4 smart money moves that helped me earn more as a stay-at-home mom

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  • I schooled my son full time in 2020 and 2021 and continued to run my independent business.
  • By using a zero-sum budget and planning my work strategically, I earned more than in 2019.
  • I also paid for all day tuition for my son on Friday which helped me get more work done.

This essay is part of “Home Ec: The Economics of Stay-at-home Parenting,” a Personal Finance Insider series on the financial reality of staying home with your kids.

Homeschooling my son in 2020 and 2021 was one of the best decisions I could have made for my family. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was such an uncertain time, but to be honest, it’s always been my dream to homeschool my son, even if it’s just for a year or two.

However, my husband and I couldn’t really afford to stay home full time to do it. The solution involved me working from home and homeschooling our son, which not only worked well for our family, but also for our finances.

Working on my taxes at the end of the year, I realized I was earning more than the year before (2019), while teaching my son at home and spending a lot more quality time with him . We were also spending less thanks to these four crucial money moves we made.

1. We stick to a zero-sum budget

There are so many ways to budget your money. One of my favorite methods is zero-sum budgeting because it helps you allocate each dollar to a specific job. Instead of listing your expenses and trying to keep everything below your total take-home pay that month, you work backwards.

We started with our income for the month. Next, we listed our expenses, including debt repayments and savings. Then we split our expenses to equal the exact amount of our net salary. Using a zero-sum budget has helped me become extremely aware of where our money is going and clearly track the progress of our financial goals.

Here is an example of what our budget looked like:

Expenses

Mortgage/rent: $1,489

Utilities (water, electricity, garbage, etc.): $234

Races: $400

Dining out: $100

Gas: $150

Mobile phones: $90

The Internet: $65

Health insurance: $600

Car insurance: $90

Streaming and other subscriptions: $75

Minimum credit card payments: $100

Additional credit card payments: $350

Retirement: $500

Savings: $350

Miscellaneous/Clothing/Personal Care: $150

Total expenses: $4,743

Total income: $4,743

I liked how this style of budgeting helped us track income, which is often not emphasized enough when it comes to budgeting habits. As a homeschooling mom working from home, there were plenty of opportunities to earn extra money with flexible side gigs; my zero-sum budget made it easy to account for all of this.

Zero-sum budgeting also helped me ensure that we put any extra income to good use not only to stay afloat financially, but also to move forward.

2. I used Parkinson’s Law to my advantage

I’m not a big fan of “laws” or rules of thumb, but I really like Parkinson’s law because I find it 100% true. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. This means that if you give yourself eight hours to complete a task, it will probably take you a full eight hours to do it.

Working from home while homeschooling often means dividing time throughout the day for various tasks. Since we didn’t really start homeschooling until 10 a.m., I often got up very early and tried to work a few hours.

Knowing that I had to shift gears and start schooling my son around 10 a.m. gave me the extra motivation to avoid distractions and eliminate some work assignments during the time slot I allowed myself.

Last year, I added a part-time wealth coaching job to my charge in addition to my content writing business. I realized that I could send outreach emails to customers and even make calls during the down times of the day when my son was doing some independent reading or taking a test.

3. We have adjusted our lifestyle

In addition to zero-sum budgeting, we also reduced many additional purchases, and I identified savings opportunities where it made sense.

Home schooling is usually quite cheap, but at the time my husband was also working part-time and going back to school, so it was important that we didn’t overspend.

We downgraded to one car and sold my husband’s vehicle because it was older and my car was in better condition for transportation.

We also followed a meal plan and didn’t dine at the restaurant much. Instead, I used YouTube and other resources to help me cook restaurant-worthy meals at home.

For car insurance, we switched to Metromile where the premium is based on the distance travelled. Then we switched to Total Wireless for our cell phones and paid $90 a month for three lines with unlimited calls and 25GB of data.

4. We invested in a co-op group for our son

As I have an only child, I wanted to make sure he could socialize with other children. cooperatives are perfect for this. A co-op is basically a group for homeschooled children to connect, take certain classes together, and share their experiences.

Some co-ops have volunteers or staff who teach classes or electives, while others are more informal and meet once a week for an activity or field trip.

When selecting our co-op, I wanted to be strategic and get the most out of my money. We chose a co-op that had a weekly enrichment program on Fridays. Students could choose from classes like gym, art, music, cooking, Spanish, karate, and more.

Since each class is taught by a qualified teacher, parents must pay a fee (per class) for the semester. We decided that my son would spend an entire day at the co-op each week, so I enrolled him in four Friday classes, which cost about $600 for the semester.

This investment was well worth it, as I spent all of my Friday catching up on work, running errands, and doing other chores. It eliminated the cost of having to pay for a babysitter if I needed to go somewhere, and my son was able to make new friends and learn new things. So it was a win-win for both of us.

Thanks to these key money moves, home schooling while working from home was entirely possible and just as enjoyable as it would have been if I was staying home full time.

Even though we function better as a two-income household, I’m glad we were able to make home schooling work, budget sensibly to fit our lifestyle, and know when to spend money so improve our finances in general.

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