Will Financial Concerns Trump Homeschooling?

My son’s latest interest is carnivorous plants, so we went to look at them at the Chicago Botanical Garden.

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 17, 2013.

As we approach our second homeschooling year, my husband and I are having a discussion that has come up before: can we sustain this lifestyle on one salary? As much as I love homeschooling, and as much as my husband supports it, it’s not easy when financial concerns arise.

Most new homeschoolers have plenty of concerns. On top of their list is socialization and whether or not they have the ability to teach their children everything they need to know. After doing my research, I no longer worry about those issues, but I’ve always known that if anything stopped us from homeschooling, it would be money.

As homeschoolers, we get no tax breaks or any support for what we do. We’re still paying taxes that benefit the schools even though our children do not attend. We have to purchase all our educational materials or find free resources.

Fortunately, free and inexpensive resources for homeschooling are plentiful, but it takes time and creativity to use them. The main issue for us is cost of living in a culture that toots its horn about family values, yet I see little action or incentives for families to keep one parent at home full-time. This is an issue whether a family intends to homeschool or not.

I think some people think we must be well off, but that’s far from the truth. True, we’re not in the poor house, but we live a frugal lifestyle. We don’t decorate our house or take many vacations. We don’t own smart phones so that we can keep our monthly costs down. My husband feels guilty whenever he wants to purchase something we don’t need.

I am not a woman who likes to shop, which is good because I doubt my husband would have married me, if I were. But it’s true: The things I want to work at do not pay any bills. I make pocket change at best. Nobody sympathizes with that, and I don’t expect anybody to.

I’m not against traditional school, and I’ve always known that we might not be able to sustain this lifestyle, but thinking about giving up is difficult too. Homeschooling or being a stay-at-home mom is a personal choice. For me, it’s the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had, and I’m excited at the potential it gives us to tailor our sons’ education to their learning styles and interests.

Having read several forums on homeschooling, I know that many homeschoolers struggle with money, but they seem determined to do it anyway. For them, the benefits outweigh the financial struggle. My husband is not so easily buoyed by ideals. The pressure to keep our family afloat is a huge stressor for him.

I don’t hear this debate often on the homeschooling blogs and forums. Is it because those who can’t quietly slip out of the conversation? I don’t know.

I want a savings account too, and I want security too. Like my husband, I’m willing to sacrifice a lot, but are we being stupid?  Sometimes he thinks so.

A homeschooling friend of mine once scoffed at people who felt they needed to have a savings account. Have faith, she insinuated. I looked at her in disbelief. Later, they foreclosed on their house.

There are people who forge ahead with life goals no matter what the risk, and I admit I’ve done that to a degree. For some, it pays off, and we hear those stories because they are inspiring. For others, it doesn’t pay off, but do we ever hear those stories? I bet someone could fill a book with them.

I know people who look down on me for not working. Why should we struggle at all? Put the kids in school like everyone else and get a job. It’s our fault if we aren’t prepared for emergencies or can’t retire comfortably.

It’s crossed my mind many times that life might be easier if I just put the kids in school and got a job, but I’ve also heard about the struggles of moms who work and have kids in school. The truth is that we’ve all got money struggles, time struggles, questions and second guesses. There are many paths to raise a child, and we each need to decide what is best and possible for our family.

We are not giving up on homeschooling yet, but I will need to bring in some kind of income to keep us going.  The boys are getting a little older, which makes it more feasible, but I’m disheartened at the opportunities awaiting me.  Wish me luck….Or call me stupid.

How do you deal with the financial aspects of homeschooling?

UPDATE: I have written an extensive article on this subject for home / school / life magazine’s Summer 2014 issue titled, Money Matters, in which I interviewed three families who have homeschooled through financial crisis. It also includes advice for becoming more financially savvy. Also there are some awesome comments below that might help you.

38 thoughts on “Will Financial Concerns Trump Homeschooling?

