Can You Afford to Homeschool?

Homeschooling has been, hands down, one of the most fulfilling experiences of my “life as mom.” It’s also been one of the hardest. But, I’m so glad that we chose this path.

Teaching my kids at home has not been without its costs, though. Right up front, you know that a homeschool mom has given up a lot of “free time.” Her home decor is characterized by wall-size maps and charts and unusual science projects. Her brain holds teacher-parent conferences every day of the week.

But, books and other school supplies also cost a pretty penny. A month or two ago, I was curious as to what we’d spent over time.

For numbers geeks, here’s how it’s broken down for us over the years. These are calendar year costs that include books, school supplies, curriculum, field trips, class fees, lessons, computers, and software.

It was too difficult to break it down into school years because we start and end at varying times, I buy ahead, etc. But since most of my shopping applies to the school year starting in the year below, I think it works.

  • 2002 – 1 student – $376
  • 2003 – 1 student – $514
  • 2004 – 1 student – $870
  • 2005 – 2 students – $485
  • 2006 – 2 students – $560
  • 2007 – 3 students – $860
  • 2008 – 3 students – $560
  • 2009 – 4 students – $1155.00
  • 2010 – 4 students – $1200.00

The increase over the last two years can be attributed to being debt-free (yeah!) and, therefore, having more money to spend. It is also due to having a student in the middle school years, thereby working more disciplines (and more books) into his course of study.

Here are the things that we do to keep our costs manageable:

Borrow as much as possible.

Thankfully, I have generous friends and a great library to loan me books, tapes, and movies. Not only does this save me money and storage space, but it also saves me from making unwise purchases — I can test the resource out before buying it. It also helps me make wise purchases — if I love something that I borrow, I know it’s safe to buy.

Buy what you can afford.

Our kids’ education is an investment. And while I don’t want to scrimp in this area, I also don’t want to go in debt.  This has been difficult to discern over the years. Sometimes I’ve paid a stupid tax on school books that just didn’t fit the bill. But, with practice I’m learning which things we truly need.

Sell the stuff you don’t like or don’t use.

When applicable, I sell the curriculum that I don’t like or need anymore in order to acquire the new things that I want. Sometimes this backfires on me like when I sold some books that I now want and have to buy again. But, if it keeps us out of debt, then I think that’s a good thing.

Reuse books and resources with younger kids.

Since I have six kids, we reuse whatever we can. It also helps us rationalize a larger purchase. If we know we’re going to use something six times (or can resell it), we can risk the investment.

This is another way that we make homeschooling fit our family’s budget. Spread out over time, our financial costs are significantly lower than if we enrolled our kids in private school. And considering that we would still pay for school supplies, class fees, lessons, computers, software, and the PTO, even if they went to public school, I don’t think homeschooling is a financial burden. It’s a worthy expense for our family.

About this series – If you’re interested in getting started in homeschooling, this is a series recounting our experiences in teaching our children at home, the things that I’ve learned, and some resources I’ve discovered along the way. But this way isn’t the only way. Your mileage may vary. Coming up next time – A Home Schoolroom

How do YOU save money?

Share a money saving tip in the comments or in the linky. Please do not link up giveaway posts.

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  1. “Her home decor is characterized by wall-size maps and charts and unusual science projects. Her brain holds teacher-parent conferences every day of the week.” LOVE this quote! And also love about borrowing from others and the Library…so many people do not take advantage of that!

  2. Each year when it is time for me to purchase our curriculum (I get as much as possible from Ebay or Amazon used books, by the way), I always look up a local private Christian school in our area to see how much it would cost to send them there….just to make myself feel better. This year I spent about $750 on curriculum for my four school aged children; to send them all to a reasonably priced private school would be $22,125 for the year or $2213 per month. Yea, $750 isn’t too bad!!

  3. Wow, Jessica! Thanks for the very honest breakdown in hard numbers.

    We’re starting our 2nd year homeschooling two students plus a preschooler. I’ve been amazed at how little you can spend, if you try.

    The first year money-saving was not at all a goal for me. Homeschooling was a last-minute decision for us, as in “Let’s just give this a try before the kids get any older.” The alternative that we’d been planning for was private school, and even the most expensive homeschooling curriculum is a jaw-dropping bargain compared to private school tuition for 2!

