"Frugal" versus




by Barb Shelton



We hear much these days about being frugal, being "good stewards of our finances," finding the best bargains possible. And for good reason. Single-income families have even less income because of Mom (obviously) needing to stay home to homeschool the children. And homeschoolers frequently have more children than the norm. So frugality becomes more than just an admirable virtue to aspire to; it's a necessity!

But there's a bigger picture to consider here. There's more to the idea of being a "good steward" of our finances and possessions than we normally consider. We now live in a "bargain hunting" culture. Everywhere you go you see sales; newspapers are filled with advertisements for bargains. In light of this, I'd like to open up a little corner of the marketing end of this arena to those who, like me before we started a homeschool business, were completely clueless as to what goes on behind the scenes...

It takes a lot of time to answer homeschoolers' questions, whether at a booth at a convention, on email lists, by phone, or by writing a book. What's frustrating on this end is answering everyone's questions, but then people going elsewhere to buy it for less, which I mention only because this is becoming more and more commonplace. 

You are free to purchase an item wherever you choose, but may I give you something to consider as you decide where to buy?  "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable..." in the bigger picture. If a homeschooler takes the time of someone who sells a product they're interested in, it is only right that the product be purchased from them. This goes beyond more than just "good stewardship of your money"; it is "good stewardship of your homeschool servants."  It really (and truly) becomes a matter of keeping those in business who serve you and whom you want to continue serving you, and of paying for the services you're actually receiving, not just for the products. Homeschool vendors are not paid a nice (or even a measly) salary from the school district for giving hours of their time in advice and encouragement.

Let's say your husband put in a month of work, and invested thousands of hours and dollars into honing his skills and setting up his business. However, when it was time to pay him, his boss came to him and said, "Hey, Tom, you know, I could have gotten this other guy to do the same thing you just did all month, but for $1 less an hour!  I'd really like to be a good steward of the company's money ~ you know that things are pretty tight for us right now ~ so you wouldn't mind taking a cut in pay to match that, would you?"

Yet this is exactly what is happening on a regular basis at curriculum fairs and by letter and email every day!  Exactly!  Not in heart, but in effect.  Every time you ask a vendor if they'd give a discount, or you go buy the product from another vendor who sells it for less, or "do you have a creative way of making taking your course more affordable?" the exact same thing is happening. This is not to bring condemnation, only awareness.

We have become quite accustomed to the bargain world and to not paying full price for anything. In fact, we are even encouraged to do so!  I have heard straight from many homeschoolers' mouths that they "...never buy anything at full price!"  And they say this with a look of being well-pleased with themselves.  (I'd call it pride, but I might lose a few readers who particularly need to read this! )


Everyone loves to save money, and frugality is the quality that will help us do so. Yet the practice of saving a buck just to save a buck is going to actually be to the undoing of many in the long-run. The only way vendors and authors get paid for their services and the products into which they have sunk a tremendous outlay of personal finances (remember, they are not publicly funded) is if they either get full price for their products, or if they opt to almost "give their books away" to the discounters who can afford to buy them in huge quantities. But most small homeschool businesses can't afford to sell their books at those huge discounts. Even if they could, they'd have to have (build or buy) space to store all those books in until they're sold! 


(And, just so you'll know, this is what we are doing, selling to a major discount company.  However we made it clear that this "big discounter" is not to discount our book, and they have agreed to this!  This is not only in fairness to ourselves, but to all the homeschool home businesses who have been faithfully purchasing from us for many years and who do not discount. Also, they have not required us to give them a ridiculously low discount, so we are very pleased and blessed to work with them!)

I know of several cases where homeschool servant-experts (for lack of a better term ~ I mean the ones who have been homeschooling for many years and have developed messages and products for the homeschooling community) did not make enough at this, primarily because of homeschoolers taking their business to discounters. And they had to eventually give it all up and go into a "regular job" where they could actually make money. 

Besides being a loss for the vendor, this is a great loss for the homeschooling community!  Instead of these experienced homeschoolers being able to devote quality time to continuing to produce quality resources for homeschoolers, they now have much less time and energy to do so. The best experience and wisdom will not be accessible to others if the "ox is muzzled."  Some of these people I know of had invested years into building a business and educating and serving homeschoolers, only to ultimately be unable to compete with the discounters. What is truly "profitable" to all ~ including you ~ involves more than just your own pocketbook at the moment.

This inevitably brings up the whole topic of homeschool libraries. Not wanting to step on toes, I just want to say that these can be "a good thing" if integrity and honesty are in operation. Just because you pay your dues to a support group does not make you part owner of all the books in the homeschool library. And even if it did, again we face the "all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable" question. My own feeling is that the purpose of these homeschool libraries should be to have books available for people to borrow and see if it is something they need or not, so they can avoid unwise or unneedful-for-them purchases.


Homeschool libraries can also be a good place for moms to go in together to collect all the resources needed for a "Season of Re-education and Renewing of the Mind" that one person may not be able to afford. (Though it'll only be part of their own library.)  However I've seen these same moms not think twice about spending three and four times what they would have spend on such a season on text and workbooks instead!  Had they gone through the season I suggest, they would have needed far less text and workbooks!  Homeschool libraries, not used with a heart of integrity, will put homeschool servant-vendors out of business at least as fast as the discounters.


