy.

      Children can have competing needs, and you can lose out in the process. It’s hard to make time for yourself in the middle of a homeschooling day, when you’re going back and forth between the plans, activities, and needs of your children.

      A lot depends on the kids themselves. My son is an introvert like me, and loves to sit and read a book or research or build something for hours at a time. I can have enough time to rest and regenerate while helping him with his studies. I don’t see this ever being the case with my daughter.

      She’s at a half-time, mostly outdoor preschool right now that she loves, and it’s great for the family as well. She gets what she needs, and this lets us get what we need. If she chooses to return to full-time homeschooling in a couple of years, I’ll have to load up her schedule (with sports, probably) just to get some time for myself and the boy.

      It would be easy for someone who is the camp counselor type, always happy-clappy, to say just spend the whole day playing with your daughter, but I can’t. I’d be around the bend come evening, and my kids would both suffer. Knowing your limitations is much better than pretending they don’t exist. Homeschooling has to work for everybody, parents included.

      Depending on the age and personality of your kids, it can be possible to find alternatives to school other than you playing with insatiable children all day. Another thing to consider is that school trains children to be dependent on adults for amusement and learning, and homeschooled kids can become self-directed at a younger age. I find the elementary years a bit challenging, especially with an extroverted child, but I love to see how self-directed and responsible my ten year old boy is becoming.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Thanks so much for weighing in on the introvert life of a homeschool parent. It’s a really important topic. I’m not an introvert, but I spend most of my worry time worrying that I’m not taking care of myself, and what can I do to get alone time to do that. So I can only imagine how stressful that is to an introvert.

        My sense is that I buy all my alone time. Sometimes I get if from my husband, but not a lot. So if I want to be alone I have to organize everything, and usually pay someone to help, so that I can be alone without feeling like I abandoned the kids.


      • Ariane
        Ariane says:

        Exactly. This summer I experimented by keeping my 5 yr old son (INTP) and 6 yr old daughter (ENFJ) home for the entire 2+ month break. He did great – self-amused and taught himself things quietly all summer – reading, building, running outside… But SHE drove me nuts with her needing people, organizing activities, needing to be told what to do all the time. It’s like an INTJ mom’s worst nightmare. I could see homeschooling my son, but not her. I’ve considered it, but that’s another debate – whether or not it’s okay to send some of your kids to traditional school while homeschooling your others…

    • mh
      mh says:


      I’m an INTJ. I stopped working when my oldest was born, which was how we planned it. I homeschool, which is NOT how we planned it. But when we looked at what we were spending at private school, and we measured the cheerfulness and contentment we wanted for our kids compared to what they were experiencing at school, it seemed obvious we should pull them. No regrets. Also, I’m not following a set curriculum, so we don’t have something that looks like “school at home.”

      We have a series of ongoing (neverending) projects that the children pursue. My involvement is limited to sometimes getting more supplies, and often as a sounding board. Also, I plan trips and travel for the family.

      I do have time alone. Time alone during the day when the kids are doing their thing is no problem – I am only involved in the children’s work maybe between breakfast and lunch, if that long. If you can manage your evening hours when everyone is home together to suit your style, I think you may find homeschool a rewarding opportunity.

      I can’t tell you how good the freedom feels. No school schedule. No fitting in. Not much conflict. No tattling.

      • Ariane
        Ariane says:

        Thanks for posting that. It helps to hear that others with my personality type have done it successfully. I don’t think I’d have trouble homeschooling, I just worry about my little extrovert needing things I can’t provide.
        But I suppose she too can learn to self-amuse, self-teach and appreciate the little socializing she gets even more.

  9. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    So much of homeschooling seems to be ensuring that a child is well cared for during the day. My current daycare provider (who homeschools her own kids) probably cares for my son better than I do.

    I wonder if some switch will go off at age 6 where I can no longer pay someone to care for my son during the day.

    I know that eventually I will have to be more hands on in helping my son pursue his passions, but I assumed that in the younger years (maybe until late elementary age) that home education would look a lot more like play, helping him learn how to use computers, cooking with him etc (barring some sort of obvious prodigy at a young age). In which case, I was just hoping to pay someone to take care of him while I work.

