- Get your vehicle ready the night before. Fill the gas tank, clear out the trunk, make sure the GPS is in place and ready to go. Take a moment to clean your windshield if necessary. (Visibility is important when scanning for bargains!) If you want to go the extra mile, clear out the Cheerios and string cheese wrappers.
- Check local ads, determine the scope of your travels, and plan your route with Google maps. If possible, check the street view of each destination. This will prevent time from being wasted with the drive past-turn around-go back error. Be sure to factor restroom breaks at public places into your route. As you drive, have all of your passengers on the lookout for yard sale signs. Many people don’t advertise at all, and some piggyback off the advertisements for neighbors’ sales.
- Take measurements of absolutely everything you might need them for. Window dimensions, jeans inseams, dining table lengths, the sofa you want to replace, or the picture that needs a frame. Something happens in the euphoria of high level yard saling that causes people to lose perspective on size. The belt that you think will be a perfect fit for your husband may, in fact, be 8 inches too large or too small. Either way, it’s an insult.
- Make a list of everything you’re looking for. I keep a running list in Note Pad (on my phone), so as items come to mind in the course of daily life I can jot them down on the spot. Remember that yard sale finds can often provide cheap replacement parts for things you already have. For instance, if your crib mobile has gone kaput, you can buy an ugly one at a yard sale for next to nothing and pitch out everything but the wind-up mechanism. So scan your house for items in need of repair and try to imagine yard sale solutions.
- Pack snacks, beverages, paper towels, a trash bag, ponytail holders, Tylenol, sun screen, an umbrella, music CDs—just about anything you can think of that will provide for optimal comfort and good cheer. If you’re shopping with children, this will be your “whine prevention” kit.
- Carry plenty of change and small bills. This not only speeds up the checkout process, it also prevents the problem of having to pay more for an item because the seller doesn’t have exact change.
- Carry a Sharpie plus large stickers and/or hang tags with you. If you buy something that you’ll be coming back to pick up later, mark it in bold writing: “SOLD and PAID FOR –Jane Doe 555-5555”
- If you think you might buy fragile items, bring along something to wrap them in, as well as a sturdy cardboard box to pack them in. My favorite cushioning items are worn out towels, old pillow cases, and odd socks. The socks are particularly helpful, as you can easily slide in everything from Christmas ornaments to drinking glasses to carving knives, and be on your way in less time than it takes the seller to grab a sheet of icky newsprint.
- Carry a measuring tape. You’ll need it to compare the item in question with the dimensions you noted previously, and you don’t want to depend on the seller to provide one.
- Carry a multi-bit screw driver. It is shocking what people consider broken or unusable simply because some of the screws are loose. Just make sure the price is established before you make the on-site repair!
- Carry batteries of various sizes to test electronic gizmos.
- Carry swatches and samples of things with which you’re trying to coordinate: wall paint chips, dinner napkins, neck ties, etc.
- If you think you’ll be buying a lot of bulky items, bring along a rolling cart of some sort. It’s no fun trying to navigate the deals with an armload of Tupperware containers. An unused umbrella stroller can be decked out with tote bags to work well as a yard sale shopping cart.
- Have eBay and Amazon pulled up on your smart phone’s browser. This will enable you to quickly determine if the seller’s price for a particular item is fair. This will also give you some evidence to present to the seller if the price is way out of whack. THIS MUST BE DONE WITH GREAT HUMILITY AND TACT! The goal is to gently inform the seller of fair market value, just in case he isn’t aware of it. It’s entirely possible that it’s worth more to HIM than what it’s going for on eBay, and that’s perfectly fine. If he isn’t willing to adjust the price and you really want the item, leave your name and number and ask him to call you if it doesn’t sell and he’s willing to come down.
- As the day wears on the pickings get slimmer, but the deals get sweeter. Don’t be shy about making lower offers late in the day. Chances are the leftovers are going to end up at a thrift store anyway, and many people would rather sell cheap than haul stuff.
- Before you buy it, make sure you have a place to put it and a way to haul it. If you need your spouse’s okay for a purchase, get it before you finalize the deal with the seller.
