Homeschooling on a Budget
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 17 years of homeschooling, it’s that my eyes are bigger than my belly! In other words, I won’t use half of what I want to buy while perusing the Rainbow Resources catalog every August.
Does anyone else use that gigantic catalog as bedtime reading material? Just me? Okay.
It’s totally normal that we want to teach our kiddos all the things. But all of the book sellers will still be in business in January if you’ve finished the things you set out to do and need more.
Most of us homeschool moms are homeschooling on a tight budget because we give up a second income to stay home with the kids. And homeschooling, from printer ink and art supplies to museum passes and math curriculum, can be super expensive!
I think that might be the reason one of my all-time most popular posts is my Ultimate List of Free Homeschool Curriculum. I hope these tips for homeschooling on a budget will help.
12 Tips for Homeschooling on a Budget
You can get surprisingly far with just the things you have around your house. Use a bag of beans as counting manipulatives, a box of toothpicks, bundled in 10’s and 100’s, to teach place value, and a pizza to teach fractions.
My oldest taught herself to read at age 4, but I wanted to make sure she understood all the phonics rules, so I made up a bunch of games to play with her to teach her each rule. Even after teaching all eight of my kiddos to read, I still don’t own a fancy phonics curriculum. I just could never justify the exorbitant cost.
There’s a pretty good chance you already own most of what you need to get started.
2. Take advantage of free resources when homeschooling on a budget.
My Ultimate List of Free Homeschool Curriculum is full of resources you can use, completely free. Pinterest is full of unit studies for every subject you can imagine, and YouTube has videos to supplement just about any homeschool subject.
We just completed a semester-long study of the human body. We created body books and life-sized models of our bodies, with working models, most of which I found on Pinterest for free. And every time we learned about a new organ or bodily system, we found a video on YouTube to give us an overview of how it worked.
I’m sure I couldn’t have purchased a prepared curriculum anywhere that would have taught us nearly as much, and it surely wouldn’t have been free. Pinterest is my go-to place for homeschooling inspiration. Follow me on Pinterest for access to all of my homeschooling information.
Most school districts maintenance departments will collect previously used textbooks, and store them in a warehouse. The school board also receives free samples from curriculum companies each year, which they are happy to give away for free. It’s worth asking!
Another favorite, free resource is Amazon prime. In addition to free, 2-day shipping, Amazon Prime members (Not a member? Try Amazon Prime free for 30 days) can enjoy unlimited FREE access to Audible Channels, educational documentaries, educational shows like Popular Mechanics for Kids and the Magic School Bus, and special access to more than a thousand magazines and books each month through Prime Reading.
I’ve compiled all of my favorite FREE homeschool curriculum resources into a gigantic guide at the link below.
3. When homeschooling on a budget, borrow, trade or share curriculum.
Homeschoolers are generally the most generous, supportive people you could ever imagine! On multiple occasions I’ve both borrowed and lent out materials and curriculum. I always keep multiple levels of curriculum to hand down from one child to the next, and I’ve been happy to lend my extras out to other families.
Several moms in our homeschool co-op purchased a very expensive, high-quality Montessori curriculum to share among them. A homeschooling neighbor and I each paid half for an expensive Delta science set that we both wanted. We just made sure to replace the consumable components.
If you choose to use library resources in our homeschool, I recommend requesting the materials a couple of weeks before you need them. So using the library requires a little bit of upfront planning.
Find great reading material at the library, then use the internet to research free unit ideas to go along with the books you borrow. That’s exactly how I’ve created most of my literature-based unit studies.
4. Used curriculum is a great way to save when homeschooling on a budget.
We go to the curriculum fairs and make lists of what we want to use them come home and check Amazon, eBay and the local classifieds for a cheaper, used version of what we want. Online book sellers, like thriftbooks.com and half.com also frequently have what we need
Facebook offers local classified ads, too. I was able to purchase nearly new TI 84 graphing calculators for 3 of my kiddos last fall, for less than half of what I would have paid for them at Walmart.
Yard sales are a great place to find curriculum, even if it isn’t homeschool specific. Old textbooks can be adapted to homeschool use. Thrift stores are another great place to find used curriculum for practically nothing.
Our local homeschool group hosts a curriculum swap every year, with great prices and even a free table. If yours doesn’t currently host a curriculum swap, maybe you could look into setting one up.
5. Create your own curriculum to save money on homeschooling.
The internet (and Pinterest!) has actually made it quite easy to create your own curriculum. It’s easy to research a topic, to find related videos on Youtube, and to find free printables and fun activities to supplement your topic.
I don’t recommend building your own math curriculum, but it works great for other subjects, and especially for cross-curricular unit studies. The other beauty of creating your own homeschool curriculum is that you can build it around your particular children and cater to their interests.
6. Look for great deals on office supplies.
Printer paper and ink are probably one of my largest expenditures.
Staples and Office Depot have printer paper for free, after the rebate. That’s when I stock up!
