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How to Home-School Your Child on a Budget & Save Money

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A nationwide survey by USA Today found that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 60% of parents polled are considering home schooling instead of sending their kids back this fall, with one-third saying they’re “very likely” to keep their kids home.

Home schooling 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 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 one parent is home to teach.

There are many pros and cons to home-schooling your kids. And there are also many ways to give your kids an enriching education at home on a tight budget.

How Home Schooling Can Save Money

It’s true that home schooling has some upfront costs not found in public school education. However, there are also many ways home schooling can be cheaper than public school, especially when you look at just how expensive public school is.

According to Huntington Bank’s yearly Backpack Index, in 2019, parents paid the following amounts to send their child back to school:

  • $1,017 for elementary school supplies, including extracurricular fees and technology
  • $1,277 for middle school supplies, including extracurricular fees and technology
  • $1,668 for high school supplies, including extracurricular fees and technology

Public school is supposed to be free education, but the reality is that sending your kids to school is expensive. And there are many reasons home schooling can be less so.

School Supplies Back Pack Scissor Pens Pencils Notebook

Clothes & Accessories

According to the National Retail Federation, the average parent spent almost $240 per child on back-to-school clothes in 2019. 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.

Home-schooled kids aren’t subject to the cliques and peer pressure often found in public schools. They can go to school in their pajamas if they want to. So you’ll likely spend less on clothes and shoes for your home-schoolers. You also won’t have to buy backpacks and lunchboxes.

Supplies

According to NPR, each year, teachers spend an average of $300 to $1,000 or more 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. And these expenses add up.

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 home schooling, you’ll still need to purchase some of these items for your own home, but you won’t have to buy them for a whole classroom of kids.

Medical Expenses

Every parent dreads the onset of cold and flu season because their kids will catch something at school and bring it home for everyone else in the house to enjoy. With COVID-19 still widely circulating, the classroom’s close quarters are an even more significant concern, despite social distancing guidelines.

Home-schooled kids aren’t exposed to the bacteria and viruses that make their way through a classroom each winter, making it easier to avoid the flu and other infections entirely. You save money on doctor visits, medication, and lost time at work or school.

Food

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 each, you’re spending $30 per week on school lunches. When you home-school, 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 per month, and buying snacks for an extra 25 to 30 kids can add up.

Vacations

Home schooling can also help you save money on family vacations. When you home-school, 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.

Fundraisers

It’s likely all parents groaned collectively at this item. The school fundraiser is supposed to do two good things: give kids a 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 kid’s behalf. That usually includes shelling out some of their own money on high-calorie chocolate or stale popcorn to get some additional names on the donor list.

With home schooling, there’s no fundraising involved.


How to Save Money Home Schooling

One of the most significant benefits of home schooling is that it’s so flexible. You can spend as much or as little as you want. And there are plenty of ways to give your kids a comprehensive education without breaking the bank.

Woman Happy Holding Cash Money Excited

Read, Read, Read

One of the best ways to save money home-schooling is to learn everything you can about it before you get started. Many home-schooling parents admit 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” by Jennifer Kaufeld and “Homeschooling 101” by Erica Arndt are a quick and informative way to quickly learn about home schooling, including how to abide by the legal requirements for your state. You can also find in-depth information on each state’s legalities at the Home School Legal Defense Association. The book “Home Learning Year by Year” by Rebecca Rupp can help you design a curriculum.

And check out “The Brave Learner” by Julie Bogart and “The Call of the Wild and Free” by Ainsley Arment, both of which are full of ideas and inspiration for instilling a love of learning in your children and making learning at home an enchanting experience for everyone. Both of these books will encourage and empower you — as a parent and teacher — to trust your instincts and believe in yourself.

Consider subscribing to home-schooling 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 a pricey purchase that doesn’t work for your family. You can also visit Homeschool.com to read user reviews of many curricula currently on the market.