- Be VERY careful crossing streets and driveways. A busy yard sale can be hazardous for children and adults alike as people in a hurry pull in and out of makeshift parking spaces. Always look twice before you open a car door into the flow of traffic. Train your children to stop immediately—on a dime—the instant you tell them to, and to come when called without hesitation.
- If you’re shopping with kids, have an established signal for a two minute warning and for load up time. Gathering the troops quickly and efficiently is one of the most helpful skills in speed scavenging. If you’re caravanning with other families and the kids are in different cars, make sure you have a foolproof head counting system.
- Try to make it as much for the kids as possible. Of course, you can make it more appealing by giving them a little money to spend. But you can also plan things like yard sale scavenger hunts or bingo games that only require the items to be discovered—not actually purchased. If you comprise the lists of things that you yourself are looking for, even better!
- Remember to be courteous, kind, and forbearing. Stuff is just stuff, and people are more important.
The economic downturn has had an impact on virtually every segment of society, and the homeschool community is no exception. In fact, because many homeschooling families rely on a single income, they may even be more susceptible to the effects of unemployment or reduced earnings than the average household. And while we’re generally a pretty frugal crowd anyway, perhaps if we pool our knowledge we can come up with additional ways to trim costs, expand options, and remain faithful to our calling in spite of hardships. With that thought in mind, here are a few of my own random ideas on the matter.
Does textbook edition matter? Sometimes quite a lot, other times, not so much. For instance, the differences between the 1st edition and 2nd edition of Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Biology are largely related to cosmetics and convenience. Our family has used both, and we feel confident that either one would provide comprehensive, up-to-date instruction in the subject.
Conversely, the difference between the 2nd and 3rd editions of Saxon Math 8/7 are drastic. The former basically provided a holding pattern/continuation of the arithmetic found in Math 7/6 for students who were not intellectually prepared to move on to Algebra. The updated 3rd edition has been completely revamped to include significant pre-algebra instruction and greater challenge overall. Either one may fit well with your family’s goals, but it’s important to know the difference.
If a used older edition will work just as well at a fraction of the cost, the money you save can be spent in areas where there’s less flexibility with options. Homeschool message boards are a good place to get the scoop on edition differences. Homeschoolers are notoriously generous with their expertise, so asking for opinions on an active board will likely yield valuable information. Publishers and retailers are also usually willing to share insights. At Finders-Keepers, we often chat with customers who are just trying to get a feel for their options before they make a purchase.
One word of caution about old editions: Try to purchase the essential elements all at once. Otherwise, you may end up with a fabulous textbook for which answer keys or student workbooks are impossible to find.
Vintage materials– Nobody loves a vintage textbook more than me. But let’s face it–if you use an antiquated curriculum for certain subjects, there will be problems later on. Some “heritage” resources provide high quality content that is truly timeless. Others are decidedly obsolete, no matter how charming. Such resources are better reserved for a supplementary glimpse into the past rather than a source of primary instruction. For example, we used and enjoyed A Child’s History of the World by V.M. Hillyer, but our copy of A Child’s Geography of the World by the same author was relegated to novelty status.
Sourcing Options – Purchasing
Buying Used – For most of us, the first line of cost cutting measures is buying used curricula. Online swap boards at sites such as VegSource, The Well Trained Mind, Homeschool Classifieds, HSLDA, and Homeschool Christian, can be a gold mine for bargain hunters. Ebay is still a good option, but is somewhat less lucrative since they outlawed teacher’s manuals. (This policy was recently reversed.) Some regional homeschool groups sponsor used book sales in conjunction with their homeschool conventions, and local associations may provide an avenue for impromptu transactions or newsletter classifieds.
Discount suppliers are the usually the next line of homeschool fiscal defense. Many are quite good, but watch out for shopping surprises like jacked up shipping costs, undisclosed sales tax expenses, shipping delays/inconsistent availability, or non-existent customer service. We’ve been on the buying end of all these issues at one time or another, and we know they can quickly turn a bargain buy into a regrettable fiasco. A special word of caution is in order for Rosetta Stone language software: The marketplace is absolutely flooded with pirated copies. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is! If you’re in doubt about a potential purchase, take a quick look at this Rosetta Stone Safe & Smart Buying Guide.
