The Practicalities of Homeschooling: Can you afford it?

Can you afford to homeschool? | An Everyday Story

Can you afford to homeschool? | An Everyday StoryA 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.

Can you afford to homeschool? | An Everyday Story

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

Curriculum

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

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.

Subscriptions

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.

Memberships

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.

Extra-curricular Activities

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.

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The Hidden Costs

These are the costs which we don’t explicitly factor into our homeschool budget but are still associated with homeschooling.

Utility Bills

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.

Groceries

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.

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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?

25 Replies to “The Practicalities of Homeschooling: Can you afford it?”

  1. Wow! I can’t imagine having the luxury of a $400 a month homeschool budget! We probably don’t spend that much in a year. It is, of course, much less expensive to homeschool elementary children than teens, but there are so many ways to keep costs low while still offering kids an excellent education. By utilizing free resources online (EasyPeasy, the Smithsonian, Khan Academy, etc) and in the community (libraries, free museum days, local homeschool groups) you can begin to put together a brilliant, custom education plan. There are also groups online and on Facebook that make obtaining expensive curricula possible for families who do not have the means to purchase things at full price. Homeschool Curriculum Free for Shipping is a brilliant new Facebook group in which members share what they are no longer using with others who could really use it. The Book Samaritan (thebooksamaritan.com) is another resource for families who can not otherwise afford curriculum. There are many other resources out there to be found. Don’t be discouraged if you cannot budget thousands a year; you just have to be a little more creative.

  2. Thank you for this post! Since your last post about homeschooling, I’ve been really thinking it through. BUT, without a curriculum (if there are any Reggio), for those of us who don’t have a teaching background, how can it be possible? where do you start?I know there are lots of information out there, but I also don’t have time to go looking, it would be much easier to have one place to go and get everything. Also, I see all the beautiful materials you use with your kids and all the trips you do, but we can’t afford a $400 budget for homeschooling either? and I feel like with Reggio, the materials are everything! What do you think?

    1. Are you in Australia Fran? As far as I know there isn’t any Reggio-inspired curriculums available. We follow the Australian Curriculum which is all online. I am putting together a post about demystifying the Australian Curriculum for non-teachers which hopefully might help you to feel more confident.

      For us, having a good hard look at where our money was going was a really helpful exercise to see what money could be better spent elsewhere and what money we had to spend on homeschooling. We don’t have $400/month cash to spend. I save most of that to pay for extra-curricular activities. We needed to make these a priority for Jack’s physiotherapy. He needs this level of physical activity. A lot of money could be saved by doing only one extra-curricular activity a week rather than three.

      Yes, I agree. The materials are important and they can be expensive. This is where I really need to watch my spending. A year or so ago we moved house and had to downsize a lot. I realised by going through our materials that we had several materials which effectively served the same purpose. I decided then that even though something might be really beautiful and the kids would love it, if we already had something similar then I wouldn’t buy it. Blocks in particular are a good example. We had so many different kinds of blocks. I down-sized our block collection a lot and have since then only added the coloured transparent ones which provide a different play experience to our (now heavily-reduced) block collection.

      Is there anything in particular you are wondering about homeschooling? I am happy to help out in any way that I can.

  3. Wow. That is a huge monetary commitment! Here in Canada, homeschooling is covered by the government. They have all kinds of benefits and programs and $$ to spend where you need it for any kinds of materials. They also have facilities where you can go to utilize their materials. We have decided not to homeschool this year, with our living situation being so transitional, but if I decide to homeschool in the future, I won’t have to worry about the $$.

    You should move to Canada! 😉

    1. Kaly, can you tell me more about how the Canadian government subsidizes homeschoolers??

      1. Jo, I can’t really speak too detailed on the subject, as we haven’t actually used the homeschooling program yet (my boys are still little and we’ve been educating at home without being in an actual program yet), but I have many friends and some relatives who swear by it. We live in Alberta, so I think subsidizing may change from province to province, but I know there are resources which are Canadian-wide. Here is an example of an Alberta-based program:
        http://albertahomeeducation.ca/about-us/funding-available/
        Apparently there are many such programs available, and the community resources will vary from centre to centre. Google it, and see what is available in your area.
        I hope that helps!

        1. Actually only a few provinces in Canada provide any sort of funding to Homeschoolers. I live in Nova Scotia and there’s no funding here. You still pay the same taxes as people who use the public schools, and all your homeschool costs are your sole responsibility. Same as if you send your child to Montessori or a private school

          1. Nicole, I’m sorry to hear your province doesn’t have the support others do. I guess I didn’t realize it was more about provincial rather than federal budget.