  1. We are in the fortunate position that my husband makes enough that I don’t need an income for us to survive, but that said, we live carefully (no cable, smart phones, new gadgets, real vacations, we rarely eat out, I carefully plan menus, we have one car, live in a low cost of living area, buy the kids clothes second hand when we can, rarely shop, etc.). He is self-employed and expenses like the cost of private health insurance (for which we pay a HUGE monthly premium and have a REALLY HUGE deductible) are concerning. Much of this is a lifestyle choice that we embrace, but it is also financial. One thing that concerns me is not our day-to-day survival or even our retirement (the future weighs VERY heavily on my husband…though we do have some plans & goals), but what if something happens to him? I left a career as a tenure-track English professor. I have a Ph.D., but once you leave academia, you don’t go back without some brilliant publications or something. Working an entry-level business job would be miserable. We need to line up some insurance, but then that couple hundred dollars a month on top of everything else is yet another expense, right?

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Erica. Our situations are a little similar – we live very frugally, yet there are certain risks living this way. I can understand your concern re: your job choices if you had to go back to work. All we can hope is that it all works out, but sometimes that doesn’t feel very safe!

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  2. Great post it is true no matter what everyone struggles with money from time to time. I am lucky I have a job that I can work around my daughter’s home school schedule. You see she attends an online charter school through Connections Academy. It has the best of both world’s teachers and their support but your child is able to stay home. For us it has been our saving grace, my daughter has a chronic illness and missed a lot of school due to infections and environmental issues in the school. (Air Quality) We also like the individual plan for her she gets extra help in the areas she needs it and when I am off from work I can reinforce what she already learned by reviewing the notes, live lessons of that day.Just wanted to share our story because there are other options to traditional brick and mortar school and traditional homeschooling. Thanks so much for letting me share, Allie.

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  3. Gosh, you’re not stupid for wanting something else for your family than the norm! We are the idealists and maybe the type of risk takers you are referring to. But that’s largely because my husband leans that way. He is a strong idealist, who also supports our family, and I’m the one who worries about money and manages the pennies to make the dreams happen.

    I can’t imagine the situation we would face in order to give up homeschooling. We’ve never even discussed it. I’ve told Damien what I’d recommend he do if I die (since I’m the one who oversees their education). We’re tried to make our lives very flexible and freedom based (no debt, low housing costs etc), which is also our homeschool philosophy, so that if we run into hard times we can hunker down. Our overhead, besides food on the table, is quite low.

    But there are no easy answers and each family needs to find their own way in this regard.

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  4. Honestly, I think we earn more at this point because I stay home (it wasn’t always that way, of course). My husband was able to work long days and take advantage of travel opportunities, and I believe the flexibility he had because the other parent was always at home contributed to his success. Honestly I’m not sure how I feel about me working/not working. It doesn’t always necessarily feel like a choice. And I’m not inflexibly tied to homeschooling, either. We have one child in school.

    As for paying taxes or getting reimbursed, I don’t want a tax break. Plenty of people pay taxes and don’t send their kids to school, or even have kids. I *could* (by right and law) take advantage of extracurricular activities for my homeschooled child, but I choose not to, nor do I want to claim expenses on my taxes. I believe money comes with oversight, and if I don’t want the local district or the government telling me how to home-educate my child, I shouldn’t take their money. Once I do, they would have every right to expect me to account for it in ways they find acceptable.

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  5. I know people who are SAHM that don’t homeschool. It sounds like the issue is whether or not you can continue to be a SAHM in order to homeschool. Of course it’s easier for us to put the kids in public school & get a job. But is it really going to be better? Have you ever tried getting yourself & 3 kids out the door with everything ya’ll need for the day by 7:15am? Then at the end of the day your so spent you just need the kids to leave you alone so you can decompress! Yet everything should be better because there’s more money. Yep.

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    1. good points — plus, once you factor in all the additional costs of a second person working (travel, meals, work clothes, convenience food, paying for services you used to do yourself, etc.), you are often working for hardly any recompense.

      self-employment allows you to skip a lot of the extra costs and just increase your side income. that’s what i recommend!

