A big reason conversations about our school choices often turn controversial is that education and money are closely related. And money has replaced sex as the topic we most like to keep secret from our friends. So a lot of the education decisions we make based on money are not topics we will freely discuss in the world.

While people love financial honesty, our ideas about financial responsibility are thoroughly conventional still. The more frank we are about our financial decisions, the more open-minded we will be about education. They are linked,  whether or not they should be.

Here are some controversial money moments on this site that have surprised me:

1. School as babysitting. Taking your kids out of school means one parent stops working. It seems obvious to me that the parent who is not staying home should just earn more money. Because either your kids suffer in school or the main breadwinner suffers from the pressure of having to earn more money. This idea is, apparently controversial, but breadwinners should just buck up and take one for the team so the kids don’t have to.

2. Retirement savings. Of course most homeschoolers can’t have this. But I’m over it: so few people save for retirement that it’s no longer part of our culture to retire. But when I wrote that I’m obsessed with this reverse mortgage calculator as my retirement plan, commenters talked as if only irresponsible people punt on retirement.

3. Debt consolidation. If you have poor executive function it’s a great way to make paying bills manageable. As a person with poor executive function, the extra cost is nothing compared to the cost of anxiety pills I take to deal with tasks like paying bills. Paying a surcharge so you don’t have to learn what you’re bad at is the process of learning to be a specialist.

It would be great if we could separate choices about both education and money because each of the issues would be easier to deal with. If you’re feeling poor, it’s because you have kids. Kids make you poor, not homeschooling them. And if you feel like you can’t afford to homeschool, it’s because financially worried people hate change because change means unpredictable expenses.

Sometimes I’m good at separating homeschooling and money. Like, I can see that my attitude toward money (I always want more) largely does not relate to how much I have. Which means working fewer hours to homeschool is irrelevant to my financial well-being.

Other times I am not so good at separating money and education. For example, I’m constantly thinking about how boys need to earn a living because they won’t feel comfortable relying on women. And girls need to find a career fast so they can have that experience before they have kids and it all falls apart.

I get stuck thinking the point of education is to create a financially stable family unit. And school encourages goals that compete with having a family. Which makes me realize that I’m part of that group of people who links education to finances. And while I’m not successfully adjusting that outlook, I am more tolerant of the people who see dual incomes and public school as a path to financial stability.






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22 replies
  1. Angelle Conant
    Angelle Conant says:

    Not sure if this was mentioned on the other article, but retirement and homeschooling can work. In this guy’s case, EARLY retirement and homeschooling have worked (of course, he and his wife reached early retirement before having their kid):http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2015/02/16/if-i-ran-the-school-things-would-be-different/. But my husband and I, both 28, have just started our path to early retirement (our daughter is 9 months) and he’s scheduled to retire around 50 (while I unschool our kid(s)). And we would be considered ‘lower middle class’ in terms of income.

  2. Sam
    Sam says:

    Penelope you always sound so insecure about homeschooling. Pounding the table how everyone needs to do it. I feel lonely and insecure about it but I think it’s best for special needs kids and know its best for mine. Parents never observe their kids so They rarely know how awful it is. Special needs kids can be smarter than average too and will waste away in class. My husband is the sole breadwinner and I don’t feel guilty about it. We’re well off but not rich. I can’t afford help really beyond occasional sitter and that’s what I would want most. I spend $200 weekly on music and sports lessons for both and that’s it. We live in a big home but we couldn’t move now even if we wanted to. Wouldn’t make sense. We live in an affluent town which you probably consider a mistake but I dont. I need to be near a city. We have zero retirement from
    $300k we had to spend and I am very worried but we agreed as soon as we have any extra income we will put away again. Penelope most people can put away for retirement it just takes discipline. The problem with not putting away is you lose compound interest. I don’t think a reverse mortgage will do it. I don’t want to be a burden on my kids. I don’t have high earning power. Maybe I could earn 50k but after taxes not so impressive.
    I like being a stay at home mom. I like homeschooling but it does get hectic and lonely. Most homeachoolers have one kid not special needs or its a large grouo involved in christian community and i am agnostic

  3. Cay
    Cay says:

    I don’t think that the point of education is to create a stable family unit. The point of education is to invest in people so that they will be able to capitalize on opportunities in the future.