    Observation: as I gain confidence in my homeschooling parent abilities, it’s easier to save big $$$. I’m getting a handle on what we really need, and what we can do without, and on what my kids love, and which workbooks are better off unpurchased!

  4. Today I’m linking up a post that talks about Slow Food USA’s $5 challenge – it includes links to articles about how eating real, local food doesn’t have to cost more than eating fast food.

  5. I love homeschooling my children as well! There are some great free curriculums out there. We home schooled for very little money over the years. I have used free curriculum, and gone to lots of used book sales.

    This past year, my daughter went into 8th grade, so I decided to start spending money on curriculum for all of our subjects. I felt like it was important in preparation for us since she will be in 9th grade next year.

    It is worth the money though. I absolutely love homeschooling my children. I can not imagine a different choice for our family!

    I do have resources for free & inexpensive homeschooling here as well as reviews of what we have used.

  6. I’m not a homeschooler but I would say to any parents that have pre-school age kids who have a deep desire to do so but are afraid it will cost them to much to consider costs at public schools. By the time you pay enrollment fees, yearbook fees, picture fees, sports fees, fielf trip fees, etc you will be spending probably close to the same amount per kid.

    I think Jessica has some great ideas on how to save money homeschooling. I wouldn’t let the concern of expense put you off if it’s something you feel led to do.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      That’s what I was thinking when I was writing this. My neighbors have told me about all their hidden fees for public school — it’s not really “free” anymore for most people. I think some years I spent LESS to homeschool than my neighbors did to public school.

  7. We’ve done both homeschooling and Catholic school tuition. I can’t speak to public school “hidden costs” though I expect them to be on par with our numerous extra fees.

    Homeschooling is significantly cheaper however, as you point out, as a mom, you do have less free time, and I don’t think this changes as the kids get older. As they get older, you may not have lots of hands-on time, but more supervisory time, and more time spent driving or figuring out how to get them to places.

    After 3 years of Catholic school and major homeschool burnout, I’m working afterschooling back into our schedule. My goal is simply to read books on subject areas, and when we have days off, we do the hands-on stuff. As we settle into our school routine, I am also hoping to add some fun writing exercises into our time, and it’s okay if we don’t get to that.

  8. Wow. I think you are doing great. With our 6 children, I’ve spent more than twice what you have:

    10th grader:
    Rosetta Stone Spanish $400
    ToG books $500
    Grammar $30
    Apologia Chemistry and Lab Kit $200
    (I’m also paying a tutor for this class… won’t even list the cost!)
    Math (MUS Geometry plus Key to Algebra – $125

    9th Grader: Using most of 10th graders books plus Apologia Biology Lab Kit and tests/solutions ($100)
    Math Workbook ($40)
    Grammar Workbook ($20)

    Two 7th Graders:
    $200-ish on dialectic books, IEW X 2 ($100), analytical grammar dvd’s and workbooks ($100) and new math workbooks ($80)–
    Apologia Physical Science Lab kit and tests/solutions ($100)

    I also had to purchase the digital edition of ToG – $175 plus the geography and evaluations ($50)

    Spent about $75 on school supplies for all 6.

    Bought $50 of preschool.

    Writing with Ease and All about Spelling and math for my upper grammar – $175
    Latin – $30

    Total for me – don’t even want to think about it! And yet all of our math and most of our science books (not tests or lab kits but textbooks) we already owned. Also owned the teacher’s guide for Latin and grammar and math!

    Not feeling very frugal yet I found most of our history books on and shopped used whenever I could.

  9. This is our 14th year of homeschooling and we sent 2 kids to public school this year. Many years I’ve homeschooled on $50 worth of curriculum that I picked up used or borrowed and there have been years that I’ve spent a lot more when we used SonLight. But the hidden costs of public school were eye opening!

    Clothes- we now need a week of “good” clothes not just play clothes and a couple of good outfits for going to town or church. And now my 11th grader needs a second pair of tennis shoes so he can leave one with his PE clothes.

    Supplies- My 3rd grader’s school supply list was more supplies than I normally buy for all the kids and since we had to have them the first day of school we got them on sale but not on the really good markdowns that are happening this week.

    Fees- Band camp, band t-shirt, ASB cards, head-set for Digitools, PTO membership… and that’s just in the first week of school.

