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A Math Lesson In Budgeting

If you have a kid (or more than one) who loves math and can’t wait for the lessons to begin, count yourself lucky. Many children dread the task of learning math, most likely because it is difficult. Math skills can be very frustrating for many kids to master. Times tables, long division, geometry, and algebra are all tough subjects to learn. The best medicine is to start with math early and to try to instill some meaning and fun into it.

As a homeschooling parent, you may also struggle alongside your kids when it comes time to learn math. Many of us learned some of these skills in school and then stopped using them, or we struggled to learn them ourselves. That makes transferring those skills onto children a challenge. But, being a homeschooler also gives you an advantage. You can teach your children math skills in a practical and realistic setting. Attaching math skills to meaningful activities in your daily lives makes it easier for the kids to grasp the concepts and to want to learn. Too often in schools, learning math means rote memorization or routine practicing of the same problems over and over again. This approach does not work for everyone.

One of the things you probably do on a regular basis that involves using math is budgeting. Especially when you are living a more self-sufficient lifestyle, making and sticking to a household budget is essential. You likely earn less money than you once did, so budgeting becomes an important aspect of the way your family lives. Bring the kids into the budgeting process to teach them valuable and practical skills as well as math.

Budgeting for the Homestead

Budgeting is a very practical and often necessary process. Living off the grid or transitioning to that type of lifestyle means that you need to be careful about money. You are likely living on less income than many people while attempting to be self-sufficient. A lesson in budgeting should begin with a discussion of what kinds of costs you have as a family, and how much money you have to spend.

Budgeting starts with one very simple equation: income minus expenditures equals the amount of money you have. Talk with your kids about this basic idea and the fact that you cannot let the result of the equation be zero or a negative number. This is a great point at which to introduce positive and negative integers and number lines. Talk about different scenarios in which income and expenditures would lead to a positive number, a negative number, and zero. You can then discuss how the result could be changed if you are not satisfied with having negative or zero money. Talk about why the number should be positive. Why is zero not good enough? Why does your family need savings?

After discussing the basics of budgeting, let your kids get involved in creating a budget. Tell them what your family’s monthly income is and see if they can come up with a budget that includes all monthly expenses, savings, and emergency situations. Let older kids try it without your help first and see how they do. After an attempt, you can show them some of the bills that you pay so they can get a better idea for what things cost. Also, point out any expenses that they may not have thought of. As they create their budgets, your kids will be using and honing their math skills in order to maximize the amount of money left over at the end of the month.

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If tackling the whole homestead budget at once is too big of a project, try some smaller scenarios first. Adjust the budgeting process for age and ability. For your younger kids, make everything very simple, use whole numbers, and give them the costs that they need to determine a budget. You can even create your own budgeting worksheets to guide the process.

  • Budget the animals. If you keep animals on your property, treat their care and their profits as a budget in miniature. Create a plan for expenditures on their food, equipment, and veterinary care. Determine how much money they give you back. For instance, the cost of foods that you no longer need to buy or any profit you make by selling wool, eggs, or dairy products.
  • Budget the garden. Growing a vegetable garden is another important part of your lifestyle. Similarly to the animals, you can create a budget for creating a garden or for maintaining one that you already have.
  • Budget shopping trips. When you do need to venture out to make purchases, you probably don’t do so lightly. Involve your kids in the shopping process. Start with a set amount of money that you have to spend and have them figure out what you can buy with it. Use coupons to subtract from the total cost.

Imaginary Budgeting

Another great way to introduce the math of budgeting is to start with imaginary scenarios. With this strategy, you can make a budget project as simple or as complex as you want to match your children’s levels of math skills. You can also avoid divulging the family financial secrets. Not all parents want their kids to know the details of their income and expenses. Here are some ideas you can use for creating budgeting scenarios:

  • Create a fake family. Make up a family, give them jobs and incomes, give them a mortgage and other bills, and have your children create a budget for them. For more advanced lessons, you can delve into the aspects of saving money. You can teach about different ways of saving and interest rates to assist in your instruction on percentages.
  • Make a lemonade stand. The classic kid’s business is a great microeconomics and math lesson in one. The stand can be real or virtual. In either case, give your kids a certain amount of money to run their business. They will then decide how to spend that on supplies, marketing, and maybe even employees. Talk about ways in which they could improve their budgeting and spending if their business is not successful. Emphasize that it was not a failure, but rather a learning experience.
  • Plan a dream vacation. As with the lemonade stand, make this real or virtual. Decide on an amount of money that can be spent on a family vacation and create the budget. The kids will need to consider transportation, lodging, food, and costs of entertainment or activities.
  • Make history. Combine math and history in one lesson. Make a family budget for people living in a different time period. You can choose any location or point in time as long as you are able to look up the approximate costs of items and likely family incomes. For older children, you can expect them to do that research, while for youngsters, you can give them the information that you found.

Whatever strategies or types of budgeting lessons you decide to use, you will be teaching your children a valuable lesson. The sooner they learn about money and spending, the more likely they will be responsible with money later on in life. And, of course, they will have excellent math skills.

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