Art by Jonan Everett
A little more than three percent of the nation’s schoolchildren were home educated in 2012, a trend that has been growing since the National Center for Education Statistics last created a formal report. Now, in the throes of a global pandemic, Fall 2021 saw over 10 percent of households with school-aged kids electing to homeschool their children, according to Census data.
While there are many reasons parents embrace the challenge of being the principal, teacher, and guidance counselor for their kids, affordability usually isn’t one of them.
As a homeschool mom of six kids, I always bristle when it’s time to reorder books for the next year. That expense is certainly something that I need to be mindful of when planning the budget and designing the curriculum that will best benefit my children.
Fortunately, the rise of homeschooling has brought about a more robust community of parents who understand the struggle of home education costs.
I can attest to how supportive parents in this group are, giving advice and sharing resources, especially when it comes to keeping books, classes, and tutoring costs in check. In fact, it’s often because of my peers — other homeschool parents and grandparents — that my family manages to do so well with so little.
Here are some of the resources that have saved me money on must-have curriculum products over the years:
Regardless of how you feel about what Facebook is doing with your data, there is no denying that most parents turn to the social platform first when needing something for their homeschooler. There are many regional and local groups set up for buying, selling, and trading homeschool materials.
The largest buy/sell/trade group — and my favorite — is full of activity year-round, but even more so in April and May, when parents are retiring the materials that their kids have outgrown and are looking ahead to the fall’s new requirements. You’ll find hundreds of listings for textbooks, DVD courses, art materials, lit guides, and more.
If you don’t see it listed, a quick ISO (in search of) request usually gets a least a few responses from other well-meaning parents. To find the most active groups, just search Facebook for “homeschool” and some variation of “buy” or “exchange.”
2. Scratch-and-Dent Sales
Many of the significant curriculum publishers and some wholesalers have clearance or bargain sections in their online stores for items that are “slightly imperfect.”
We’ve ordered more than a few of these damaged books before. They're usually so close to perfect condition that it’s hard to tell why they were sold so cheaply.
As a mom who knows that our books will be handed down more than five times among our children, I recognize that it’s pretty pointless to spend more money on brand-new copies. (One afternoon at our home puts most any book into the used-condition category.)
By staying on top of the sales offered in the “returns” or “damaged” listings at your favorite curriculum seller, you can usually get 20 to 70 percent off list price for a pretty much new product.
For a few years, eBay was a terrible place to buy and sell homeschool curriculum. The powers that be at the site went through a phase in which they determined that teacher manuals were not allowed to be listed. They interpreted this to include homeschool teachers, as well.
Thankfully things have relaxed significantly since then, and you can now find quite an assortment of homeschool products on the site, in a variety of conditions.
Just be careful: Some sellers will ask more than retail price for a product, hoping to get unsuspecting buyers to spend more. Know what a product is worth new from the publisher before even attempting to save money on eBay.
4. Free Printables
The term printables has grown in popularity over the years, possibly because of mommy blogging and the newfound interest in homemaking, homeschooling, and meal planning.
As a result, many homeschool blogs and websites regularly offer free printable resources that can be used to supplement your existing curriculum, or even work as part of an eclectic approach to home education.
As a full-time writer, I don’t have the time to scour the internet for homeschool freebies for my kids. That said, I tip my hat to those who come up with full lesson plans from various bits and pieces they find online.
5. Distance Learning
For those who live a minimalist lifestyle, travel frequently, or lack the ability to buy and store a library of books and resources, there is also the possibility of using solely digital and distance-learning tools.
My family has had great success with the tools offered for free by sites like Khan Academy, which allows older students to audit a course at no cost. If your child does well learning from videos, and you want to gauge his or her interest or aptitude before investing in an expensive curriculum, this option may be for you.
Many states also let homeschoolers use their public-school learning programs for free, often supplying books, as well. I should note that this option varies by state.
Some will require you to enroll as a traditional student. They'll expect you to log the same hours as a public schooler, thus losing the flexibility to go at your own pace or customize courses.
Make sure that you are aware of how your state handles these programs. If you don't know, you can find out by reaching out to the state's education department.
6. Black Friday
This shopping holiday isn’t just for big-screen TVs anymore. In fact, I usually purchase 75 percent of our family’s homeschool courses online during this shopping week.
With Black Friday sales, I get half off of what I would spend the rest of the year.
However, this means that you might need to postpone teaching that course until the Black Friday season, something that’s actually possible with a year-round schedule. You can also shop ahead for the following year.
I use “buy one, get one” sales to buy our online course for the next year during Black Friday, and it’s one of the most significant savings opportunities I’ve encountered. Sign up for emails and check the social media feeds of your favorite course providers, publishers, and booksellers to stay on top of what they offer on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
How to Homeschool on a Budget: The Bottom Line
One of the reasons I advocate homeschooling is because I value the ability to give my kids a completely individualized learning experience while passing down our family’s values, culture, and experiences.
I have many friends of different religions, political views, and lifestyles who see the rewards of homeschooling for their families and have also used these tips to save money.
That said, many of the more mainstream resources, especially those run by parents, tend to be faith or lifestyle specific. That doesn’t mean there won’t be an opportunity to save. Many of the math programs, for example, are used across a variety of schools and faith communities.
However, if you are new at buying homeschool curricula and a resource is unfamiliar to you, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Do research to learn if it’s in line with your educational goals.
Some of the best deals I’ve gotten have been from families who didn’t research well and then sold their curricula cheaply after experiencing buyer’s remorse. While their loss is our gain, I hate to see anyone waste money.