    I also haven’t totally ruled out the SAHM or freelancer option.

    Maybe my husband and I will have to make a decision sooner than I thought.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Hannah I hope you and your family find what works for you and makes you all happy :)

      I do agree that the early years look a lot like playing.

      Personally I think it’s exhausting because you’re laying the ground work of trust, delineating authority, boundaries, expectations for behavior, etc. And sometimes you just can’t allow wiggle room for anything because children want to push boundaries all the time.

      But it’s worth it.

      In my experience, having what I am convinced is a pretty demanding (emotionally) child in comparison to others, all this is worth it. Especially the trust aspect.

      I would say do not worry about how hard it is to take care of a kid. But sometimes saying it is not going to do anything. You have to arrive to that conclusion yourself by figuring out how to have peace of mind.

      If you have the money to hire someone to do the grunt work (laundry, diapers, etc.) sure go for it! But just the fact that you’ll be more physically present for your kid will make a world of difference on how the relationship goes.

      It doesn’t look like much in the beginning but trust me, you find your groove!

      In Africa, is expected that every family with small children will hire someone to help. At least one person. Even if you’re not rich. You can provide food if that’s all you can provide in exchange for the help.

      It’s not just about giving someone a job. It’s about taking care of someone in your community while they help take care of you and your family.

      My mom is incredibly helpful to our family even though my husband stays at home. We try to be there financially when the need raises. We try to be there in other ways if we can’t participate with money.

      After having her be such a big part of our lives this way I just can’t believe we, as a society, don’t go “duh! we can’t do this by ourselves!! we need help!”

      I think it’s good for the child to expand their circle of trust and it’s good for the parents because it stabilizes the marriage. It involves more people, and maybe the money is spread out a bit more but the security in exchange is amazing.

      Don’t be afraid. Find what makes your family happy :)

  10. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    For us, the book learnin’ part of homeschooling is super-cheap. The internet and the public library are our friends. Besides some extra shelving via Craigslist and more art supplies, I’ve spent very little. And we’re on one income now so that’s important.

    But in order to feel a sense of balance, and to be out in the world instead of home alone all day, I have my kids in several classes. We’re spending *more* than when I worked part-time. And we’re spending more on gas. We haven’t committed to any music lessons yet. Just wondering how others afford these things while on one income. Do any unschoolers learn to play an instrument on his/her own? YouTube?

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      Have your kids ask for it for Christmas or their birthday.

      I give my niece piano lessons for a year for her birthday. On her birthday she gets no gift, nothing to open, just a card that says, ‘piano lessons for a year’. It also seems to push her to stick with it a year, since it’s already paid for, ;).

      I love giving her something I feel she will treasure her whole life, and not some toy she will forget about in two days. Maybe you have family or friends who would appreciate that opportunity.

      • Jennifa
        Jennifa says:

        …and if you need a piano, go to and you can get one for free. Just need to pay moving expenses, so it pays to keep checking the site for awhile until one pops up near you.

      • MBL
        MBL says:

        In a similar vein, we ask for zoo and museum memberships as presents. It also works out well in that there is nothing to add to the clutter. Yay!

      • mh
        mh says:

        Sometimes the Christmas/birthday present is the right thing for the kid.

        But I had a child specify one year “nothing educational, please” when it came to HIS presents.” Cracked up grandma and grandpa, who got us family memberships at the natural history museum and the botanical garden, and got HIM legos.

        Little rebel. Doesn’t he know legos are educational?

  11. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    Legitimate questions: Are you one-income families saving for retirement? College? Either one of our salaries would be over the 64K mark alone and we could pay our bills, but a lot of why we both work is for longterm security.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      We save for retirement, vacations, and each kid has a savings that can be used for whatever, not set aside for just college. We are in the six-figure range, but I will admit a lot of stress is placed on my spouse being dependent on just his income. That stress is mitigated by the fact that he has completely bought in to our homeschooling/unschooling lifestyle and seeing his kids thrive in this way overrides, in his mind, that stress he feels.

    • Amy K.
      Amy K. says:

      We save modestly for retirement and college, but not nearly as much as I’d like. Also putting off some home repairs/upkeep. Grateful that the dentist said our kids don’t need orthodontia, at least for now.

