Thursday, 11 May 2017

The Economics of Home Education

Our electricity bill landed in the inbox yesterday. Apparently similar homes to ours use 300 kWh whereas we use somewhere north of 600 kWh.


This reminded me that, a few weeks ago now, the same friend who provided the inspiration for the most popular post on this blog "Everything you ever wanted know" suggested a new post about the economics of home ed and how the numbers stack up for us.


This is just our story. Some home ed families live very different lives to us. Wondering Wanderers and Classroom Free for example are heading towards a dream self sufficiency and, at the other end, some home ed families are providing a tailored bespoke private education with a governess or multiple tutors. The story for single parents is very different indeed, especially with recent benefit changes. This is just how it works out for us. A two parent family living in West Sussex.


We made the decision to home educate when S was 10 months old, 8 years ago now, had I reentered the labour market we probably would not live in this area, we almost certainly would not have had a third child. I suspect S would have gone to private school and there would have been very little left of my salary in the short term.


And that is really crucial. Once you leave the workforce and job market for a prolonged period of time it is unlikely that you will ever be able to re-enter, the more time passes, at the level you left. Ditto saving for pensions. I had a decade of full time work before having children and more than just the money side I didn't feel that career wise I had much left to prove. As much as the numbers it was a  state of mind. Having been immersed in a culture that prized material wealth for sometime I'd observed along the way that it didn't guarantee happiness. In addition I  had done a lot of solo traveling to: Goa, Gambia, Africa, America, New York, Miami, Australia and was ready to settle down. Had I not felt that way unconditional love and time might have been too big a sacrifice on my part.


When S was born and TDO and I spoke about the direction our lives would take our early conversations about our own childhood memories were all focused on  time not money.


By the time O finishes Ununiveristy or Uncollege at 21, in 2030, I'll be nearly 60. The approach would be very different for people becoming parents at a younger age.


So after that background the nuts and bolts. There is a huge % of salary that is devoted towards staying in work. Not just the smart suits, it is nearly a decade since I've worn proper shoes, in fact the last time I tried I fell over outside Horsham station but that's a whole different story, and the haircuts and the season ticket on the train and the running a reliable vehicle that will transport you but the wedding collections and leaving cards that come around the office just as with school.


As home educators we are not required to buy uniforms (again hard to price up as the options range from £2.99 supermarket teflon to £200 private school straw boaters and blazers plus sports equipment whether you like the sport of not) and outside of the numbers the freedom to wear your choice of colour and texture is hard to quantify. That's the great thing about home ed for us, you are free to scale up or scale down as finances allow.


We also do not need to live in the catchment area for a good school which, in our current area, would make a big difference to the cost of property. The Link between Schools and house prices is now an established fact This study from LSE shows you could be adding £20,000 to your mortgage to move to a catchment area and that's an average. Our families live in an expensive part of England.




TDO and I were talking about what I would expect to have missed as a reward for having missed the the last 8 years  with the children. Would it be a bigger house, newer cars? And there really was nothing we could think of. Families we know, anecdotally and unscientifically, do not have those things because I think they must be running very fast to stand still.


We spend on books and materials, fimo etc some new, some second hand and have an outlet store near to us where we buy the majority of our art materials. A quick tally for us for 2012 is £250 on books and materials and "educational" toys and a couple of website subscriptions both of which have now lapsed. Exams are a major expense for home educators as no financial help is available, perhaps this is why some children enter school for the final years as replicating the school experience of 10+ GCSEs could cost thousands with individual papers costing close to £200 plus the travel required to reach the exam centre.


Using some basic calculation on what I used to earn and cost of season ticket and guesstimates for other costs and using the free childcare option offered by state school at the most the disposable cash remaining at the end of a month would be £500 - using a very rough figure £6,000 per year maybe. Even that doesn't assume massive extra mortgage we'd be carrying living in catchment of good school etc or finding a job with 12 weeks holiday a year........


It is very fiddling to calculate. The present government, at the time of writing, would much prefer mothers to work and so many tax concessions and tax breaks on cost child care are available. Without actual numbers these are hard to guess at. We might still receive our child benefit if we were a two parent working family for example. Perhaps TDO's career would have taken a different path had he not been able to go away on business trips at short notice as he has over recent years.


This year we are going to Center Parcs for our holiday. Looking on the website our holiday costs £1,500 the week before we go, being able to go in term time as we are free from restrictions and fines, it is just under £500. With a thousand pounds vanishing just like that it easy to see that gain from working is going to be eaten into very fast.


Ditto trips to places like Legoland - using home educators discounts we have saved £300 on the trips we've made this year also savings with National trust on the full gate entry price, I recently wrote a post called "Members Only" which might be helpful.


