Sunday, August 23, 2009

Like millions of Americans, I always try to save money. I have a large and busy household and buying in bulk saves time and money, hence I belong to Costco. Imagine my surprise when I opened Costco Connection, the store’s monthly magazine, and saw two articles on home-schooling in the back-to-school issue.

One article points out that of the 50 million children enrolled in grades K-12, some 2 million are home-schooled, which means about 4 percent of the school-age population is home-schooled.

Home-schoolers often operate on a shoestring budget, because parents are dedicating their time to educating their children, thus sacrificing a higher income. The thrift strategies these families develop teach their children many real-life math skills, passing along economic principles and good financial management skills for life.

Conserving one’s resources can lead to lots of learning opportunities; parents can transform an ordinary shopping trip into a math adventure. Some ideas:

• Teach unit pricing — When deciding between products, it’s always helpful to compare the price per unit of measurement. Most stores have this printed on the shelf labels, but occasionally, the unit of measurement varies. One product will have the price per square foot, the other, the price per sheet. This is a great opportunity for kids to do real-life computations. Using a calculator — or even doing the math mentally — can help them determine the best bargain.

• Note an existing product, then make it from scratch — If hummus is almost $6 for a 32-ounce tub, look up the recipe and see how much it would cost to make. A commercial-size can of chickpeas, some olives, lemon juice, sesame oil and garlic can be turned into delicious hummus at home for a fraction of the price.

• Learn to preserve foods — The homey skills of canning, drying, freezing and baking are not being passed along as in past generations. Learning how to take a windfall of fruit or vegetables and preserve it to be used throughout the year is not only good home economics, but it also involves the application of both science and math.

• Develop good nutritional habits — Nutrition experts point to the preponderance of vending machine snacks and drinks in schools and the substitution of fast food for home-cooked meals as factors leading to obesity and lack of fitness. Home-schoolers can choose healthy ingredients, balanced meals and good exercise and sleeping habits to develop physical and mental strength. It’s not enough to teach the food pyramid, we need to cook by the food pyramid, so the young bodies are accustomed to getting all the nutrients they need each day.

• Calculate the cost of a meal — I learned this from my mother, and I have passed it to my kids. By totaling the cost of the meal’s ingredients and dividing that by the number of persons eating, we can figure how much is saved over a similar meal in a restaurant. A full breakfast of eggs, pancakes, fruit, and a meat or dairy dish can be made for about 75 cents per person — but would cost at least $6 per person in a restaurant. This shows children we can live well on less money by cooking at home.

• Use freebies — Teach your children to spot things that others are giving or throwing away. Schools throw away unused workbooks. Offices discard paper, cardboard, posters and packing materials. Businesses and residences throw out furniture, appliances, carts and supplies. Reusing things is good for the environment and the pocketbook.

All parents can teach children how to notice assets, use the things at hand, and be creative. When we teach a young person how to stay out of debt, live in sufficiency and create abundance, we are ensuring they will enjoy a solid financial future, no matter what circumstances may arise in their own lives.

Kate Tsubata is a freelance writer and home-schooler who lives in Maryland.

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