The Best Homeschooling Resource Ever (or) Homeschooling on a Budget

This post is a follow up to a post I wrote last summer entitled A Barebones Homeschool Library and Reluctant Readers. I've got more coming next week when I explain in detail, our children's learning-to-read journeys (which are as unique as they are individually).

Today at Simple Homeschool I am sharing How to Use the Library in Your Homeschool. Let me share a few snippets from that post to whet your appetite. 

At the start of our family’s homeschool experience I felt uncertain about this journey. I questioned my skills as a mother and teacher, wondered how my children could learn “all they needed to know” at home and how we could possibly afford to give them an excellent education. (I still feel this way somedays).

Around this time I read a strategy for home education that seemed doable for me. I wish I could remember where I read it or who wrote it, but it went something like this:

All you really need to homeschool is love and a library card.


I know many homeschoolers swear by building large home libaries. If a family has the funds or limited library access I can understand that view point. But I want to advocate that with a good library system parents can give their young children quality education for a minimum cost.

You'll have to head over there to read the nitty gritty practical details on making the most of the library. Here today I want to talk about something else kind of nitty gritty, the finances of home eduction. Specifically, our budget for the elementary years.

Heather at beauty that moves started homeschooling her junior high aged daughter this year. She has explained that process in fascinating detail (I love people's homeschool stories) and just yesterday she shared her family's homeschool budget. Her post inspired me to share our own homeschool budget.

Money is an uncomfortable subject for some people and we all come from such diverse backgrounds and we need to respect those differences. What's frugal for my family may be high on the hog for someone else so I don't want to present our homeschool budget in any particular light. Though I happen to think it's on the low end from my casual observations. 

field trips, literally

Our family's "normal" homeschool budget is $100/month total for 3 children and has been that for way for a couple years. We are in "save money" mode to meet some financial goals we have for next year so we recently dropped that down to $75/month. That covers everything from craft & art supplies, lessons, field trips, concerts, curriculum, books and supplies. We recently purchased a high quality microscope which involved saving this money for several months. 

To help stretch this amount I have bartered photography in exchange for dance class and pottery lessons. Enriching activities not covered by the school budget include travel (though we do that on the cheap also), outdoor adventure pursuits which are not expensive in themselves but require decent gear and clothing, and household computer and technology costs.

educational gifts always appreciated!

I anticipate as our children move into the next stage of life, the young adult years, we will adjust this budget to accommodate more expensive resources. 

But I feel that the early years of education do not need to be expensive. Especially if you live where resources are available (which I realize not everyone does).

We are blessed to live in a community with many resources, one of which is an excellent library system. Using the library as our primary education resource was a choice we made based on what was available to us and our values about possessions and stuff.

field trip to local historic textile mill

As a family and individuals we do not need to own everything, we can share. Additionally, we want to learn how to live with less space, not more, so we are very intentional about how many things (books and educational resources included) we acquire that will clutter our lives. Yes, even books can be clutter.

Our community also has a few colleges with art galleries, musical programs, lectures and other resources for free or low cost. We take advantage of as much of these as we can and have experienced some amazing music, dance, art, world study and science offerings that have really enriched our learning.

For many years I've felt that early education needn't cost too much. I was encouraged then when I read similar thoughts echoed in Leadership Education The Phases of Learning By Oliver and Rachel DeMille. Young children do not need to participate in a bunch of expensive after-school classes. Their learning and growth is not hindered by waiting, even for music education, until they can truly appreciate and apply themselves to that specific training. And this coming from a family with older children talented in arts, music and scholarly pursuits. It can be done and it needn't cost an arm and a leg.

inexpensive symphony orchestra concert

Of course the biggest expense of homeschooling is living on one income.