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  6. I am in the same boat you are in right now. There have been many heated late night discussions between my husband and me about whether homeschooling is “worth it” considering our financial situation. What it really comes down to at this point is that even with me working, we still cannot afford to move to a better school district. We didn’t start out with the intention of homeschooling but have basically been forced into it because we live in a horrible school district that not only could not meet our children’s needs (one ADHD and gifted, another so gifted that skipping a grade was nowhere near adequate to address his learning needs). The school curriculum here is awful! No colorful textbooks, computer work, or videos, just black and white workbooks for science and no social studies curriculum to speak of at all. Language Arts and Math are solely focused on high achievement on standardized tests, not on learning. In addition to that, our area has been moving downhill economically in recent years and crime is up quite a bit. I would love for my children to be around a diverse group of kids (which they now get in a YMCA homeschool program that looks like a mini-United Nations racially), but when they are one of only 2 white kids in their class, and 1 of only 7 in their entire grade, it creates a serious problem for them socially. For now, we are trying to keep our expenses low and save what we can so we can eventually move. I’m looking for part-time work from home as well. Feel free to email me anytime. I’d love to share stories, advice, and homeschooling resources with you. Just hang in there. Like us, you’re doing the right thing, even though it doesn’t always feel like it.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Kate. Maybe I need to create a blog for moms who are trying to stay home but also contribute financially. I’ll be sure to e-mail you.

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  7. This is a comment from Carrie Mac, who was having trouble getting it to go through on WordPress, so I’m putting it here for her. Thanks, Carrie!

    I wonder if homeschoolers are reluctant to talk about financial struggles because of the ‘you’ve made your bed now lie in it’ school of thinking. We don’t want to talk about doing without, or sacrificing certain things to couples who are are slogging away at two jobs or one big fat one and who have plenty of money.
    I think some homeschooling families use financial struggles as a reason to stop homeschooling, but I would argue that they perhaps want to stop homeschooling for other reasons. Money could certainly be a factor, but often I think it’s the fulcrum for a larger lifestyle shift.
    We live off of my sporadic, unpredictable and very modest writing income as well as my partner’s very modest income as a cook. We haven’t bought new clothes since having kids, we make a cut of meat stretch to three meals, we don’t have cable, we stay out of shopping malls and stores and literally don’t spend much beyond our absolute needs. But we travel. Even with that modest income. We scrimp and save so that we can go away and be together, and so our hard work feels a little less hard.
    And we live in a hugely expensive city.
    We have no debt, either. We live within our means, even if that means beans and rice for a few days before payday.
    None of which to say that we’ve got this money thing sorted, because we don’t.
    But, we’ve made our decision to have one parent home with the kids, and we’re sticking to it.
    If we need me to work outside the home, one of us will do the swing shift while the other is home with the kids. I’d go back to social work, so I could work nearly any shift in a shelter, transition home, group home, what have you.
    When I was a PT paramedic (just quit in May), sure we had a bit more money, but there was the cost of me being gone from the home those days, which we felt in the disruption to our family rhythm and the lack of any time together as a family (I’d work my partner’s days off).
    We’ve also got a plan to continue to homeschool if one of us dies, or cannot work. The able- or present parent would work swings and we’d have a homeschool teenager come to be with the kids for supper, bedtime and until that parent got home.
    Ultimately, I don’t think it’s either/or. I think having money means that you spend it, even if you think you’re being frugal now, it’s not until you have even less that you realize where you can cut spending. It’s like water. Doesn’t matter the volume of flow, it will still take up whatever space it’s granted. We’ve lived high on the hog, and we’ve lived pay cheque to pay cheque. Our happiness level didn’t change with the money. In fact, now that I’ve given up my stressful and dangerous job and am home writing and parenting, we’re happier than we’ve ever been before.

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    1. I think what Carrie Mac says here is so true. Just like water, money fills the spaces it occupies, little or a lot. We’ve had fairly variable income levels in the past few years and we always live to those levels and somehow we still manage to make the most important things happen (and we haven’t been to the dentist in ages either). Like Carrie, we prioritize going places and doing things, and so somehow those things happen. But music lessons don’t, for example.

