One of the concerns that many parents have when they make the decision to homeschool independently (or unschool) is the cost. Without the support of a public school district or the generous stipends of a homeschool-based charter school, the financial undertaking of homeschooling can seem daunting. But it really doesn’t have to be!
With some careful planning and creative thinking, you can fund your child’s homeschool experience very easily! Here are a few things to consider first:
- Make a list. Before you begin purchasing anything, make a list with two categories “NEEDS” (whatever you need for the basic everyday tasks – school supplies, work space items, storage, etc.) and “WANTS” (items you’d like to have, but are not essential for day-to-day learning – a microscope, laminated wall maps, a tablet or laptop, museum memberships, etc.). Many of the “needs” items can probably be found in your house already.
- Set a reasonable homeschool budget (for the year or quarterly) and plan to stick to it before you begin spending.
- Compare prices. Always. Whether it’s crayons, microscopes, museum memberships, gymnastics classes, or zoo passes, be sure you are getting the absolute best deal possible for your money.
We have been independently homeschooling our son since he was in preschool, and I have to say, trying to come up with creative ways to fund our endeavors gives me the biggest kick! Here are some very easy and practical ways you can home educate your child without taking out a second mortgage! Ha!
Find Your Tribe
Whether you practice traditional homeschooling, enjoy the freedom of unschooling, believe in Montessori or Waldorf principles, are signed up with a charter school, or follow a religious educational program, you need a tribe of like-minded folks that can offer support, encouragement, and help! Look online (Facebook, Meetup.com, Craigslist, Google), ask around at church, ask friends of friends to ask their friends, ask the scout leader, or check the community boards at the library and the grocery store for local homeschooling groups.
Once you find a group that feels like a good fit, don’t be afraid to ask questions about what other families are doing regarding budgeting, curriculum, instruction, extracurricular activities, field trips, peer groups, and the like. Are there parent-led teaching & lending co-ops you can join? Do they send their kids to a charter program for specific classes or activities? Is there a curriculum swap group you can join? Are there any local resources for homeschoolers? See what information you can glean before setting out for the year trying to make-do totally on your own.
Create a Wish List
After you’ve created your list of “NEEDS” and “WANTS”, you can create gift wish lists on sites like Amazon or Target. Choose the types of items you are still in need of but that are outside of your current budget (anything from art supplies to chemistry sets to books to building kits to gift cards) and share your wish list with grandparents, relatives, and close family friends at the beginning of the school year, at holiday time, or around a birthday. Whenever my dad asks what he can buy for The Boy for Christmas or a birthday, I always tell him about The Boy’s current interests. He’s in soccer camp and could really use a new ball. Or He’s really into LEGO engineering and would love to take a workshop class. It knocks something off our “wants” list, is something The Boy will be excited to receive, and eliminates random toy clutter! Win-Win!
RELATED: Beat toy clutter! Check out this list of The Best Non-Toy Gifts for Kids
Or you can use a fundraising site like Go Fund Me and share your homeschooling needs. Set a reasonable goal amount for the next school year and pray that others feel compelled to contribute.
Don’t feel awkward or embarrassed about posting something like a wish list or fundraising campaign. How many times have you been hit up to buy cookie dough, popcorn, calendars, candy bars, and gift wrap to support the needs of a scouting group, sports team, band trip, or a school? These fundraisers distribute very little back to the selling organization. You can assure your donors that 100% of the contributions will go directly to your child’s educational needs! 😉
Ask About ‘Teacher’ or ‘Student’ Discounts
Many museums, zoos, and amusement parks offer a discount to educators or special “educational” days where admission prices are lowered (or even free!). This summer we visited our county fair and The Boy received free admission for submitting a reading log. There are also businesses that will reward kids for a good report card or joining a reading program. (You can do a Google search for ‘report card templates’ if needed.)
RELATED: Kids read for enjoyment – get cool rewards! Free Summer Reading Programs for Kids
Stores like Michael’s, JoAnn’s, and Staples also offer an educator discount. Ask if the same discount applies to homeschool parents. Great way to save on supply needs!
Keep Resale Value in Mind
Just as buying used will save your budget, the same applies to reselling what you no longer need. Think of how much money you are spending on all of the physical items you need for homeschooling: curriculum, manipulatives, DVDs, school supplies, books, art & craft supplies, etc. It all adds up so quickly, doesn’t it?! And seems so wasteful to donate or toss items out.
