Don’t Let Inflation Keep You from Homeschooling

A lot of popular items from the 70s have come back into style over the past several years: fondue pots, platform shoes and wrap dresses come to mind. But now, one of the worst features of the 70s is back, and it can hurt a lot more than falling off your platform shoes. It’s inflation.

Inflation causes your dollars to be worth less and less. All of a sudden you’re paying more at the supermarket each week. The sale prices of clothing and supplies seem high; after all, 25% off of a rising price equals a rising sale price. When an economy is subject to inflation, it seems like prices are higher every time you go shopping….and they are.

This can really hurt homeschooling families. We tend to be single income families, or maybe we have two parents working at least part-time. Homeschooling families aren’t generally classified as wealthy because we tend to put more time into raising children than earning money.

A big jump in expenses can force us into a higher-paying and more time-consuming job that prevents us from homeschooling, and that’s something we must avoid. But we can’t stop prices from going up, and we need to buy food and clothing. How can we keep our budgets under control even as prices rise?

It’s not always easy, but it can be done. I’m willing to do whatever I have to in order to be home with my kids, and I’ll bet you are, too. So let’s look at some strategies for fighting inflation.

Strategy #1: Saving Gas

Whether you’re worried about the planet, your wallet, or both, saving gas is more important than ever. Gas prices have skyrocketed over the past few years ($5 a gallon in parts of California just this week) and continue to do so. This is a real problem for homeschoolers on the go, spending the week driving from co-ops to music lessons to organized sports. If you have several children, you probably drive a gas hog, but even if you toodle around in a small car that goes easy on the gas, you’re probably seeing a jump in what you spend at the pump.

This is a good time to reevaluate the activities your kids are in, and decide which ones aren’t really essential to their upbringing. If you remove the lesser activities, and keep only those that can be limited to one day a week, you’ll find that your gas consumption (and expense) will drop quite a bit.

Combining trips also makes a big difference. If you’ve got to take the kids to a class, shop at the nearest grocery store before heading back home instead of making a separate trip on another day. The more you combine your errands, the more gas you save. Get used to organizing your trips out so that you hit a number of spots in a row, rather than making separate trips on different days and using up far more gas.

If you live out in the country, driving is a necessity. But if you’re in a city or suburb, rediscover public transportation, your bike and your legs. Use backpacks and tote bags to carry purchased items and library books. A family walk or bike trip to the public library will save gas and also count as P.E. for that day.

One side effect of saving gas is that you end up staying home a lot more than usual. If you’re a homebody, high gas prices can be a ready excuse to get things done around the house. But if you usually prefer to be on the go, you may discover that staying home is not a bad thing. There are so many things you can do while you’re home that will save you even more money (more on that later), plus you’ll have more time for homeschooling.

Strategy #2: Controlling Food Costs

When all my kids were living at home, I could fill our minivan with grocery bags packed with food, yet have to do it all over again two weeks later. During their growing years, my kids seemed to inhale food. With the steadily increasing prices we’re seeing in supermarkets these days, feeding a growing family is becoming a very expensive proposition. But it’s not impossible.

Even though most food prices are rising, convenience foods still cost far more than basic ingredients. If you learn to make even a few of your family’s favorites from scratch, you can save a bundle. There are hundreds of cookbooks that can help you with this, but you probably don’t have time to scrounge them up, so let me just suggest two things:

  • Search for recipes on the Internet
  • Buy The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn (I consider this the equivalent of a graduate course on saving money)

Please don’t say you don’t have time to cook from scratch. You’re going to be home more often anyway since you’re saving gas. And this is something your children should help you with, so that the burden isn’t all on you. Even small children can peel potatoes. Not only does it count as Home Economics, but kids who help cook grow up into teens who make dinner, and believe me, that’s a wonderful thing.

If you’re lacking the proper cooking supplies, don’t rush to buy them from a store (rising prices, remember?) unless you have to. Try garage sales and thrift stores first. Also, ask friends and relatives if anyone has a such-and-such they want to get rid of.

Another way to keep food costs down is to limit how often you go out to eat. With food prices going up, restaurants have to raise their prices if they’re going to make a profit, so you’ll be paying more there, too. Save the eating out for special occasions. Replace trips to the ice cream shop with make-your-own-sundae evenings at home. Bring a cooler of food and drinks with you when you travel or run errands. A cold 2-liter bottle of pop and some paper cups will save you $8-10 on drinks at a fast food drive-through.

For those busy days when you’re going to get home too late to make dinner, keep some convenience foods (bought on sale and preferably with coupons) in your freezer. Yes, convenience foods cost more than those made from scratch, but they’re worth it if they keep you from going out for dinner, which costs far more.

