Homeschooling doesn’t have to be expensive, and in some ways, it saves money. Here are some tips for frugal homeschooling while still giving your kids an amazing education.
Homeschooling: the frugal choice?
First, let’s dispel the myth that homeschooling isn’t the frugal choice. Making lunch at home is cheaper than buying school lunches. I drive less because of homeschooling, saving gas money. I don’t have to buy lists of school supplies (that will be collected by the teacher and redistributed to other kids). There is no overpriced junk I am encouraged to buy in the name of a “school fundraiser”, and no kids to schlep around town to sell said junk.
My children aren’t as influenced by “trends” in tech and clothing, and so have no problem getting their clothes secondhand. (Note: we save a ton by buying high-quality kids’ clothes are consignment prices, without having to leave the house, with sites like Schoola and ThredUp.)
My overall philosophy on learning includes this fact:
It doesn’t take money to get a good education.
Forget what the politicians say, they’re trying to buy votes with propaganda that run counter to actual, y’know, facts.
Research has shown that throwing more money at the education system in the US doesn’t mean a thing in terms of the results.
(Neither does smaller class size, but that’s another blog post!)
Many well educated people we’ve admired throughout history spent almost nothing on their education. For example, legend has it that Abraham Lincoln taught himself math with one piece of chalk and a slate. Great thinkers like Mark Twain learned from the people and events going on around them, not from fancy and colorful things sold in catalogs.
When parents consider homeschooling, they think it must cost a ton of money. Why? They start pricing curriculum that costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars out of the box and wonder how they’re going to afford it year after year, with multiple kids.
They’re also likely thinking of the cost of keeping one parent at home to oversee the child’s schooling. (When it’s entirely possible to homeschool as a single parent, meaning that having a parent home full-time isn’t necessary for homeschooling.)
After 13 years of frugal homeschooling, here are some of my best tips. Plus, a couple of awesome book recommendations for hundreds more ideas.
Decide On A Homeschool Budget
Just like anything else that involves your finances, it’s wise to set a homeschooling budget for the year before you begin purchasing supplies. Just doing this one thing might keep you from buying a lot of unnecessary stuff that will end up in the storage closet or listed on eBay. It’s not in the budget!
Decide on your educational philosophy and 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.
Test-drive curriculum and other tools before you start buying. Ask other homeschooling parents if you can peek at their stuff, or attend one of the homeschooling conferences so you can look at curriculum choices. Download samples online. Read detailed reviews.
One of the reasons buying curriculum can be so expensive is because most of the time you’re buying it sight unseen. It may not be right for your child so you end up selling it at a fraction of retail on eBay.
To avoid this problem, get with the other homeschooling parents in your support group. Ask them what they like and dislike about curriculum they’ve purchased and used. Read messages on homeschooling support forums online and do the same. Deciding in advance what your style will be means you can adapt the tools to the method, not the other way around.
If you don’t want to design your own curriculum or go with an eclectic style however, curriculum in a box type programs may be cheaper than obtaining everything piecemeal. Look around at online auctions or other places where homeschoolers are selling their used stuff. You can pick up barely used supplies this way. The Five in a Row books cost less than $20 used, and you can borrow the required books for free at the library.
You can find great deals at swap meets organized by homeschooling support groups. Hooking up with your local group also means group discounts on field trips. To find one, check with your local homeschool association – a simple internet search will likely turn up several in your area. In the small rural town I used to live in, there were half a dozen I could choose from!
Yard sales, thrift stores, eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle, “for sale or trade” message forums for homeschoolers online are some more places to find cheap supplies.
Public library sales are another place to find inexpensive books to fill out your family’s bookshelves. A homeschooler’s dollars are probably best spent on a solid home library, more than any fancy curriculum. BookMooch and PaperBackSwap are more sources of free books.
When I was a kid, every child I knew who was homeschooling did Calvert. Calvert is a wonderful homeschooling program but it’s also quite pricey. Nowadays, many parents are getting creative and opt to design their own frugal homeschooling curriculum. I’ve done this from the start. I don’t want to get stuck in a curriculum that I don’t like or that doesn’t mesh with my child’s learning style.
There are so many options these days for frugal homeschooling.
You can create unit studies, you can go for a “living books” curriculum by making lists of reading material and getting the books from the library. You can print an almost infinite number of free online worksheets (just Google it!). You can learn math, science and a ton of other great stuff for free on YouTube and KhanAcademy.org.
Math manipulatives can be free. Instead of buying fancy manipulatives from the educational catalogs, use stuff you have around your home to teach the kids math – dried beans, dried macaroni, Lego toys, wooden blocks, measuring spoons and cups, pennies, acorns. Use them to teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and basic geometry. More on minimalist home school supplies here.
This month I attended one at Staples and got a free thumb drive for my trouble. (Last year they gave away a free tote bag filled with stuff.) So far I’ve spent less than $10 and have all the paper, pens, pencils, erasers and colored pencils I’ll need for the year.
Drugstores and large retail stores offer free, penny and nickel school supplies every year. They offer these as loss leaders to get people in the store and it’s a goldmine for us homeschoolers. I’m able to stock up on glue sticks, notebooks, pencils and tons more for just a few dollars. I buy enough for the entire year.
Many larger bookstores such as Barnes and Noble also offer discounts to teachers throughout the year, including homeschooling parents. You just ask customer service for a discount card. They’ll put you on their email list and invite you to special educator days throughout the year with awesome speakers, giveaways, freebies, even free coffee and refreshments from the Cafe!
I got to meet Ron Clark, an award winning educator and author of The Essential 55 at one of these events. (He signed my book for me then when he found out I was a homeschool mom, got out of his chair and bowed to me, “I’m not worthy” style. Ha!) Barnes and Noble also gives away free books in the summer as part of their Summer Reading program.
2017 Update: with multiple children homeschooling and limited time and energy, I don’t worry about finding freebies like I used to when I had more time and few kids. I get most of my curriculum at Amazon and Educents. You can see more of our favorite homeschooling resources here.
Educents offers low prices on the Life of Fred math books and runs great sales periodically for other popular products. Sadie has loved the Magic School Bus Young Scientists Club offered half price at Educents.
If you’re homeschooling more than one child, it’s certainly frugal to purchase high-quality, non-consumable textbooks.
And don’t spend a ton of money on Preschool and Kindergarten! Susan Wise Bauer, author of the Well-Trained Mind (and many other beloved books on homeschooling) and classical homeschooling expert says that parents spend way too much on these years, when a good PreK and K education can cost almost nothing.
Public libraries are a neverending source of free homeschooling materials. From the obvious – unlimited free books – to educational DVDs, great music on CD, music instruction on DVD and CD, arts and crafts activities open to the public, symphony days, storytime, even continuing education for older teens and adults.
These are the things I’ve always done to save money, but lately I’ve read a couple of awesome books that have given me tons more ideas.
Excellent Books about Frugal Homeschooling
This book was written by two homeschool 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 educate kids for pennies. It covers everything from the basics of designing curriculum cheaply 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!
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.
Since I wrote this post a few years ago, I’ve learned of several entirely free online curricula. DiscoveryK12 (not affiliated with the public school K12 program) is one I’m familiar with. I’m sure there are many others if you search.
What are your tips for frugal homeschooling?