Are you considering homeschooling your child? If so, you might be wondering if it’s within your budget.
Homeschooling can be an excellent way to give your child a diverse and interesting education. It can also get expensive if you’re not careful. There’s the cost of a curriculum (that may or may not work out for your kids), materials, books, and extracurricular activities. You might also have to factor in the cost of transitioning to a one-income household so that one parent is home to teach.
Let’s look at what homeschooling means, whether or not it stacks up to a public school education, and how you can homeschool on a budget and save money.
What Is Homeschooling?
Homeschooling is when a child is educated outside the “traditional” school system, typically at home by a parent or other adult like a private tutor.
Homeschooling is the fastest-growing form of education in the United States, with more and more parents choosing to homeschool their children instead of sending them to public school. According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), 2.3 million students were homeschooled in the U.S. in the spring of 2017, and this number continues to go up 2% to 8% each year.
Internationally, the rise is even more pronounced. The BBC reports that in the U.K., homeschooling is up 40% over the past three years alone. In Western Australia, it’s up 50% compared to five years ago, according to The Educator Australia.
Why Consider Homeschooling?
Parents choose to educate their children at home for a variety of reasons, including:
1. Dissatisfaction With Public Schools
One of the biggest reasons parents opt to homeschool is because they’re unhappy with their local public school due to inadequate funding, low test scores, school safety, or dissatisfaction with the Common Core curriculum. Concerns over bullying or negative peer pressure can also play a role in a parent’s decision to homeschool.
According to the National Center for Education Statistic’s 2016 National Household Education Survey (NHES), 34% of parents cited “concern with the environment of public schools” as their primary reason for homeschooling, while 17% said they were “dissatisfied with the academic instruction.” For some parents, the decline of programs like physical education and the arts is why they choose to educate at home.
2. A Desire for Religious or Moral Instruction
Some parents choose to homeschool because they want their children to learn in a more moral and religious environment. Homeschooling allows parents to structure their curriculum around their religious beliefs. In the NHES survey, 21% of parents listed a desire to provide moral or religious instruction as their primary reason for homeschooling.
3. Special Needs Requirements
Children with special needs often require more personalized attention than a public school teacher can provide. A child might have a physical handicap, learning disability, ADD or ADHD, or another condition that makes it difficult if not impossible to learn in a traditional classroom setting.
Homeschooling allows parents to set up a learning environment specifically tailored to the special needs of their child. This can help ensure the child gets the attention and care they need to reach their full potential.
4. Building a Stronger Relationship
Many parents choose to homeschool because they want to spend more time with their children. Childhood passes in the blink of an eye, especially once elementary school starts and kids are away from home for much of the day.
The NHES study found that the average school day for public school students in the U.S. is 6.6 hours. During this time children are sedentary and isolated from their parents.
Homeschooling takes drastically less time. Generally, elementary-aged homeschoolers spend two to three hours on schoolwork per day, while middle and high school homeschoolers spend three to four hours on schoolwork. During this time, parents can give each of their children focused attention, making the “school day” more productive. Once it’s over, parents have the rest of the day to do other activities with their children.
What About Academic Performance?
Some question whether homeschooling can provide a quality education compared to public or private schools. This concern is slowly being put to rest as more and more studies find that homeschooled students perform as well as, if not better than, publicly educated students.
However, these studies often don’t correct for background factors that play a key role in a student’s learning success. For example, students from wealthier families often enjoy greater curriculum and enrichment opportunities. In addition, many homeschooling studies use volunteers, and parents of children who test well are more likely to volunteer their test scores for the study. This lack of random sampling can skew the results.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) has an excellent analysis of the most current academic studies on homeschooling. One of the most balanced is a study published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, which found that homeschoolers with highly organized lesson plans achieved higher standardized scores than public school students. Unsurprisingly, homeschoolers with less-structured lesson plans had the lowest scores of all groups studied.