    On the other hand, the goal of conventional financial advice may be to create stability for conventional family units.

    I think that education and money are related because each family is tasked with how they will invest their capital, both financial and intellectual, and will decide to do it differently. The best plan, with respect to both money and education, varies widely for each family, because they all differ in their financial and human resources.

    Many people are just designed to benefit from following conventional systems and advice. For others, it will actually hurt them to follow those strategies.

    For example, the VC model for financial investments is very unconventional. This small group of people expects that the majority of the companies in their portfolio will fail, but that they will profit in the long run from the few companies that soar.

    This financial strategy would be disastrous for almost all people, who are better off putting their money into index funds. But for the right VCs, it leads to massive profits — and they would have made a lot less money should they have decided to follow the “safe” financial investment strategies that were designed for the masses.

    Likewise for unconventional people and education. It is likely that the benefits of ordinary education would be lost on them. Customizing their education, which is commonly seen as a riskier option, can be the safer choice for them.

    It all comes down to investment strategy, and the types of results that we’d like to see in the long run.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I have so many thoughts after reading this that it actually left me with an anxious feeling in my stomach.

    I am actively trying to avoid this type of scenario for myself. That means paying off debts, saving for retirement, while also putting money in savings for my kids. My mother in law told my husband last month that she plans to retire from her job this coming October. She will turn 69 this year, she doesn’t own a home, and she has minimum retirement savings. This means that she will be living entirely off social security. Additionally, she will have to leave the home she has lived in (renting) for 25 years and move to the east coast to live with my 39 year old sister in law permanently. I don’t want to be a burden to my children, I don’t want to have to live with them because I don’t have any other options. I also don’t want to depend on a windfall inheritance from my father in law because nothing is ever certain. This means that my spouse and I stick to our financial goals, even though it is hard sometimes.

    Also, homeownership is on the downswing in the US, and many millennials don’t see the value in owning homes, so there aren’t going to be a lot of people with the option of having a reverse mortgage.

    I guess my (INTJ) advice would be for those who want to homeschool but don’t have a lot of money, to still try to save what they can, try to not finance a homeschooling lifestyle. Some areas have charter schools that let you homeschool and also provide free classes (free babysitting) and give $$ to pay for other classes, if one needs this option so that they can work part-time then take it. Some school districts allow homeschoolers to take classes at their neighborhood school, if one lives in a good school district then take advantage of it. Finally, if a spouse doesn’t want their partner to stop working and homeschool, work out a solution to try it for a year to see if it can be done. A year is long enough to see the benefits of homeschooling, but not long enough to derail a career if one finds that they can’t continue. Come up with some goals, 5 year, 10 year, 15 year, and 20 year plans and devise a strategy to meet those goals.

    I guess I am still very conventional when it comes to money, if that is the definition we are using. Based on seeing what my mother in law’s options are, and knowing I don’t want that for myself, then I will take the conventional path so that I can sleep at night unmedicated.

    I appreciate how willing you are to start this conversation, it isn’t an easy one to have.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Hi Sue,

        I’m sure that it varies by region, but in my state (CA) one can find a charter school in any county that allows one to homeschool while also providing either funds to be used for educational purposes, or classes that are optional. A few examples off the top of my head are Horizon Charter in NorCal and Dehesa Charter in SoCal. I know many people that do this.

        • Teach By Type
          Teach By Type says:

          Thanks YMKAS. For some reason I thought you were from MA. I grew up in MA, and I’m not aware of charter schools for homeschoolers. It gives me hope we will eventually have one.


  5. ruo
    ruo says:

    education is a business for the government and teachers in canada.

    business results profits for those who can get their hands in it first. the school board has interest to dispel homeschool benefits and upkeep status quo. they argue they do so much for the kids to help them get into university. Yet, just have to look at the unemployment stat for post-secondary education to see how far that got them.

    How else will they find $1M for doing nothing all day at school?

    in ontario, canada, last year, it was uncovered there was a $1M payout to the school unions to just “bargain” compensation for teachers.

    then last week, government announced free tuition for students with family income of <$50K


    So hey, if your sons really want post-secondary education and they cannot afford/don't want to/or want a freebie one to try as an alternative to the State ones. Come to Ontario, Canada.

