Can You Afford to Homeschool or Not?
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Can you afford to homeschool? It’s a good question. Here I share what we have spent this last 15 years of homeschooling as well as what it would cost us to choose other schooling options.
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 days are not her own. She’s hard pressed to hold a traditional career and still give her kids a solid education. 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.
Books and other school supplies also cost a pretty penny. Over the years I’ve kept track of what we’ve spent on homeschool costs over time. I’ve been at this gig for 15 years with 6 children, so yes, it’s added up.
Curious if you can afford to homeschool?
While I can’t answer that question FOR YOU, I can give perspective on how much it has cost us in dollars and cents, as well as what strategies we use to keep costs down and morale high. There’s a give and take in this endeavor. The cheapest way is not always the best way.
Keep in mind that since mom’s free time is at a minimum, sometimes the financial cost of delegating coursework to another teacher is worth the savings in mom’s peace of mind.
How much we’ve spent to homeschool:
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
- 2011 – 5 students – $2700 (includes paying piano, Latin, and science teachers)
- 2012 – 5 students – $2900 (includes paying piano, Latin, and science teachers)
- 2013 – 6 students – $3177 (includes paying piano, Latin, and science teachers)
- 2014 – 6 students – $2577 (includes online Latin and writing classes)
- 2015 – 5 students – $4253 (includes online French and writing classes)
- 2016 – 5 students – $5120 (includes online French and writing classes and co-op fees)
The increase over the last few years can be attributed to being debt-free (yay!) and, therefore, having more money to spend. It is also due to having a students in the middle and high school years, thereby working more disciplines (and more books) into the course of study as well as paying more outside teachers.
What we do to keep our costs manageable:
Borrow as much as possible.
Over the years, I have had 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’ve borrowed, I know it will be a good investment to purchase our own copy.
Buy what you can afford.
Our kids’ education is an investment. 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 selling is 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.
How we’ve splurged:
From 2002 to 2009 we lived with debt hanging over our heads. Once we paid off all the loans and credit cards, we didn’t look back, paying cash for all purchases. Since then we’ve also splurged on certain school expenses. In order to offset convenience with frugality, I’ve allowed myself to:
Buying books instead of paying library fines
Once my kids reached a certain age, library trips fell off our weekly schedule. I’m not sure how it happened, but part of it had to do with our routine changing and the library falling off our regular driving route. Though we have two different library systems at our disposal, neither have quite the selection we had when we lived in Kansas.
Managing the number of books we checked out and dealing with fines was more of an inconvenience — and in some ways, more of a cost — than just buying the books outright. And yes, sometimes I even buy multiple copies of a book so that there isn’t any squabbling over who’s reading it when. Or who lost it. Ahem.
Buying Kindles for the kids
I spent about $150 last summer buying kindles for all the kids. This was a good investment as we use the Kindles in our homeschool on a regular basis. The initial investment has paid for itself. With each child having access to his own device, I can also buy many of our books in the Kindle format, saving me on the above splurge.
Paying for online classes
When my first child hit high school about six years ago, I fretted how I was possibly going to TEACH THEM ALL and not lose my mind. My husband wisely pointed out that being their primary teacher did not mean I had to be their only teacher. We started outsourcing and I’m so glad we did!
Over the years we’ve paid for teachers to handle science, writing, Latin, and French. Next year we’ll be signing up for online Spanish courses and delving into the world of dual enrollment at the community college. I still oversee my child’s education and pick and choose based on individual needs and seasons of life. My children receive instruction from someone other than me; I get less push-back in some areas, and they learn to meet “real” deadlines.
How does it compare to other schooling options?
Our financial costs are significantly lower than if we enrolled our kids in a private school. The closest private school to our home would cost us $48,332 — far more than I make as a writer, so basically not an option for us.
While it is “free” to attend a public school, I’ve learned over time that there are still costs involved, including but not limited to school supplies, class fees, fields trips, uniforms, trips, and incidentals that arise throughout the school year, not to mention the costs that can be incurred to live in a “good” school district.
According to this article, our family would have shelled out $4770 for the 2014 school year, more than we actually spent to homeschool our kids. The 2016 number keeps pace at $5271, again more than the $5120 we spent on school costs last year.
Our home-based private school can give public school a run for its money. While it would be difficult to assess which education was better, at least from a financial standpoint, it’s clear that homeschooling is an affordable option.
If you’re interested in getting started in homeschooling, read my series, Getting Started in Homeschooling, which recounts our experiences in teaching our children at home, the things that I’ve learned, and some resources I’ve discovered along the way. Our way isn’t the only way, but it works for us. Your mileage may vary.
Originally published September 8, 2011. Updated May 6, 2017.