It’s important to keep in mind that a homeschool education is only as good as the teacher. Homeschooling has a steep learning curve. Most homeschool teachers are parents without a formal teaching background who must learn how to choose, organize, and teach a curriculum on their own. That said, many parents end up making excellent teachers, in large part because they understand they’re now responsible for their child’s education.
What About Socialization?
Another concern about homeschooling is that it can limit a child’s access to socialization opportunities. The interactions and friendships made in a classroom setting can provide a wealth of opportunities like teaching kids how to get along with others who are dramatically different from them. They make friends, play games, and encounter ideas and viewpoints they might not run into otherwise.
The limited research conducted on the socialization of homeschoolers suggests that, for the most part, homeschooled children have just as many (if not more) opportunities for socialization as public school kids. A study published in the Peabody Journal of Education found that homeschooled children have “higher quality friendships and better relationships with their parents and other adults. They are happy, optimistic, and satisfied with their lives. Their moral reasoning is at least as advanced as that of other children, and they may be more likely to act unselfishly.”
The Cost of Homeschooling
The cost of homeschooling can vary widely. It all depends on how much each parent wants to spend on curriculum, supplies, and field trips. You can homeschool on a tight budget, spending just a couple hundred dollars each year per child, or you can opt to spend $1,000+ each year per child.
If you search online for the average costs of homeschooling, you’ll find blogs with widely differing numbers. Heather Sanders reports on The Pioneer Woman that she spent over $1,000 one year for her three homeschooled kids, and that’s with an already-purchased curriculum. Kathy Gossen of Cornerstone Confessions spent only $74 on her daughter’s kindergarten curriculum and around $175 on her first-grade curriculum.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) estimates an average cost of $300 to $600 each year per child, which includes curriculum, games, software, and books.
Many parents say their first year of homeschooling was their most expensive. Transitioning to educating your children at home can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to overspend by purchasing a curriculum that ultimately won’t work for your kids, buying too many supplies (or the wrong supplies), and going on more field trips than you can afford.
Homeschooling Can Save You Money
While homeschooling can present many upfront costs not found with a public school education, there are also many ways in which homeschooling can be cheaper than public school.
1. Clothes & Accessories
According to Parenting Magazine, the average parent spends $131 per child on back-to-school clothes each year. That’s a lot of money. Sure, kids will always need new clothes, but many want particular styles and designers because that’s what their friends at school are wearing.
Homeschooled kids aren’t subject to the cliques and peer pressure often found in public school. They can go to school in their pajamas if they want to. So you’ll likely spend less on clothes and shoes for your homeschoolers. You also won’t have to buy backpacks and lunchboxes.
According to NPR, each year teachers spend an average of $300 to $1,000+ of their own money to buy supplies for their classroom thanks to school underfunding. Often, teachers have no choice but to ask parents to chip in for general-use items like tissues, craft supplies, and hand sanitizer.
These expenses add up. A report by WPRI in Rhode Island found that families across the state were asked to buy classroom supplies previously supplied by the state; these supplies cost each family between $50 and $100.
Your local public school may or may not ask you to chip in for general classroom items, but as schools continue to struggle with financing, there’s a decent chance they will. With homeschooling, you’ll still need to purchase some of these items for your own home, but you won’t be buying them for a whole classroom of kids.
3. Medical Expenses
Every parent dreads the onset of cold and flu season because chances are, their kids will catch something at school and bring it home for everyone else in the house to enjoy.
When you homeschool your kids, they’re largely insulated from the bacteria and viruses that make their way through a classroom each winter, making it easier to avoid the flu entirely. This means you save money on doctor’s visits, medication, and lost time at work or school.
According to NBC News, the average cost of a school lunch is between $2.70 and $3.10 per child per day. If you have two children attending public school and their lunch is $3.00 each, you’re spending $30 per week on school lunches alone. When you homeschool, you can dramatically reduce this cost and eat healthy on a budget.
You’ll also save on classroom snacks. Many teachers ask parents to provide a packaged snack for the class once a month, and buying snacks for an extra 25 to 30 kids can add up.
