The Cheapest Homeschool Mom

Homeschooling has cost me very little. In fact I bet I’ve spent less to homeschool my kids than I would have if they were in public school.

Making lunch at home is cheap. I drive less because of homeschooling, saving gas money. I don’t have to buy lists of school supplies. There is no junky overpriced stuff to buy in the name of a “school fundraiser”, and no kids to schlep around town to sell said junk.

I’ll admit – when I crack open some of those homeschooling or educational supply catalogs, my mouth waters! I have intentionally stayed away from the homeschool conferences for this reason too. No need to tempt myself with things that I probably don’t even need, or could acquire cheaply with a little creativity.

My overall philosophy on learning is that it doesn’t take money to get a good education. Forget what the politicians say, they’re trying to buy votes with propaganda. Research has shown that more money thrown at the education system in this country doesn’t mean a darn thing in terms of the results. (Neither does class size, but that’s another blog post!)

Many well educated people we’ve admired throughout history spent almost nothing on their education. For example, legend has it that Abraham Lincoln taught himself math with ONE piece of chalk and a slate. Great thinkers like Mark Twain learned from the people and events going on around them, not from fancy and colorful things sold in catalogs.

I have heard people say that homeschooling is expensive – not homeschoolers themselves, but people thinking about doing it.

They start pricing curriculum that costs hundreds (or more!) out of the box and wonder how they’re going to afford it – they’re also likely thinking of the cost of keeping one parent at home to oversee the child’s schooling.

The following ideas are some of the ways I’ve been able to homeschool on the cheap, and a couple of awesome book recommendations for hundreds more ideas.

Decide On Your Budget
Just like anything else that involves your finances, it’s wise to set a homeschooling budget for the year before you begin purchasing supplies. Just doing this one thing might keep you from buying a lot of unnecessary stuff that will end up in the storage closet or listed on eBay.

Know Thyself
Decide on your educational philosophy and be honest about your homeschooling style. This will rule out purchases that won’t work for your child or your family.

If possible, test-drive curriculum and other tools before you start buying. (Ask other homeschooling parents if you can peek at their stuff, or attend one of the homeschooling conferences.)

One of the reasons buying curriculum can be so expensive is because most of the time you’re buying it sight unseen. It may not be right for your child so you end up selling it at a fraction of retail on eBay.

To avoid this problem, get with the other homeschooling parents in your support group. Ask them what they like and dislike about curriculum they’ve purchased and used. Read messages on homeschooling support forums online and do the same. Deciding in advance what your style will be means you can adapt the tools to the method, not the other way around.

If you don’t want to design your own curriculum or go with an eclectic style however, curriculum in a box type programs may be cheaper than obtaining everything piecemeal. Look around at online auctions or other places where homeschoolers are selling their used stuff. You can pick up barely used supplies this way. The Five in a Row books cost less than $20 used, and you can borrow the required books for free at the library.

Buy Used
You can find great deals at swap meets organized by homeschooling support groups. Hooking up with your local group also means group discounts on field trips. To find one, check with your local homeschool association – a simple internet search will likely turn up several in your area. In the small rural town I used to live in, there were half a dozen I could choose from!

Yard sales, thrift stores, eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle, “for sale or trade” message forums for homeschoolers online are some more places to find cheap supplies. Public library sales is another place to find inexpensive books to fill out your family’s bookshelves. A homeschooler’s dollars are probably best spent on a solid home library.

Be Creative
When I was a kid, every child I knew who was homeschooling did Calvert. Calvert is a wonderful homeschooling program but it’s also quite pricey. Nowadays, many parents are getting creative and opt to design a curriculum. I’ve done this from the start. I don’t want to get stuck in a curriculum that I don’t like or that doesn’t mesh with my child’s learning style.

There are so many options for homeschoolers. You can create unit studies, you can go for a “living books” curriculum by making lists of reading material and getting the books from the library. You can print an almost infinite number of free online worksheets (just search for what you need, for example “free third grade math worksheets” etc). You can learn math, science and a ton of other great stuff for free on YouTube and

Math manipulatives can be super cheap. Instead of buying fancy manipulatives from the educational catalogs, use stuff you have around your home to teach the kids math – dried beans, dried macaroni, Lego toys, wooden blocks, measuring spoons and cups can teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and basic geometry.

