Many's the time my practicality (and my husband!) would not allow me to purchase bright-and-shiny curriculum at the book fair. We have skipped or put off Ambleside books sometimes because it just wasn't possible or practical for us to acquire them. I don't see anything wrong with that. It is Real Life, and that is the kind of life the children will be required to live as adults. We don't do them any favors by teaching them to expect to have everything that is ideal.
As homeschoolers, we sometimes feel so driven to provide the best possible education simply because we are the mavericks, making our own way in the educational world, and we feel we have something to prove. The possibility of failure can be very scary to us. Almost none of us have done this before, or even been raised this way. It is untested ground. What if we fail? It is our kids' future we are messing with. This can cause a lot of insecurity and, as Americans, often we think the solution to that insecurity is to purchase something new.
Please don't think I am condemning anyone. The reason I know this stuff is because I *live* it. I talk myself down from trees all the time: "It's going to be all right. The Lord is watching your back. Just keep going and pray a lot. Don't worry about what has happened in the past. Don't worry about how you will educate them in the future. Just look at now and ask the Lord for help."
The DHM's "What do you have in your hand?" has been very comforting to me on more than one occasion. It is what you do with what you have that matters.
All of this reminds me of a conversation I had with the cashier at Half Price Books the other night. I was using my educator's discount to buy books for a trip we are taking and the cashier, making conversation, said, "Oh, you're a teacher?"
It is an idiosyncrasy of mine to be scrupulously honest, so I said, "Well, we homeschool."
He said, "Really? Have you been to the new home educator's store down the way?"
"You should go, they would probably have lots of useful stuff for you there."
I thought he was very nice to want to guide me to a good place to shop. "Well-- we don't use a lot of curriculum."
He looked at me funny and continued working on my books. Then he said, "If you don't mind me asking, what do you use if you don't use curriculum?"
"Well, we use a lot of classic literature..."
"But how do you teach things like history, and science?"
I found it ironic that he asked specifically about history, as we were purchasing, among other things, an audiobook of The Iliad. I replied, "There is a lot of history in classic literature; and you can learn quite a bit about science by being observant."
"Well, I guess you're right," he said.
He was very well-mannered. I did not feel his questions were an imposition, so I let him know that eventually, especially in math and science, we do branch out into curriculums, but that my oldest is just at the beginning of middle school. He was interested and thanked me for the conversation.
I do some funny things to avoid the temptation of purchasing too much in the way of books/curriculum. One thing is to pretend the book fairs/bookstores/educational stores are museums rather than places to purchase things. (I don't always do this, but when I do, I save a lot of money!) Another game I play when I see something I think we definitely must have is to list in my mind the things we already have at home that can meet the need. Very often the game is short-- I list, "Internet" and stop! That has kept me from purchasing oodles of pencil-and-paper games and encyclopedia-like resources.
The most effective strategy, however, is not going at all. I rarely look at catalogs or online stores, unless I need something specific. There is just so much good stuff out there that before I know it, my Will has embraced a wrong idea, and my Reason has raced to provide those "irrefragible proofs" it is so good at finding. It is better for my peace of mind and our pocketbook if I become a virtual ostrich where new materials are concerned. I read the CM books* to figure out what exactly we need for learning, and then I go out and find it. Like I tell the telemarketers who call us, if I need something I will seek it out-- I don't want it to come to me before I have considered whether it is necessary or not! I am too much like the citizens of River City when it comes to smooth talk and slick packaging, and must protect myself.
*Very often in my reading, I discover that what we need for learning is a mother with a different perspective or attitude, or broader vision. That cannot be purchased, but must be developed with much thought and prayer. It is not helped by good salesmanship, and is especially not helped by the sort of salesmanship that preys on believers' expectation of guidance by the Holy Spirit. (This is a big pet peeve of mine.) Just because something is placed before me does not mean it is of the Lord. He expects us to use the minds He gave us to test the resources we are considering. I am reminded of the story Dave Ramsey tells in his Financial Peace University literature, about a young couple who were struggling to make payments on a car much too expensive for their budget. When he told them the car had to go, they remonstrated, "But the salesman said the Lord must be providing us this car! He said it was a miracle we were approved for this much credit!" No, no, no.
Well, this has been kind of a long diatribe. Maybe it will keep me out of trouble now that book fair season is approaching. ;o)