Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Something for the credit crunch

.. or do we call it a credit crisis now? Whatever. As regular readers will know, this family has been home educating on a frugal budget for so many years that economising is second nature and therefore a bit more makes no difference whatsoever. But I thought it might be useful to someone in these times of hardship to set out some of the many advantages (yes, advantages!) of living a blissfully free-range home ed family life on the cheap.

These are some of the ways in which we've found that it's actually better to have less money:

  • Poverty requires creativity. That perfect costume or outfit can't be bought: it must be made, and often adapted from the old curtains or other spare fabric that's been saved. This cuts down shopping time and stretches brains: the skill of turning opportunities to suit what's needed doesn't come from nowhere.

  • Expensive courses, activities or lessons aren't really an option, or if they are, they require such swingeing cuts from other departments of family life that those undertaking them don't commit too lightly, or on a whim. I think this leads to time being better spent doing what people really want to do.

  • Home ed in poverty engenders a 'can do' attitude: my sons were building computers and networks practically (but not quite) out of old yogurt pots and bits of string when they were 10, 11, 12 and couldn't bear to take turns. Now we don't need to pay expensive retail - or even wholesale - prices for our stuff. We can usually adapt what we have to our changing needs, or build something new out of next to nothing, in terms of cost. We certainly fix all our own equipment, which brings me to..

  • Learning through necessity is almost as great a motivator as is learning through curiosity. We know how a washing machine works, ditto a domestic plumbing and electrical system, and a central heating system, how a roof drains, how a car engine works, how to spot-weld, which firewood burns the best and which wild plants are edible because we've had to learn these things. This means that we aren't so much at the mercy of tradesmen or retail systems, and economic downturns (with attendant exodus of Polish plumbers, etc.) go largely unnoticed by us.

  • Children living in families with 'just enough' become numerate at a very early age. Whether it's working out whether we can afford to tax the car, why seasonal veg is cheaper, or just how much money there is to spend, adding up the pounds and pence is a vital skill, quickly learned.

  • Even learning to read takes on a different importance in times of hardship. (If cheap baked beans constitute hardship..)

  • I think the lack of spare funds makes for more individually-honed provision, perhaps because parents have to be more on hand and attentive - there isn't really the option to buy in other tuition or coursework.

I see that I've written about this before, and no doubt I will again. It's an increasingly pertinent issue, isn't it?

Having less money has meant more challenges for us, which have strengthened our family unit to the extent that we can think about very long-term projects that involve us all. It's been such a good thing that I wouldn't have changed it. I just wanted to say that belt-tightening does not have to be bad news.


Blogger Allie said...

I can see a lot of truth in what you say. And I'm always impressed by the way your family solves its problems. But I'm lazy and would rather go to work to earn the money to pay a plumber. No doubt you'll be in a better place than me when the oil runs out.

I think you are probably right about courses and workshops and such like. I think we do spend too much on such things. But when they're there and look so tasty (P is doing an animation course soon) it's hard to resist. I think I am always aware of not wanting them to 'miss out'. Maybe they're actually missing out by having less time for self-directed things...

11:58 am, November 04, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post is really inspiring, thank you! xx

1:34 pm, November 04, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL Allie - I'm lazy too (or perhaps just too freedom-loving) and prefer to learn plumbing for the odd occasion it's needed than to go to work every day to be able to pay for one!

They'll have 'something else' in place for when the oil runs out, IMO..

The animation course does sound tasty, but animation is pretty doable without a course, as Tom's found. Having said that, if we had the money we would probably be spending it on things like that.

Hmm. Not sure if that's strictly true though, now. If we hadn't had these years of not having the money, then I would, because I wouldn't know the extent of what was feasible without it, IYSWIM!

Thanks Debs xx

2:51 pm, November 04, 2008  
Blogger Riaz said...

Do you think that most of the secondary school curriculum is of little relevance to the real world and life as an adult?

