4 Smart Money Moves That Helped Me Earn More As a Stay-at-Home Mom

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  • I homeschooled my son full time in 2020 and 2021 and continued my freelance business.
  • By using a zero-sum budget and strategically planning my work, I’ve made more than I did in 2019.
  • I also paid for my son’s full-time classes on Fridays, which has helped me get more work done.

This essay is part of “Home Ec: The Economics of Stay-at-home Parenting,” a series from Personal Finance Insiders about the financial realities of staying at 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 start of the COVID-19 pandemic was such an uncertain time, but to be honest I had always dreamed of homeschooling my son, if only for a year or two.

However, my husband and I couldn’t really afford to have either of us stay at home to do that all the time. The solution was that I was working from home and homeschooling our son, which was not only good for our family but also good for our finances.

As I was working on my taxes at the end of the year, I found that I was earning more than the previous year (2019) while homeschooling my son and spending a lot more time with him. Thanks to these four crucial money moves we made, we also spent less.

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1. We have adhered 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 a specific task to each dollar. Instead of listing your expenses and trying to keep everything below your net pay that month, work backwards.

We started with our income for the month. Next, we list our expenses, including debt payments and savings. Then we distributed our expenses so that they are equal exact amount our take-home wages. Using a zero-sum budget has helped me be very aware of where our money is going and clearly track the progress towards our financial goals.

Here’s an example of what our budget looked like:

Costs

Mortgage/rent: $1,489

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

Food: $400

To eat out: $100

Gas: $150

cellphones: $90

Internet: $65

Health insurance: $600

car insurance: $90

Streaming and other subscriptions: $75

Minimum payment by credit card: $100

Additional credit card payments: $350

Retirement: $500

Savings: $350

Miscellaneous/Clothing/Personal Care: $150

Total expenses: $4,743

Total earnings: $4,743

I loved how this style of budgeting helped us track income, something that’s often underemphasized when it comes to budgeting habits. As a homeschool mom working from home, there were many opportunities to earn extra money with flexible part-time jobs. My zero-sum budget made it easy to factor it all in.

Zero-sum budgeting also helped me ensure that we were using any additional income wisely to not only stay afloat financially, but to move forward.

2. I have used Parkinson’s Law to my advantage

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

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When it comes to homeschooling, working from home often means dividing time into different tasks throughout the day. Since we didn’t start homeschooling until around 10 a.m., I often got up very early and tried to work a few hours.

Knowing that I had to switch gears and start my son’s school enrollment around 10am gave me the extra motivation to avoid distractions and get some work done during the block of time I allowed myself.

Last year, in addition to my content writing business, I added a part-time job as a financial advisor to my load. I realized I could send contact emails to clients and even make phone calls during the quiet moments of the day when my son was reading independently or taking a test.

3. We have adjusted our lifestyle

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

Homeschooling is usually pretty 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 just one car and sold my husband’s vehicle as it was older and my car was in better condition for transport.

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

For car insurance, we switched to Metromile, where the premium depends on how much you drive. We then switched our cell phones to Total Wireless, paying $90 a month for three lines with unlimited calls and 25GB of data.

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4. We have invested in a cooperative group for our son

Having an only child, I wanted to make sure he could socialize with other children; Cooperatives are perfect for this. A cooperative is basically a group for homeschooled children to network, attend specific courses together and share experiences.

Some co-operatives have volunteers or staff teaching courses or electives, while others are more informal, meeting once a week for an activity or field trip.

When choosing our cooperative I wanted to be strategic and get the best bang for my buck. We chose a co-op that had a weekly enrichment program on Fridays. Students could choose from courses such as fitness, art, music, cooking, Spanish, karate and more.

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

That investment paid off as I was able to spend the whole Friday catching up on work, running errands, and doing other chores. This eliminated the cost of a babysitter when I had to go somewhere and my son was able to make new friends and learn new things. So it was a win-win situation for both of us.

Thanks to this important money movement, homeschooling while working from home was definitely possible and just as enjoyable as if I had stayed at home all day.

While we function best as a two-income household, I’m glad we were able to get homeschooling up and running, set a reasonable budget to fit our lifestyle, and know when to spend some money to ultimately our finances overall to improve.

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