Are you thinking of homeschooling your children? It’s a hot topic these days, and many parents are considering it due to safety concerns, bullying, drugs, negative peer pressure, and struggling schools that leave some children behind, especially those with special needs.
According to a report compiled for the National Center for Education Statistics, 1.6 million U.S. children are currently being homeschooled. That’s 3.3% of all school-aged children. While some studies claim that the rate of homeschooling has leveled off, research conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute found that homeschooling rates vary dramatically depending on where you live. Some states saw a 3% decline in homeschooling from 2012 to 2016, while others saw increases between 10% and 94%.
Is homeschooling right for your family, financially speaking? Can you homeschool on a budget? Let’s take a look.
Homeschooling Costs & How to Save on Them
One of the unique advantages of homeschooling is that you have complete control over how much it costs. Here are some of the most common expenses and how you can save money on each one.
Your curriculum will likely be your biggest expense when you start homeschooling, and prices run the gamut. You can create your own curriculum for free, or you can spend thousands of dollars. It all depends on your needs and how much time you have to put into researching bargains and planning lessons.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) estimates that the average parent spends about $300 to $600 per year, per child, on homeschooling curriculum, games, and books. However, there are plenty of ways to save money on this expense.
In an article for The Pioneer Woman, Heather Sanders writes about her homeschooling expenses. She provides a good overview of what it might cost to homeschool, but the real gems are in the comments section; hundreds of homeschooling parents wrote in with their own tips, and they have some great ideas for saving money and getting creative with expenses.
Some of the many ways to save include:
Use Khan Academy
The nonprofit Khan Academy is committed to providing free education to children around the world. That’s right, it’s 100% free, and many homeschooling families say it’s an excellent resource.
The only downside is that Khan Academy doesn’t offer a full curriculum; they offer math, computer science, arts and humanities, and science and engineering. They also do test prep for tests such as the SAT, LSAT, and GMAT. Your children can learn a lot from Khan, but you’ll still need other resources to fill in some gaps. Khan Academy offers tips on how to start homeschooling using its curriculum.
Use an Online Resource
Parents rank Time4Learning among the top homeschooling resources, and for good reason. The lessons are interactive, fun, and comprehensive, and it’s affordable. The website grades lessons, tracks progress, offers a great forum for homeschooling parents, and allows children to learn independently at their own pace.
Buying a used curriculum can save you 25% to 50% or more off retail prices. One of the best places to find used curricula is Homeschool Classifieds. Here, you can search listings by grade level or specific curriculum, and there are thousands of new listings every day. You can also search listing sites such as eBay and Craigslist.
Renting gives you a chance to try out a new curriculum without investing the full price. Check out Yellow House Book Rental to browse the curricula they have available for rent.
Join a Co-Op
You can also purchase your curriculum through the Homeschool Buyers Co-Op, which offers curricula and books at discounts up to 90%.
Split the Cost
Do you have a friend who wants to homeschool or is already doing so? If so, then the two of you could split the costs of a curriculum. This option works best if your children aren’t the same age so that you can stagger your use. For example, if your friend’s child is in second grade and yours is in first grade, she could use the curriculum first and then pass it on to you next year.
Use Your Library
Many libraries, especially those in or near populated areas, have textbooks and DVDs that can supplement a homeschool curriculum or even take its place. Some of these libraries have special programs for homeschoolers that allow you to check out books and materials for twice as long as regular members. Some libraries also have museum passes you can check out to take a free field trip.
There’s an enlightening essay on The New York Public Library blog written by one of its librarians, who uses the library to homeschool her son. It illustrates, in detail, how you can provide a complete and in-depth education to a child using 100% free materials.
2. Supplies & Equipment
If your kids are enrolled in public school, then you know how expensive back-to-school shopping is. According to the Huntington Bank Backpack Index, it now costs an average of $1,000 to send a child back to school. Back-to-school time is also the second most expensive shopping season, eclipsed only by Christmas.
Of course, there are plenty of ways to save money on back-to-school shopping. And if you homeschool, you’ll still have some of the same expenses you would if your child attended public school, but you definitely won’t need to spend as much.
For example, many parents with children in public school are asked to pitch in for classroom supplies, such as tissues, wet wipes, crayons, or glue. Schools used to cover these expenses, but thanks to budget cuts, many districts now regularly ask parents to pick up the slack. Parents also have to pitch in for miscellaneous expenses such as school fundraisers and class snacks.
Another big expense is back-to-school children’s clothing. Many kids in public school feel the social pressure to dress in designer clothes or yearn for new clothes and gadgets in order to keep up with their friends. With homeschooling, your kids are freed from those social pressures and often will be happy with what they’ve already got. Of course, you’ll have to buy new clothes as they grow, but there are plenty of ways to save money on kids’ clothes when they’re not clamoring for the latest trend.
