How much does homeschooling cost?
As a long-time homeschooler, one of the questions I hear asked pretty frequently is, “How much does homeschooling cost?” I think people must assume that homeschooling is pricey because they’ve heard the enormous figures that public schools spend.
So that’s what we’re talking about today.
How Much Does Homeschooling Cost on Average?
In a survey done by Dr. Brian D. Ray in Spring 2008 with 11,729 participants in grades K-12 from all fifty states plus Guam and Puerto Rico, the average amount of money spent per homeschool student was between $400-$599.
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. So those two studies have reached nearly the same conclusion.
However, there are plenty of ways to save money on the cost of homeschooling, if you need to.
As much as I’d like to keep our homeschool completely free, I think the opportunity cost would be too great. Our homeschooling community has the most amazing resources, and our investment in these classes benefits my children far more than what we pay. Giving my kiddos access to excellent mentors and surrounding them with top-notch peers is more than worth the cost.
Curriculum will likely be one of your biggest expenses when you start homeschooling. But it will also be the expense you have the most control over. You can create your own curriculum for free, use free online courses, buy used curriculum, borrow resources from the library (they have so much more than just books), or you can spend thousands of dollars on all the newest and best stuff.
The good news is that if you choose curriculum carefully you may be able to reuse it for subsequent children or resell it to at least partially recoup your costs. I’ve used Saxon Math for all 8 of my children, so I just purchased each grade level once (I purchased used textbooks to begin with) and have used it over and over and over.
In fact, I spent about $1000 every August for curriculum for the first 5 or so years we were homeschooling, and since then I rarely spend a penny on curriculum. I mainly use what I’ve already got.
Classes and Extracurricular Activities
There are going to be subjects you either can’t or don’t want to teach. I wanted to teach my children Spanish, but since I didn’t speak Spanish, it was like the blind leading the blind. They learned so much more efficiently and effectively when I finally hired someone to teach through immersion in our home two afternoons a week.
Nor can I provide my children with an orchestra experience. Each of my children plays a string instrument, and an orchestra experience is invaluable. So we pay greatly reduced tuition to a private school for the privilege of playing in their orchestra. And we pay for weekly music lessons for multiple instruments per child.
I feel incredibly blessed that my children have access to seriously the most amazing Speech and Debate mentor on the planet. He teaches his students to conduct effective research, critically examine ideas and arguments, and thoughtfully and dynamically express themselves. He inspires his students to seek after learning and educated themselves. None of my children, while in his class, have to be reminded to do homework — rather, they have to be asked to spend less time researching current events and debate team topics. He is that inspiring!
I’m not. That’s okay. We’re grateful to have him and happy to pay his monthly fee.
PE is another subject that is difficult to teach at home. Team sports, swimming, gymnastics, dance lessons — are all things I’ve happily paid for over the years. Would I pay out-of-pocket for these experiences even if my children attended public school? I certainly would if we had time for all of them, because I feel like the instruction my children are receiving is superior to what they would receive at our local public school. But I still include them in my homeschooling budget, because they are a part of education.
From pencils and paper to fabulous telescopes, homeschooling supplies can be an expensive black hole if you’re not careful. One way I indulge my need to purchase globes, microscopes, human body models and solar system models is by giving them as gifts! Since my kiddos don’t know that Cabbage Patch Dolls are the in thing (just kidding! I have no idea what the in thing is) they feel perfectly happy about getting butterfly habitats and ant farms as birthday gifts.
This is where I tend to blow the budget. Like Hiroshima.
I’m joking — we didn’t do this when we couldn’t afford it. Now that we’re a little better off financially, we travel a lot. How can you not visit Mt. Saint Helens and Crater Lake and Arches National Park when you study Geology? How can you not spend a month in China after studying Chinese history? How can you not walk the Freedom Trail in Boston while studying American History?
I spend a holy ton on field trips every year because I consider them the absolute best way to learn and the best way to cultivate a lifelong love of learning. But you certainly don’t need to spend a lot if you can’t. There are innumerable local opportunities for amazing field trips.