  10. We are in our 22nd year of homeschooling. My baby is 17 now.

    We use Christian Light Education quite a bit for Bible and Lang Arts and many times other subjects too when the girls got older. When the girls are old enough to write and read on their own they use spiral notebooks to write the answers in instead of writing in the Light Unit books.

    Also online has many free resources too. I bought a book a while back at Focus on the Family headquarters called, “Homeschooling on a Shoestring” that is very good.

    If you can get your hands on a good old set of Childcraft or Worldbook encyclopedias that is very helpful along with a good course of study for each year of school.

    Always remember too that Saxon math has a help line that the student can call and speak to someone over the phone to get them over some humps. I’ve never met anyone but myself that knew about that. The info was in the curriculum set.

    Rod & Staff Publishing has EXCELLENT art curriculum for very reasonable prices along with darling coloring books and sweet books for the 4 year olds etc so they can learn too while big brother and sister learn.

    Last year I taped many of the Drive Thru History shows from TBN and that saved a lot. Also any David Barton shows and creation shows by Dr. Martin on TBN are very good to tape and show for school. (History and Science)

    The library is great for dvds and such of old movies that teach some great life lessons and even history.

  11. Oops…My mega comment above got cut off. ; ) But many old 40s movies are excellent as well as movies like the Story of Will Rogers, (getting ready to do a blog on that one) and movies like “Mortal Storm” from the 40s.

    Thanks for the forum Jessica. Sorry about the long comments, I guess I have a lot to share these days. : ) My heart has always been with helping homeschooling moms since the first days of me at the library madly searching for books with a newborn in my arms and the consternation of the church we attended at the time.

    God was and IS faithful! : ) He will provide!


  12. We home schooled for next to nothing. When our kids started public school, we spent $200 on school supplies and commented that it was more than we spent on a whole year homeschooling 🙂 We used the library, bartered,made our own curriculum and were just in general, creative & resourceful with what we had & secondhand scores.

  13. In my district in suburban KC, each child is charged a $100 textbook fee each year, and if we don’t want to participate in the “selling useless overpriced crap” fundraisers, we are supposed to contribute $40 per kid. For my 4 kids that’s already $520, not counting the list of school supplies they have to purchase each year.

  14. I am always amazed at how much public school costs. So far we’ve spent about $200 on clothes & shoes for 2 kids, $50 on required school supplies and another $75 at the middle school for PE uniforms, fees, etc. I didn’t pay the $25 yearbook fee yet. Renting an instrument cost me $60 just this morning, although I would do that also if we homeschooled.

    I think the bigger question is, “What does God want you to do” There is a right path for each family and it is not the same for everyone. God will bless your efforts to homeschool. He will multiply your income. He will bless my kids in public school and make them “salt & light.” I’m trusting in the Only Wise One.

    Many blessings to everyone as they start out their year, whether it be homeschool, public or private!

  15. I have to say that the cost of school over here in South Africa, even public school, which is theoretically free is ridiculous and we could not afford to send our kids to school and provide the necessary uniforms, sports equipment, non-optional extra murals and school outings and events. Not to mention books and stationary.

    However we spend the same every year, we have a homeschool budget that hasn’t changed in years, as more kids join our school so the “price per kid” gets less and less. We have bought all the books we need per grade, so my oldest gets his grade new for the year and everyone else uses a curriculum from previous years. We spend about $100 per student on consumables each year and the rest is curriculum handed down.

    Seriously a book that was used for school is read once or twice and by time five or six student have read a book it has only been read a handful of times and is still good to go another round. Homeschooling is by no means free!!! But it is an affordable option.

  16. As a mom who has been home schooling for 15 years now, and who is on a very tight budget I would encourage anyone who is really convicted that they need to home school, it is possible. Like anything else, what you lack in money is often made up for in time. It takes more time and effort, research and organization. I believe in home education and would love to spend a lot on it every year. But honestly, the most I have ever spent in one year is $300. And it probably averages out to about $150. When we do make purchases we try to stick with non-consumable material. We do use workbooks for handwriting and early math.

  17. DD is not homeschooling. BUT-there hasnt been a week that has gone by yet that she hasnt been sent a paper home asking for or her needing money. Its exhausting.

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