Considering homeschooling your kids? If you worry that you’re going to spend a lot of money on educating your children properly, read on. This post shares my tips for cheap homeschooling, even with several kids.
A bit of backstory if you’re new. As of late 2019, my family has two grads (21 and 18), two in high school, two in grade school, and a 5 year old who mostly still plays with cars all day.
Homeschooling parents foot the bill for what their students need. (Unless they’re doing “public school at home” and getting free resources from Uncle Sam – something I’ve never done and don’t recommend as no-one I know who went the K12 route was happy with that choice!)
Even still, homeschooling can be a frugal choice. Let me explain how:
- I drive less as a homeschooling mom, saving gas
- Since they’re not exposed to the latest fads, my kids likely ask for less stuff (Note: thankfully my girls are happy to get gently used clothing from sites like Schoola and ThredUp.)
- I don’t spend money on school supplies for other children (that a teacher distributes to the classroom)
- Bulk lunch at home is cheaper than boxed lunch or school lunch
- No buying overpriced junk in the name of fundraising
I’m philosophically opposed to the idea that it takes a lot of money to get a great education. I won’t start a political debate, but lots of research supports me on this idea. Also, I love any time I get to pull out this quote:
History is replete with examples of people who educated themselves for literally nothing. (Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Laura Ingalls Wilder… I’ll let you Google.)
Cheap Homeschooling (with Several Kids)
Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
First, Know Thyself
Decide on your educational philosophy. Be honest about your homeschooling style and personality (and that of your kids). This will rule out purchases that won’t work for your child or your family. You owe noone an explanation of how you run your homeschool (except to the Feds, a little bit). You are the parent and these are your kids. Got it? Good.
Now that we have that established, what do homeschooling kids really need?
A homeschooling kid needs curriculum, good books to read, and basic supplies. Everything else is unnecessary fluff and clutter. Let’s talk about how to get those needful items cheap or even free.
Cheap homeschooling for littles
Many homeschooling parents overspend on the pre-K and early years. With young children, it’s fairly easy to homeschool for free using:
- A well-worn library card
- The internet and..
Save yo’ money for when the textbooks get expensive (high school!).
Seriously though, there are millions of pages of printables for every subject on good ‘ol Google. Or you can hand-write them yourself! Or for the youngest students, skip worksheets entirely and do real-world math together. Instead of buying overpriced math manipulatives, use stuff you have around the house: beans, noodles, Lego, etc.
Most parents newer to homeschooling spend a lot of time worrying about whether their child is “keeping up” with their peers. I stopped “shoulding” on myself years ago. It comes with many years of experience with different kids of different personalities and ages. (The kids’ll be all right. So take a deep breath, ok?)
If that’s a concern you have, however, check out the “What Your ____ Grader Needs To Know” series of books. There’s one for each year, and your library probably has a copy. You could even use these to create an entire curriculum yourself.
Public libraries are a never-ending source of free homeschooling materials. From the obvious – unlimited free books – to lesser-known goodies such as educational DVDs, great music on CD, music instruction on DVD and CD, foreign language resources, arts and crafts activities open to the public, symphony days, story and craft time, even continuing education for older teens and adults.
Cheap homeschooling for bigger kids
Bigger kids are going to need good quality textbooks. (That is, unless you’re using a free online school, of which there are several. More on that later.)
Some sources of cheap homeschool books include:
- Home school swap Facebook groups
- Yard sales – not so much for textbooks, but a great source for books generally, and most people are willing to sell them cheap
- Thrift stores – believe it or not, I’ve found MANY great textbooks at thrift stores. Some I kept, some I flipped online.
- Paperback Swap and BookMooch
Remember Economies of Scale
Even though we have a lot of kids, we still don’t spend a ton on homeschooling. Example:
Our beloved copy of Volume 1 of Susan Wise Bauer’s 4-volume history series, The Story of the World. This has educated 5 kids so far and I will make it last for 2 more. See: how we do home school history.