The first five years of homeschooling, we belonged to a field trip co-op. We’d take field trips together every Friday. Each adult would take a couple of turns each year planning and carrying out a field trip. The only requirement was that the field trips cost less than $1 per person per field trip. Most of the field trips were completely free, and we never ran out of things to do!
My kids still talk about visiting the tortilla factory and the candy factory and the water treatment plant and the open pit mine. In my opinion, the purpose of field trips is to inspire a love of learning. My Grandma always called our field trips ‘question pullers’ because my kids would come home with 500 million questions they needed answered right away.
I’m sure you can find abundant and inexpensive field trips in your neighborhood.
Our Personal Homeschooling Costs
This might sound huge to some of you, and like a pittance to others, but here’s what I spent last year on homeschooling.
Curriculum – $27 (I had to replace a lost Saxon answer key)
Classes and Extracurricular Activities – $5,575
debate for 2 children $700
orchestra for 6 children $2100
music lessons for 6 children (violin, cello, piano, bagpipe and harp) $11,200 (not included in the total)
PhysEd for 6 children (skiing and swimming lessons) $1800
Makerspace class for 3 children $975
Supplies – $190 (printer ink, paper, art supplies and office supplies)
Field Trips – we visited a lot of local, free places, plus we road-tripped the Pacific Northwest (for quite cheap) and we toured China for a month (not so cheap). I definitely consider these trips an educational expense, but I’m not including them in our educational costs because they wouldn’t be offered in a traditional school.
Total $5792 for 6 children (excludes private music lessons and field trips) so under $1k per child
The majority of our cost was for private music lessons, which I did not include in the total, since they wouldn’t be offered at a traditional school. Nor did I include our field trips in the total, since traditional schools don’t take international field trips. I wanted to include those categories, though, so you’d remember them as you plan.
Keep in mind that our homeschooling costs will look completely different from any other families, because each individual family’s interests and talents vary so widely. We are musicians, and that is where the bulk of our homeschooling costs are.
The Biggest Cost of Homeschooling
The biggest cost of homeschooling is by far TIME.
I spend 3 hours a day (occasionally more) sitting at the kitchen table with my children working on school. Anyone would agree, that adds up to a whole lot of time over a year and even more over a childhood. But I honestly consider that time the best spent of all of my 24 hours in each day.
It would, however, make working a full-time job difficult.
That’s why homeschooling works best with at least one stay-at-home parent. In most cases, that means homeschooling families have to make do on one income. That loss of income could be a big factor when deciding whether or not to homeschool.
Homeschool moms have found many ways to work from home, though. I teach piano and I blog to contribute to our household income. I have a homeschooling friend who is a nurse — she works nights and still finds the energy to homeschool during the day. I think that sounds hard, but we do what we need to, right?
The Cost of Homeschooling Decreases With Experience
I think most homeschoolers would agree on this. When I initially began homeschooling, I bought far more curriculum than we needed, plus I bought things that didn’t work for our family and I later had to replace. Basically, I wasted money.
As I’ve gained experience and a better understanding of how each of my children learns and how my family works, as well as a better understanding of what we can accomplish in a year, I no longer waste money on curriculum. Oh, and I’ve also learned resources for purchasing used curriculum.
Another factor is that I have already purchased the majority of what I need for previous children. There are some years where I honestly don’t buy a single speck of curriculum.
Homeschooling doesn’t have to cost a fortune. One of the unique advantages of homeschooling is that you have complete control over how much it costs.
If I had my way, we’d have an unlimited budget so I could buy ALL the amazing homeschool resources out there and take my children all over the world to learn languages and culture. But we don’t have an unlimited budget, so I buy very little curriculum and budget most of our homeschooling money for music lessons and field trips.
The beauty of homeschooling is that you make it work for your family. If you really want to homeschool, I know you can find a way to make it work within your budget.
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Are you considering homeschooling? If you already homeschool and don’t mind sharing, I’d love to hear approximately how much you spend per child on homeschooling and how you prioritize your spending. Please share in the comments below!