Food and cooking from scratch is a big area where we save. Looking at the school lunches, so focused Jamie Oliver for example. The average is £1.98 with 3 children that would be £30 of my weekly £200 food allocation - Because we have time we can cook things like lamb shanks and make stock in a way that would be really hard if I was out at work all day. I think we'd eat out and use take aways a lot more - that little extra money would very soon be swallowed buying ready made pizzas rather than the time consuming process of rolling dough out myself.


We budget roughly £200 per week for food, that's- 3 meals and drinks for 5 people 15 x 7 days plus beers, wine, cleaning products. I  make lunch and breakfast for TDO to take to work.

I would stress though that this is short term week to week whereas it is in the long term my earning potential has been destroyed by being a SAHM for almost a decade. We no longer have a cleaner but probably would if we were both working.

TDO and I  said at start we would do our best to provide things for the children when they were developmentally ready for them, eg the recent purchase of new  bikes. Some people spend that on a term of ballet class or swimming lessons instead.

Even using the most conservative figures I can find over past nine years I'd guesstimate breastfeeding has saved us a minimum of £2,000.


Sometimes you have to dig deep. Last week Woman's Hour on radio four reported that, over a working life a female graduate earned £250,000  more than a non graduate. Sounds great? But say your are taxed at 40%, say  you borrowed between £20k-£30k to pay your tuition fees,  then add the the 3 years of missed out earnings whilst you were studying say another £40k? and you are looking at closer to 50 k over a 40 year working lifetime which divided by years is not so headline grabbing at all.

This analysis is also very black and white comparing working and using school and not working and home educating. From my personal perspective the decision not to return to paid work after maternity leave was completely intrinsically connected to the plan to home educate. I could not have "given-up" my career to do the school run.


Thought I am economist by profession I would have to conclude that staying home with the children has led me to value the things we can't quantify in a way I never imagined. Seeing their creativity and watching them enjoy their freedom. What price do you put on a lie-in or stopping painting because you've finished not because the bell rings?



















This post was first published on The Gallivanters Blog on 18th August 2013

House Prices and "Good" schools

Cost of Uniform

If I pay my neighbour one hundred pounds a day to care for my children whilst I receive £100 a day to look after hers that makes us both productive members of the economy. Looking after your own children for no payment does not carry the same acknowledgement.

14 comments:

Zoe said...
Our last gas & electricity bill was £912....eek!

But totally agree being at home and allowing our four children to grow and learn in their own time/space is beyond cost. So is the relationship we have as a family in comparison to working families even if it does mean going without some things.

Great post Katie!
Katie Pybus said...
Thanks for being so honest Zoe - Our bills are close to that figure individually!! The perils of living in a drafty 100 year old house.

Thanks for your kind words about the blog post. I was worried it was a bit simple. I know home ed families doing amazing things working nights and days to cover the cost of living but I can only speak from our perspective.

Being older when we had children we'd already started off as I'd bought a flat etc but when S and E were born TDO was still at college so we have seen a few changes in our income.

I know some in some families both parents do work but in my experience that is very very hard work to sustain long term in combination with home education.

When I was working I watched several couples try to "have it all" and landed up sadly divorcing. Family is important and doesn't just 'happen'
Jenny McTurk said...
Wonderful blog, very heartfelt, know exactly what you mean, thank you for sharing xx
Katie Pybus said...
Thanks Jenny :)
Ross Mountney said...
You are so totally right Katie, some riches just cannot be quantified by money!
Selina Gough said...
Interesting post. I often vaguely wonder about the economics of our situation but would never have actually worked it out.
Devon Mama said...
What a thoughtful and interesting post Katie. So good to read what I often think in terms of working/not working/home educating, and how the advantages and disadvantages weigh out.
Also lovely to hear of another family enjoying a nice lamb shank now and again :)
Katie Pybus said...
Thanks for the comments from Devon and Selina.

This analysis is very much week to week, month to month, what us economists call The Short Run - I am aware that the whole not saving for a pension belongs in there too - but that's for the Long Run and, as the most famous economist most famously said, in the long run we are all dead.

Which reflects very much that home ed, for us, is about the journey and is not the time to sacrifice to delayed gratification. It's too special for that.

We are going to be in Devon mid September funnily enough! Using our home ed National Trust membership and visiting the beach :)
Katie Pybus said...
That's so true Ross - 20 years ago when I studied economics ideas that were outside the framework of money where pretty new, like the economics of happiness for example, but now they are much more popular.
Katie Pybus said...


I've suggested to a few other bloggers that a wide variety of posts on this topic might be useful for those considering homeed to see how others live and spend and save - Zoe has written one.
Katie Pybus said...
Zoe's post
Katie Pybus said...
http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/aug/28/school-uniform-costs-240-child?CMP=fb_gu

Latest stats on cost of school uniform
Katie Pybus said...
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/buyingsellingandmoving/10792758/Britains-best-state-secondaries-where-to-buy-a-home.html

Latest figures on catchment for living in a good school area
Katie Pybus said...
http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/oct/29/hidden-costs-of-state-schools-causing-hardship-for-millions-says-report

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