10:21 am, November 07, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes, I think it's probably fair to say that in most cases, Riaz. Do you?

2:57 pm, November 07, 2008  
Blogger mamacrow said...

couldn't agree more with everything...

we also have had little money for ... forever really. but always enough to pay the bills (or enough over draft) and lots of supportive family that have had us round for huge sunday lunches, so we've never starved.

the credit crunch has pretty much passed us unoticed - we've always cooked from scratch for example - in fact, we're doing the best we ever have - we've paid off 'the loan' (a student days thing that got resurrected a couple of times when times were hard) we are never (touch wood) in the overdraft anymore, we don't owe anybody (Hire purchase, old bills) any thing, the tax credit and council tax benifits have FINALLY sorted themselves out and seen we qualify (council tax is CRIPPELING down here)

and I really like ASDA - for a supermarket and a big company they're really quite good. and their dirt cheep brands are additive free etc etc.

I never really been very motivated by money. it's one of those things that doesn't really exist, isn't it, when you think about it. the law of abundance seems to work for us :)

8:35 pm, November 07, 2008  
Blogger mamacrow said...

oh, meant to add that for some reason I really like washingmachine plumbing, and can sort small problems. then I call in the local (cheep) plumber who we love having round because he's profoundly deaf, which makes communication interesting and makes the kids think about that, and also because he's quite happy to have us all gawping while he disembowls the machine.

it's one of those things on my 'when all the kids are older/grown up' list - learn plumbing. along with learn to be a car machanic, learn to knit properly (ie something other than scarves and blankets) take up ammeature dramatics again, climb the lake district peaks etc etc

8:38 pm, November 07, 2008  
Blogger Riaz said...

I used to be really into practical things when I was a kid such as plumbing and car mechanics. I enjoyed playing with Lego Technic and taking apart electrical machinery to learn how it worked.

I had no interest in school work and found it tedious and boring. The school didn't teach anything about machinery in the days before the National Curriculum. Many problems with school centred around writing and how I refused to produce written work. I probably learnt more outside of school using self education than in the classroom.

I have come to the conclusion that most of what schools teach is abstract theoretical knowledge that isn't useful in the real world. Most of the useful things you need to know as an adult you have to learn outside of school. This ranges from things like car insurance, buying property, succeeding in job interviews, small DIY jobs, or how to cook dinner.

The root of the problem is that the state school curriculum was based on the grammar school curriculum that wasn't a suitable education for over 90% of the population. It upsets me that parents pay thousands of pounds in private school fees for an education that really is third rate and out of date in the 21st century.

I once cracked a joke about how it is possible to have an A* in GCSE maths and still not know how to calculate APR on a credit card, or even know what APR is.

3:18 pm, November 09, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes, my experience was similar: the schools I attended didn't really teach the subjects that interested me - or if they did, they taught them in very boring, prescribed ways that only served to put me off them.

Have you read John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down? I can certainly relate to his list of the lessons schools are really set up to teach. They can only exist to dumb us down, since that's what they actually do, very effectively.

My three older children were naturally questioning, curious children until they went to school, then after about six weeks they lost their curiosity about life and stopped asking questions.

If you're in charge of a country of millions of people, your biggest problem is keeping all those people docile and obedient enough to enable you to do what you want to do without much resistance. Schools meet that need very well, IMO.

9:46 pm, November 09, 2008  
Blogger Riaz said...

I think the problem was that my parents enjoyed school. If you enjoy something then you are less likely to question it. My parents weren't particularly clever. They failed their 11+, went to secondary moderns, and emerged with about half a dozen CSEs at the end. They were more interested in sports and popular youth culture. Things that didn't interest me in the slightest. If my parents didn't enjoy school themselves then the old problems could have come back to haunt them again.

I haven't read John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down but I can believe you about schools dumbing people down. The age segregated system holds back clever children. I was bored and frustrated about having work that was too easy but the teachers just thought I was lazy.

9:08 pm, November 10, 2008  

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