Homeschooling can also help you save money on family vacations. When you homeschool, you have a flexible schedule. You can vacation during the “off-season” and take advantage of drastically reduced rates on hotels, airfare, and entertainment tickets.
You can also turn those vacations into valuable learning opportunities for your kids, making them part of the school day.
I can hear all parents give a collective groan at this item. The school fundraiser is supposed to do two good things: give a kids taste of entrepreneurship and help the school raise money.
In reality, fundraisers often pit kids against each other in a popularity contest, and parents end up doing the majority of the selling on their kids’ behalf. This often includes shelling out some of their own money on high-calorie chocolate or stale popcorn just to get some additional names on the donor list.
With homeschooling, there’s no fundraising involved.
How to Save Money Homeschooling
One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is that it’s flexible. You can spend as much or as little as you want. And there are plenty of ways to give your kids a wonderful and comprehensive education without breaking the bank.
1. Read, Read, Read
One of the best ways to save money homeschooling is to learn everything you can about it before you get started. Many homeschooling parents admit that their first year was disorganized, hectic, and expensive because they simply didn’t know what they were doing.
Plenty of publications can help shorten the learning curve and save you from making expensive mistakes. Books like “Homeschooling for Dummies” and “Homeschooling 101” are a quick and informative way to quickly learn about homeschooling, including how to abide by the legal requirements for your state. “Home Learning Year by Year” by Rebecca Rupp can help you design a curriculum.
Consider subscribing to homeschooling magazines like The Old Schoolhouse, Home School Life, or Homeschooling Today. These publications provide a wealth of tips and ideas for how to save money. Some conduct in-depth curriculum reviews that can help you avoid making a costly purchase that doesn’t even work for your family. You can also visit HomeSchoolReviews.com to read user reviews of every curriculum currently on the market.
2. Find Resources Online
The Internet is a treasure trove for homeschooling parents looking for ideas to help build their curriculum. 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, and games.
- KhanAcademy is one of the most popular programs for homeschoolers. With classes and curriculum for K through 12 students, Khan uses interactive programs and video clips to make learning fun. It also provides test prep for the SAT, MCAT, and GMAT.
- Starfall is an interactive reading website geared to early learners, particularly preschoolers and early elementary school students. Kids can start by learning their ABCs and progress up to reading.
- ClickSchooling sends out free, web-based curriculum ideas every day, each with a different theme (i.e. Monday is math, Tuesday is science, Wednesday is language arts).
- Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool is a free, Christian-based homeschool curriculum.
- Only Passionate Curiosity puts together a comprehensive list of free curriculums and resources organized by subject, providing hundreds of free resources.
For a low fee, subscription sites can give you access to even more educational resources.
- 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 $20 per year.
- Time4Learning provides educational games to improve your child’s understanding of science, reading, math, and social studies. They also have curriculum available for each grade level from pre-K through 12th grade. The cost is $20 per month.
- Reading Eggs focuses exclusively on reading skills. Children ages 2 through 13 can use games and interactive lessons to start by learning their ABCs and progress up to reading. There’s a free two-week trial; after that, access costs $59 for 12 months.
Older students can get a jumpstart on college prep through OpenCourseWare (OCW) programs at participating colleges and universities.
- MIT offers a wonderful OCW program for older students interested in science and technology. Parents can also access the curriculum for free and use it as a guideline to teach everything from poetry to politics. Complete course materials – including lecture notes, handouts, and exam papers – are usually available at no cost to participating students.
- Coursera offers free online college classes from universities like Stanford, University of Michigan, and Duke. World-renowned professors teach nearly every subject, making this a great platform for teens to start learning at the college level.
- Academic Earth offers free advanced-level courses on dozens of subjects from universities like Stanford, MIT, and Berkeley.
3. Dive Into the Blogosphere
Ten years ago, there were only a handful of blogs about homeschooling. Today, there are tens of thousands, if not more.