Every August, the office supply stores, plus Walmart and Target, and even Amazon, have all of their school supplies on sale for pennies on the dollar. They also often have office equipment, like laminators and laminating sheets, and binding machines on sale. Though not strictly necessary, those things make homeschooling much easier!
You can even save money on printer ink by refilling your ink cartridges yourself, or by purchasing refilled ink cartridges on Amazon. I used to refill my own cartridges until I had to buy a new printer, which won’t accept them. But it still takes refilled ink cartridges from Amazon, which are much cheaper (and more full so they last longer!) than oem cartridges.
7. Look for free educational opportunities.
It will vary from state to state, but my state has an arts and parks coalition that sponsors free events, including free zoo and museum admission, throughout the school year.
Other local attractions, like the aquarium, offer homeschool days with reduced-price admission and extra activities for the kids. My kiddos have been able to dissect sharks and do really cool activities during homeschool days.
The library has a full schedule of free activities for kids, as well. Their storytime activities are always well-put-together and very enjoyable. And hands-on learning is so much more effective than workbook learning!
8. Join a homeschool co-op to share costs and responsibilities.
Sometimes the most expensive part of homeschooling is tuition for the various classes they want to be involved in. I can teach them lots of what they want to learn, but I can’t exactly provide orchestra opportunities or gymnastics equipment or PE classes that require a group setting.
But a homeschool co-op can! And for a much lower price than community classes!
We’ve participated in various co-ops over the years, where we’ve had the opportunity to participate in everything from dramatic productions to foreign language classes, all in exchange for a little of my time to teach classes in my area of expertise.
Speaking of co-op’s (and budgeting), not all co-op’s are intended for the purpose of classes or learning opportunities. Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op was begun in order to increase the purchasing power of homeschoolers, helping families band together to qualify for significant group discounts.
I’ve seen curriculum for up to 50% off! Group Buys expire and then begin again pretty often, so check back if the current group buy has expired. You’ll need a membership in order to participate in group buys, but you can get a membership for free!
Learn more about a Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op here. Once you’ve registered for the free membership, check the ‘shop’ section and then search under the math section.
9. Plan ahead if you want to homeschool on the cheap.
You know the old adage, failing to plan is just planning to fail. That’s mostly true. In the case of trying to homeschool frugally, though, it’s completely true.
Before you make any homeschool purchases, develop your complete learning plan, along with a budget for carrying out that plan. Make a list of what you’ll need in your phone or planner — something you always carry with you. Frequent used book stores and keep an eye out for materials you’ll need. All of our local libraries have sections for books they’re selling (usually for less than dollar) and I’ve found great things there!
Unless the books are so cheap you won’t miss the money, think over your purchases before you make them. Even if you already have your learning plan and budget in place, homeschool conventions are some of the worst places to purchase expensive curriculum, because you’re caught up in the excitement of the convention.
Lastly, be sure to track your purchases and your spending, just like you would with any other budget. I feel dumb admitting it, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve purchased duplicates, or similar items, just because I’ve forgotten that I’d already purchased them previously.
Lists will save your bacon every time! Stick to your plan and hold yourself accountable to your budget.
10.Take advantage of teacher discounts.
Did you know that book stores, craft stores and office supply stores give teacher discounts?
Plus, most museums and even amusement parks offer educator discounts. Many retailers and service companies offer special discounts just for teachers, and home educators qualify. Check out this site more more information on teacher discounts.
11. Give curriculum as gifts.
Might as well kill two birds with one stone and save yourself some moolah in the process. We gift books for birthdays, Christmas and Easter.
Obviously, they are fun literature and not math books. Ha, ha, can you imagine the tears after opening a gift-wrapped math textbook?
Books as gifts are one of our favorite traditions. But other fun, educational sets, like a robot-building kit, or the K’nex Simple Machines kit make fun gifts, too. We also frequently give fun, education experiences and travel as gifts.
12. Just say no.
I know I’m not the only curriculum junkie out there. I think curriculum is so appealing because it conjures up dreams of academic awards and college scholarships and perfect little geniuses sitting around my kitchen table. In my reverie I forget my real children in favor of the imaginary ones and I succumb to the lure of opportunity and promise.
Apply the brakes and stop right there!
What are the chances you’ll use this? Will you use it once, or will you finish it?
I consider myself a recovered curriculum junkie because I’ve learned to almost automatically just tell myself no. We already have our reading, writing and rithmetic covered, and I usually create my own unit studies to cover everything else. My shelves are full and my wallet is empty. So, no.
My Final Thoughts about Homeschooling on a Budget
As a 17-year homeschooling veteran, I’m just going to lay it out for you. You can absolutely homeschool on a budget, and you can do it well. Your involvement and consistency is a hundred times more important than any curriculum.
You can homeschool well with a bag of pinto beans and a blank notebook. And you can homeschool poorly with a $350 curriculum with all the bells and whistles. You make the difference.
It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how much money you spend. It matters that you are at the table with your child, sitting next to him with a hug of encouragement and a gigantic belief in his ability. It matters that you love learning and that you pass that on to him.
Everything else is extraneous!
What tips do YOU have for homeschooling on a budget? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!