    • mh
      mh says:

      yes, we save on one income. We max out the retirement accounts. Saving big-time for college is a mistake — financial aid formulas don’t count retirement savings but insist you spend all your educational savings.

      • Rose
        Rose says:

        I think that you may want to research the 529 or other similar accounts and also see how the financial aid process really works. Saving up for your child’s college education is never a mistake. If you’re expecting to solely rely on scholarships, you’ll be in for a really nasty shock.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      I made sure were were all right financially before I started staying at home with the kids. Going forward, it’s more of an asset management than a savings question.

      We do not save specifically for college, because we expect to pay cash from earnings at that time. If we can avoid expensive private schools, one kid in college at a time looks easy.

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        You all must be doing very well financially! You max out two retirement accounts on one salary, and pay a mortgage?…Interesting. Perhaps you live in a low cost of living area. I disagree about saving for college and what they look at when doling out financial aid. Anyone making a significant amount of money isn’t going to get financial aid anyway, and what’s the plan to cash out a portion of the retirement money (taxed) to pay for college…I guess that could work, but…not my model. And the thing about managing assets or living off investments—that’s awesome, but not a reality for most people. I assure you I would not be bored by homeschooling. I’d love it, but I’m not reading anything here that gives me enough assurance for my life that I could accept the financial downside. I don’t see the “how” in this post maybe other than living in a different area that has worse schools that’s cheaper to live in, since you wouldn’t be sending your kid to school anyway…but…the area we live is very robust with great opportunities of all kinds (DC metro area), and our jobs depend on us living here, so…

        • mh
          mh says:


          Everything is a trade off.

          I make it work by being a careful spender.

          We live a rich full life in an interesting, culturally exciting area, and we travel a lot.

          I’m happy with the trade offs we are making.

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          Everybody has different circumstances, resulting from luck, choices, skills, etc. Our circumstances are pretty good by national standards, though we’re not in the 1% by local (Boston) standards.

          One of our choices was not having children until we were financially established. We also chose to have our first child in daycare 11 hours a day when he was little, so we could bank up for a few more years.

          A price we will pay for the first decision is chasing after little children into our fifties, along with probably being too old to ever take care of grandchildren. Not too high a price, IMHO, though I seem to be falling apart in pieces these days. The second decision required a few years of relative misery, but helped give us significant peace of mind afterwards.

          FYI, you can’t max out two retirement accounts with one salary. There is such a thing as a “spousal IRA,” but the limits are very low and deductibility disappears entirely depending on the working spouse’s income and benefits. There’s a similar difference between 401Ks and college savings accounts, where the benefit of the latter completely disappears at a certain income point. ESAs are income-limited, and 529s don’t offer significant enough payback compared to other investment vehicles.

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            I guess it really is all about choices and priorities. For example, I would not choose to put an infant in daycare 11 hours a day (or at all) because I do not think they are developmentally ready for that, whereas children who are 5, 6, 7 + are developmentally ready for school and can thrive in a quality school.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            Gretchen, it was sad for me to have my son in daycare. I missed him all day, every day. We started out with a full-time nanny, and when she went on an extended vacation we put him in full-time day care. He remained there (at the same place) until he was school age. He was pretty happy there (and, later, abjectly miserable at school).

            So I worked for five more years after he was born. The amount I was able to save during those years was considerable; they coincided with the market crash of 2008, which was an excellent investment opportunity for the well-compensated, and with the full vesting of my pension.

            Sometimes choices are difficult, and to gain something you must lose something. I can’t get that time with my son back, but I couldn’t get those work and investment years back either if I had skipped them. One order of things was preferable to me.

            I do find it amusing that your opinion of schools is higher than your opinion of day cares; it’s the opposite for me. My daughter is in half-time preschool now, and I think it’s a wonderful place no school will ever live up to. It’s on a working farm with livestock, and they have no academic agenda, just play and nature. I think school goes downhill once they think they have to teach kids things.

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            I think it very much depends on the school and the daycare, as far as quality goes…anyway, I am not meaning to harp on the baby in daycare thing. People make whatever choice is best for their family at any given time…

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      We don’t.