Think of buying homeschool items (used or new) as ‘renting’ and you can learn to save and earn enough money to float your homeschooling needs without touching the household budget too much….or at all!
- You’ll earn much more per item than at a yard sale or consignment shop with just a little bit of effort.
- Take a look around the playroom or your homeschool cabinets and see what your kids have already outgrown or no longer need. Look for high-value things like blocks, Lincoln Logs, LEGO, Tinker Toys, Hot Wheel cars, children’s books, even outgrown clothes and shoes that can be resold.
- Take care of the items you are using in your day-to-day homeschooling (especially if you are buying new). You can laminate to protect things that will be used often, use sheet protectors and Expo Vis-a-Vis wet erase transparency markers for consumable workbook sheets (just tear out the page and insert it into the sheet protector! Return the page to the book after use and the book holds a bit of resale value, plus it eliminates paper waste!), and keep “school” items out of the playroom to save on wear (and this creates excitement if the kids only use these items for lessons).
- Consider the potential resale value. Is this a popular school item? Is it in great condition and reusable? Many items can be priced very near current retail (and some popular items like LEGO will fetch an even higher amount) or at a fraction of the original cost.
- Organize your items, take clear photos, and verify current retail prices. List your items on online selling groups, homeschool swap sites, Craigslist, or ebay.
- Then put any money you make from the sale of these items in an envelope or box and strive to only use this money to fund your homeschool needs.
You have just created a private savings account for your homeschooling needs!
RELATED: Turn Clutter into Cash – How to Sell Your Unwanted Junk on Facebook and Make Cash Fast
Beware of Teacher Stores & Conventions
I can remember a time when teacher supply stores were everywhere! Nowadays, these types of stores are becoming harder to find as more people are shopping online. If you can find a teacher’s store in your area, go in and check it out. Plan to spend at least an hour (or more!) there walking up and down the aisles looking at all of the different curriculum items and browsing the workbook section. Make a list of all the types of things you are interested in and then leave! Ha! No, seriously. Teacher stores can be very expensive and your cart will fill up rather quickly as you feel you need just one last thing. Been there, done that….quite a few times. Ask about homeschool discounts, reward programs, or upcoming sale days,
The same holds for homeschooling conventions. These gatherings can be such a great way to see all of the curriculum options available, but if you have not researched enough or budgeted carefully, you’re likely to impulse buy and regret it later. Take note of what appeals to you (many vendors offer free sample pieces of curriculum!) and may suit your child, and then plan to sit and research it all later. If you have already done adequate research and are ready to buy, make sure to price compare first to be sure you are truly getting the best deal with convention prices.
Shop Back-to-School Clearance Sales
The end of summer is a great time to stock up on curriculum and school supplies! Retail stores are ready to liquidate their Back-to-School inventory and at rock bottom prices – you’re likely to find items at 50% to 90% off at stores like Walgreens, Walmart, and Target. Be on the lookout for things like wall maps, grade-leveled activity books, and flash cards.
Many times the price per item is about the same (or even better) when you buy supplies in bulk or curriculum as a classroom set. In fact, many publishers will only sell curriculum pieces as a classroom set of 20 – 30 per order. Ask around in your local homeschooling groups to see if there are other interested parents willing to split the set and the cost.
If you’re looking to save on field trips and other educational activities, ask about a group rate. Many venues offer discounts on admission for large groups (there may be capacity minimums and/or limits) and they will even offer an educational presentation or tour guide.
Shop Dollar Stores
Hit up your local Dollar Tree, 98¢ stores, or the ‘Dollar Spot’ at Target in the summer months to find curriculum. You’ll often find great deals on items like grade-leveled activity workbooks, flash cards, leveled readers, sight word strips, dictionaries, puzzle books, classroom posters (colors, numbers, shapes, seasons, months, maps, etc.), letter stencils, and reward stickers. I have found the Dollar Tree has some of the coolest teaching stuff these days!