      I haven’t met a homeschool family that has quit for financial reasons, even when finances were really tight. Maybe because the other options don’t really bring in enough funds to justify quitting. Most of us moms who left the work force years ago to homeschool can’t just re-enter at a professional, high paying level. And for the effort and cost involved in getting the kids to school (and for the kids to fit in while there in terms of clothes and stuff), getting to work (vehicle costs) and all the loss of family time, not to mention the money you save by making-do at home, it just doesn’t seem to make financial sense to quit homeschooling to go to work at a lowish paying job. Which I feel most of us homeschool mothers, out of the work force for so long, are likely to find.

      I know a lot of homeschool families where moms work part time, in or out of the home, especially as the kids get older. But not send the kids to school and go to work. This is easier as the kids get older and need less care (though obviously still need us around a lot of the time!) But this is also the time when the financial needs seem to increase. Bigger kids cost more money but their age also allows you to work a bit.

      Good discussion you started here Shelli!

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  8. We worry about money too, but I think everyone does, as you said. My friends that are parents that both work seem to have just as much worry, although most of them have more stuff, like pools, smartphones or fancy vacations. I’d rather have time with my kids. I’ve heard it said that no one on their deathbed says they wish that had worked more and spent less time with their kids! I’m pretty sure I’d even be willing to give up our house, if it came to that. And it could if my husband lost his job or one of us got a serious illness. We had a nice savings account before my daughter was born, but she had medical issues as an infant, and between tests and treatment and my husbands car dying around the same time, the savings was nearly gone by the time she was 4 months old. (Yes, we had insurance, but still had to pay 20% of most things and some things were not covered.). I took in a friend’s daughter for a few years in a home daycare situation to help us get back on track after that, and I could always do something like that again, but hope to not have to!
    Also, besides friends, as a former teacher (and nanny) I have seen how hard it is for parents to both work and keep up all that is going on with their kids. Getting them out the door on time only to have them share the best part of their day with others and then you get to have them back at “cranky time,” just seems so very stressful to me, so I would not see sending the kids to school as the easy way out at all!
    As you said, “There are many paths to raise a child, and we each need to decide what is best and possible for our family.” And what is best for now may change next year! Hang in there, you are not alone in your worries!

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  9. My situation is a lot like Amy’s and Carrie’s. Up until about three years ago, we never took vacations. We spent almost nothing on new clothes, but thankfully, I didn’t have to wear fancy clothes since I was staying home. My husband wears a uniform. We were given so many second hand clothes for our kids, that I’m really just now learning to shop once in awhile for my kids. (As a result, I vowed to myself never to sell my kids’ clothes or baby items. I’d rather just “pay it forward”.) We had lots of debt to pay down, and we saw me staying home as a way to save on daycare expenses. We weren’t sure how it’d go at first, but now, we can’t see how people don’t try it. People used to say to me, “Oh, you’re so lucky! Wish I could afford to stay home!” We honestly don’t understand how people afford daycare. Being home has also given me the time to focus on frugal meals for our family. For awhile, I made our bread. We have a picture of me with my first loaf, and it brings back a lot of memories. We used the Dave Ramsey system to slowly pay down our debt. Although we now have smart phones, and we do travel, these are some “rewards” we’ve allowed ourselves to have now that we are debt-free (all but the mortgage). We still don’t buy many clothes (habit, I guess…and I’m like you, Shelli, I don’t like to shop, much to my husband’s delight!) We’d both be willing to downsize our home to keep saving our money. (We already live in a fairly small home.) All of that to say, keep up the good work! Save everything you can, and remember that the grass on the other side isn’t as tasty. We’d much rather trade the extra expenses in life for more time with the kids.