If buying new is your only option, you can sometimes squeeze out a bit of extra savings by utilizing or even stacking consumer incentives. Rewards credit cards can sometimes be coupled with benefits such as Bing Cashback, Ebates, Big Crumbs, etc. to shave off a few more dollars. Of course, it’s always important to focus on the final delivered price when comparison shopping.
Sourcing Options – Borrowing
Public Library – Yes, this is obvious. But if you’re like me, you may have had previous experience with an under-funded, inconvenient, and poorly stocked library that was more trouble than it was worth. I recently became reacquainted with our county library and was pleasantly surprised at how far it had come. The entire catalog is available online, books can be perused, reserved, or renewed online, and the interlibrary and intralibrary loan procedures have been streamlined. Furthermore, the shelves have been stocked up, so quality materials are always readily available.
Homeschool Lending Library – Many homeschool groups have lending libraries that offer curricula to members free of charge. Though our own association is of modest size, our lending library is impressive, and a family could definitely make do with its resources in a pinch.
Alternating Grade Swaps – Seek out likeminded local homeschooling families who have kids a year older and/or a year younger than yours, and work out an arrangement to swap out materials from one year to the next. Some of our loyal Shurley, Saxon, and Apologia customers do this, and it works out quite well. One family buys the odd grade level kits, the other picks up the evens, and they switch out non-consumable components every year.
Put Out the Word – If you are plugged in to your local homeschool community, let people know that your budget is stretched to its limit and you’d be grateful for the opportunity to borrow materials. You may even be able to work out a bartering arrangement with services such as babysitting or tutoring to help earn used books.
Public School Materials – This would not be a first choice for most of us, and administration hostility toward homeschoolers makes it an impossibility for many, but if you’re in a school district that’s homeschool friendly you may be able to borrow textbooks from the system. Obviously great care is warranted when considering such materials, but some extra effort spent editing and enhancing a public school text may be just the investment that enables you to continue homeschooling when times are lean.
Sourcing Options – Do It Yourself
Unit Study – I’ll never forget the day I figured out that teaching young children isn’t rocket science, and that putting together a unit study could actually be fun. That was many years ago. I’m working on a unit study for my grandkids right now, and though it does require a good bit of time and energy, it allows me to custom-fit a lesson plan that is precisely suited to their needs. And did I mention? It’s cheap!
Borrowing From a Table of Contents – The prospect of striking out on your own may be intimidating because of an over-abundance of material rather than a lack thereof. Borrowing guidelines from a Scope and Sequence or Table of Contents for a quality course can offer a template for appropriate instruction using free online materials. Honing in on what to study and in what order can simplify the planning process and prevent excessive, unfocused rabbit chasing.
4-H as a Spine – 4-H is an outstanding resource, and I don’t know why homeschoolers don’t talk about it more. The cost is absolutely minimal. If you want to join a 4-H club, you’ll have access to guided instruction from the leader as well as group learning opportunities. But I’m more excited about their printed resources than club activities. 4-H Curriculum Publications span a wide variety of subjects and age groups, can be ordered online, and they’re dirt cheap. They don’t include all the direct instruction you’ll need, but they do provide a structured lesson path, some direct instruction, worksheets, and activity/project suggestions. By adding a quality text or two from the library you can have everything you need to study anything from entomology to wind energy.
Apprenticeships – At a time when labor costs are crushing businesses and education expenses are straining families, the apprenticeship arrangement is more practical than ever. An expert in a particular field can exchange his time spent training for the free labor of a trustworthy student. It can be an informal, short term situation, or something more substantial. Put away your preconceived notions about which trades might be well suited for an apprentice and imagine the possibilities.
Contests –It’s amazing how many student contests are going on at any given time, in virtually every subject area. You could really beef up a school year just by having your students prepare and submit entries. And who knows? They might even win some cash and prizes! Some contests provide lesson plans and teaching scripts for student projects. For instance, last year’s “Invention Dimension” contest offered a complete Educator’s Guide and Workbook, both of which were available to download free online. I was so impressed with these particular resources that I saved copies to adapt for use in future school projects. And of course, the Finders-Keepers Facebook Page has drawings for free homeschool curriculum materials on a regular basis.