Go to School
Another great way to save on buying curriculum is to go back to school! If your child was previously enrolled in school (or maybe you have other children enrolled?) pay a visit to the teacher in your child’s current or future grade level either right before the school year starts or right before the school year ends. Many teachers are sorting through their classrooms – purging and tossing – for the next year. Ask if there is anything they would be willing to let you have before it hits the dumpsters (I bet an offer to help clean the room a bit or a Starbucks drink would be much appreciated). You may be able to score student workbooks, reproducibles, old homework packets, or discarded textbooks. I happened to meet a teacher that was clearing her entire classroom out for the new year and was able to take home some readers, workbooks, school supplies, and manipulatives!
Ask the secretary at your local elementary school about discarded curriculum. Schools tend to toss curriculum sets every couple of years as they change publishers, as instructional methods shift, as items are damaged, as enrollment numbers drop, as there are printing errors, etc. (I remember at the end of one school year we were going to get a new science and social studies program. We hauled the entire classroom curriculum to the dumpsters! Textbooks, teacher’s editions, workbooks…. What a waste!) Tell them you are a homeschooler in the neighborhood and the grade levels you are teaching. Perhaps they can pass along the information to grade level staff to be on the lookout or direct you to a district-wide warehouse.
You can also visit your local elementary school’s Open House night. This event is usually held in the spring (after state testing) and gives the teacher and the students a chance to show off all the cool things they have worked on throughout the year. You will find walls of art pieces, science projects, writing assignments, and the like. Take a look around the different grade level rooms and see what kids are working on, flip through textbooks, and ask questions. You’ll get a ton of inspiration for applying project ideas at home and what types of curriculum pieces to buy. (Note: This event should be open to the community. I remember as a teacher the entire campus was open and we had people coming in and out all evening without question. If you are unsure you and your children would be welcomed, please check in with the front office and just share that you are homeschoolers taking an interest.)
Narrow Content & Repurpose
You don’t have to have a full boxed curriculum or purchase teaching materials that cover a wide scope of a single subject. Look for ways you can narrow the focus of a subject. Can you select maybe one or two aspects of a topic this year instead of covering the entire concept? Choose materials that will cover multiple content areas and can be used again in another subject. Decide which subjects are of greater interest or of higher importance and be willing to spend accordingly.
Check Out Free Resources
Check out your local libraries to see what kinds of educational resources are available to the public for free. Many libraries offer things like maps, DVDs, audio books, leveled readers, textbooks, museum memberships, computer programs, toys (like LEGO), or curriculum sets you can borrow. Take a peek at the calendar of events and see if there is a class your kids may be interested in taking. If you do plan to use library resources, remember to request the materials several weeks in advance before you actually need them.
Visit a local university. University libraries may have an extensive curriculum selection (used for teaching programs) with everything from teacher’s editions to student workbooks. You may not be able to check these items out unless you are enrolled at the university, but you can browse and photocopy! Also check to see if there are museums, concerts, or theatrical productions kids may be interested in seeing.
There is a ton of free information available online! Printables, full lesson plans, unit studies, handwriting guides, images, how-to videos…. You can browse idea boards on Pinterest for days, try a Google search, or watch millions of YouTube videos on any subject!
Whether you’re looking for crayons, lunch bags, backpacks, uniforms, or textbooks it never hurts to check out what you can find pre-owned. Check out places like:
- used book stores (see if your town has a used homeschool bookstore)
- ebay (lots of non-common core curriculum here)
- Amazon (see what the prices are for used items or damaged packages)
- yard sales (probably the cheapest way to load up on books, puzzles, board games, etc.)
- thrift stores
- consignment shops
- community consignment sales
- online “Buy, Sell, Trade” groups
I have found some of the best deals in June shopping my local thrift stores and yard sales. Many teachers retire after the school year ends or they change grade levels for the next year and you can find a ton of classroom items like children’s books, art & craft supplies, curriculum & teaching resources, and even basic school supplies! Be sure to check back again in September and October for more items being purged as the school year gets under way.
RAFT (Resource Area For Teaching) provides ‘engaging and easy-to-use hands-on learning activities that help students grasp complex concepts in subjects like science and math.’
Educents is one of my new favorite homeschool resources! You’ll find deals on teacher-created printables and unit studies, DVDs, learning games, books, and so much more. And, if you are new to Educents and create an account through this link, you will get a $10 off coupon to use with your first purchase of $25 or more. Plus, use promo code APPLECIDER16 to score FREE Shipping with no minimum purchase through 9/30!
What about you? How do you save when it comes to the homeschool budget?