Strategy #3: Controlling Clothing Costs

Kids grow, and that means you’re always hunting down larger clothes for them. It’s a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. First off, get it out of your head that every piece of clothing has to be new. As Amy Dacyczyn of the Tightwad Gazette often said, used clothing is just new clothing that’s been washed at least once.

Thrift stores and garage sales are great sources of clothes for kids, and they’ll save you a lot of money. Also, after reading part one of this article last month, Imperfect Homeschooler reader Debra J. from Texas suggested Freecycle ( as a great resource for free goods for families. But if you have issues about putting strangers’ clothing on your kids, why not try a clothing swap with your friends? Trading outgrown clothing with people you know and like may make you feel better about dressing your kids in used clothes, and a clothing swap can be a social event, too. Bring snacks for the kids and let them play while you go through the clothing.

Sewing for your kids is another option, but it has its limits. Patterns are ridiculously expensive unless you find them on sale for a few dollars, and the same is true to a lesser extent for fabric. I’ve found that sewing works best for special occasion dresses, saving you a lot of money because dressy clothes cost more than play clothes.

For the clothing you prefer to buy new (such as underwear), be sure to hit outlet stores and sales. This is where it really pays to know your prices. When underwear is on sale for a good price, buy the next size up as well as each child’s current size. Do the same for socks and jeans. The thing about inflation is that it makes tomorrow’s dollars worth less than today’s, so anything you can stockpile saves you money. Of course, you’ll need to be organized about storing clothes for future use, because if you can’t find them once you need them, they’ll be wasted money.

You may have to handle clothing purchases differently with your teens than your younger children, because they’re likely to be pickier about where their clothes come from. There’s a simple solution for this. They should find a job and buy their own clothes. It’s amazing how quickly they learn to find good deals when the money is coming from them and not you.

Strategy #4: Controlling Entertainment Costs

Movie tickets are going up, but there’s an easy way to fix that. It’s called staying home to watch movies. DVD rentals (local, Netflix and even your public library) will save you a fortune on movie tickets and refreshments, too.

As for other entertainment like mini-golf, bowling and amusement parks, it’s time to look at them as rare treats instead of regular events (and even then, use coupons to reduce fees). Instead, stay home and play board games. Bring home stacks of library books and computer games. Buy a second-hand trampoline for the back yard. Dig out the toys the kids got last Christmas. It will be good training for your kids to learn to use what they have instead of going out to be entertained all the time.

This goes double for birthday parties, those money-eating events that can leave you dazed and broke. Let’s bring back the old trend of a birthday cake, ice cream and no goodie bags. Set up a few games in the back yard or family room. The birthday child and his siblings can make decorations for the party room. (A homemade pinata out of paper-mache can count as an art class project.) Ideas for party games and decorations can be found in books and magazines at your public library. Use creativity instead of money.

Strategy #5: Controlling Shelter Prices

The previous strategies were for controlling relatively small expenses that occur regularly. The cost of your housing, however, is something that you’re locked into for months or years at a time, so making wise decisions in this area is crucial.

Back in the late 70s, inflation caused home prices to skyrocket along with everything else. But this time around, strangely enough, house prices are dropping because of the after-effects of the housing bubble that’s deflating. Many people have to sell their houses because they can’t make the rising payments of adjustable loans. As a result, there are so many houses on the market right now that prices are being forced down. The irony is that you can buy a nice house for less money, but only if you can get yours sold. If you decide to go that route, be sure to price your house very competitively, and be prepared for a long time on the market.

If you’re a renter, you may find that rents are dropping because so many vacant houses are coming up for rental. Unable to sell them in the slow market, their owners have decided to become landlords so that the monthly rent will help defray their mortgage payments. If you’re feeling cramped in your rental house, you may be able to find a larger nicer house for less rent than you’ve been paying. This could work out well for you! However, before you sign a lease, make sure the house isn’t about to be repossessed; some unscrupulous sellers are taking security deposits from potential renters knowing full well the house will be going into foreclosure and repossessed before long.

Whether you own or rent, you can save money on rising utility costs by being careful about your energy usage. Wearing sweaters and keeping the thermostat a few degrees lower than normal this winter will take the edge off the higher heating bills we’re sure to see. Hanging damp laundry around the house instead of putting all of it in the dryer will add to the humidity level (making you feel warmer) while reducing the amount of electricity or gas you use to run your dryer. We hang shirts and jeans from the door trim in our house in the cold months; you’d be surprised how quickly the clothes dry, especially if the humidity in the house is low. No, we’ll never make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens with clothes hanging from the doorways on laundry day, but I’d rather have lower utility bills than live in a model home.