      Neither one of our salaries were $64k at the time.

      My whole life I’ve never seen and known what it’s like to live a life of financial security. I’ve only known the security of having a mom who stayed home with us and parents who were a united front. I’ve only known my parents sacrificing anything they had to make sure the family was together.

      It’s easy for me to downsize a home, not save for retirement (I honestly don’t believe in that), and not save for college (I don’t believe in that either) in favor of making sure that what I do have right now is well taken care of.

      There is a chance that we’ll make it to old age and there is a chance we won’t. But I only have today for sure so we prioritize time with our child and time as a married couple.

      I guess it’s a lot easier to give up when you’ve never really had it to begin with – the money.

      Rather than sacrificially saving for retirement I sacrificially make moves that will position me to work and earn well and be engaged when I’m old. Rather than saving for college I want my kid to figure out that he’s so passionate about something and find a way to make money for it well before he has to go off to college for his training.
      I know people who did businesses, worked jobs, etc. just to make the college thing happen. Much better than loans. And so much education gained in the process.

      I truly don’t believe there’s such thing as financial security. So I don’t worry about it.

      And that has made me feel much more secure than ever.

      • Kristi
        Kristi says:

        Karelys – I love this comment. A big reason I read this blog is all the thoughtful comments. It’s true that it’s easier to do without what you never had in the first place! This is where we are too. My husband is self employed while I homeschool and (ironically) finish a master’s in elementary ed. We thought I would work while the kids were in school, but we found school to be an innapropriate place for humans. It only has the school’s interests in mind, not the children’s.

        • karelys
          karelys says:

          I come from a pretty dang bare bones background. Ok, let’s just call it what it is. We were dirt poor.

          I think that it makes my current situation feel like I am rich.

          And I am so happy to share my situation with people who are hesitant about homeschooling because of the financial aspect.

          For the longest time I was chased by the fear of poverty. Now I look at the string of choices we’ve made to be here and I laugh because we look poor from the outside but to us we feel so rich and secure. Seriously.

          For me, it was imperative to realize that there’s no such thing as security. But also, like Commenter said above, our options are limited by previous choices. I had my first kid by the time I was 25. That really allows for some room to build something up in the financial/career department for retirement. It’s not eminent to me so I have the luxury to put it in the back burner or work towards it like a slow cooker.

          My parents constantly made decisions that favored family being together rather than having money. So that is familiar to me.

          Sacrificing family for a big career is not a familiar path to me. Having financial security…that’s like some sort of intangible thing to me.

          The only security I know is to forge yourself into the kind of person that can thrive in any situation and find a way out even if the face of outmost crisis.

          Believe it or not, heavily investing in relationships (which takes a lot, especially for introverts) can be more valuable than a savings account. In a lot of aspects.

          It’s hard for me to be physically active in my community. But I try. Because I’ve seen how people rally around when a community member is in dire need. The emotional support is sometimes what you need to find your way out of the financial crisis.

    • Alice
      Alice says:

      Hey Gretchen,
      I just wanted to reply to your comment, not really because I have a robust solution, but mostly to commiserate.

      My husband and I took longer than most to finish school (7 years, but we were working about 3 of those engineering co-ops). Graduated when I was 25, he was 30, and both got great jobs at a Fortune 100 company. Paid off all of our debts, our first car, and our wedding by ourselves. Had put about a quarter of our incomes for the first three years working straight to retirement, with a 6% match on some of it.

      My son was born when I was 27, and sometime when I was 28 I quit to stay full time with him, 5 months in after my mother in law was watching him full time for those first 5 months. I only worked part time those first 5 months, and part of it was maternity leave, but I could not “tough it out”, which I am convinced is unnatural. Was heart-rending. And I agree with you, developmentally, I really do think a young child needs Mom till at least the age of 3.

      Anyway, I had been making 80K at the time, which was a little more than my husband. His salary has risen a bit but, only by the 3% a year mostly. Sometimes he gets a bonus.