My oldest is only 2, but because I already know I’m planning on homeschooling this article is really helpful. I’m not sure exactly what I’m doing to do curriculum-wise, but my mom saved a lot of things she did with us, so I’ll be able to borrow a few things here and there. I’d say if you can, borrow and swap with other homeschooling moms.
Right now, the costs you broke down still seem like a lot, but it’s still a good reminder that other options are often more expensive.
It does seem like a lot. Once you get to high school, things definitely change. You’ve got time, though. 😉 Enjoy the process!
Five students at a little over $1,000 each? That’s amazing! I have one and I spend about $1,000 – $1,200 on him but we haven’t been homeschooling as long & I don’t have the option of using curriculum over again (with just one). I do buy & sell used though. Our local private schools run about $8,000/year so I feel good about our costs.
Hand-me-downs make a big difference. I think you’re doing great.
This is a great post! Thanks for sharing so many practical details with us!
Wow! I’d never really seen or thought about the costs of public school. I would have been caught off guard had we gone that route. My oldest is just 6 so I haven’t had to spend much yet thanks to lots of books my mom passed on. Math, handwriting, science, and a workbook are all I purchased for her. My almost 4 year old really wanted to do school with his sister so I got him a workbook. I’d say around $100 for this current school year. I know costs will increase over the years but right now it’s super budget friendly.
Enjoy i! It’s a great adventure!
I’m wanting to start homeschooling my boyfriends kids age 4 and 5 but I was wondering if I HAVE to enroll them in online programs or if I can just make a attendance sheet and keep track of learning progress? My problem is we are going through a custody battle and their mom won”t give us the documentation (birth certificates and social security cards) to enroll them in school. Can you help me on this? I know i can make a plan and weekly schedule and I feel that I can give them a better education than public school at this age but I just can”t enroll them in any online or public programs without documentation. So, I guess I’m just asking what all i need to do other than buy materials and planning to get started.
Hi Subrina. Sounds like a very sticky situation. I would recommend that your boyfriend research the laws in your state. In most the compulsory age for public school is not until 6 or 7, sometimes even later. What that means is that the children in question are not required to be in school at this time. Since there are custodial rights still being determined, this is a situation that the court will be deciding.
That said, there’s no reason that you can’t play learning games with the kids and begin to teach them basic skills and enjoy great books. I would recommend this post: A Preschool Education at Home
I’ve also seen estimates of what public schools spend per student (not even counting parent contributions.) If you look at that, Homeschooling is a huge bargain!
This coming school year is our most expensive year so far (12th grade, 9th grade, 6th/7th grade). I think it will be the most expensive unless we make some major changes in the future. After next year, I will only have 2 & we do reuse quite a few things.
Yes, I’m sure those estimates are subject to debate, but I think there are hidden “costs”, particularly if where one lives determines school options.
I am just curious( retired Latin teacher here). What online Latin curriculum do you use?
We aren’t currently using one as the child who chose Latin is in college, but we used Compass Classroom online Latin.
I just have to comment on the price you quoted for public school. We have never spent even close to $5000 in a school year for public school. Granted we only have 3 children but that is crazy crazy……….. We don’t have uniforms (and our children wear second hand or cheaper clothes) or school fees here but even in our 2 children’s senior years we maybe spent $1000 those years. We do live in a rural area so that might make a difference but even in our close bigger city the nicer schools are not that much. I am sure that different areas do make a difference 🙂
The number I got was from the Backpack Index from Huntington Bank which has been released yearly since 2007. I’m sure it’s based on a national average. They give costs based on grade school, middle school, and high school. My particular numbers came from 2 in grade school, 1 in middle school, and 2 in high school. With all things, “your mileage may vary”. Considering that we do live in a fairly expensive California suburb, I’m not sure the number would be too far off.
For my four to go to public school. Just in school fees, not adding anything other than band for three, it’s $1075. Just fees. That’s not including the $250 each for drivers ed for my two oldest. Or sports fees they might pick up. And for sure doesn’t include the field trip fees, t-shirts, etc. When I add up all that we probably come really close to the national average. My kids wear hand-me-downs and Goodwill and I wait until shoes are at the lowest price point possible to buy them. I’m in a rural area as well.
Thanks for sharing that. It’s interesting to see how much it can vary from place to place. When I was a kid, my mom only had to fork over the $5 PTA fee and the occasional milk money. The school provided all the supplies. Things have changed a lot.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Wow. I think you are doing great. With our 6 children, I’ve spent more than twice what you have:
Rosetta Stone Spanish $400
ToG books $500
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 half.com and shopped used whenever I could.
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.
Sounds like you are well on your way to finding a “happy place.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!!
“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!