    The question I ask myself, if education is set up to be completely free, paid by my tax dollars, would I still want to send my future hypothetical kids to school.

  6. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I am so glad you wrote this. Education vs money has been the cause of much strife in our house over the past two years. Most of my friends in our local homeschool co-op have spouses that make well over six figures a year. Mine makes about half that. When I was working full time, I made about the same as he did and we felt blessed to be able to afford the life we had. Now that I decided to stay home to be with my family and my daughter decided to homeschool, our income is half what it used to be. We have had to make significant adjustments and sacrifices, but I realize our income still far exceeds what many of the families in our area manage to exist on, and for us, for now, the bennifits out way the costs. The public schools in our area aren’t especially bad, but not great either. I know first hand because I worked in the public school system my entire career. We have several good private schools in the area that cost about 4K to 5k a year including a great new hybrid school that meets two to three days a week and requires independent study(homeschool) the rest of the time. But even that is too expensive for us for now. Homeschool was the best and cheapest option for us. I have found many ways utilize free and discounted resources for homeschooling. The area where we live has a relatively low cost of living and we have a Jr. college within ten minutes of the house we can utilize for dual credit while in high school. My daughter even has the option of staying home to finish an associates degree after highschool without taking on a load of college debt before she decides to go off and finish a four year degree. We live smarter and simpler than we used to and look for ways to make the most out of our money. But I do worry that we don’t save nearly as much as we should. Some months it’s a struggle to make it at all. Still my husband loves his job and I don’t think he would trade it for a higher paying one at the moment. Moving elsewhere would cost us more than what we gain from living where we do now. I can always go back to work when the kids are in college. Then save, invest, everything I earn from that point on so we won’t be broke in our old age. I still loose some compound interest, but the one thing I can’t get back is time with my kids while they are still young.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      There are private schools near you that cost only 5K a year?

      Here in Boston a cheap private school is 27K a year high school or 16K elementary; a more typical one would cost in the 30s for high school or 20s for elementary. Expensive ones? You can pay 32K for kindergarten, or 44K for high school. No, that’s not with boarding, which costs extra (as in, 50K for 5 day boarding).

      Parochial schools are much cheaper here, typically under 7K. That’s why a lot of people who aren’t Catholic send their kids to Catholic school in Boston.

      From that perspective, education is very much linked to money here in Boston. The school you go to is to a large extent a proxy for your social class. Public school has mostly people too poor to pay 7K a year for parochial school. Independent schools mostly have people too rich to care about 30K a year more or less. Sure, there are some scholarship kids at the independent schools, and some middle-class or even wealthy kids at the public schools, but they’re the exception.

      I think my son probably has a greater socio-economic variety in his peer group homeschooling than he would if he were at school now.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


        My experience is different, perhaps due to a regional thing. But I definitely feel less diversity in my homeschooling groups. It is filled with those who can afford to live in orange county on one income, and the homeschooling classes/groups do not reflect anything close to the school population where at least a quarter of the kids to as much as 90% of the kids are latino and qualify for free lunch. There is diversity in philosophy and beliefs, but not much else. I toured a public non-charter school here a few weeks ago that my school district created to partner with homeschoolers, all the kids were either gifted, talented athletes, or models/actors/musicians. I keep hearing how the homeschool community is so diverse, but I have yet to see it and I have lived in Norcal and Socal while homeschooling. I would LOVE to see it happen here.

        4-5k private school? That seems unreal to me, when a single semester long class can cost as much as $1k here.

        • Rayne of Terror
          Rayne of Terror says:

          I just checked the tuition on what I hear are the cheapest & most expensive private schools in my area, $4 or 5k for the Lutheran school system, and $14k for the non-denominational private school for gifted kids only.

  7. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    I definitely think money is linked to education. When I was a kid, I remember thinking I had to get good grades so I could get into a good school, get a good job and then make lots of money. I grew up in an area that was very economically diverse. In general, my friends who came from poor families did worse in school and are making less money today. My friends who came from middle class or upper middle class families got better grades in school and are now making more money. I wish there was more wealth mobility in our country so the poor could advance, but I don’t see very much.

  8. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    Am I the only person who reads an article like this and wonders why any sane person would have kids? It’s not like we can use them to earn money – that’s illegal. Kids are basically expensive pets in the modern world, and I don’t see how it can possibly be worth it. How do they not ruin your life?

