26 September 2011

unschool monday :: the cost


So it pretty much goes without saying... you don't home educate if you want to be wildly affluent and independently wealthy. In the short term, at least. It's a labour of love, rewarding in so many ways other than financial, and all that... Actually, we're extremely fortunate to be in the position where I'm able to be at home with the owlets full time. But it wasn't always this way...

Once upon a time, I used to work from home and got to a point where the work just wasn't worth the time away from the owlets. It was going solely towards paying Big Owlet's kindergarten fees, plus a small saving for the coming year. We were paying a huge mortgage and scraping by. Then one night, in a fit of dissatisfaction, I decided to quit my job. And unschool the owlets instead. "Ok". Said Huz, and so we began. We looked at the financial side of it first and decided it wasn't as scary as we thought, going to just one income, from one and a half...


Once we took out school fees (and potential school fees, as they were rising year by year), school camps and extras, equipment, and travel (Oh my goodness the travel! Twenty-five minutes in the car, each way, four times a day), and multiplied it by the number of owlets we could envisage filling our nest... It started to look do-able. Next we looked at the local public school and when uniforms, equipment, outings, camps, extra-curricular activities were all added up, unschooling still looked good on paper. We'd have to stick to a tight budget, maybe grow our own food, but that was one of the benefits of unschooling. Who needs a kitchen garden program, when you have a garden with food and every cookbook you could wish for and unlimited access? And when the whole world is your classroom, the cost can be worked around creatively, right?


So now we're bona fide unschoolers, here's how it works... About 50% of our income goes towards our mortgage. Any financial advisor will tell you this is not good. But that's how we roll. We're in it for love, not money and this nest is part of the lifestyle and the place where we make memories and owlets learn. So, we're paying more than we should. Add to that all the bills, which are somewhat increased because we are home most days, rather than in school and an office. Electricity is possibly higher. Clothing is mostly second hand or handmade. You'd be surprised how much beautiful second hand designer children's clothing is available on the internet. For a pittance. Food costs possibly the same. But, I can gear our weekly meal plan according to how much money we have to spend and be a little flexible with that because I don't have to fill a lunchbox, just hungry tummies. Instead of tuck shop lunches, we go out and this is where it gets costly, especially on days where I don't feel like cooking. But, we can eat porridge or pasta for lunch if that's all that's available...

Resources. Here's the big one. Unschooling works when you strew materials and ideas for children to spark their interest and help them follow a learning path... We strew resources found at the library, free online sites, garage sales, op shops...


There's an incredible amount available for free or next to nothing. It's rare that we buy books new. We see the world as our classroom, so going for a walk can lead to valuable learning. And it's free. The owlets take lessons in up to two paid activities each. Possibly more if they need to try something new, to see if they like it. Classes are expensive. We find friends to mentor and teach when we can. We seek out free activities in the city whenever we can. Birthdays are an excuse to bulk up our resources too... For example, Big Owlet was given a bunch of books and a world explorer's kit, full of science, art and other equipment, for her birthday. Outings and camps are part of our family weeks, so considered entertainment for us all, rather than a "school outing". I allocate a small portion of our budget each week to activities or resources, but often end up spending it on dinner out.


So, if unschooling is all about following the child's lead, what if an owlet wants something and we can't provide it? We find a way. Either we save for it, or if it's something the owlet particularly wants (and we don't), they save for it. They get pocket money, but if there's something they could do that's surplus to their regular contribution to family life, we pay them extra for it. Then it's up to them to save. Right now, we're introducing the idea of a budget to Big Owlet. We're sharing our family budget with her and she's working out her own budget so she can save for a particular toy she wants. She'd like to set up a shop too, to kick-start her earnings.... If there's something really unattainable that an owlet particularly wants, we sit down and work out a way for it to happen. Everything's possible. If it can't happen, we're honest about that. So far it hasn't damaged their learning ability, but rather aided it. Everything, every conversation, is an opportunity to learn. And even on one income, life can be rich and fulfilling.


Today's Unschool Monday topic was requested by one of the Sarahs over at Unschooling Sarahs. If there's something you'd like to know about, with regards to Unschooling and the owlet take on it, please feel free to ask. 


  1. Thank you for sharing this (and to Sarah for asking). It's so reassuring to someone facing a similar transition and seeking ways to make it work. Our mortgage is similarly large (a lifestyle choice and financial investment) and therefore I have always worked part-time since having our babes. My husband makes an average income, so that plus possible benefits (which I don't like to include in case we go into recession..) means our mortgage takes up 55% of our income (with me not working). Would you mind breaking it down a little more for me so I can see how much you delegate to food/fuel/bills/outings/gifts/etc?

    Many many thanks,

  2. I really enjoyed this look into the way your beautiful family makes it work. As always thank you. You are such a treasure to me. xx

  3. I love this angle - the actual 'how we make it work' stuff. While I love the idea of unschooling, I also like the Montessori approach - but we would never be able to afford the expense. It's interesting to read about which bits of your money goes where...
    Were the school fees you mention state school/steiner?

  4. great post! i just learned about unschool monday, so i'm linking up with a post from sunday. it kind of fits :-)


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