Botball –Botball is an outstanding opportunity for students who are interested in technology:
“The Botball Educational Robotics Program gives students skills, experience, and opportunities to succeed as they work in teams to design, build and program a pair of autonomous robots for regional and international competitions.”
Our son (who is now a computer programmer) was very active in Botball, and it would be hard to overstate the impact this experience had on him. Under the leadership of a local computer science professor, he learned about project management, time management, proper documentation, the importance of teamwork and good sportsmanship, and, oh yeah…programming.
Website Resources – There seems to be no limit to the number of websites offering quality instruction for students—both in terms of printable resources and online instruction & activities.
Commercial, government, and non-profit organizations all seem to be scrambling to reach this internet-oriented generation, and many of the pages are quite good. Of course, this vast realm of information can be overwhelming, so I prefer to think first about what I need to teach, and then consider what agency or company might be a trustworthy authority on the matter and go from there. For instance, for family preparedness, you could visit the FEMA website and utilize their FEMA for Kids activities. The USDA Youth Resources are helpful for nutrition instruction, as is some of the information in the Kraft Foods Kids’ section. The National Digital Science Library is a clearinghouse of information, featuring links to all sorts of science-related websites. (Just watch out for worldview bias.)
Thinking outside the box – Sometimes all you really need is some time to think about how to teach a particular concept creatively. I was recently trying to come up with a good way for my grandson to learn about the different types of rooster combs. After a great deal of fruitless searching online, I decided to step away from my computer and just think about it for a few minutes. Within moments the idea of “Mr. Egg Head” came to mind, in which he could mold the various comb shapes using an egg as his model chicken head. It was a minor thing, but it reminded me how important a bit of intentional contemplation can be to the creative process.
Concurrent Enrollment – This is only an option if you are located near a homeschool-friendly college or university, and it can be very expensive. However, some institutions—including the one nearest our family—offer partial scholarships for concurrent enrollment students. The cost isn’t exactly peanuts, but for a mature student it’s a more economical option for studying subjects that would otherwise require a major investment in specialized equipment and instructional materials.
Cooperative Extension Service – These ”county agent” offices provide instructional publications on subjects related to health & nutrition, home & garden, natural resources, agriculture, and more. While the content is geared toward adults, it would be appropriate for use with upper level students, and would be practical preparation for running their own households someday.
Master Gardener Course – This is actually part of the Cooperative Extension Service, but it’s such a great opportunity that it deserves a mention of its own. In exchange for a reasonable notebook fee and 40 hours of volunteer gardening labor (still more training!) over the course of the subsequent year, you can gain access to intensive horticultural instruction that’s taught by experts and specifically geared toward your climate. My youngest daughter and I completed Master Gardener training when she was in 11th grade, and I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the program.
This is just a handful of ideas to consider. Hopefully as families discover new ways to achieve their goals without breaking their banks, the homeschool community will be marked by insightful exchanges, heartfelt encouragement, and a victorious view of the future.
Major news events like today’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan present an opportunity to teach subjects in a uniquely relevant context. If your family will be watching (and praying) as events unfold, why not take a little time to learn about the science behind the destruction, as well as some important safety tips?
The NOAA website has some great links to quality teaching resources on tsunamis and earthquakes , including the USGS Earthquakes for Kids page and Tsunami: The Great Waves–a top quality, full color booklet that you can print on demand or view online. And for those who own a copy of Apologia Physical Science, you can review the information on earthquakes and tsunamis on pages 148-151.
This 8 minute animated video on tsunamis is informative and entertaining:
I happened to be in a discount store yesterday when I spotted a display of tiny Angel Soft packages near the end of the aisle. I’m not usually that interested in exploring bath tissue, but the scale was so unusual, I thought they had developed a new product. Perhaps a kiddy sized roll for toilet training.