    2. I should move to Canada!! That would be so awesome if our government supported home education. Our last government initiated a ‘school kids bonus’ which was a one-off payment each year of a a few hundred dollars (I can’t remember exactly) which I had heard could also be claimed by registered homeschool families but our new government has scrapped that and so we missed out.

      It is a big commitment but most of it goes to extra-curricular activities which I think many families pay regardless of whether their kids go to school or not. Here in Australia swimming lessons are considered as pretty must essential and they don’t miss you on the fees either!! We pay nearly $600/18 week term for both kids to have swimming lessons!! I tried teaching them myself but the kids definitely get more value out of the lessons so I guess we have to pay 🙁

      Canada has lots of great things going on. You guys have pretty good parental/maternity leave too, don’t you?

      1. Yes Kate, the maternity/paternity leave is very nice for most people. Also, funding for special needs children/adults is very good. We have close friends who moved to Alberta specifically for that reason.

        Extra-curricular activities can add up! I know we missed out this year on a few things I would have put the boys in had it not been for the flood last year. Hopefully this next year we will be in a better position to do such activities.

  4. So glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks my grocery bill is higher because I’ve got 5 boys home all day 🙂

    1. I honestly think ours more than doubled once I stopped work. Before then we didn’t really think too much about our grocery bill. We never went crazy shopping but it never seemed so expensive that we needed to be mindful of what we were buying.

      Now fresh food alone is probably as much as we would spend in an entire grocery shop before kids! I am definitely working on bringing those costs down. I think this is where we waste the most money; particularly with impulse buys during the week, which can be better spend elsewhere.

      I can only imagine how much yours is Jessica with 5 boys!!!

  5. I really appreciate this type of post. Thanks for sharing so much specific information. Everyone is in a different situation, of course. I think $400 a month for two children is quite reasonable (it would be much more expensive to send them to a similar private school).

    I would love to see a list of materials you use (my oldest is just 26 months) and where to buy them.

    1. Thanks Monica. Our materials budget includes all the kids toys and things too. Since we don’t really do a sit down style homeschool we don’t really separate learning materials from play materials. This is just the budget we have for things for the kids.

      Are you in Australia? For stationery and art supplies I generally buy from K-mart. I find they have the best range and are really reasonably priced. Their K-mart brand range of art supplies especially their drawing books are quite cheap but still reasonable quality.

      For non-fiction books I tend to buy from discount bookstores or from Aldi when they have their specials come in. If it is a particularly beautiful book which I would like in our collection then I usually shop around between Booktopia, Amazon and Book Depository to find the best price including shipping.

      For DVDs I usually buy from Ebay since the regions differ for Australia. I found the entire set of Magic School Bus episodes on Ebay for a very reasonable price.

      For materials I usually shop around. I often don’t buy in stores as the prices are so much higher than online. I often buy from Amazon since the prices are much cheaper but the shipping to Australia can outweigh those initial savings. For Australian stores I shop at Modern Teaching Aids and ZartArt.

      I tend to keep items I would like to purchase in my Amazon cart and when I see them come on sale then I will buy them.

      I think when Jack and Sarah were about 26months is when I started to think about buying materials with lots of potential for open-ended play and lots of scope for longevity. This is when they started to become interested in numbers and words and started asking questions about the world. This is also around the age that I stopped buying typical toddler/baby toys and decided to focus on buying materials for them to explore.

  6. I think $400 a month is realistic when you live in Australia. My kids go to ballet and soccer and were going to music (on hold right now) and they aren’t cheap, about $150 a term and that’s for preschool age. Even things like paper and glue cost more over here. I was looking at your lovely colour cubes – $25 in the US, $65 over here (and that is without shipping). Same with books – we go to the library each week but the range is pretty limited, if I didn’t purchase things online I’d never find anything to support their interests.

    1. Yes it can be a little deflating to see something for so much cheaper in America. Materials like those coloured blocks are always very thought out purchases for me; how much will they use them? How many different ways can we use them? How long will they last? What’s the quality like? Will we be able to use them in a few years time too for different explorations and areas of study? Will I get value for money?

      I know when I purchase something that doesn’t live up to expectations that I am always so disappointed knowing that our budget is limited.

      Our library isn’t too bad but it doesn’t have the really beautiful books like Andy Goldsworthy or that beautiful Maps book that I showed you a little while ago and so those types of books (which I know will get a lot of use) I tend to buy, but you are right, they are a lot more expensive here even when you buy from Amazon you still get hit with quite a shipping bill!