We have been an exclusively one income family for over eleven years. Many, many families make this sacrifice. We are not unique in this regard but there are a few strategies (besides heavy library use) we use to make this doable. Before I talk strategies I feel it's important to say the most important thing we did years ago to make homeschooling financially possible was to say "we will live on one income and make it work". We were committed to one parent being home from the very beginning. This mindset from the get-go helped us live below our means and avoid debt.

Real strategies we use now for one income living:

  • Older modest home in a near downtown (not high end downtown) residential neighborhood with a rental apartment to help pay the mortgage. 
  • One (old) car. Damien walks to work.
  • Nature is our playground and nature is almost free.

Wow, this got into a lot more details than I had intended when I started. But sometimes it just goes that way.

What strategies do you use to make homeschooling affordable?


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  • Kika

    Kika on Oct. 15, 2010, 3:25 p.m.

    The amount a family spends is so relative - as I think you pointed out. I'd homeschool even if we had zero budget for extra expenditures and I'd also be happy to have tons of money for extras like travel and beautiful instruments. Many families mention access to fabulous free educational experiences but in a small town like mine this doesn't exist. So if we want our kids to visit a museum, historical monument, art gallery (etc.) we travel a good two hours to the nearest city, at the least. Having said that, even in our small town, there are so many talented people and we do attend many (fairly) inexpensive concerts,classes and drama productions as they come available.


    • Kika

      Kika on Oct. 15, 2010, 3:42 p.m.

      In terms of 'real strategies' ours are boring but practical:

      We bought an older home and try to find used for many of our needs like dishes and furniture; We drive one older vehicle and husband walks to work; I stay home (mostly)two days/wk and group errands to save on gas; We eat fairly simple foods (although our food budget is still very high); We look for second hand and free for items/clothing we need or want and shop off-season for other things (the laptop I'm writing on was free, for example); We operate on a fairly strict budget and I plan ahead in detail for needs/wants (ex. clothing, holidays/gifts); In the first two years of homeschooling I also ran a part-time dayhome which allowed me to be home with my kids and pay down student loans at the same time. We got rid of our loans years ago and also stay free of consumer debt.


      • renee

        renee on Oct. 15, 2010, 4:31 p.m.

        I was hoping you'd have something to say (smile).  Tell me about the grocery budget... I don't know if I'll ever publish those numbers here (smile).


  • daffodil lane

    daffodil lane on Oct. 15, 2010, 5:25 p.m.

    I love your thoughts and suggestions on this. Though we are currently given a VERY comfortable amount to use throughout the year for each child*, I have a feeling it won't always be there. It is often on the legislative chopping block, but has managed so far to continue to be salvaged. We are so blessed because of this! I am trying to spend that money wisely now in preparing for the time when we won't have it. I buy books that can be passed down to the youngest, durable supplies, etc. I love being resourceful, and would happily take on the challenge of a smaller budget if need be, but for now, it is heaven!

    *We enroll our children through a local district's "Alternative Learning Experience" program. The district gets our tax dollars for education, roughly $9,000 per child. In return, they ask us to provide monthly written learning progress reports and to be in contact with a certified teacher/consultant that they provide each week. We love our consultant, as she is extremely supportive and encouraging, never telling me something should be done in any particular way. In fact, my kids adore her and look forward to sharing their work with her. I might not be so willing if under a different consultant that I disagreed or struggled with. Because we are willing to do this, each child gets $1750 per school year for school related expenses of book, field trips, lessons, curriculum, art and craft supplies, etc. It's a win-win, the district gets extra funds for their regular schools, and my kids get the benefit of great supplies, lessons and field trips.


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 15, 2010, 5:34 p.m.

      Way to go daffodil lane, now you've made us all jealous (smile). Enjoy your perks and it's wise to make the most of them while they are available. What I would do with $1750/per child! I don't even want to think about the books (I'm so careful with our limited budget), craft supplies and lessons we could buy, sigh...


  • Natalia

    Natalia on Oct. 15, 2010, 7:02 p.m.

