How Much Will it Cost?

When you homeschool, you get to select your own curriculum, so you have control over the cost.  It can be expensive or not, at your discretion.  On the expensive side, some pre-packaged curricula costs approximately $1000 per year per child.  At the other end of the price scale, in the United States it is possible to teach the elementary grades almost free, obtaining most materials from the public library.  Specific numbers can be found at the bottom of this post.

Cost-Cutting Strategies
Many homeschool support groups host a used-curriculum fair every spring, so it might be possible to find the curriculum and books you want at a reduced price.  It is also possible to reduce your out-of-pocket expenses by putting some of the books and software you want to use on Christmas and birthday lists for grandparents to give as gifts.

Another way to cut costs is by requesting educator discounts.  Many bookstores offer a discount to public school teachers and will extend that discount to homeschoolers; my favorite (because of their service, compared to the lack of service at the competitor) is Barnes & Noble.  Public school teachers show a pay stub as proof; homeschoolers show a copy of their intent-to-homeschool form.  Kinkos also extends their educator discount to homeschoolers.

Some homeschool families share materials.  This can work well for two families who want to use the same materials, but not necessarily at the same time.

Some freeware is worth using – you will have the cost of paper and printer ink, however.  One recommendation at the early elementary level is WorksheetFactory.com – freeware for making basic arithmetic worksheets.  It is also possible to print math worksheets from Math-U-See’s website.

Note for future planning:  the Washington College Bound Scholarship is available to low-income Washington students, including homeschoolers.    Students sign up during seventh or eighth grades.

Testing
The more expensive assessments should include details about the child’s learning style and consequent curriculum recommendations (ask before making an appointment).  Instead of tests, some states require a portfolio – little or no cost.

Tight Budget – Getting Started
I once helped someone with a kindergartener and second grader plan how to get started homeschooling on a very tight budget.  The family used WorksheetFactory.com to generate math worksheets. This is freeware.  They purchased Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  It is less than $20 new, and can sometimes be found on used-curriculum boards. They purchased What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know, and What Your Second Grader Needs to Know, for $8 each at Costco (these would have cost $12 at a bookstore, or been free from the public library).  Everything else that they needed was borrowed from the public library.  They also purchased paper and pencils – which would also have been necessary if the kids had attended a classroom. Their entire curriculum was less than $50 for the year, and the kids became proficient at using the library.

I recommended that their next purchase be a good set of dominos for math.  Placemats with pictures of the U.S. presidents, or the solar system, or maps would be good additions.  A set of good wall maps should be purchased (sometimes these can be found at garage sales).

It can be challenging, but homeschooling can fit even the most limited budgets.

Consider, too, that “free” public school has hidden costs.  Public school kids have fundraisers that most parents buy into to support their children’s school. Public school kids have unanticipated classroom supply needs (think special projects) that occur throughout the year (homeschoolers plan these projects into their budget).  Public school children often feel the need to wear the “right” brand of clothing, so the clothing budget for classroom-educated children can be more than for homeschoolers.  When these hidden costs are considered, the financial cost of homeschooling could easily be less than the out-of-pocket expenses for “free” public schools.

My Family’s Costs
Theory about how much homeschooling can cost is one thing; if you purchase a pre-packaged curriculum it’s pretty easy to look in the catalog for prices.  Most homeschoolers, however, do not stick with school-in-a-box, and actual numbers differ among families who select their own materials.  The following is a record of my family’s approximate costs to date, using an eclectic approach.  As you can see, this cost is significantly less than private school.  I could have kept the cost lower by using the library more instead of buying all the books that I have my kids read.

Most materials can be re-used by others in the family, but sometimes providing a customized education means getting different curriculum if that’s what a child needs.

Year

Grades

Total Cost

Average
per Child

1997-98

Pre-K

$     134

1998-99

Pre-K

99

1999-2000

K/Pre-K

357

$179/child

2000-01

1/K

312

$106/child

2001-02

2/1/Pre-K

1139

$380/child

2002-03

3/2/K/Pre-K

607

$152/child

2003-04

4/3/1/Pre-K

1000

$250/child

2004-05

5/4/2/K/Pre

1100

$220/child

2005-06

6/5/3/1/Pre-K

600

$120/child

2006-07

7/6/4/2/Pre-K

*1680

$336/child

2007-08

8/7/5/3/K

*2200

$450/child

2008-09

9/8/6/4/1

**3130

$626/child

  *Does not include the cost of music lessons and instruments, sports fees, nor airfare for “field trip” to Pearl Harbor
**INCLUDES quality microscope, dissection tools & specimens, skeleton, anatomy torso, and part of the next year’s materials

I did not continue to keep track after 2009.  High school is more expensive than the elementary level.  First we bought a good microscope. Then a skeleton and other anatomy visual aids. The supplies for lab experiments add up.  My oldest child graduated from college summa cum laude and the others in college have 4.0 gpa’s, so I think the investment in top-quality educational materials was a good use of funds.

*  *  *

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