      Sarah does a little community ballet class which is a lot cheaper than a class at a ballet school. At $20 a lesson + uniform ($80) for the ballet school that was well out of our budget!

      1. I go with book depository rather than Amazon as they are free shipping, even though their prices are a bit higher, the free shipping makes up for it.

  7. We are also a single income family and it really makes you think about all expenses (not just those related to the children). It started long before kids when we bought our house within walking distance of the train station meaning we only need one car. We tried a few different activities for the kids before settling on gymnastics and swimming ($175/month). Our local PCYC also has a toddler/preschool program that is great and only $7 each week! Since you mentioned it in the post I’m curious about how you manage to keep your grocery bill so low? Our family is the same size as yours and $150 (including fruit and vegies) seems to be the best I can manage at the moment. I’d love to know your secrets 🙂

  8. I was surprised by the dollar figure you assigned to traditional schooling. We spent around $300 per year per child in primary school, and then camps cost extra in later years. However the government gives the ‘school kids bonus’ and the education maintenance allowance so a lot of those costs were covered by government rebates. Primary school was incredibly cheap for us, which is appropriate, as idealogically at least our country is still supposed to have free primary education.

    High schools is a completely different story! Even public high school was around $1500 for year 7 costs – although a bunch of those were spread across years, like uniform and bag etc.

    1. Yes, I taught high school so this is where I get my figures from.

      Our budget includes all extra-curricular activities as well as stationery/books and things which would also be included in the budget of a family who send their children to school. Anything at all for the kids comes out of this budget.

      So while it might seem like a lot considering the cost of public schooling, all of Jack and Sarah’s toys, their classes and activities, materials for those classes, our excursions, costs for online programs such as Reading Eggs (which I know is very popular with school children too), uniforms for weekend sport, all of it comes out of our homeschool budget.

      I don’t think this would be too different to the expenses incurred by many families who send their children to school.

  9. lydia purple says:

    just a short tipp on the grocery bill… i almost cut my grocery bill in half when i started monthly meal planning and with it one grocery shopping trip. the first few months were a bit challenging to figure out amounts of certain foods like cereal etc. since we used to just go get more when we ran out. now after almost a year i know our basic shopping list by heart. i cook most things from scratch, but have a few canned staples on the list that come in handy during the last week… the monthly meal plan is just to figure out the amounts to buy, it’s very flexible and i can swap dinners according to how i feel that day. we do get an organic veggie box every other week, and we get more bread, fruit and milk halfway through the month because of expiration dates/ freezer space. but that’s it, the trick i think is to avoid spontaneous trips to the shop where you almost always end up buying more than you intended. i know i always have something to cook at home, so eating out is less tempting, too.

  10. Thanks for taking the time to post in such detail. I find these sorts of specifics really useful, and am very much looking forward to a post on the Australian Curriculum for us non-teachers. I don’t currently homeschool, but am thinking about it and researching it. My 3.5 year old goes to a Montessori preschool 3 days a week and that is a little more expensive than $400 a month, affordable at the moment but not next year when his sister will be preschool age too. We wouldn’t have been able to afford the Montessori fees in Sydney at all, so lucky the opportunity came up to move elsewhere where there was a local Montessori preschool.
    I also second shanh2014, I am amazed at your low grocery bill! $250 a fortnight is the lowest I can seem to get it at the moment with 2 adults and 2 little kids. And that is with cooking from scratch, baking our own bread, making yoghurt, growing veggies, keeping chooks and making my own cleaning products. Which feels like a fulltime job in itself!

  11. Great post thanks Kate. You covered lots of things I have wondered about home schooling. I think I need to shop around for swim schools as we are paying $200 per term per child!
    I would love if you could email me the details of Sarah’s community ballet class as Lyra would love to do something along those lines but after looking into a ballet school we just couldn’t manage the fees at the moment.

  12. Thank you for this post. I am so back and forth about homeschooling with my wee one. I have always wondered how much it would roughly cost and where to begin on a budget. I know our costs would be different as we live in America, but a rough idea is so very helpful. I was a Reggio inspired teacher before having our son and found it so tempting to buy things on a whim to enhance my students learning especially. I had to really reel that in once our son was born.

    We found a very lovely school close to us that uses place based education and project work. He wouldn’t be able to start until is 4.5 at this school as they do a mixed age class. And his teacher has amazing Reggio experiences.

    Just reading through the comments, I have gained resources and ideas for where to utilize and maximize our free resources.

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