    Fantastic post. We are very fortunate in that we have very cheap housing, so we can afford to travel (currently writing this while in Aberdeen) and so the question is - does this travel count as an education cost, as Willem is learning so much as we travel, or if we are spending nothing on 'home learning' while we travel, do we count it as education costing nothing for this month? It is all so relevant. I am a bit of a nerd who records everything we spend on a book-keeping programme, yet I don't have a category for home education (though there is one for clubs and lessons). That is because how do I separate books general and books for home education? How do I split the trips to interesting places for learning and the places we would have gone just because we could?


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 15, 2010, 9:47 p.m.

      Is it nerdy to keep track of all your expenses on the computer? If so, then I'm a nerd also!

      Pretty much any books I buy for the kids would be home education budget. Any craft supplies, lessons or otherwise, because it's all learning. The activities I do with the kids during the day - field trips and concerts are homeschool expensese. Large scale family activities, like a trip to the aquarium for example, would fall into a different category but would partly be subsidized by home school budget. It's a fluid thing. It all comes from the same place and it doesn't really matter what we category it comes from when we spend it. (smile) Life is learning.


  • Nicole

    Nicole on Oct. 15, 2010, 7:25 p.m.

    Nice post. I spend on average about 100-150 dollars a month on supplies such as certain curriculums, courses, books etc. Sometimes there is something that I really want but I'll save up for a couple of months. I don't include regular craft supplies (like glue, paper and pencils)which we use constantly but only extra stuff - like special art books, special paints etc. I also don't include travel in this budget as it's something we do as a family, though of course they learn a lot in the process. I try to keep the books under control but with eight people, this is a challenge. With educational books, I tend to buy books that can be passed down to each child, particularly with non-fiction or I get it second hand. For all other books we use the library as much as we can; our library is small but it has a great inter-library loan system. We live in a very small town but we still go to farmers markets, working farms, plays and concerts when we can and of course for bigger events we head into the city.


  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on Oct. 15, 2010, 8:23 p.m.

    Another great post, Renee.

    I've just begun the homeschool adventure and I'm still new to it all. I haven't really created a budget, yet, but was hoping to stay within $500 for the year for both girls (pre-K and K).

    Our strategies are similar to yours. We love the library...we live just ouside a large city and have many, many branches to choose from. It also means we have a wonderful inter-library loan system. This month we are attending Symphony Storytime put on by the local Symphony Orchestra at our library (FREE). Last year I had several people ask me, "What is your curriculum?" I would smile and say, "The library! Do you know how many different books they have? They have multiple books on anything and everything you could think of!" Although we do follow Five In a Row this year, the library still plays a huge role in our everyday learning.

    We spend as much time as we can outdoors... in our back yard (which backs up to a bog with many frogs and ducks!), hiking in the gorge and mountains nearby (every weekend) and at the coast.

    We recently bought a house and purposefully bought less than we could afford, to ensure the possibility of being a one-income family. It's much smaller than we've ever lived in as a family of four, and it's leading us to become minimalists.

    I also just use our everyday lives and try to turn them into learning. I guess this is how the weekend adventures started. My husband and I would rather be out hiking on Saturday or Sunday and so it's just something our family does. I can't even begin to list all the things we have learned during these adventures. Another wonderful thing is that I am a violinist and have the advantage of being able to teach my children violin for free. This is something that would normally cost a pretty penny. We are also very actively involved in sponsoring children all around the world through Compassion and use the opportunity to learn about other countries, cultures and write letters to them. We also have family and friends all over the US...we write letters and take time to learn about where they live, especially when we visit.

    I think it's easier than we think to be frugal and resourceful. It does take a little planning and creativity, but I find it to be a much more meaningful experience when I am personally invested in something.


  • Rana

    Rana on Oct. 16, 2010, 5:18 p.m.