Homeschooling blogs provide a wealth of information from parents already in the trenches. These parents profile what works for them and what didn’t, talk about where they’ve wasted money and which resources have helped them save a bundle, and provide much-needed advice and encouragement. Many compile link roundups full of freebie ideas and materials for homeschoolers.
Popular homeschooling blogs and websites include:
- Simple Homeschool
- Hip Homeschool Moms
- The Homeschool Mom
- Confessions of a Homeschooler
- Free Homeschool Deals
4. Learn More About Tax Credits
The Federal Government does not currently provide any tax credits to homeschooling families, but a handful of states offer tax relief in the form of a direct tax credit or deduction. These include Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Arizona, Indiana, and Louisiana.
Find out which states provide tax credits for homeschoolers by visiting the Home School Legal Defense Association.
5. Learn for Free
There are many ways to keep kids entertained and expand their learning outside the classroom without spending much. A visit to the local park can be an opportunity to observe butterflies or learn about trees. A nature center can give your child the opportunity to learn about local animals and birds.
Planning a lesson about apples? Visit LocalHarvest.org to see if there’s a “U-Pick” 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 to the beach, the lake, or a local fish farm.
Even a simple trip to the grocery store can be the basis for a lesson. Younger children can learn to recognize letters by reading packaging labels, while older kids can learn about weights and measures by using the scale in the produce section.
6. Save on Extracurricular Activities
When your children only have to spend three hours a day on their lessons, this frees up a lot of time to devote to extracurricular activities. But while these activities can be enriching, they can also get expensive. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save money on extracurricular activities when homeschooling.
Once you start connecting with other families, you can pool your resources to get better rates on everything from piano lessons to museum tickets. Plus, your kids now have a whole “class” of potential friends they’ll get to see regularly.
If you’re looking for opportunities for your child to get out and socialize, museums often sponsor free events for kids throughout the year. You can also check your local paper for free events like fairs and festivals geared toward children.
7. Save on Supplies
Homeschoolers don’t typically need a long list of supplies, but it’s easy (and tempting) to overspend on them if you’re not careful.
One of the best ways to save money on school supplies is to wait until just after the start of the public school year to buy them. Stores deeply discount school supplies once kids are back in school to clear out their inventory and restock for Halloween.
You can also ask stores, especially teacher supply and office supply stores, if you can get the teacher discount (which can be up to 20% off).
Don’t forget to look around your home for things you can use for homeschooling. Items like crayons, pens, pencils, markers, and computer paper can be reused from one year to the next. Before you throw something away, think about whether you can repurpose it for school. If you print one-sided worksheets, you can use the back for handwriting practice or math problems. Old newspapers, oatmeal cans, empty milk jugs, water bottles, and two-liter soda bottles are great for art projects and experiments.
8. Reuse or Buy Used
When you find a curriculum you like, you’ll be able to reuse it for any younger children. Once your children outgrow it, you can resell it to other homeschooling parents and recoup some of your investment.
You’ll also save by purchasing used curriculum and materials. Websites like Homeschool Classifieds, eBay, Second Harvest Curriculum, PaperBackSwap, and Academic Superstore all sell used or discounted homeschool curriculum and materials.
9. Use the Library
Your local library is a fantastic resource for saving money on homeschooling. You can check out educational books and movies and participate in after-school programs, another opportunity for kids to make friends and socialize.
Some larger libraries host monthly homeschool groups, while others loan out musical instruments, educational games and software, and even complete educational kits.
Homeschooling is becoming more mainstream each year. But it’s easy, especially in the beginning, to let homeschooling expenses get out of control. When this happens, some parents start to question whether or not they made the right decision.
It’s important to make a plan and start researching curriculum and materials before your children start their first year of homeschooling. Do whatever you can to find a local homeschooling group and talk to other parents who have experience with home education. Their advice could save you time, money, and headaches as you start your own journey.
If you’re homeschooling your children, do you find it difficult to stay on budget throughout the year? If you’re considering homeschooling, what questions do you have for other parents?