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  10. The difficulties we had trying to find decent therapies for our (now 15yo) daughter with Asperger’s pushed me to ditch career goals in favor of homeschooling her. She has more access to a social network of kids who think she is wonderful and therapy. Our (now 4yo) autistic son is in public school entering pre-K in an inclusion program (40% of his fellow students are special needs). However, I suspect he will be homeschooled before he leaves elementary. Yes, financially, this is very frightening having one income. We weighed what the market looks like for those with my skills (library and information science), whether we would need to relocate or the expense of a commute, plus childcare – not only for our 4yo, but hiring someone to be a caretaker for our daughter to drive her to her appointments. I am in the process of building an at-home business, but we look at homeschooling one year (sometimes one semester) at a time.

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  11. We homeschool, and have definitely faced our share of financial tough times. However my husband and I are both entrepreneurs. I think the experience and mindset of being an entrepreneur makes it easier for us to come up with solutions without having to rely on leaving the home and “finding a job”. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and many temporary fixes that supported us through the tighter times when our business wasn’t pulling in enough money for us to accomplish our goals. Somehow though, we’ve always (so far!) managed to make it work.

    It’s terrifying at times and stressful, and there are no benefits of the sort that you can find in steady employment with a larger company. We absolutely may fail financially. This sort of uncertainty and responsibility is honestly not something I would wish on my best friend. However it is incredibly worth it to us, not only for the ability to homeschool our children but also for the freedom and flexibility to build our life and our dreams however we see fit. Furthermore, I value the example it sets for our children: that no one is going to give them the life they want- it is up to them to go out and build it themselves, and there are an infinite number of ways to go about doing that. They don’t ever have to accept the model that is handed to them.

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  12. I really appreciated your post. Money is definitely something my husband and I have talked about as well, wondering how long we can sustain things as our children get older and we want to supplement our homeschooling more with some classes/lessons, etc. that we just do not have the money for now. We are almost debt-free (a few more months!), but we know that we need to buy a van to accommodate adding daytime activities (we are a one car family) and possibly another child in the future! Honestly, we have also been neglecting things in order to make it work the last year or so, things we are not comfortable neglecting for much longer (car maintenance, retirement contributions, etc.). We have decided that I will take in one or two children for child care and we will just treat it like we are a large homeschooling family. 🙂 I think it will be a win for us and a win for the parents since I will be offering their child a unique care environment with many opportunities for learning, field trips, etc. I am excited and look forward for how this will help alleviate the money stress. I am going to look for teacher’s children (so I will provide care August-June, 7a-4:30p) who are 3 or older (so they are old enough to participate with my younger children). I have found a few forums where other homeschooling moms have made this work and they say as long as you get into a good routine, it’s totally do-able and works well. I have nothing against public school, but as I get further and further into homeschooling, it is hard for me to think about sending my children there. There are just so many benefits to homeschooling, so this seems like a good solution to me.

    Best of luck to you. I know these are hard decisions!

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  13. I was a teacher in NY before leaving to stay home, homeschool, and freelance at web designing. My husband was making a pretty good salary and money was tight, but my take home pay as a teacher was going right to the babysitter and transportation to and from work. We were not in credit card debt, we rented, lived an modest life and never traveled, but when it came down to it, I could no longer afford to work. After a year of struggling to get my freelance web design and social media consulting business off the ground, I got a part time, WAH job with an agency. It allowed us to not worry as much but still did not provide us with enough savings. Then my husband’s job did it’s 4th round of layoffs and we just KNEW that he would be in the next one. A year and some interesting stories later, we packed out stuff and headed from NY to AZ- jobless, limited savings, and no clue what we were going to do for money. We decided to pool our experiences and officially open a social media and web design agency. We work from home and live the life that we want. But truth be told, we need to book some clients soon or our dream is going to fall by the wayside.

    I say this all to tell you that I understand. There are a lot of jobs for those with writing, blogging, and social media skills. There are WAH jobs that will pay a steady salary and help. You just have to search. It’s hard, but it is possible.

    I wish you the best of luck!

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    1. Hi Kristina – Thanks so much for your comment and sharing your story. Wow! I am keeping my fingers for you that you can book some new clients soon. I really hope you guys make it. Yes, I have heard of those jobs, but I’m not sure where to search. I have some projects I’m working on right now, and when they’re finished, I’ll have more time to do some research. Thank you so much.