    I love this post Renee! We live at our library. We go at least twice a week. I also love the intralibrary network that we have to get books from libraries throughout the whole state. This has been a great savings for us. As for being a one income family when I found out I was pregnant with twins we adjusted our way of living so that I could stay home. This has been such a benefit for us all. I love being able to homeschool and the area we live in has some great resources available to us for that and most of them are low cost or free also. As for a budget I guess we spend maybe $100 or less a month for books, projects, and field trips. It just depends on what is going on at that time.

    I can't wait to see what else you have coming up for the elementary years.


  • Debbie Jamieson

    Debbie Jamieson on Oct. 18, 2010, 2:12 a.m.

    Another great post, Renee. I hadn't really thought about much of a budget - but this post definitely has me thinking about it now. We get a nice little chunk of change from the government every month (remember the baby-bonus? well...whatever it's called now, and the universal child care benefit) and we save that in a separate account for Isaac to use for things such as clothes and supplies for learning etc. What doesn't get used each month (it's about $170/month) just stays in a high interest account and we use it for him as we need it. So far this has woarked well for us.

    We always knew I'd stay home and that he would also be learning at home so we made decisions early on to make all this possible. Our house, while being in a beautiful (and desirable) part of London, is only 900 sq. feet and is 114 years old. Some days if feels small - but mostly we love the closeness it affords us. Also, when we bought it we had 25% down so that our mortgage wasn't insane. Buying a house that is much less than you can afford and having a good size chunk down made a big difference. We too only have one (old) car. It's still working well, and where we live we can walk just about everywhere we need to get anyway. Fred can also walk to work but has recently started car pooling with a co-worker so now we are able to better structure our week knowing that we have the car on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other Friday.

    I find it interesting when people approach me and ask how we afford to live off one income. They'll say things like, "I'd love to stay home with my kids (or homeschool) but we could never afford it." That's fair. I don't pretend to know anyone's circumstance - but often these people have two cars, (and NICE cars) the latest smart phone, high end electronics...and live in a house beyond their means. We don't have cell phones, or a tv (and when we did have a tv, we didn't have cable.) We don't eat out. We grow and preserve much of our own food. We still use our stereo from years ago. We enjoy being home with our child, which means we don't get out much. (I can't tell you the last time we saw a movie.) Fred makes decent money (he, like Damien, is a programmer) but we are far from raking it in. We have made tons of sacrifices so that we can live this life and I think some people just aren't willing to make then. And that's fine. I suppose I feel a little defensive when this happens to me because I feel like they think we are in a better financial position than them - and I'm sure we aren't. :)

    Our library is a ten minute walk from our house and London has many branches so we are lucky to have an inter-library system. I am a hoarder of books - I love them, but am getting better at remember to check the library before I hope online to Chapters or Amazon to purchase.

    I've rambled like crazy...sorry. But thanks for all of this. I'm going to really sit down and think about how I want my budget to look and what sort of things I'm willing to spend the money on, and which ones we can negotiate. :) (I love the idea of using my photography as a way to perhaps get something cheaper or free.) :)


  • Erin Whitney

    Erin Whitney on Oct. 18, 2010, 4:33 p.m.

    This Thursday is my last day of work. EVER. We are sacrificing our house in the SF Bay Area and moving to Reno, a promotion for my hubby's job. I will be able to stay home with our son and our homeschooling journey will begin next year. I am beyond excited! I love reading all your homeschooling posts, because to be honest, I am overwhelmed and excited and scared out of my mind. We're cutting our living space in half and then some. We'll all 3 be sharing a bedroom, so we can afford for me to stay home. We'll be living in less than 800 sq ft. And it's an apartment. With no parking space. But, the beauty is that I'll be home! Thank you for this is perfect timing. :)


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 18, 2010, 7 p.m.

      Yeah Erin and family! I'm so excited for you. It's worth it, all worth it. Congratulations on making your family life, not house size or parking spaces, a priority.

      Do you read Rachel's Small Notebook blog? She writes about apartment living and downsizing and simplifying life. I love her perspective. 


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