Be a Freebie Seeker
Did you know that many office supply stores host teacher appreciation days once a year around August? These are a source of free and discounted items and giveaways.

This month I attended one at Staples and got a free thumb drive for my trouble. (Last year they gave away a free tote bag filled with stuff.) So far I’ve spent less than $10 and have all the paper, pens, pencils, erasers and colored pencils I’ll need for the year.

Drugstores and large retail stores offer free, penny and nickel school supplies every year. They offer these as loss leaders to get people in the store and it’s a goldmine for us homeschoolers. I’m able to stock up on glue sticks, notebooks, pencils and tons more for just a few dollars. I buy enough for the entire year.

Many larger bookstores such as Barnes and Noble also offer discounts to teachers throughout the year, including homeschooling parents. You just ask customer service for a discount card. They’ll put you on their email list and invite you to special educator days throughout the year with awesome speakers, giveaways, freebies, even free coffee and refreshments from the Cafe!

I got to meet Ron Clark, an award winning educator and author of The Essential 55 at one of these events. (He signed my book for me then when he found out I was a homeschool mom, got out of his chair and bowed to me. ) Barnes and Noble also gives away free books in the summer.

Public libraries are a neverending source of free homeschooling materials. From the obvious – unlimited free books – to educational DVDs, great music on CD, music instruction on DVD and CD, arts and crafts activities open to the public, symphony days, storytime, even continuing education for older teens and adults.

These are the things I’ve always done to save money, but lately I’ve read a couple of awesome books that have given me tons more ideas.

Homeschooling on a Shoestring

This book was written by two homeschool moms whose families couldn’t have been more different. The thing they had in common was an intense love of homeschooling and their kids, and a desire not to let small budgets stop them.

What was interesting about this book is that it spends the first few chapters talking not about homeschooling per se, but about making more room in the budget, period. From saving money on groceries and other budget line items to launching home based businesses, it encourages making wiggle room in the family finances, which is helpful information all by itself.

Then the latter chapters focus on specific ways to educate kids for pennies. It covers everything from the basics of designing curriculum cheaply to enrichment activities like the arts, musical training and sports. It also spends a few chapters on teens and college bound homeschool kids.

The sections on teaching math using everyday items and also the information on teaching a second language were especially useful for me.

This book was written in the 90′s so the information on using computers and the Internet are a bit outdated but overall the book is chock full of useful tips and ideas.

One great idea I got from this book is to think more about bartering. I want my kids to have piano lessons but it’s not in the budget at this time. So, I’m looking around for a local piano teacher who needs a website and offer to build her one in exchange for a few lessons for the kids for me. :)

Ditto with Spanish “class”. I want to learn Spanish and I want the kids to learn too. I have a few Spanish speaking friends who are not teachers or tutors and have offered to barter or pay them a small fee for weekly lessons. Still working out the details on that. The ideas in this book have really stimulated my creativity.

Homeschool Your Child for Free

This hefty volume, also written by two homeschooling moms, is another awesome resource. Because it was published in 2000, it has many online tools and websites listed in its pages.

This book claims to have 1,200 resources listed for home educators, and I believe it. While the first book deals mostly in principles, this book has more specific recommendations.

It’s organized into the following sections: Curriculum Scope and Sequence; Education Essentials; Language; Mathematics; Art; History; Music; Social Studies; Humanities; Science; Health and then finally Graduation. This makes it easy to find the specific information you’re looking for.

Homeschool Your Child For Free would be a wonderful addition to any homeschooling parent’s library, a reference to pull off the shelf whenever you’re scratching your head wondering where you can find free information for your child on any particular topic.

How do you save money on your homeschool? Any cheap homeschool tips to share?

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2 Responses to The Cheapest Homeschool Mom

  1. Lance says:

    Very helpful post. Thanks for sharing these great cost savings tips.


  2. Julie says:

    Good post – thanks.
    If you have readers from the UK then there is a yahoo group for Homeschoolers to freecycle their stuff at
    best wishes, Julie.

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