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  14. We are 2 adults and 4 children (ages 3-12). We live in AZ – not the cheapest or most expensive place in the country. Our current income is $1800. This is only since Spring. Prior to that we spent 2 years with little to no income – literally months in a row without ANY MONEY AT ALL. And months in a row of between $300-1,000. No savings. No credit. Had our one vehicle repoed half way through that. Almost evicted but they changed their minds. Sold whatever people would buy. Just to pay rent. NO SPENDING MONEY AT ALL for 2 years straight. And through-out all of that, I was extremely grateful for homeschooling. We spent one and a half years in the public school system. It was not flexible. It was constantly asking us for more money. And asking us to ask friends for more money for it. And constantly making my child want more stuff – not just what all the other kids had (this new toy, that new gizmo, those new shoes, that fancy birthday party, …) but what the school was always offering – overly priced pencils, fundraiser snacks (before school, lunch time, after school), programs and classes (never truly free). And then pressuring me for not donating tons of my time while pregnant and without any transportation. As a collective they were nosy and bossy and judgmental (in a well meaning way). I know this isn’t every family’s experience – but for us “free public school” was just way too expensive (money, time, emotion, dignity). During these past few years, we have loved homeschooling all the more. Sure we can’t enjoy the botanical gardens and science center, plays, zoos and other wonderful field trips. Sure, at the moment, we can’t take any of the classes we want to or join any of the programs (even free ones since we can’t get to them), we can’t have the curriculum and pretty supplies and all the learning games and great books that we want.
    But we’ve had each other. And we’ve opened-up our, um, seriously unimpressive and underwhelming home to others. Unexpectedly I’ve become a sort of mentor/play-place/mini coffee house to a several mamas. The most surprising of all has been how much we have GIVEN since losing “everything”. Yes, we sold a lot. But we’ve also given a lot away. It becomes addictive. We have less than ever but have given more than we ever have. Giving curbs worry. Did you know that? Even when we started making money again, we’ve given from that money. Sometimes to people who have less than us. Sometimes to people who have more than us.
    And we have contentment. Not saying I wouldn’t love a vacation – or even a real restaurant pizza. Not saying I don’t sometimes daydream about having a perfect schoolroom with big beautiful world maps donning our walls. Sometimes i daydream about a drawer full of new underwear and hole-less socks! But most days I am content and grateful. SOOOO grateful. And for the most part our children are as well. A pile of broken bricks and river rocks in the backyard have been everything from Stonehenge to talking animals, to the Colosseum, to a great world of islands my children have ruled from High Olympus. They have used their imaginations to turn plain washcloths into beautiful mermaids and pirate flags. They have learned to appreciate the value of a single piece of clean white paper and to be happy making adorable (or at least interesting) gifts for each other out of old socks, with bits and scraps from clothes that have worn out. I know many people have pitied us over the past couple years. But I have come to think that perhaps we are not the ones to be pitied. Quite frankly, what many people have considered to be stumbling blocks to our children’s education, have been the very stepping stones replacing all that we can’t afford. It certainly isn’t what we planned or hoped for. But it is us staying together, praying together, learning together, growing together, giving together – overcoming together.
    I wouldn’t trade it for all the Ivy and fancy nothings this whole world has to offer.
    Blessings & best hopes for all of you! Enjoy your own adventures xoxo

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    1. Shirley, I want to thank you so much for this testimonial. “Giving curbs worry.” That is powerful!! Our small income recently took a cut. Many needs are pressing in on us – and the holidays are around the corner. Never have I felt more limited. And I am finding within myself an ugly selfishness …not wanting to show hospitality or share what I have with others … All in the name of “protecting” the little we have. Your words were a sweet rebuke to me, and I thank you. Thanks for the encouragement, too, that I am doing my kids good and not short changing them. Recently I have been VERY insecure about homeschooling (this is our 5th year). I’ve been wondering if it would be better just to do what everyone else is doing and put the kids in traditional school…

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