Find Resources Online

The Internet is a treasure trove for home-schooling 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 home-schoolers. With classes and curriculum for K-12 students, Khan uses interactive programs and video clips to make learning fun. It also provides SAT, MCAT, and GMAT test prep.
  • Starfall is an interactive reading website geared toward 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 (for example, Monday is math, Tuesday is science, Wednesday is language arts).
  • Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool is a free Christian-based home-school curriculum.
  • Only Passionate Curiosity puts together a comprehensive list of free curriculums and resources organized by subject, providing hundreds of free resources.
  • EdHelper.com offers free printable worksheets and posters for pre-K through high school.
  • Emotional ABCs is a free research-based program to help kids aged 4 to 11 learn more about their emotions and how to manage them.
  • KidLitTV has a wide variety of free online TV and radio shows to help inspire kids, from read-alouds to drawing classes to storytime.

For a low fee, subscription sites can give you access to even more educational resources. Many companies are offering free or reduced-rate packages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so be on the lookout for these special deals.

  • Enchanted Learning 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 art 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 a curriculum available for each grade level from pre-K through 12th grade. The cost is $19.95 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $30 per month for high school students.
  • 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 30-day trial. After that, access costs $59 for 12 months for one child and $89 annually for two to four children.
  • ABCya has many free educational games on their websites for kids aged pre-K through 6th grade. The site offers some games for free, and you can gain access to all games through a monthly subscription of $9.99, $7.95 per month for six months, or $5.83 per month for one year.

Older students can get a jump-start on college prep through OpenCourseWare (OCW) programs at participating colleges and universities. Some of these companies are also offering free or reduced-rate packages due to the pandemic.

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (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 an excellent platform for teens to start learning at the college level.
  • Carnegie Mellon CS Academy is a world-class free high school computer science course offered by Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Academic Earth offers free advanced-level courses on dozens of subjects from universities like Stanford, MIT, and Berkeley.

Our articles on keeping kids from regressing during school breaks and COVID-19 school closure resources for teachers have additional free and low-cost resources you can use in your home school.

Dive Into the Internet

A decade ago, there were only a handful of blogs about home schooling. Today, there are tens of thousands, if not more.

Home-schooling blogs provide a wealth of information from parents already in the trenches. These parents profile what works for them and what doesn’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 free ideas and materials for home-schoolers.

Popular home-schooling blogs and websites include:

Instagram is also a treasure trove of valuable home-schooling information, art projects, and curriculum reviews. Here, parents share pictures of their schoolroom, what their kids are currently working on, what curriculum they’re using, what books they’re reading, and much more. Use the hashtags below to find home-schooling accounts:

  • #homeschool
  • #home-schooling
  • #living_homeschool
  • #homeschoolmom or #homeschooldad
  • #homeschoolers
  • #thisisourhomeschool
  • #homeschoolife
  • #roadschooling (families who homeschool while traveling)
  • #homeeducate
  • #homeeducation
  • #thisishowwehomeschool

If you have already picked out your curriculum or you have a teaching philosophy you’re gravitating toward, you can use hashtags to find other parents in the same camp or those already teaching kids the same age as yours. For example:

  • #charlottemason (a popular secular home-schooling approach), #unschooling (a home education approach that doesn’t follow any set curriculum) or #abeka (a popular Christian-based curriculum)
  • #buildyourlibrary
  • Grade level hashtags, such as #preschool or #thirdgrade
  • #roleplaying (great for preschool and younger aged children) or #scienceprojects
  • #montessori or #waldorf
  • #timberdoodle (a popular retailer selling home-schooling supplies and curriculum)
  • #wildandfreekids (for parents using nature as a classroom)

There are also plenty of Instagram accounts to help support you on specific concepts, such as:


Learn More About Tax Credits

The federal government does not currently provide any tax credits to home-schooling families. But a handful of states offer tax relief in the form of a direct tax credit or deduction. These currently include:

But check to see if your state has added one (or stopped giving one) since publication since they change over time.

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 allow your child to learn about local animals and birds.

Are you 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. Are you 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 personal finance by shopping with a set budget. You can then work in a cooking lesson by preparing some fresh foods they picked out.