Nope. This was plain old toilet paper, and it looked so unusual I actually burst out laughing when I saw it up close. Why had they decided to package a miniaturized version of such a familiar product? The banner across the front of the package told the story: 4 Regular Rolls
I’ve handled a lot of TP in my life, and as far as I’m concerned these rolls were highly irregular. But I guess the folks at Angel Soft figured they might get in trouble if they touted their core products as Double Rolls when they didn’t have a half-size single roll on the market. I started to buy a package just for the novelty of it (I do have grandkids in the potty training stage) but I decided I didn’t want to support such silliness with a purchase. Instead I shot a few pictures and included a soft drink can for scale.
When I got home, I did a quick search online and discovered that Scott Tissue was also called out in a recent Consumer Reports article for making a less obvious roll size reduction. ABC news also reported on the trend last month. Shrinking product size is a pet peeve of mine, and I really wish manufacturers would just charge us more. Rising prices, while not pleasant, are a fact of life, and I can live with them. Shifty merchandising and deceptive packaging break trust, and I don’t want to do business with a company I can’t trust.
Whenever I see a news article or video clip about a homeschooler taking a stand based on principle, I tense up just a bit. I know that the temptation to anxiety may be just around the corner because they often include some sort of cringe-worthy content, such as:
- An attitude of arrogant, dogmatic superiority on the part of the conscientious objector.
- Portrayal of a sense of entitlement within the homeschool community.
- Misrepresentation of the facts by the news reporter.
- Media slant manifested in selective editing in the newsroom.
- Ill-informed commentary from a biased source masquerading as an objective authority.
So it was really refreshing to read the recent story of Joel Northrup, a homeschooled Iowa wrestler who refused to compete against a girl in the state tournament. He was humble and gracious, and even complimented the female competitors. He did not demand special treatment or threaten to sue anyone. He gave a clear, Biblically sound reason for his action. A quote from Northrup’s pastor dispelled any suspicions that an inferior view of females was at the root of the decision: “We believe in the elevation and respect of woman and we don’t think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do.”
The facts of the situation rang true and were well ordered. Plenty of commentary was offered by others involved in the wrestling tournament, and though most would not have chosen the same course of action, all expressed respect for Northrup’s convictions and decisions. No “experts” were brought in to babble on about sexism or religious intolerance.
What I expected to stress me out actually left me feeling encouraged. Encouraged that it really is possible to get a good story about a good guy published in the mainstream media. Encouraged that somewhere in Iowa, there’s a young man whose commitment to Christ outweighs his desire for championship. And most of all, encouraged by the reminder that as we are faithful to walk the path the Lord has called us to, He will be faithful to bring forth a harvest of righteousness throughout our generations.
Want to discuss current events in Egypt with your students but aren’t sure where to begin? Start the conversation with our FREE Communicating the Ideas of Revolution study guide. This brief study encourages students to compare the development and distribution of ideas in the Egyptian Revolution with that of the American Revolution. The embedded links offer a synopsis of events for those who may need a primer, and the Teacher Resource page gives background information to help guide discussion.
Most of us have settled into the new semester and are busy pressing forward to finish on schedule, so we figured it’s the perfect time to liven things up with another curriculum contest. Since we know so many of you have had success with First Form Latin and plan to continue with Second Form, we’re giving away a Second Form Latin Set.
I just got off the phone with a customer in the Virgin Islands. We’ve gotten about 9″ of snow today, with more on the way this evening. I do love a good snow day, but as I gazed out my office window and saw yet another vehicle slide off the road, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of day he was having in that tropical location.
So the question for this contest is a just-for-fun poll. If you could be anywhere else in the world today, where would you go? To enter simply write your answer as a “Comment” to the contest post on the Finders-Keepers Facebook page. The winner will receive a free Second Form Latin Set.
All entries must be received by Noon CST on Wednesday, February 16th, and the drawing will be that afternoon. One winner will be selected randomly from the number of responses received. The winner will be announced on Facebook, and he or she will receive a message from Finders-Keepers requesting shipping information. Please feel free to repost the contest information on other Facebook pages, and to share it with friends and family. However, we do request that responses be limited to one per person.
Thank goodness Smart Mom was on hand to help foil his bumbling attempt to keep his daughter from wearing an itty bitty skirt.