I think I paid around $15 for this book, used on Amazon. I purchase the student pages (around $10) on the WellTrainedMind website, where I’m allowed to print off copies for each kid in the family. This means that for $25 I’ve got a year of history covered, for 7 children.
When possible, teach more than one kid at a time.
This saves on home school books but also saves time, and time is money (especially when you’re also a work at home mom who home schools!)
Generally, “content” subjects (history, science) can be taught with multiple ages whereas “skill” areas (math) cannot. However, that’s not always the case, because children are unique and have strengths and weaknesses.
One way to teach multiple kids at once is with a unit study approach. Five in a Row is a literature-based home school I’ve enjoyed. The teacher’s book you need costs less than $20 used. And you can borrow the required books for free at the library. $20 to homeschool for the year? Doesn’t get much cheaper than that!
Free Online Home Schools:
Believe it or not, there are totally free online home schools. A few my family has utilized in the past and enjoyed are:
- DiscoveryK12 (not to be confused with K12 public school at home program)
- EasyPeasy (which despite its cheesy name is high quality and comprehensive – there are two sites, one for grade school and one for high school)
- Ambleside Online (Charlotte Mason)
- There are more. Google is your friend here.
Cheap Home School Supplies
Now you’ve got curricula taken care of. Here’s how to get the other stuff (pencils, paper, etc) you need to home school, cheap.
- Store loss leader back to school deals. You can find school supplies for pennies on the dollar – generally each store will have one or two items that’s dirt cheap, so you’ll have to go to more than one place. When packs of crayons are .25 and notebooks are .10, buy enough to last all year.
- Check out educator discounts. Some stores offer discounts to home school parents. Some even host “educator days” where you can get swag and coupons for free. Staples, Barnes and Noble, others. My biggest school supply expense is probably printer paper and ink, so we buy those in bulk.
Recommended books about cheap homeschooling:
Homeschooling on a Shoestring: This book is authored by two home school moms whose families couldn’t have been more different. The thing they had in common was an intense love of homeschooling and their kids, and a desire not to let small budgets stop them.
What was interesting about this book is that it spends the first few chapters talking not about homeschooling per se, but about making more room in the budget, period. From saving money on groceries and other budget line items to launching home based businesses, it encourages making wiggle room in the family finances, which is helpful information all by itself.
Then, the latter chapters focus on specific ways to homeschool for cheap. It covers everything from the basics of designing curriculum yourself, to enrichment activities like the arts, musical training and sports. It also spends a few chapters on teens and college bound homeschool kids.
The sections on teaching math using everyday items and also the information on teaching a second language were especially useful for me.
This book was written in the 90’s so the information on using computers and the Internet are a bit outdated but overall the book is chock full of useful tips and ideas.
One great idea I got from this book is to think more about bartering. This would work wonderfully for things like math tutoring, piano or other music lessons, and language learning. Have a friend who speaks a foreign language fluently who needs babysitting/dogsitting/housecleaning/website design or some other skill you can offer? There you go!
Homeschool Your Child for Free: This hefty volume, also written by two homeschooling moms, is another awesome resource. Because it was published in 2000, it has many online tools and websites listed in its pages.
This book claims to have 1,200 resources listed for home educators, and I believe it. While the first book deals mostly in principles, this book has more specific recommendations.
It’s organized into the following sections: Curriculum Scope and Sequence; Education Essentials; Language; Mathematics; Art; History; Music; Social Studies; Humanities; Science; Health and then finally Graduation. This makes it easy to find the specific information you’re looking for.
Homeschool Your Child For Free would be a wonderful addition to any homeschooling parent’s library, a reference to pull off the shelf whenever you’re scratching your head wondering where you can find free information for your child on any particular topic.
More posts you might enjoy on the topic of cheap homeschooling:
Minimalist home school supplies – how get the other stuff you need to home school, cheap.
A few of our favorite homeschooling resources (oops, needs updating!)
Keeping a homeschool inventory will help prevent overspending.