Save on Extracurricular Activities

Home schooling takes far less time than a typical school day. At home, your kids don’t have to wait for the teacher to help other students lagging behind or deal with multiple discipline issues. They also don’t get distracted by classmates or waste time struggling to learn new information in a way that doesn’t fit with their unique learning style.

When your children only have to spend a few hours per day on their lessons, that 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 home-schooling.

One way is to connect with other home-schooling families in your area by joining a local home-school group through sites like Homeschool World, Meetup, and Homeschool.com. You can also search for home-schooling families in your area by Googling “homeschool groups near me.”

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 get to regularly see.

If you’re looking for opportunities for your child to 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.

Save on Supplies

Home-schoolers 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. Once kids are back in school, stores deeply discount school supplies to clear their inventory and restock for Halloween. When you don’t absolutely have to have your supplies on a specific date, you can save a lot of money if you wait until everything is 50% off.

You can also ask stores, especially teacher supply and office supply stores, if you can get the teacher or educator discount (which can be up to 20% off). Some stores might ask for proof you home-school. I keep a copy of the receipt for our curriculum in my purse, and they’ve always accepted that. Another option is to print a home-school ID card from the Homeschool Buyers Co-Op. If your state requires an intent to home-school notice, you can also use a copy of that document as proof you home educate.

Don’t forget to look around your home for things you can use for home schooling. You can reuse supplies like crayons, pens, pencils, markers, and computer paper 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 2-liter soda bottles are useful for art projects and experiments.

Reuse or Buy Used

When you find a curriculum you like, you can often reuse it for any younger children. Once your children outgrow it, you can resell it to other home-schooling parents and recoup some of your investment.

Keep in mind that copying, reusing, or reselling workbooks is typically considered copyright infringement and is illegal. Legally, you can only reuse or resell nonconsumable books, like textbooks. You can find more information on the legalities of buying and using used home-schooling texts at Homeschool World. You can also find more information about fair-use exemptions to copyright law at Stanford University Libraries.

You can also save by purchasing used curriculum and materials. Websites like Homeschool Classifieds, eBay, Second Harvest Curriculum, PaperBackSwap, and AcademicSuperstore.com all sell used or discounted home-school curriculum and materials.

Use the Library

Your local library is a fantastic resource for saving money on home-schooling. 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 home-school groups, while others loan out musical instruments, educational games and software, and even complete educational kits.

You might also be able to use the library to check out learning units or even your entire curriculum.

Sign Up for Kindle Unlimited

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program is an economical resource for home-schoolers. For $10 per month, you have access to over 1 million titles and thousands of audiobooks on Amazon with your Kindle or the Kindle app.

Kindle Unlimited is especially useful for older children who are reading on their own. You can use many books on the site to supplement what you’re teaching in class by assigning book reports or other reading activities.

Use Gifts to Your Advantage

Special occasions like holidays and birthdays often mean gifts of toys that are quickly played with and then discarded. However, you can use these occasions to your advantage and request gifts that foster learning for your kids.

For example, perhaps your teenager who’s considering medical school would love a scientific human body model to learn from, while a younger child fascinated by maps would enjoy a wall map of the world. You can also ask friends and family members to give experience gifts that facilitate learning, such as an annual membership to the zoo or science museum.


Final Word

Home schooling is becoming more mainstream each year. But it’s easy, especially in the beginning, to let home-schooling expenses get out of control. When this happens, some parents start to question whether or not they made the right decision.

It’s essential to make a plan and start researching curriculum and materials before your children start their first year of home schooling. Do whatever you can to find a local home-schooling 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.

Keep in mind that your children will thrive on your love and attention, not the most expensive curriculum. Learning can take place anywhere at any time, and it’s vital you’re there for your kids, giving them your full attention, rather than signing up for the most buzzworthy curriculum of the moment.

If you’re home-schooling your children, do you find it difficult to stay on budget throughout the year? If you’re considering it, what questions do you have for other parents?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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