If you don’t care for the commercial, you can let Tide know by hitting the “Dislike” button at YouTube.
I was standing in line at our community’s newly opened Dollar General store a few days ago when I happened to glance over and notice the September issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. I immediately blushed. Cosmo and I go way back—but not as friends. For nearly 20 years I have been waging a private battle to get this vulgar publication placed beyond the view of the young eyes that pass through store checkout lanes. In the early days, my biggest beef was the scantily clad women on the cover. But in recent years, the titles of the cover stories have become more and more shocking, making the exposed cleavage seem rather tame by comparison. (If you’re feeling brave or need to be convinced, you can find a gallery of Cosmo covers with a quick Google search, but be forewarned—they are explicit.)
Is this the same culture that’s determined that a gas station sign with Joe Camel is a heinous assault on childhood? Why is it that the graphic sexual content emblazoned in bold type across the Cosmo cover gets a pass? Ladies and gentlemen, these are not articles about relationship basics with innocuously vague titles. It’s the kind of stuff you would never, ever bring up in polite conversation, and they would probably be awkward topics even among the closest of friends. And yet, there it is. RIGHT IN THE CANDY AISLE—AT CHILD’S-EYE LEVEL!
This is not something that I complain about every time I go shopping. It’s more of an occasional endeavor, and I’m sure there are others whom I’ve never met who are taking a stand as well. We’ve had some success getting action in our town, but it has taken time, patience, and changes of strategy. For instance, after getting nowhere with our Wal-Mart Super Center in spite of numerous attempts, a former WM corporate insider gave me an invaluable tip. He said that while store managers and district managers have little control over the merchandising arrangements within their stores, the corporate office has initiatives in place to adapt to local community values. He advised that I change to a “This is not acceptable in our community” approach. A call to their consumer services hotline and a brief but pointed letter got the desired results: Content shields that obscure everything but the face of the model and the name of the magazine. (I followed up with a letter to the editor of our local newspaper, thanking Wal-Mart for their action.)
Another strategy that has been effective is to actually repeat the titles of the articles out loud to the person receiving the complaint. This is not for the faint of heart, and it certainly goes against my nature. But I’ve found that the embarrassment that ensues when I actually refer to the content specifically highlights just how inappropriate it is for children. The conversation usually goes something like this:
Thanks so much for taking a moment to speak with me. I wanted to share a concern I had about this magazine. I picked up right over there—next to the Ring Pops and Snickers bars. Would you agree that that’s right about at the eye level of an elementary school student?
Well, take a look at the cover stories here. This one is about (*insert exact title of graphic content*). Is that a subject you’d feel comfortable discussing around your family’s dinner table?
If you overheard two of your employees discussing that topic within earshot of customers, would you give them a reprimand?
Then I think you can understand why parents of young children wouldn’t want these topics thrust upon them without their consent. It’s a really bad idea—just completely inappropriate. So I’d like to ask you to do whatever is necessary to get this kind of product moved to an area that is not easily visible by children.
Yes, ma’am, I’ll speak to (*whoever’s next up the ladder*).
Here are a few other things I keep in mind when addressing this issue:
To avoid the censorship debate, I keep my focus on moving the magazine away from kids—not on removing it from the store entirely. (That’s a separate issue.)
I make sure that the situation is right for me to make my complaint without inconveniencing the folks in line behind me, or drawing the attention of any minors in the area.
I ask permission to take a picture of the magazine and surrounding kiddie foods, so I can document the relative proximity. This request has never been denied.
I treat the store staff kindly and respectfully. After all, they had no part in the decision to sell the magazine or to merchandise it in such a foolish manner.
I know we can turn the tide back toward decency, but it’s going to take a lot of concerned shoppers who aren’t afraid to voice their objections. So I’m asking…if you’re tired of the premature sexualization of our kids…if you’re sick of seeing the delicate beauty of human intimacy promoted as common vulgarity…if you’d rather not have half naked women put on display for a captive childhood audience…will you take a moment to speak up if the opportunity presents itself? Will you ask friends and family to do the same? After all, if we all do a little, we can do a lot!