      We did not feel the transition from two to one incomes because for the longest time we were sending all of our income to school and savings anyway; thankfully my parents are helping us build an affordable house in our area for 120-140K (I am really in debt to them for this, among other things). We’re of course paying for it, but, it would probably have cost us 240K to buy out-right, so, massively owe my parents on that one.

      Yet even with a manageable mortgage, no debt, and a very good income, I do not feel security at all about our decision. Well, correction, I do feel short-term security. I would anticipate for the next 10 years, we could have a great life and raise our 4 kids without any real financial strain. That would be with my husband still putting away his 6% (though not 25% anymore) for retirement, and I think this year we’re opening a spousal IRA.

      But here’s the thing. The interest rates on our 401K aren’t really very good. At BEST we get 3%, which hopefully matches inflation. It is incredibly risky to use the other funds, and a lot of people have lost a lot of money doing so. So the way I calculate it, even putting aside, say, 10K a year (including the company match), in 30 years that’s just 300K, assuming no real compounding interest there. As you probably know, retirement “experts” indicate that you need at least 2 million to retire. Even if you add the spousal IRA – 5K a year, that’s only another 150K. So total, probably at best you’re looking at 500K. Factoring it backwards, it’s about 1,400 a month, before tax, you’d have per year, for 30 years to retirement. My Mom said the first significant health problem, and you’ve liquidated your 401K.

      So, I really, really struggle with this. We’re already planning to “cheap out” on our kid’s college by maybe moving to Iowa or North Carolina or places with low in-state tuition, but high quality STEM colleges.

      But, one of my deepest fears is being a burden to my children in old age. Every parent wants to help their children grow, and be unfettered. I would feel so ashamed if I were dependent on my kids, especially as they would be struggling to provide for their own kids.

      But as great, raw, and constant as this fear is, I balance it with my other fear – not giving them every advantage I can when they are young. Placing them in the care of someone else, where they may or may not thrive. Allowing them to come in contact with children I have not screened, who could crush their self-esteem, or, at worst, drive them to self-destructive behaviors (God forbid). This anxiety is so high, it usually overrides the retirement anxiety, and I just tell myself “well, I will run away somewhere and kill myself if I get to be too much of a burden”; sadly, that’s the only way I sleep at night.

      I have been thinking so often, when the youngest gets to 5, to go back to work and start ramping up our savings. We could basically put my entire after-tax income to savings, if we moved to the “better” school district, and put all 4 in public school at the time. However, I used to tutor children from even that highly regarded district, and I encountered a 6th grader who did not know there were 100 cents in a dollar. I know she had only been in that district for 2 years but, I was not impressed with all the children in that family, and, really worried that the higher taxes didn’t guarantee a better educational outcome.

      I know for me, I went through the public school system. I really feel much of elementary school was a waste of time, and did not well prepare me for my future career. Also there was a lot of emotional abuse and ostracism, things I deeply hope my children can avoid. In high school, I was set to graduate first in my class, but had a socially-related nervous breakdown (and from the stress of my course load), and wound up graduating 4th in my class of 400 in a very well regarded school district. I got into Ivy League schools, and I have to tell you, despite a lifetime of math and science training – I felt unprepared. The first year went OK, but learning new material at the pace of the top 10 engineering programs in the nation was overwhelming to me. To this day, I don’t know if I could have performed in that given time frame. I searched back to see where I had gone wrong – and decided that most of my peers had had much more rigorous academic training in high school (Exeter, etc.) – a training not even available at my public school DESPITE it’s high ranking.

      I think of all these things. The life, the opportunities I want to give my kids. Maybe it’s OK to live in a soup kitchen when I am older, or even to be the dreaded, unwanted grandparent in the house, as long as I help my kids excel to this level with my lifelong one on one care. I also feel anxiety, therefore, whenever I take any “me” time; I think, I gave up a secure retirement – now I’ve got to make SURE these kids succeed, with gentleness, but firm focus. It’s a horrendous pressure.

      Sometimes I think how “easy” it would be to just send them all to public school when they are 5, go and work some engineering contract job, and work back towards full time. My job would never be fulfilling or interesting; it would always be some kind of bureaucratic, middle-of-the-way, non-supervisory just “regular” engineering job AT BEST, if I am one of the lucky ones who would be rehired. But, I could rest easy knowing I would never be a burden to my kids. HOWEVER, I probably would still not rest easy because I’d ALWAYS wonder – did I take my children’s FULL POTENTIAL away from them? Did I place my own need for security above the self-sacrificial dedication I was called to do – as a full time, personal life coach and educator for my children?