Keep your shades and blinds up on the sunny side of the house, and down on the cold, windy side. If you live where the winters are very cold, you’ll find that insulating windows with plastic can help keep out cold drafts. Back in the 70s, people made draft dodgers (long, skinny stuffed fabric snakes that lay along the crack where the door meets the floor) to keep out drafts; maybe that’s another 70s trend that needs to make a comeback!


These are just a few ideas to combat inflation, but if you know anything about the 70s, you know similar ideas made a big difference in keeping costs down. If you were just a child in the 70s, or weren’t born yet, ask your parents about how people fought inflation. Knowing how to do so could make the difference between being able to homeschool your children and having to put them in school so you can get a full-time and/or better-paying job.

Saving Time and Money with Stashes

Gas is nearly $4.00 a gallon here in northeast Wisconsin. My husband and I are fortunate that we both work at home, so we don’t have commuting expenses. But there are still many places we have to go.

With the nearest large city an hour away, we’re trying to conserve gas by combining trips there. For example, if I need to take someone to the doctor for a check-up, I think ahead to which stores I pass by on the way home, where I can pick up needed items as long as I’m in the neighborhood.

I’m also being careful about how many short trips I make around our little town. I don’t go to the library unless I also need to stop by the bank, which is a few blocks over. I put book orders to be shipped in my bike basket and ride to the post office, unless I have a heavy box of books to ship. These activities help me save gas.

But what’s really helped us limit the amount of driving we’re doing these days is something I’ve done for years: keeping stashes. Ever since my kids were little, I’ve stockpiled doubles or triples of items we use frequently. There’s nothing like the 3 am discovery that your baby has a high fever and you’ve run out of fever reducer to make you realize that it’s really smart to keep spares of such things on hand.

I have a lot of stashes in my house (I describe them in detail in The Imperfect Homeschooler’s Guide to Homeschooling), and they’ve made my life as a mom and homemaker much easier, while also saving money. But now that the price of gas is so high compared to just a few years ago, I find that the stash concept is saving me more money than ever.

To start a stash, you buy two of every item you use regularly in your household. This means you always have a spare, and don’t waste gas or time running out for a last minute replacement. Besides, you’re going to use the same amount of gas going back and forth to the store whether you buy two bottles of ketchup or one. So why not buy two? (Take this concept a step further by only buying these items when they’re on sale, and you’re now reducing your grocery bills as well as the amount of gasoline that you use.)

One important thing to remember about stashes is that they don’t work if you don’t remember to buy items before you need them. Train yourself, your husband and your children that when you open something new, you put it on the shopping list (you do keep a shopping list somewhere that’s easily accessible, I hope!). Be warned: it may take a while to train the rest of the family to do this.

The only problem I’ve ever had with this system is that I became so used to it that I couldn’t stop, even after two of our four children moved out. Our supply soon far exceeded our demand.

That’s why, for the past few years, I tried to stop buying multiples of staples because we weren’t using them up fast enough. But now I find that my stashes let me go much longer without driving to the store, thus saving a considerable amount of gasoline.

So I’ve stopped chiding myself for keeping a stash for only four people. As long as we make an effort to use up what we have and keep a list of what we need, I can easily go two weeks without a major shopping trip. That saves me gas and time. Time is always very valuable, and gas is becoming more so every day, it seems. Why not try it yourself and see if it doesn’t work for you, too?

A “New” Old Tactic for Saving Money on Groceries

I did all my grocery shopping the other day and was dismayed to find that prices continue to go up. To make matters worse, in some cases the price increase is disguised by smaller packaging, which just makes me mad that food companies think we’re so stupid that we don’t realize what they’ve done.

For instance, a can of tuna is now 5 oz. I have recipes from when I was a newlywed (back in 1979) that refer to a 7 oz. can of tuna. So now, when I double a recipe using tuna, I have to buy three cans of tuna, not two. Do they think I don’t notice this?

As I’ve written elsewhere, I do the usual things to combat inflation. I bought 10 pounds of ground beef when it was on sale, cooked up 3 pounds and froze it, and froze the rest raw for meatloaf, etc. I watch all prices and only buy items when they’re on sale for a good price (as opposed to “sale prices” that are actually regular-price items placed on the sale aisle with a big sign, which is why we need to know our prices).

But as each grocery shopping trip reveals higher prices, I’m thinking I need to add a new tactic, one that makes sense but that I hadn’t really thought about in recent years: we need to eat less.

So instead of freezing one-pound packages of meat, I’m freezing ¾-pound packages, figuring a little smaller hamburger patty won’t hurt any of us. I’m putting fewer chicken pieces in each bag before I freeze it. I’m making cookies and rolls a wee bit smaller than usual.

