So you’ve decided to homeschool! You’ve done the research, discussed it as a family, and checked out the legal requirements in your state. Now you face the daunting task of creating a homeschooling budget.
You’re full of questions. Doubt nags you, and you’re unsure where to start. Your confidence slowly drains away. What exactly do homeschoolers need for “school?” How much should you expect to pay per student? Will this venture be more or less expensive than your kids’ previous schooling option?
You’re not alone! Parents who are new to homeschooling have a million and one questions, and a lot of those questions have to do with how it will impact their family’s budget.
The good news is that it’s not as scary as it seems!
The beauty of homeschooling is that anyone can do it successfully! From families with a single parent on a fixed income to a family with two parents making twice the national income average, homeschooling is genuinely for everyone.
Did you know that in the most recent National Household Education Surveys Program (NHESP) by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), researchers discovered that the majority of homeschooled students lived below the poverty line?
The Coalition for Responsible Homeschooling examines these findings. According to their analysis, in 2016 the NHES found that the homeschooling rate for poor students was 3.9%, while non-poor students were homeschooled at a rate of 3.1%. In 2012, their survey found that these two groups chose to homeschool at nearly the same rate (3.5% and 3.4%, respectively). This suggests an upward homeschooling trend for students living below the poverty line.
Assuming the trend is holding as true today as it appeared to be in 2016, we can assume that homeschooling continues to be a safe financial option for everyone, regardless of their economic state. In other words, don’t let your homeschooling budget give you the sweats! With some basic tips, your homeschooling experience can be effective, fun, and affordable!
Where to Start
The first thing to do is decide the most realistic option for your family. Examine your goals, schedule, preferred homeschooling style, home’s workspace, and income. Then, check your idealism against reality and see if you can find a middle ground that works for you and your family.
There is no hard and fast rule about how much homeschooling costs. Budgets can vary widely depending on a myriad of individual factors. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association helps parents think through what their expenses might be:
“If you have the time and flexibility to take advantage of opportunities to borrow curriculum, use the library, shop for used books, find reusable, multi-level, or free curriculum…you might pare your costs down to $50–100 per student. Adding in some paid extras like co-ops, online courses, enrichment classes, or sports could bring your budget up to $300–500. And if you opt for tutors, video courses, or all-inclusive curriculum packages, your cost may easily be $500 on up. (Still, that’s a lot less than private school!)”
As is clear from the breakdown above, a homeschool game plan can be simple and inexpensive or multi-layered and a bit more pricey. While the perfect homeschooling atmosphere is an inviting goal, it’s not practical for many. If it works for your budget, then go all out if you want! However, if you’re working with fewer resources, just remember that homeschooling is about learning. Learning can be done anywhere, anytime, and with nearly anything. Homeschooling does not have to be expensive.
“I started putting money away a good six months to a year prior to taking the plunge, and it helped me to be able to glide through the school year without pinching money from other areas of my budget. If you think you might want to homeschool at some point, it’s never too early to start putting money away.”
–Sheryl of The Cents’ Able Shopping
Saving for homeschooling is something to consider ahead of time. If you aren’t jumping directly into homeschooling and have some time, start saving now. But, it’s never too late to start, even if your homeschooling journey is coming right up!
While the most obvious way to do this is by putting money away, there are other ways to give yourself a financial jumpstart when the time comes. You could start by choosing a curriculum ahead of time and watching for sales or checking out the many used curriculum outlets to find good deals. (The Homeschool Mom has some great ideas on where to buy!)
You can also start a personal database where you can keep resources, ideas, and even money-saving tips as you come across them so that you have these options available when the time comes. Talking with local homeschooling parents and joining a homeschool forum or Facebook group are great ways to get exposure to alternative concepts and resources.
Narrow the Focus
“For me, homeschooling on a budget means spending money consciously. I want to find the best deals… To make the most of my homeschool budget, I try to focus on the curricula and educational experiences that are important to my family. My goal is to save as much money as possible without sacrificing educational quality.”
–The Organized Homeschooler
To budget correctly and minimize surprise expenses, pinpoint your main spending areas. For instance, will you be purchasing a curriculum? If so, that’s a significant and predictable item in your “expense” column. Supplies and materials, co-ops, field trips, online classes, and activities geared toward education are also some common categories that could predictably eat into your budget.
Earmarking funds specifically for these major expenses goes a long way toward structuring your budget and preparing you both mentally and financially for your school year. Begin researching how to make the most of the money in each category. Investing now could save you later.
It’s also a good idea to have a “cushion” fund for certain expenses that are hard to predict or extras that come along throughout the school year.
Decide Where to Cut Back
“You can look at your budget and see where you can cut back. Still meet your obligations, of course, but there is money being spent that’s not as important as you once thought. Remember, you put homeschool on your priority list. Is that more important than going out to eat once a week or that huge vacation you have planned? Yes, I think it is. Can you cancel your magazine subscriptions? Or switch to an educational one instead? You know what you spend your money on. You decide.”
If you’ve looked at all the facts and your income and current family budget just don’t have much room for anything extra, reexamine your priorities. Ask yourself why you’re choosing to homeschool and compare those reasons against the “whys” behind other items in your budget.
Remember that homeschooling has different requirements and expenses than public or private schools. You won’t have “back-to-school” supplies or other school-mandated expenses that you may have had in previous years. Don’t forget to look at your budget in context.
Determine Who’s Who and What’s What
“Homeschooling families work out the balance of earning and providing education for their children in many ways, just as families with children in public school do. Among both homeschool and public school parents, there are at-home parents…parents who both work, and single parents who are working.”
–The Homeschool Mom
In order to accurately create a homeschooling budget, everyone involved needs to have a clear picture of how this will look and work. Decide if one parent who previously worked full-time will be staying home. If so, you’ll need to calculate the impact of that loss of income on your overall economic status and your homeschooling funds.
If both parents choose to remain working full-time, or if you’re a single parent who will be working, decide how your family will make that happen alongside homeschooling. (Yes! It’s possible! See here and here for more information on how.)
Try to foresee any added expenses this arrangement might necessitate. An extra meal or two ordered in instead of prepared at home? The kids won’t be at school during the day, so will a babysitter or nanny be involved?
The best budget is the budget that considers all the factors beforehand. You can rework your budget to fit your family’s needs when you have all the information!
Resources for the Homeschool Budget Planner
The internet is absolutely brimming with information, freebies, and “how-to’s” for the homeschooling family. Below are a few resources to get you started!
The website Homeschool Giveaways and Freebies offers free resources and fun concepts. From activities to advice, this source is a valuable asset for homeschoolers. Check out their homeschool budget printables here.
Homeschool Gardens offers advice on how to use a sinking fund for your homeschooling budget and also provides a free budgeting print-out.
There are countless other online, free resources as well!
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is an excellent resource for all things homeschooling. From legalities to practical ideas, they are a premiere resource to point you in the right direction. They discuss homeschooling and budgets and offer a free seminar for more information.
Smith, Party of 6 discusses the realities of homeschooling on a budget and shares some great resources to make this possible. You can check them out here.
Again, the internet can be your best friend when finding useful, time-saving, and affordable resources.
Down to Brass Tacks
Homeschooling is a fantastic adventure with as many variables as you can possibly imagine. There’s no one right way to do it, and there isn’t one set way to budget, either. Homeschooling is all about individualizing, which goes for the student, the parents, and the family. Budgeting is critical to preparing for your homeschool and an adaptable part of your journey.
With the above tips, you have the tools to work on perfecting your homeschooling budget with confidence!