This brings up the question of regular homeschool moms loaning their book to friends.  One homeschool mom wrote to me asking what to do about a friend who wanted to borrow her Form+U+la and make copies. She had rightly told the friend that she was welcome to borrow the book for the purpose of finding out if it was something she needed and wanted to get for herself, but *not* for the purpose of "stealing." This "borrower" was very irritated at this mom's position and was going to do so anyway, and she wanted me to tell her what to do. I can't tell anyone what to do, but I can tell them what is right to do. And I (and others) have done so in the articles that Donna mentioned in her post. Basically, you need to pay for what you're getting. For one thing, it's only right; for another, if you don't, the homeschool authors will simply be unable to continue their services to homeschoolers. Books will go out of print and authors will not be compensated for their blood, sweat and tears. It's that simple. 


As for loaning, my feeling is that your only purpose in loaning your copy of a book to friends should be to give them an opportunity to peruse the book so that they can see whether or not it's something they want to buy. This is not a legalistic command; simply the right, ethical, and gracious way to approach this matter. Anything less is simply stealing from the one who put every single "dot and tiddle" on each of those pages. It really is that simple. People think "It's only one book!" ~ but it isn't. This is widespread. And every book that is "borrowed" is that much less income (directly) for the ones who are trying to continue producing them. Funny, but the companies who produce our books won't take lavish gratitude in payment; they want cold hard cash, several thousand dollars (about $14,000 to be a bit more specific) for each run of the book. If this sounds like a lot of money, I assure you IT IS.

Again, please hear my heart: I am not condemning or trying to bring guilt!  I just want to open eyes to the bigger picture, eyes that otherwise would not be aware of what goes on behind the scenes or of the true price being paid for homeschoolers to get quality materials. How homeschool consumers operate in this arena at this point in time is going to directly affect the future of homeschooling, as it will directly affect the futures of many who are currently being affected by the market trends and who are (therefore) making decisions about the direction their business will take in the future. Yes it is a ministry, but it is also a business. 


Here's the bottom line: Do you want businesses like ours to keep going?  If you do, then do your part by buying the book. Every sale (or lack thereof) directly affects us. And buying directly from an author (if they self-publish their books, as we do) is a much greater financial blessing to the author than getting it through a wholesaler. We want them to stay in business too(!), but if you are being ministered to on this list and it is a blessing and encouragement to you, consider buying through us. If you heard about it through the work of one of our dear vendors and they are a blessing and encouragement to you (which takes their precious time), then buy from them!    Try purchasing a computer, web publisher program, several hundred books, or a desk, computer chair, or file cabinet with only a payment of love! 

Being wise stewards of what God has blessed us with are admirable goals, but if we'll enlarge our vision of what we are to steward to include the servants He has placed in our midst, and really in our care, and not just think of stewardship as being limited to our money, we will become wise and gracious in our frugalness, not merely "cheap."


Subj: [shf-l] Re: upcoming conventions and "bargain hunting"
Date: 3/30/02 9:10:53 AM Pacific Standard Time
From: cowgirl4ever@caltel.com (Cowgirl4ever)
Sender: bounce-shf-l-481653@XC.Org
Reply-to: cowgirl4ever@caltel.com (Cowgirl4ever)
To: shf-l@XC.Org (A Home-Designed Form+U+la w/ Barb Shelton)

<<I am flabbergasted that anyone could feel like 29.95 is too much to pay 
for Barb's book. Maybe it is just a "bargain hunting" mentality people have.>>

I think you have to look at the circumstances, while there are some who can 
afford things and are just cheap, there are others who really have a hard 
time affording anything. You are right, a book like Barb's is so worth it, 
a better deal than so many other things, it is a support book as well as a 
technical how to do transcripts book.

I can't believe when I hear people talk about what they can't afford then 
look at their fancy house, new cars, dinners out, etc. But we don't eat 
out, we own one old car that I now have to share with my teen daughter 
(thankfully dh new job gives him one to take to work) we rent an old mobile 
home, my children wear hand me downs or clothes from the thrift shop or buy 
it themselves, my school materials are mostly borrowed or from the internet 
or used, I ususally spend under $100/year on all school materials for all 
five children, I cook everything from scratch and pinch grocery pennies. To 
me $30 is a LOT of money, not because I don't think it is worth it but 
because I just don't have much money in general.

I didn't take offense at your note, it wasn't hostile. I just thought I 
would mention that there are different circumstances that cause people to 
be frugal or cheap.

In Christ, JulieBeth

I can't close without saying that I hate talking about the money end of things!!!  It makes me sound so mercenary!!!  My HEART is to just GIVE the book away to everyone who needs it!!!  But we obviously can't do that!  So the only alternative is for things to be handled in a way that is conducive to "God's economy" (in which "the servant is worthy of his hire") rather than the world's way (which is focused on the purchaser, on discounting, and on how little one can get by with paying).  How would you and your husband feel if this were how paying him in his job were handled ~ on a *usual* basis?!? 




I got the twirling dollar sign(s) at

(where they have all sorts of

amazing things like this!)




(I have lost the source of the rose

background, so if you know what it is,

please let me know!)



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(There are more articles of this nature in the "Homeschool

Resourcefulness & Purchasing" section of the Article Chart.)


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