That said, homeschooling supplies and equipment can be an expensive black hole if you’re not careful. Globes, solar system models, microscopes, an ant farm, fun decorations for your learning space … you can see how things might get out of control. The best way to rein yourself in is to set a budget for supplies each year and stick to it. Whenever you can, scour eBay, Craigslist, or local thrift stores to buy supplies and equipment used.
Homeschooling mother Kate writes on her blog An Everyday Story that she spends $80 per month buying supplies — mainly books — for her two children. Many other families spend far more, or far less, than this amount. That’s why it’s helpful to start scouring the Web for good homeschooling blogs; many families are eager to share what they’re doing and how they’re saving money homeschooling their kids. Start with these top-ranked homeschooling blogs to learn more:
3. Field Trips
Fields trips are a fun and important part of homeschooling. Homeschooling families often take trips to the zoo, the symphony, the planetarium, a botanical garden, or a local historical site to get out of the house and make learning more hands-on. However, the cost of these trips can really add up.
Many homeschooling families spend a couple hundred dollars per year on field trips. However, if you’re on a tight budget, you can save by checking Groupon for local deals or researching free attractions in your area. Also, keep in mind that many companies and community organizations offer free tours that can be very educational. For example, you could tour the local post office or police station, the water treatment facility, or visit a local factory to see how a product is made from start to finish.
Depending on where you live, you might also be able to join a local homeschooling co-op or group. These consist of local families who get together weekly or monthly to share teaching duties, build friendships, and take field trips together. Joining a group often allows everyone to buy tickets to museums or events in bulk, saving them 10% or more. Also, these groups may hold swaps where parents bring their learning materials and books to share or sell to other members.
4. Extracurricular Activities
One of the challenges of homeschooling is that kids can feel very isolated. After all, they’re home all day learning from a parent, with little or no interaction with other kids their age. Signing them up for extracurricular activities is important. Kids want and need to socialize with others and learn how to work as a team.
Many homeschooled kids take part in the following activities or clubs:
- Community sports (such as soccer, softball, basketball, or baseball)
- Music lessons (such as piano, violin, flute, or guitar)
- Girl or Boy Scouts
- 4-H Club opportunities (such as archery, debate, leadership, acting, and animal care)
- Art classes
There are plenty of ways to save money on extracurricular activities. First, check your local community calendar. You can often find inexpensive classes at community and recreation centers. Many libraries also offer free or inexpensive classes, such as art or bookbinding, which might be of interest to your children. Your local parks and recreation department might offer animal rehabilitation classes, youth sports, or volunteer opportunities. Also check your local YMCA, which regularly offers classes and team opportunities.
Keep in mind that extracurricular activities can quickly overwhelm your family time and lead to an overscheduled child, which is something many homeschooling families try to avoid. Writer and homeschooling mom Rebecca Capuano shares on The Homeschool Mom a list of intelligent and thoughtful questions that help her and her family determine if an activity is worth their time, money, and energy:
- How well does the activity support the values we consider to be most important for our children?
- What is the long-term benefit of the activity for this child?
- How does the activity correspond with this child’s natural talents, abilities, strengths, and interests?
- How often does it meet and, therefore, how much will it infringe on family life?
- How much does it cost?
- How far is it from our home?
Using these questions can help you choose activities that fit your child’s interests and abilities, as well as your budget.
5. Lost Income
As you might imagine, homeschooling requires a stay-at-home parent. That means you’ll have to transition to being to a one-income family if you aren’t one already. The loss of income is a huge consideration when deciding to homeschool. You’ll need to carefully weigh all your expenses to determine if you can live on a single income.
Homeschooling doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Yes, it might be more expensive than public school in some ways, but it’s definitely less expensive than private school.
For my family, homeschooling is about to become a reality. We’re in the process of selling our home to take our two boys on the road full-time in a camper. My husband and I traveled full-time in a camper before we had kids, and we want our boys to have the same experience.
Right now, we pay $640 per month for their preschool, or $7,680 per year. That’s an enormous expense, and homeschooling will be drastically cheaper than this, even with what we’re going to spend on curriculum and supplies. Our boys will also have the added benefit of seeing the country, having “school” by the ocean or in the desert, and getting to visit national parks, museums, and other cultural areas we likely wouldn’t see living at home. All of these experiences will become part of their education.
That said, I’ve already invested an enormous amount of time in researching different curricula to find one that fits our family, and this is a cost I didn’t even consider when we started this process. I’ve spent hours reading up on different learning approaches, and I’m still no closer to making a decision. If you’re considering homeschooling, be prepared to invest plenty of time in just finding the right curriculum.
What are your thoughts on homeschooling? Are you considering it? If you already homeschool, what tips can you offer other families to get started and save money?