Home School Answers – Isn’t home school expensive?

[Originally posted at The Princess Momma Chronicles on Aug 19, 2010.]

A high school aged cousin of mine recently posted on her Facebook page that she “…just realized how expensive junior year is going to be… class ring, prom, theatre trip, madrigal trip, tshirts, dances, etc.” Another cousin commented about how her family was beginning the public school tradition of begging friends, family, and neighbors for annual donations to help support their public school’s fundraising efforts. That doesn’t even get into the lists of back to school supplies and clothes that most parents buy their children at the beginning of a school year.

On one hand, all the recent talk of the amounts of money spent to send a child to school made me glad we chose to school at home. But, it also reminded me of one of the questions I’ve seen floating around discussion lists for a long time. “Isn’t home school expensive?”

Yes, home school can be very expensive. So can public school. But, home school can also be a money saver if you think about how you spend that money.

In 1995 an informal survey about home school expenses was conducted by the editors of Homefires, an online homeschooling journal. In their article they listed some of the most common expenses that a home school might face.

Our “average, survey-responding family” spent:

To Establish Homeschool: $ 432.00
For Curriculum, Books,Textbooks, Workbooks: $ 398.00
Software: $ 134.00
Audio/Video: $ 160.00
Classes: $ 1,560.00
Museum Memberships: $ 140.00
Paper, Supplies, Etc.: $ 150.00
Field Trips: $ 223.00
Grand Total: $ 3,197.00/year

Now, there’s a number that will send you into fits if you live on a budget as tight as ours. But it’s important to remember, this is just what they calculated the average expenses to be. When you read through the comments at the end of the article you’ll see that many parents included things in their responses that they would be paying for regardless of the type of school their child attended. Things like music or swimming lessons, scouting, magazine subscriptions, and other family activities. I think the editor summed it up quite nicely when they said, “…[T]here is no such thing as a typical budget for homeschooling… [F]amilies determine for themselves where, when, and how much of their annual income will be spent on education.”

So, how can I save money by choosing to home school?

It is possible to home school with minimal expenses. Here are some ways that you can get the most bang for your buck when planning your home school budget.

  1. Plan ahead. It is tempting for many new home school families to just start purchasing curriculum and materials without much thought of how or when they will be used. Carefully analyze each item you plan to buy. Read reviews or borrow items from friends first to make sure they are a good fit for your family. If you take time to really figure out what your family will use, the next step is much easier.
  2. Separate needs from wants. My home school wish list is probably 3 miles long. The amount of money I have to spend is much more limited. When choosing where my limited resources go it’s important to separate the list of items I need from the list of items I want. I may want the top of the line most technologically advanced computer available, but all I really need is a computer that can access the internet and will run a few other programs we need. The computer I now own does that just fine, so I have what I need and can skip the cost of an upgrade.
  3. Just Another School Day Try to find items that are reusable. For some activities a piece of paper and pencil is really necessary. For other activities a white board and some dry erase markers are just fine. The white board can be reused, the paper cannot. Whenever possible, I choose the white board. Since ours were hand-me-downs the only cost is the occasional purchase of dry-erase markers. The initial investment of other quality materials over the less expensive and less sturdy versions can also help you save money in the long-run, especially if you plan to home school multiple children, because you will have to replace them a lot less frequently.
  4. Don’t be afraid of second-hand items. Many of the supplies we have used were given to us by someone who just wasn’t using them any more. My sister-in-law who is a public school teacher has brought me many items that she or her colleagues have decided not to use in their classrooms any more. We have also found many a useful book or other item at thrift stores and yard sales.
  5. Get a library card. It’s amazing the amount of resources that are available at libraries now. In addition to the books, many have videos and music that you can check out. Inter-library loans make it possible to check out even books that your local library may not keep on hand. Library websites offer even more in terms of downloadable content. Just be careful to keep an eye out for those pesky due dates so you don’t spend your savings in late fees.
  6. Find out what your community has to offer. After visiting the library take in a museum, visit a historic site, attend a 4-H or scouting meeting, stroll through a zoo, or spend some time as volunteers. Getting involved in your community is a great way to learn about local history and many times home school families can take advantage of the same educational discounts that public schools do. Just ask.
  7. Take advantage of technology. Using the internet I was able to get most of my curriculum free. All I have to pay for is the printing of whatever worksheets I want to use and the books that I want to read. (More details on what I use will come in future posts.) Many of the classic books we use are also in the public domain and available online as e-texts for free. Many educational websites offer free lesson plans or other resources. Swap sites make it easy to find items for free. Just plug-in and have a look at what is available.
  8. Barter for things you can’t purchase. If you’ve reached your budget limits, or nobody is selling what you need, then try to barter. Do you make the best strawberry jam this side of the Mississippi? Offer your next door neighbor the auto mechanic a few jars in exchange for some lessons on basic auto maintenance for your high schooler who will be driving soon. Do you love photography? Offer to take “school pictures” for all the local home schoolers in exchange for free co-op classes. Do you love math but fall short in the home making department? Find a neighbor who loves to sew and swap kids for one afternoon a week. She can teach your child how to sew while you help her child with their homework.
  9. Ask for gifts. Whether it’s a magazine subscription, museum membership, or even just a few books doesn’t matter. Tell people what items are on your wish list. We had a zoo membership that we used and loved purchased for us by my mother-in-law. A magazine subscription for my kids is paid for by my mom. In our family, at least, the grandparents seem more than willing to make gifts out of these kinds of items. We’ve just had to tell them what we needed.
  10. Resell your used supplies. After all the money you have spent, it can’t hurt to try to get a bit of that back. If you have supplies that are in great condition that you won’t be using any more, see if there is another home schooler out there who would be interested in purchasing them used at a discount. If you got something for free, then consider passing it on for free as well.

When all is said and done, home school is only as expensive as you choose to make it. With a little planning and some savvy shopping you can find everything you need without having to break the bank. What are some ways you have found to make home school less expensive?

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