We can devise a thousand honest ways of making a livelihood.
—Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte

The Bronte sisters knew firsthand the value of frugality and infused their fictitious characters with the strength and ingenuity to overcome scarcity. Much like Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey, our family has enjoyed “practicing the frugality that accompanies the life of a rector’s family.” Though we have not found a thousand ways to make a livelihood, we have found many. And it all starts with learned practical skills.

When our three boys were young, I took it upon myself to educate them not only in matters of wisdom and intellect but domestic capabilities as well. After all, most young men will grow to be fathers who will need to know how to partner with their wives in tending to their children and home. So, I taught my sons to sew a straight line with a sewing machine, starch and iron dress shirts, and prepare robust meals for the family. They have also learned how to chop wood, wield a hammer, and fix most things that plug into the wall or connect to Wi-Fi.

These skills can become the springboard for working together to supplement your household income. Start by taking stock of the gifts and skills you share as a family. What can the eldest child do well that perhaps complements something the youngest is capable of? Here are five ways our family puts this into practice.

1. Enter a Craft Fair

My eldest son loves sports and at fourteen years old was an avid fan of a particular football team. So, we combined that interest with his ability to sew, creating sports team hand warmers and scarves filled with flax seed and peppermint that we then sold at a local craft fair. His nine-year-old brother, a budding salesman, drew people to our table with his bright blue eyes and charm. He helped us sell most of our products.

The craft fair has provided our family with the funds to go on mini-vacations, plan special celebrations, and even purchase a trampoline. We’ve painted Christmas ornaments, made our own soaps, and even used a wet saw to cut tea cups in half to create three-dimensional framed art.

2. Open an Online Store

At fifteen, my middle son enjoyed creating paracord bracelets. He purchased his materials and opened an online store. What a joy to watch his enthusiasm as he gained orders! Though this was a short-lived venture, it did provide some lessons in economics, such as budgeting and supply and demand.

3. Have a Themed Garage Sale

Several summers in a row we teamed up with friends to hold a vintage garage sale. The boys baked our secret-recipe jumbo cookies and purchased soda and bottled water for resale. We found that dollar beverages brought in more profit than twenty-five cent lemonade. We created a refreshment stand to match our theme and ended up with a profit that enabled us to purchase tickets to an amusement park. At one point, my eldest son ran
back inside to put more cookies in the oven, as people returned to our sale in order buy them.

4. Sell Home-Grown Produce

Gardens are a wonderful way to involve everyone in the family. Your artistic child can create labels for the plants, and your child who loves order can help you dig straight rows and plant the seeds. We suggest cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce as the best-selling veggies. Once you have a sufficient crop, pull out that vintage refreshment stand you made for the garage sale and turn it into a veggie stand. Order small berry baskets online to achieve a cute and functional look. Be sure to advertise to friends and family your sale times to give your entrepreneurs a little boost.

5. Host a Backyard Club

The backyard club has proven to be our most lucrative endeavor. We’ve held homework clubs, nature camp, book clubs, and sports camps in our own backyard. At one point, we had over twenty kids attending our music-themed backyard club. I did most of the teaching, but my teenagers helped lead the craft and game times. Holding a fantastic club is easy once you’ve assessed your family’s strengths, chosen a theme, and calculated your costs. Then make up invitations that list your times and days. We held our music club from 9AM to 11AM Monday through Wednesday. (Avoid Fridays if you can, as people often go on weekend trips.) We suggest writing up a daily schedule and organizing each day’s materials into bins the week before you start. Our music club was so popular that by the third summer we held four week-long sessions at a cost of $25 per day, per child.

What can you do? What can you learn to do? How can your family’s combined skills lead you to that honest penny? You may find there are a thousand ways!

Copyright 2017, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

Joleen Steel

Joleen is a pastor's wife who taught public school for ten years before deciding to open her own music studio and homeschool her boys.