Every September, millions of kids across the country sling a backpack over their shoulders and head out to catch the bus for school. While these children are sitting in a classroom or waiting in the lunch line, an estimated two million kids are learning from their comfort of their home, according to the National Home Education Research Institute.
Homeschooling is a great way for parents to bond with their children while taking a more active role in their education. But as a homeschooling mom myself, I’ve found one of the biggest challenges is keeping expenses to a minimum. Even though I’m saving money on things like school clothes, new backpacks, and lunch money, the costs of homeschooling can quickly add up.
It’s easy to spend a lot on things like school supplies, curriculum materials, books, craft supplies, field trips, and activities if you’re not keeping an eye on the bottom line. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned pro, keeping your budget in check is crucial for every homeschooling parent.
Saving on Supplies
If you’re like me, you probably look forward to those glossy sale ads in the newspaper that signal the start of the back-to-school shopping season. All those shiny notebooks and colorful pens are enough to send me running to the nearest office supply store, and just covering the basics can put a serious dent in your bank account.
Fortunately, by following a few rules you can keep your homeschool budget in check.
1. Keep It Simple
One of the advantages of homeschooling is that there’s no mandatory list of supplies to buy. You can tailor your shopping list to include only those items that you actually need.
The type of supplies you need typically depends on the age of your child. If you’re homeschooling preschoolers, you may want to stock up basics like crayons, construction paper, and glue sticks. If you have older kids, your shopping list likely includes notebooks, pens, and pencils. It’s best to start off with the basics and then look for the “extras” you may need once you begin planning your curriculum and lessons.
When you’re scanning the sale papers, look for coupons to use on your back-to-school purchases. Hang on to your receipts for even more coupon deals. Some stores, such as Office Depot, offer codes that you can redeem for coupons when you complete a customer satisfaction survey.
If you can wait a little longer, you can usually get school supplies on sale once the back-to-school season is underway. After a few weeks of the school year have passed, check drugstores, grocery stores, dollar stores, and major retailers for clearance deals on school supplies. If you’re shopping at a store that offers a discount for teachers, ask if homeschoolers receive the same deal.
2. Shop Smart
Knowing where to buy your homeschool supplies is almost as important as knowing what to buy. If you’ve got a dollar store in your area, you can get great deals on basics such as glue, construction paper, crayons, markers, and pencils. Check out flea markets, thrift stores, and garage sales for art supplies, craft materials, games, and movies.
Need to find books on the cheap? While eBay and Amazon are a great way to find used books for less, you may be able to find what you need on Freecycle. If you’ve got books you want to trade, PaperBack Swap lets you swap out textbooks, audio books, paperbacks, and hardbacks with other members for free. If you plan to use the same books for the entire year, renting them through Chegg.com or a similar site could save you as much as 75% compared to buying new.
Don’t forget to take a look around your home for things you can use for homeschooling. Items such as crayons, pens, pencils, markers, and computer paper can be reused from one year to the next. And before you throw something away, think twice about whether you can reuse it for school. If you’re printing one-sided worksheets, use the back for handwriting practice or math problems. Things like old newspapers and scraps of construction paper can be repurposed for an art project. Oatmeal cans, empty milk jugs, water bottles, and two-liter soda bottles are just a few of the things I’ve incorporated into my children’s homeschooling lessons.
Saving on Curriculum
When it comes to homeschooling, one of the most important decisions you must make involves the curriculum you use. Purchasing a prepackaged, all-inclusive curriculum takes the stress out of lesson planning, but it can also cost hundreds of dollars depending on what type of learning materials you purchase.
If you’re willing to put in a little extra effort, you can create a curriculum that’s customized to your child’s learning style and interests without spending a dime.
3. Find Resources Online
The Internet is a treasure trove for homeschooling parents who are looking for ideas to help build their curriculum, as there are hundreds of sites that offer free printable resources for kids of all ages. A simple search can yield worksheets, coloring pages, craft ideas, games, and more.
For a low fee, subscription sites give you access to even more educational resources. For example, EnchantedLearning.com offers more than 30,000 pages of learning material for students from pre-K through 12th grade. You can use the site to teach your kids about everything from astronomy to zoology for just $20 per year.
Older students can get a jump start on their college prep through OpenCourseWare programs at participating colleges and universities, such as the one at MIT. Parents can access the curriculum for free and use it as a guideline to teach kids about everything from poetry to politics. Complete course materials, including lecture notes, handouts and exam papers, are usually made available online at no cost to participating students.
4. Make the Most of the Library
The library isn’t just for books anymore. You can find DVDs, CDs, magazines, and more to use as resources for planning lessons. For example, our local library lends out musical instruments, games, and complete learning kits that include books and activities related to specific themes, such as farm animals and fairy tales. Don’t forget to ask your librarian about free resources and activities for kids, including story time for younger children and arts events for older kids.
Outside the Classroom
When you’re homeschooling, tying a field trip in to your lesson plan gives you a chance to expand on what you’ve learned – plus, it keeps you and the kids from going stir crazy. The great thing about homeschool field trips is that just about anything can become a learning adventure.
5. Have Fun for Free
There are many ways to keep kids entertained and expand their learning outside the classroom without spending much. For example, my children and I recently took a visit to our local park. This provided a great opportunity to observe butterflies, which we’d spent the previous week learning about.
Planning a lesson about apples? Check to see if there’s an orchard in your area. For just a few dollars, you and your kids can pick your own apples and enjoy the outdoors. Interested in studying marine life? Head out to the beach if you live near the shore. Even a simple trip to the grocery store can provide the basis for a lesson. For example, if you have younger children you can help them learn to recognize letters by reading packaging labels. Older kids can learn about weights and measures by using the scale in the produce section.
If you’re looking for opportunities for your child to get out and socialize without spending a lot, museums usually sponsor free events for kids throughout the year. You can also check your local paper for free events, like fairs and festivals, that are geared towards children.
Homeschooling requires a significant investment of time and energy, and this is even more true when you’re trying to fit it within a budget. If you haven’t considered all of the costs, it can be easy to overspend, especially when you’re just starting out. Developing a homeschool strategy that works for you and your children involves trial and error, but by doing your homework, you can expand your kids’ educational horizons without putting a strain on your wallet.
If you’re considering homeschooling, what costs are you most concerned about? For parents who currently homeschool, what other ways can you suggest to save money?