      I simply don’t know. I don’t know what we will do. My husband is really supportive. But we might face some hard times.

      • Rose
        Rose says:

        “Placing them in the care of someone else, where they may or may not thrive. Allowing them to come in contact with children I have not screened, who could crush their self-esteem, or, at worst, drive them to self-destructive behaviors (God forbid). This anxiety is so high, it usually overrides the retirement anxiety, and I just tell myself “well, I will run away somewhere and kill myself if I get to be too much of a burden”; sadly, that’s the only way I sleep at night.”

        I think that’s an extreme view to take. Kids only spend about 5-6 months in public school if you count all for the vacations they get every year. Then if you add on sick days and other absences, you could easily take another month off of that. I personally relished the highschool experience and really want it for my kids.

        • Alice
          Alice says:

          Yup, I agree it’s an extreme view to take. I can see how people who had a different public school experience would feel differently. I hated high school, not for the academics, but for the social pressures; but honestly, I would be way more concerned about elementary and middle school. I would say my elementary school experiences were the most damaging experiences of my life, and set the platform for lifelong insecurities/emotional problems. I guess it’s my desire to shield my children from those possibilities at any cost that drives my homeschooling decision more than anything else. I know probably 80% of kids wade through without problems. I was not one of those. To me, 5-6 minutes seems like an enormous anxious stretch without my kids, needless to say what 5-6 months would do to me; but, I do suffer from anxiety disorders, and trust issues. Even if I were able to cope with their just being away half the year, my job, presuming I would return to my former career – would not; nobody at my former employer took more than 3-5 weeks total of vacation (5 was with senority, counting Christmas). So I would be absent from their most formative years. Anyway, have 2 kids now. Shouldn’t be writing lol. Baby wants to draw.

  12. HomeschoolDad
    HomeschoolDad says:

    Fundamentally, this is all about a lack of “farsightedness”. Seemingly no one has a plan of how to raise their kids until it’s too late (school becomes sucky). Since I was 21 I only pursued money-making opportunities that came with a ton of lifestyle flexibility. If the parents are thinking ahead early enough they have plenty of time to sculpt flexible careers, time to NOT get accustomed to 2 BMWs, cleaning ladies, extravagant vacations…time to NOT buy too much house in too nice of a neighborhood, etc. They can even save up some money for a time when one parent spends a lot of time outside the workforce, at home with young children. My kids (ages 8 and 9) are already saying they plan on homeschooling their kids!

    Also it’s hard to get people to intentionally make major life changes when they come from a school/sheep mindset and may have never been very intentional about anything significant in their entire lives. The only time I see comfortable people making big changes….is when the change is forced on them by exogenous events: losing their job, going bankrupt, etc.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      This comment is so good!

      I was a kid who went to school and now I wish I had known all this that I know now from a much younger age.

      I wish I had known to make certain career moves way before having a baby. The only thing I did “right” was have a kid by the time I was 25. But that was chance because you can’t always count on biology working to your plans and finding the right mate for your timeline. I had both but I can take only partial credit for that.

      Honestly my drive to homeschool is to remove the artificial barriers from my child’s life and mind so he won’t have to find out all this when he’s my age.

      If you really want to you can make it happen. You just have to be willing to give up a lot of what you have. But people can’t imagine life outside of what they have predetermined as being “right” or necessary.

      And I think that’s one of the first steps: just convince yourself you’re wrong or don’t know everything you need to know. Or that you prefer to keep life as is than to change everything to make sure you can homeschool.