This will make the food I buy last longer, and will hopefully help me shed a little weight, too. It’s healthier, and it also goes back to the way we lived when I was a child.

For instance, my grandmother used to split a can of pop between four of us kids. Each one’s share barely filled a juice glass (and we knew better than to ask for seconds!) Her logic was that pop wasn’t good for us so we shouldn’t have too much.

In an age of 32-oz. soda cups in fast-food restaurants, I think our society has lost that sense of limiting ourselves. But the era of unrestrained appetites may be coming to an end, thanks to inflation. I guess every cloud really does have a silver lining.

Previous posts on saving money that you may have missed:

Exercises in Frugality

Exercises in Frugality, Part 2

Exercises in Frugality, Part 3

Exercises in Frugality, Part 4

Exercises in Frugality, Part 5

What to Do When The Economy Stinks….

The bad news about the economic instability of our economy as well as those of other countries continues. Scary stuff, and it can make you feel pretty helpless. But there are things you can do.

First off, stop spending money on things you don’t absolutely need and try to save money wherever you can. I know many people believe that in times like these, you should spend today’s dollars because they’ll be worth less tomorrow. Beans! There’s nothing like the feeling of having money set aside for a rainy day.

Here are a few ways to save right now:

Pay for necessities with cash and put the change in a jar.
Take the amount you save by using coupons and put that in a jar.
Brown-bag it and put the money you would have spent for drive-up fast food in a jar.
Skip the Starbucks and put that money in a jar.

Pretty soon you should have a nice, full jar. Now, start with a new jar. In the past, I would have suggested you take that full jar to the bank and deposit it. But I’m thinking it’s a good idea to have some cash on hand at home. There are some shaky banks out there (check yours here), and it sure wouldn’t hurt to keep some of your money nearby….like in your house.

Today at the grocery I made a major killing. I spent $25 and my receipt showed I saved $28. Of course, that’s money saved off of full price, which I almost never pay. But it’s still savings. Shopping the sales combined with using coupons is always wise.

Buying in quantity when on sale is another no-brainer. I now have three 32-oz. jars of Miracle Whip Light in the house. At 99 cents each, they were a great deal. They’ll keep for a while, so I don’t mind having a few extra. I use them for homemade potato, tuna or egg salads, which are far cheaper homemade than what they cost at the grocery store deli counter.

Homemade….that’s another thing you can do in these unstable times. Make your own meals! You pay so much more for take-out, and plenty just for prepared foods and mixes. Case in point: the guy ahead of me in line at the grocery was buying a dinky container of seafood salad (surimi and pasta with dressing). The little one-pound container had a deli label on it that said $5.94. Good grief! You can easily make a huge batch of that stuff for less than $5, especially when you’ve got the items waiting for you in your pantry and fridge since you bought them on sale. A box of pasta for 69 cents, some ranch dressing mixed with mayo (maybe $1 worth) and a package of Crab Delights on sale for $1.50 (and even cheaper if you buy the store brand), plus a little diced celery….what does that total, maybe $3.50? And you’ll have enough to feed eight people.

Yet another thing you can do to save money: Don’t put anything on your credit card unless you can absolutely, definitely pay it off at the end of the month (credit card interest is a tax on spendthrifts!) Why even bother buying things on sale if you’re going to put that 14-25% tax on it? Ditto for buying furniture on time….no payments until 2010! Big deal…that’s how they rope you in, and later on you learn the interest has been piling up all that time, waiting for that first payment two years down the road. Don’t do it! If you must have furniture, if it’s a real need (not a want!), buy it used. Better yet, put out the word among family and friends that you need a new table or sofa, and maybe you’ll get a freebie. This is no time to be dropping hundreds or thousands of dollars on new stuff.

If you’re like me and you live a no debt/cash only lifestyle, be patient. Before long, overextended people will put their plasma tv’s and leather sofas on Craig’s List for next to nothing, because it’s going to be the only way they can raise cash. Their credit is tapped out and they need some money. The signs are already there. I’ve been looking at fifth wheel RV’s and there are some great deals out there!

Those are just a few areas where you can save money. There are many more. Go to the library and find yourself some books on saving money. If nothing else, use interlibrary loan to snag some of the classics written during the recession of the early 1980s, or one of Amy Dacyczyn’s books of the 90s (they all have “Tightwad Gazette” in their titles.)*

The more techniques you learn for saving money, the more empowered you’ll be, and the bad financial news we’re hearing on a daily basis these days won’t be quite so scary. This is not the time to sit in the corner and whimper. It’s time to take action!

* In case your library can’t get them for you, here’s Amy’s wonderful book plus some more that will help you: