We Did It! We Are Roadschooling!

happy hobos abode

About a year ago, I shared a dream with you. It was a big dream, but one that my whole family was excited about. We wanted to sell all our belongings, pay cash for a 5th wheel and spend a year traveling across the country while homeschooling the children.  It’s a little thing called roadschooling.

A strange lifestyle choice by conventional standards, I’ll admit. But for the past few years as we dealt with unemployment, a cross-country move, and an autism diagnosis, we found ourselves stuck in a rut that went something like this. We worked too many hours, and spent less and less quality time together as a family, while throwing ourselves into helping our special needs child. The other kids spent most of their time with friends and extracurricular activities, and slowly we grew further and further apart. In a nutshell, we lost focus on what was truly important. I’m sad to admit it, but it’s the truth.

7happyhobos rv tour

Luckily, we recognized this growing distance and decided to take a hard look at our lives to see what could be done about it. For us, full-time RV living was the answer for many reasons.  Here are a few.

1. We can have an income while traveling.
This blog allows me to earn an income from anywhere.  Since we’re not independently wealthy, that was kind of important.  So we had that advantage.

hobo tour

2. We need to restrengthen our family relationships. 
In this whirlwind of challenges, our children spent precious little quality time with us.  And vacations?  Non-existent.  This trip will allow us to create some much-needed memories and strengthen some bonds that have been weakening.

kitchen dining bunk

3. Autism often creates fear of new places & people.
According to the experts, the best way to alleviate this fear is overexposure. In other words, doing the thing he is afraid of over and over.  Traveling the country, our son will have the advantage of bringing his home and all his familiar objects with him, but he will also learn to accept new things, instead of fearing them. We believe this will help him a great deal.

rv living room

4. We were struggling with public schools.
I’m a firm believer that no one choice is right for everyone. And for our children, public school just wasn’t working. I have felt a tugging on my heart to homeschool for a few years now, but to be honest, it was not something I had ever envisioned myself doing. So I was reluctant. But a series of events gave me just the right push to convince me it had to be done. And that made us work even harder to accomplish this roadschooling goal.

7 very happy hobos

5. Doors have opened for us to do this.
Spending 2 years working on a dream can be exciting. It can also be filled with challenges and disappointments. When it came time to purchase our 5th wheel, we had paid off our debt and saved $8700 for a rig. But finding an RV in that price range that would work for full-time living, and fit a family of seven was a near impossible task.  That’s where our first miracle comes in.

a1

We found a 2005 Excel (an excellent brand) that needed a LOT of TLC, and was in our price range. Luckily my husband is an amazing craftsman.  He spent every evening and weekend for five months pouring himself into it.  When the dust settled, we had a beautiful home that we OWNED, and that looked even better than the day it rolled off the assembly line.

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6. We Wanted to Simplify Our Lives
Minimalism is the new buzzword, and there’s a reason for it. As this recession drags on, folks are taking a hard look at their priorities and looking for ways to restructure them. They want a simpler life. At least, that’s what we wanted.

Would you believe it took two yard sales and a huge donation truck before our belongings were mostly gone? That’s too much stuff, y’all. You may think that we are suffering or doing without, but to tell you the truth, I hardly miss that stuff.  Everything I own, I love.  The rest of it was just cluttering up my life.  As a family, we have vowed never to let “stuff” take over our lives again. Having each other, our RV and the open road is more than enough for us!

moving sale

Over the next year, I’ll be sharing my adventures from the road in a weekly blog post. The rest of the time, you’ll continue to get all the time-sensitive deals you need to save on essentials for your family right here at Moms by Heart. We have every internet doo-hickey you can think of built into this RV, and I’m confident I’ll have strong internet access as we travel across the country. I have some folks backing me up too, just in case.

In a few weeks, I’ll start sharing some frugal family travel tips and ideas that we have tested out in a little series called Savings Across America!  We are so excited to get this dream rolling, and we hope you will come along for the ride! You can keep up with us on Instagram, or through our travel blog which is just getting rolling.  Or get free daily email alerts from me here at Moms by Heart.

SIDE NOTE: We have a budget of $4,000/month while traveling. As we go along, we’ll show you how we are making it work!

Roadschooling Update: We Bought a 5th Wheel

roadschooling rig

If you’ve been following along with my Roadschooling dream posts, you might remember that we have a goal of hitting the road full time in a 5th wheel starting this summer. We’ve been working hard to pay off debt, and save enough to pay cash for our dream rig. And yesterday was the day! We found an amazing deal on Craigslist, and headed to Houston to check it out. It was beautiful, and much nicer than anything we thought we’d be able to afford.  So we made an offer, and hauled it home!

Our plan is to blog across America, sharing deals and discounts as we go in a series called Couponing Across America. I’ll continue to share in-store and online bargains as well.  We’ll be homeschooling the children, and using our travels to help them learn about the history of our great nation. We can’t wait!  I’ll share more about our dreams and goals in an upcoming post. For now, you can scroll through HERE to read more about our adventure.

For those of you who still think couponing doesn’t help the budget very much, here’s a great example of what you can accomplish! We are a middle income family with five children, and we were able to stash away a little bit every week until finally we realized our dream!  If we can do this, anybody can!

Our Roadschooling Goals: An Update

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Those of you who follow this blog may recall the ginormous personal goal I am pursuing .  Since January, we have been saving and preparing to embark on a one year roadschooling adventure as a family. You can read all about it HERE. In a nutshell, roadschooling is homeschooling while traveling the country in an RV. We are selling most of our belongings and making the road our home for one full year.  During our travels, I will continue to operate this blog remotely, and with a few virtual helpers.  Our hope is to hit the road in June of 2014 and return in August 2015.

I have never homeschooled, but my heart has been heading in that direction for some time. I have resisted, mostly out of my own fear. I have four children who are still at home, including one who has autism. So homeschooling as a newbie is intimidating. To be perfectly frank, I don’t want to screw it up. But thanks to the dozens of successful homeschooling moms sharing advice via the blogosphere, I have gained some wisdom and courage, and we are going for it!  We have prayerfully pursued this dream of ours, and we are convinced this is the best thing for our family right now.

From our own experience as parents to five children, we have seen how significant hands-on learning can be.  Roadschooling allows us to walk our children through science and history by showing them American battlefields, natural wonders and a variety of museums and landmarks and pairing them with lessons.  This will be especially important to our autistic child, who is a very concrete learner.  My prayer is that God gives me the wisdom and tools to utilize the educational benefits of this trip to the fullest.

For those of you following along with our journey, here is the progress we have made over the past two months.

  1. We remain debt free, and have nearly doubled our savings!
  2. We have narrowed our 5th wheel choices down to three possible manufacturers: Nu-Wa, Excel and New Horizons.  All three are created specifically for fulltimers, which means they are higher quality and created for all-season use.  The older models are within our price range too!
  3. Through conversations with other roadschooling families we have learned about the Thousand Trails Campground Pass, which allows us free camping at dozens of campgrounds nationwide for an annual fee.  We are investigating, and considering adding this membership to our budget.  From what we see, it looks like it could save us some serious bucks.

Our goals for the next 30 days:

  • Continue to add to our savings account.
  • Create a list of family-friendly campgrounds across the US.  If any of you have any suggestions, I would be most grateful if you would leave them in the comments!
  • Begin formulating a plan for homeschooling next year.
  • Continue to simplify our lives by selling items on Craigslist and donating to a local thrift store.
  • Make no new purchases except what is absolutely necessary.

You can read about our Roadschooling Goals, or follow along with our Monthly Progress Reports.  Be sure to subscribe to Moms by Heart so you don’t miss a thing!

SPONSOR US!
If you own a business that would benefit from national exposure, contact me for details on how you can be one of our roadschooling sponsors. We will be providing media updates on our homeschooling adventures, Couponing across America, affordable family travel and more!

photo credit

Roadschooling Goals Update

I’m thrilled to report that over the past few months we have accomplished our goal of becoming debt free! We have also managed to stash $3,725 in savings for our 5th Wheel. This is the first time in our 20 year marriage that we have been debt free, and the first time since Dylan’s diagnosis that we have had a savings.  We have had a long and challenging road as a family, both with financial struggles and fighting autism, so this milestone is a little surreal.  We are filled to the fullest measure with gratitude and joy!

How We Did It

  • Debt SnowballDave Ramsey knows what he’s doing, man.  We followed the system and it worked.  Fewer monthly payments = bigger savings deposits. Simple as that.
  • Garage Sale – We had a wildly successful 2 day garage sale that netted us a little over $1,500. All of that went right into savings for our rig.
  • Extra Work – We are both putting in an extra 8-12 hours per week for the next several months so we can see this dream become a reality.
  • My Book has generated some extra income, and has allowed us to add to our savings and stay on track with our roadschooling goal.

With our progress so far, I am cautiously optimistic. But we still have a long way to go before we’re ready to hit the road. Our plan is to leave in June 2014 for a 15 month trip.  During this time, I will still be bringing you the best deals each and every day here on MomsbyHeart.  I will be hiring some helpers for those times when internet is spotty or unavailable, so you never miss a thing.

Please pray that God would give us patience as we pursue this dream along with wisdom in all the decisions we will be making. I leave you with our theme song ;)

You can read about our Roadschooling Goals, or follow along with our Monthly Progress Reports.  Be sure to subscribe to Moms by Heart so you don’t miss a thing!

Roadschooling Update

Over the past few weeks, we have had some great gains and a few setbacks in our roadschooling goals. First the good news. Our oldest son is away at college, and recently received word that there were extra funds in a grant he applied for at the beginning of the year. Apparently when this happens, they distribute funds to reimburse current year expenses.  This is his first year, so I was shocked when I received a check for $5,000 in the mail!  Yes, that’s right.  Five thousand smackers.  Out of the blue.  Can I get a woot-woot?  Since we had already budgeted his tuition into our expenses, this was like found money.

But as is often the case when a windfall blows in, our beautiful stack of Benjamins was all but gobbled up by an unexpected medical need.  With a family of seven, these kinds of things are bound to happen. We were able to put $1,200 away toward our debt, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But the rest went to pay for these dreaded doctor bills.

*Sigh.*

So anyway, here’s where we are:

Goal #1: Be Debt Free
Original Medical Bills: $8300
Additional Medical Bills: +$3800
Total: $12,100
Paid Off So Far: $6650
Left To Go: $5450

I am thankful for this unexpected income bump, even though most of it went away quickly.  If we didn’t have it, our financial goals would have had some serious setbacks.

Goal #2: Increase Passive Income
My book Operation Dinner has finally been released and is doing well! As a new author, I am thrilled and humbled by all the support you guys have given me. My happiest moment so far was seeing my book on Amazon’s Hot New Releases list!

Say what?

My life is small. I live in middle incomeville and spend most of my time with my kids. The most excitement I normally see is a money making ECB deal or two at CVS. So for me, this is huge. Thanks so much to everyone who has shown support via Facebook shares, Pinterest pins and words of encouragement. I have another book in the works on a different topic, and am working on a few other passive income ideas to help us get on the road. More on that in the coming months.

Goal #3 Pay Cash for a 5th Wheel
We won’t be putting any money away for this until our debt is 100% paid off. For now, we are learning all we can by listening to advice from other roadschoolers, so we make the best decision possible.

Motivation
As with any huge goal, there are times when the going is slow and our hopes are dashed. But we have drawn encouragement by reading the inspiration posts written by others who are doing what we want to do.

My favorite roadschooling posts:

One of our biggest priorities in planning this trip is having a solid educational plan for our youngest who has autism. Over the summer, we have some professionals who are helping us implement a home learning program for him so he doesn’t lose any skills while school is out. These folks will be spending extra time helping us research and set up a roadschooling program for Dylan, so we are certain all his needs are covered.  Since our plan is to leave in June of 2014, we have plenty of time to test the program and tweak as needed.

Finally, we have decided to start a blog to document our trip.  We will begin posting as soon as we buy the 5th wheel, so you can see the modifications and improvements we make, and follow along as the big day draws near.  I purchased the domain 7happyhobos.com for this purpose, although there is no site up and running as of yet.  We will share our travel adventures and mishaps over the 15 months we will be on the road.  Since our kids are a little older, we plan to let them post every now and then too…

All in all, I am happy with our progress, slow though it may be. I can’t wait to share more exciting developments as our departure date draws near!  I leave you with a video from one of my favorite blogs Long Long Way to Tipperary. In it they tell their roadschooling story via Johnny Cash.

Love it.

photo credit: Wandrly Magazine

Roadschooling Update

A few weeks ago I shared my big goal for 2014: we will be embarking on a 12 month roadschooling adventure with our children. Beginning June 2014 we will join the hundreds of families across the USA who are pulling up stakes and traveling in an RV for an extended period of time. During these trips, children are homeschooled with lessons reinforced by hands-on experiences at national parks, museums and other first person experiences. We are over-the-top excited about this and have been working hard all month to inch toward our goal.

It’s a huge goal to be sure.  And some would say a little weird.  But for us, it is just what the doctor ordered.  We are longing to have a time of reconnection with each other and create some lasting memories after having a whirlwind of change and challenges over the past few years.

We.  Need.  This.

My daughter is a tween and was initially a bit apprehensive about our upcoming adventure. After all, at that age the last thing you want to do is leave all your friends behind for an entire year and hang out with your mom, dad and brothers. What a drag!

Since she has always had a huge interest in marine biology, we have spent the month discussing travel destinations that would allow her to explore this passion with hands-on learning. She has decided one of the must-see stops is the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Oregon. As she spends time researching other locations and adding pins to our map of the US, she is becoming more and more excited.

(This is our map, with the pins indicating places we’d like to visit)

In other news, we visited an RV dealership last week. There were a few used models we were interested in and wanted to see them up close. My hubby has been doing some research on how to examine and evaluate used models to be sure they will be able to hold up under such an arduous 12 month journey. He wanted to put his newfound knowledge to the test and this was the perfect opportunity. He crawled under it, poked around, looked at the piping and wiring. He fiddled with things, shook things, pulled and pinched and pressed things. He muttered “hmmmm” and “okay” under his breath a few times. He even took a few photos. I really don’t know what he was doing, but I was totally impressed. I remember thinking “I’m really in good hands here. This guy knows his stuff”.

When we got to the car he grabbed his notepad and began feverishly taking notes. I waited for him to finish, then said “Well, what do you think?” To which he replied, “I have no idea”.

I took a second to figure out what that meant.  Really dude? What about the “hmmm’s” and the photo taking and the poking and the fiddling with the parts?

“I was winging it” was his reply.

We both looked at each other for a minute then burst into hysterical laughter. What a pair of dorks we are.

Gosh, I love that man. He really had me going.

Apparently it’s one thing to read about it and quite another to get your hands in there and do the evaluation. So it goes without saying that we still have some stuff to learn. But that’s okay. After our disastrous first attempt, we have enlisted the help of our neighbor who is a retired RVer. He agreed to accompany us to a few evaluations so he could explain what to look for. Thank goodness for the kindness of others. Because for now we are hopelessly and unapologetically green.

*Sigh*

Side Note: if you’ve never been to an RV dealership before, beware the golf carts. These harmless looking things can go about 147 miles per hour if your salesman has had too many lattes. It can be scarier than the gravity-defying Dare Devil Dive roller coaster ride. I may be exaggerating a little bit. But I’m pretty sure this guy had a death wish and I. am. traumatized.

Another exciting experience this month.

I learned that Kimberly, founder of Fulltime Families also had a special needs child, so I immediately sent her an email asking for her sage advice. I was thrilled to be able to speak with her by phone and get some amazing inside information on roadschooling. It was surreal. I felt an immediate kinship with her because she was once where I am now. Mother of a large family including a special needs child, dreaming of a roadschooling adventure. Only she was doing it.  Not only that, she had made it her career to equip others to do the same.  I felt incredibly inspired and even more determined to see this dream to fruition.  It was an experience I will never forget.

Since Fulltime Families is open to those who are roadschooling and those who are aspiring to, Kimberly and I are discussing the possibility of having me write a column for Fulltime Families magazine. I am so honored and excited to be doing this, and I’ll update you as soon as we have the details ironed out. It’s a great publication for anyone exploring this way of life.

The Nitty Gritty
As for real financial progress toward our goal, here’s where we are:

Goal #1: Be Debt Free
Medical Bills: $8300
Paid Off This Month: $1650
Left To Go: $6650

Goal #2: Increase Passive Income
You may remember that part of our passive income to help fund this trip will come from books I am writing. Today my first book Operation Dinner: How to Plan, Shop and Cook Ahead for Easy Family Meals is nearly finished and ready to go on to the editor. I am so excited about it! In it I share all the dinner tricks and techniques I have refined during my 18 years as a busy mom of five.  It covers all aspects of meal planning, strategic shopping and prepping food ahead to simplify your dinner routine, including tons of recipes!

Goal #3: Pay Cash for a 5th Wheel
We will begin chipping away at this goal after our debt is paid off. For now, we are learning, exploring and testing out different models so we are well informed when the big day arrives.  So far, the well informed part needs a little work.  We are hopelessly green, but we will get there…

So there you have it.  Month #1 has come and gone and we have made a few baby steps toward our goal.  We are thrilled!  Next month I’ll have more exciting news to share as we inch toward our roadschooling adventure.  You can read my first post HERE where I share the details of our dream.

New Years Goals 2013: Roadschooling!

Photo Credit

We had a very eventful year in 2012…our youngest started kindergarten, while our oldest went off to college. Not to mention my only daughter starting middle school and my big four-oh birthday. It was exciting and scary all at the same time. And 2013 holds many more adventures.  Looking forward to the coming year, there are many things I want to change, improve and accomplish. One in particular has had us excited for several months now.  It’s a huge, adventurous, gigantic dream. My husband and I would like to embark on a 12 month roadschooling adventure in 2014.

What is roadschooling?

It’s a fairly new thing, or at least it is to me.  Families of all sizes and income brackets are rolling out into the U-S of A to see the countryside and be a full time family. During this time, they are homeschooling their children and incorporate national monuments, historic sites, live archaeological digs, and museums into their lessons so that science and history become real. A study of erosion will be accompanied by a trip to the Grand Canyon to see it in person. A lesson on civil rights will go hand-in-hand with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum.  And so on.

The beauty of this vision is not just in the educational benefits.  Families who have taken the leap to roadschooling have shared over and over again how strongly bonded they become with their children and spouse.  Free from the rat race and the trinkets and technology that once separated them, they find a peace and connectedness that had been lost.  I ache for that.

We have spent several years working extra hours to pay off debt and provide therapy for our autistic son who is now doing very well.  When we aren’t working, we have errands to run, laundry to fold, home maintenance and all the responsibilities of a large family.  It has blessed us beyond words to be able to watch our children grow and see the fruits of our efforts.  But the long hours have stretched us.  We have become disjoined and somewhat fragmented as a family.  Now that we are nearly debt-free and our son is doing well in school, we have a deep desire to spend a year strengthening our family ties, teaching our children and making lasting memories with them.

Photo Credit

Despite what it may sound like, this dream is not for the wealthy.  In fact, you can read many testimonials from average families who are living the dream over at Families on the Road or Full Time Families.  But a trip like this take does a lot of planning. First off, we must be debt free. We must pay for our travel trailer in cash. And we must find means to earn an income on the road.  So these are our driving goals for 2013.

Having a job as a blogger means I am able to take my work with me wherever I go.  And without a mortgage, car payment or medical bills we will need less money to travel than we would spend staying put.  So the blog income will suffice, once the bills are paid off and the trailer is purchased.  We won’t be eating in five star restaurants or going to amusement parks every day, but that’s not the purpose of the trip anyway.

As the year passes, I will share our big milestones with you.  We will even be starting a blog to document our journey! We don’t expect to be on the road until 2014, but our goals start this year.

Roadschooling Goals for 2013:

  • Finish paying off medical bills ($8300)
  • Increase blog readership by 30%
  • Finish my first book – more on that later
  • Write three ebooks
  • Pay cash for 5th wheel ($9000)

THE BOOK: For the past two years I have been working on my first book.  It’s called Operation: Dinner – How to Plan, Shop and Cook Ahead for Easy Family Meals.  In it, I share my secrets for simplifying dinner and saving money.  My hope is that I can help other moms by sharing what I have learned through feeding a family of seven on a limited income and with limited time.  I share meal planning tips, shopping strategies, dinner prep ideas and recipes that will take the stress out of the dinnertime hour.  It will be available soon as a print or ebook, with the proceeds being used to help us realize our enormous goal of roadschooling.

Along with these goals, I will be learning all I can about homeschooling.  Particularly in the area of homeschooling a special needs child.  I am blessed to have several experts who have worked with him for years and are helping me maneuver through this.  We are also choosing our curriculum for the other children and formulating a one-year itinerary of places in the US we would like to visit.

IT STARTS WITH A DREAM…

While roadschooling isn’t for everyone, it is valuable to know that having this huge dream has deeply inspired us to stay on track with all of our other goals.  Things that would once tempt us to waiver are no longer an issue.  The excitement we feel about living this dream outweighs everything else by a long shot.  This was the missing ingredient for us in the past.

Not too long ago, I emailed my blogging friend Crystal from Money Saving Mom to ask her how she managed to overcome so much and accomplish her goals.  HERE is what she said.  Her advice was dead on the money.  Once we had a goal that we were both truly excited about, the momentary discomforts that would sometimes push us off track were no longer an issue.  I have no interest in new shoes or curtains or dinnerware if they will set me further away from my roadschooling dream.  I now see them as hurdles that need to be pushed aside.  They are no longer the least bit tempting.

If you have been unsuccessful in the past with goals you have set, I would encourage you to formulate a huge dream for your family.  Find ways to break it down into small, do-able chunks and go for it.  We are well on our way to our roadschool 2014 dream and if we can do it, anyone can.  If you have a giant goal for 2013, share it in the comments! I’d love to hear! Or if you have suggestions for educational trips for our children, favorite campgrounds, homeschool wisdom or any traveling advice I am all ears ;)