A friend of mine asked me whether I would talk about the practicalities of homeschooling from a very nuts & bolts perspective. Basically, how much does it cost?
Now I know from teaching that school fees and all the associated costs including uniforms, materials, excursions, bus passes, camps and extra-curricular activities can run into the thousands every year, more depending on the school you choose. And so just like the lifestyle changes you would take into consideration when choosing a school, so too are there changes and costs which you need to consider when thinking about home education.
I think the biggest, and most obvious consideration is living on a single income. Home educating doesn’t necessarily mean a single income; friends of mine work part-time and homeschool, sharing the responsibilities between both parents, but I think it is fairly safe to say that the majority of us live off one income with maybe a bit of supplementing here and there.
Living off one income comes with its challenges. We knew we would only have one income and so bought our house (with a smaller mortgage) knowing this is what we could afford.
Before you decide to go from two incomes to one you need to know that your fixed expenses like your mortgage (or rent) and loans will still be paid. From there you can see how much money you have left over to cover your variable expenses.
Making a Homeschool Budget
Your homeschool budget is going to depend on your variable expenses and your disposable income. We have budgeted $400/month for materials, memberships and extra-curricular classes. Approximately half of this is paid upfront (swimming lessons, memberships, that sort of thing) leaving $200/mth or $50/week cash which I spend on materials and excursions. This includes all materials; from pens and paper through to more expensive items.
That $400 a month has come from cutting expenses in other areas. We have reduced our fortnightly grocery allowance to $200 and have reduced our personal spending money by half. It is important to remember that different countries have different costs of living and different governments offer different levels of support so our budget is going to be very different to yours.
Please don’t feel we are elitist in any way; we live very frugally in order to afford this and our government offers no financial assistance.
The Big Costs
There are A LOT of homeschool curriculums available. From what I have seen they start from a couple of hundred dollars and go up (well up!!) from there. You can also purchase every kind of program imaginable; reading programs, spelling, math, phonics, handwriting…everything. I think this can be an enormous money pit for homeschool families.
I have looked at different curriculums a few times (particularly Christopherus, Lavender’s Blue and Oak Meadow) but I have never been able to justify the cost. My concerns are that the program won’t suit Jack and Sarah’s learning style, that the content within the curriculum will not appeal to their interests and that the pace of the program won’t suit their development. For these reasons, including the cost, I have chosen not to purchase a curriculum.
If you choose to purchase a curriculum, the ongoing annual cost is something that you definitely need to consider when planning your homeschool budget.
There are several free curriculum options online (like Khan Academy) which might suit your teaching and learning style. As child-led homeschoolers in our early years, we haven’t used these resources so I can’t comment on them.
Materials, I have to admit, are my weakness. It can be tempting to fill a space with beautiful materials. However you don’t want to be spending money on materials which have a limited scope for learning. I try to purchase materials which can be used across subject areas; materials which will continue to be useful as the kids grow.
Books. Oh how I love books. Again, very tempting to fill your shelves with books. The best books I have found are non-fiction books on a range of subjects. I find these are worth investing in and so whenever I see them discounted I will pick up a couple. Beyond non-fiction books I tend to utilise the library. The library is such an incredible resource for homeschool families.
I have a budget for materials. 20% of our monthly homeschool budget is allocated to materials including books. That’s $80 a month. It’s not a lot but by making conscious spending decisions and avoiding impulse buys, this amount is enough.
You can of course make a lot of materials yourself. The printing/laminating and materials costs need to be taken into account when you are purchasing. Friends of mine have said that printing costs can soon get out of control if you are not careful.
Just like curriculum, there are a whole range of online and print subscriptions available. Since you have to pay upfront these costs need to be factored in to your homeschool budget. We have two subscriptions: Reading Eggs and Storybox Library.
Annual memberships to zoos, museums, galleries etc. can consume a big part of your homeschool budget. You need to consider how often you need to visit in order to get value for money and whether this money could be better spent elsewhere. I have considered a membership to the zoo and aquarium however at this point in time the cost outweighs the benefit.
There are several free places and activities which are available also.
Approximately 50% of our homeschool budget is spent on extra-curricular activities. Jack and Sarah attend swimming lessons and a sport class. While Jack also does karate and Sarah does ballet. There are other activities available which I know Jack and Sarah would enjoy (like a pottery class or music lessons) but I am mindful of the cost as well as not over-scheduling their days.
The Hidden Costs
These are the costs which we don’t explicitly factor into our homeschool budget but are still associated with homeschooling.
Being at home I have noticed that our utility bills are more than if I were working. We are using electricity, water, heating during the day and so I am mindful of our usage.
Car Maintenance and Petrol
Homeschooling means heavier use on our second car. We use more petrol than if I were working and so again, I am mindful of not making unnecessary trips in the car.
I am not sure whether this is just our family, but I definitely find we consume more food when we are at home. Because of this I am taking steps to reduce our grocery bill by meal planning, learning to cook from scratch and limiting food grazing throughout the day.
So these are the costs we have found directly related to homeschooling. My best advice for creating a homeschool budget is to create a spreadsheet of all of your expenses and track your spending for a month. This will show you where you are spending your money and you’ll also see how much money you can allocate to homeschooling.
Then create the budget and stick to it. Decide what you are going to spend your money on and be mindful of what is left over. You probably won’t be able to afford everything. We pay for swimming lessons over a homeschool curriculum because this is where we see better use of our money.
I am not sure how different our budget would look if we had two incomes and our children went to school since we always intended to homeschool, so I can’t say whether we would be better or worse off financially.
What I do know is that if you are considering homeschooling and want to know whether you can afford it then you MUST create a realistic budget and stick to it. You can’t be throwing glue sticks and drawing books into the trolley every time you go shopping or your daily expenses are going to soon blow out. You need to know how much money you have to spend and where that money is going. And you need to budget for upfront costs and put aside a little each month to cover these costs so they don’t come as a bit shock each year.
So what do you think? Are there any other costs that I have missed?