  13. MBL
    MBL says:

    I agree with many others here. It is all about choosing priorities and sacrificing, if necessary, to nurture them.
    We, too, are in the don’t save for college camp. It just so happens that a couple of years ago my husband took a job at a university so if he stays there for the next 10 or so years our daughter can go with a 90% reduction in tuition or up to 100% if she were to attend a school with reciprocity. At current tuition rates that would be a $125k benefit (who knows what it could be by then) but I honestly can’t see him staying there solely for that.
    Like Karelys, I trust that my child will get where she needs to go regardless of our plans.
    Also, our outrageous state taxes do allow for up to two years of free college while in high school–something that homeschoolers are perfectly poised to take advantage of. But neither of these things were in play when she was born and we decided against a college fund and I’m not counting on them.
    Since we don’t use the neighborhood school, we could certainly move to a cheaper area and still take advantage of the staggering volume of cultural opportunities, but it would take a lot of work to move and we live in a great area and I am too lazy.

    But again, it is about priorities. We chose to have just one child and no daycare. But there are also smaller things like just having basic internet and netflix streaming. My husband took about a 10% pay cut to allow for more free time. It sucked, but we adapted. We can never get back our daughter’s childhood and, regret-wise, I don’t think better vacations or a cushier retirement could assuage the guilt that I, personally, would feel if I didn’t do what I thought was best for her.

    If I thought sending her to school was best, then I would wait for the school bus with baited breath. But that ship has sailed. Whenever I threaten to send her to school she giggles and says, “No you wouldn’t. You would miss me too much!” I love that she sincerely believes that. Truthfully, full time school, yes I would miss her too much; part time school…I think I could manage!

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      It’s hard to believe for some people that we go on vacations and we have (what we consider) extravagant outings every so often.
      for example, my husband will be going to a football game in November. Last time we went together in 2011 we dropped $600 in tickets. I didn’t really add travel and food.

      The way we have gone on fancy vacations is by doing work specifically for this. A few years back I made a bunch of tamales and sold them because people love them and because I had convinced my husband to go to Cancun.

      It’s definitely hard work. But it’s a short spurt of hard work. Then we have enough money for that one time non-necessity and we go back to not being tied down to a second job.

      We give up some things. But what we get in return is more than worth it or we wouldn’t do it.

  14. MBL
    MBL says:

    Two years ago our neighbors moved in with their 6 month old son. She is a psychologist and he is in banking and they kind of backed away from me when I said that we had just started homeschooling. Two weeks ago he told me about a great new daycare their son was about to start (they had had grandparents and a part time sitter up until then.) Two days ago he told me their son (an adorable, gregarious little fellow) had gotten clingy and they were considering hiring a nanny. But he also brought up the conflict that they were having about both of them working when they didn’t “have” to.

    His opening up is kind of surreal since things had been mostly “it sure is humid today,” “could you hold a UPS package if comes over the weekend?” or “I hope we don’t get that blizzard they forecast.”

    They strike me as VERY conventional and it was kind of amazing to hear him talking about wasted time in school, lack of socialization in school, lack of time with parents and all manner of crazy fringe talk. :D

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Sometimes people just need to feel safe and know that they are not going to be preached at. Which tends to happen when people chose an alternative lifestyle that normally gets lambasted. They feel like they have to constantly be defensive and then they move on to the offensive – which is preaching and telling everyone how what they are doing is wrong.

  15. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    The last six months has tossed my family one learning curve after another, but I can honestly say our singular blessing is my husband and my decision to sell our home and move into a 960 sq. ft. lake house.

    I stopped doing the work I didn’t enjoy and continue to write at a significantly slower pace. We paid off debts and have a few more, but life has slowed down and there is time for everything we need with my husband’s income being primary.

    We were blessed to sell our home on the 4th day it was listed and close within 34 days of it being on the market.

    We sold, tossed and gave away whatever would not fit, embraced minimalism, and even modified our method of homeschooling to accommodate less space and future travel. Our oldest moved into her first apartment, and she is thrilled to have it nearly fully furnished with furniture most kids her age couldn’t hope to have. In another couple of weeks, she will host her first gallery of local artists IN HER EFFICIENCY APARTMENT. It has been a bumpy ride, but she too has learned much in the last several months.

    There are ALWAYS decisions. We just have to be willing to make them. Our kids NEED TO SEE US take risks and take the reigns of our lives. My new home and yard needs a lot of work, but when we turn into the gate, life sloooooooows down (along with the internet) and we BREATHE deeply. Life is good.

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