    • Teach by type
      Teach by type says:

      I’m surprised you’re interested in reading about homeschooling if you don’t have/want kids. Why is that?

      I understand the logical argument for not having kids. It’s a solid one. There are a lot of feeling types in the world with a decision making process being driven by emotion, not logic. Kids make a lot of people happy and offer a much needed sense of purpose.

      A logical argument for having children is it’s necessary to continue the human race, and to breed new workers to maintain a skilled labor pool.


      • Pirate Jo
        Pirate Jo says:

        Actually, even that argument doesn’t work. The human race suffers from overpopulation, not from there being too few people.

        I have yet to hear a logical argument for having children and as someone who is at the extreme end of the T scale, I admit that it completely baffles me that anyone but the rich do it. Decisions based on F (to me) often simply seem like BAD decisions. We all reach a point where we are too old to work, and it’s unlikely that we will have much of a government safety net in the next 20 years. How will your kids take care of you if unemployment is even worse when they grow up? And yes, I know people like me seem like big ‘ole meanies to the F’s.

        I think the middle class will continue to shrink in part because it’s a defining characteristic of the middle class to value self-reliance. A sixth-generation welfare recipient won’t think twice about doing what they’ve always seen done. The rich never have to worry about money as a limitation to begin with. But if you’re middle class, and nobody in your family was ever on welfare, and having kids is going to put you on public assistance, I just don’t see it happening. It will be interesting to observe the trend of Millennials who mostly say they don’t intend to have children. This was an interesting article:


        As to why I am here, why would you think a person has to have or want kids to be interested in the topic of education? I have read the work of John Taylor Gatto and think it’s amazing. My interest isn’t so much in homeschooling specifically, but in how education itself impacts people and the world we live in. I think homeschoolers seem to be on the right track to improving things.

        Honestly, when I read this it didn’t make me think about homeschooling, it made me think about how on earth the majority of the bell curve manages to afford kids at all. So I didn’t see any harm in asking to see if anyone else thought the same thing.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


      It doesn’t ruin my life because school doesn’t drive our schedule. I get large amounts of time to myself, my kids are self-directed and can entertain themselves. Any investment we make in their activities benefits all of us, like music, sports, and performing arts classes. I get personal enjoyment watching them grow and succeed in their endeavors.

      I made the decision to have kids from a logical standpoint and not an emotionally driven one. I knew how much this was going to cost because I had read all the news articles claiming it costs $250k to raise kids. I knew what I was getting into and decided we could afford it.

      I think my own idea is that when we as a species procreate, it gives potential for a new generation being born to propel humankind forward. More pros than cons, but I see why this post would make you think people are crazy to have kids. Just know that this isn’t everyone’s situation.

      • Pirate Jo
        Pirate Jo says:

        I love your logical response. I’m glad you and your husband are in a situation where you can have kids, give your kids the kind of upbringing you see as best, and still have something left over for yourselves. For you, money isn’t really a constraint. I wish more people were in your situation.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      It’s a special kind of crazy.

      Parenthood has been the best part of my life.

      I’d like to think this is also why other people have kids.

  9. Starrie
    Starrie says:

    I am a 41 year old mom and breadwinner. My husband ishomeschooling our kids while working on our online business. He also works part time on weekends. I have state job at a public university with retirement benefits, with the option to keep full benefits and reduce my hours to 32 a week. My husband’s part time job is also with the state, caring for intellectually challenged people. When the kids are grown he will go back to work full time and receive retirement benefits from the state. So for us it is possible to homeschool and have retirement money, too.

    That being said, we did fine for chapter 13 bankruptcy when he stopped working full time to homeschool. No regrets at all, bankruptcy laws in our country are pretty fabulous. We own a modest home in the country and have two cars we like and we have lost nothing while being able to absolve lots of debt and be comfortable. Filing bankruptcy was a tool to help us make homeschooling possible. Totally worth it…

    • penelope trunk
      penelope trunk says:

      I love this comment: Brave and honest. I am struck by the fact that you cannot tell how people get to where they are without asking them. We all give up something to get where we are.

      A lot of times we look at someone else’s life and think its charmed. But no one has a charmed life – we all make hard decisions to create a life we really want.


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