Q: Is it possible for me to save money or homeschool for free?
A: Absolutely! When it comes to saving money, you don't have to tell me twice! I love a good bargain, and I have tried to use money saving principles in my homeschooling all along. The good thing about homeschooling is that you can get away with spending as much , or as little as you want, and no matter what you spend, it all comes out about the same! There are only a few things you actually have to think about in regard to money, curriculum, supplies, and fees. You have full control over at least two of these, and in some cases, all three.
Depending on which state you live it, there may be certain regulations that require fees, such as umbrella schools or other monitoring agencies. However, even if the state does not require it, many people choose to enroll in an umbrella school to help with their record keeping. Obviously you can't get out of meeting the state requirements, but often there are ways to get out of paying high monthly or annual fees to an umbrella school. Sometimes a larger private school is willing to serve as an umbrella school for area homeschoolers (the school in our area even offers achievement testing for a nominal fee.) You can also check for free umbrella schools in your state; a quick search brought up several free schools for me. If you are not in a state that requires it, but you like it for the ease of record keeping, that is your choice, but a quick way to save that money is to use one of the amazing free resources available through websites such as Donna Young or Five J's , among others.
A few little tips can help you tremendously when it comes to school supplies. First and most importantly, when it comes to school supplies, nothing is required but pencils and paper. WHAT?!??!! Yup. You don't need paper clips, push pins, dry erase boards, three hole punches, day planners, laptops, or fancy art supplies to make it through your homeschool year. I know, because I made it 3/4 of the way through our first year with nothing but pencils, paper, and well, ok, a computer- but no printer. I hand-wrote each test three times, and wrote a master copy of the questions with answers in my own notebook. Now, I am not in any way trying to convince you to go all Laura Ingalls Wilder here, I'm merely saying don't beat yourself up or stress yourself out about not being able to fully stock an office supply store from your desk (if you even have one). A big misconception, especially for newcomers, is that you have to have a room designated for school, with everything imitating "real school", down to uniforms and trapper keepers with each child's name on them. Not even close. I keep bringing this up, but I want to paint a picture for you, so be patient, in our first year, we had no extra room in our house, we didn't even have a real living room because our rental was so tiny that our bedroom was in the living room. So homeschool was done using my bed as a couch. I wrote out questions, tests, and math problems in one spiral notebook for each child. I had no school books except for some of those all in one workbooks that you can find at Sam's Club. I finally got a copier in the last months of that school year. Of course, as time has gone on, our collection has grown to be far more comprehensive, but even now, I take things slow to see if I really need something before buying it. I only just got a stapler, and this is year three!
Second, and this may come off as common sense, but waiting until the last minute means catching those amazing back to school sales. A lot of times if you sign up for emails from stores that you frequent, you will get exclusive coupons and sales information. This is "junk mail" most of the year, but can really come in handy when you are preparing for the big expense of a new school year. I have actually set up a separate email for my spam stuff so I can choose when to check for deals. You can also sign up for rewards programs through a lot of the office supply type places, not a credit card, just a rewards card, and those can cash in BIG after only a few purchases. Now, if you do have a little bit of a budget, I highly recommend stocking up, you will never find a time that you don't need loose paper, spiral notebooks, or composition notebooks (whichever ones you use). I had already bought all of the supplies that I needed for this year, but I received a sizable reward coupon from an office store, so I combined it plus the already great school prices, and an additional coupon code to get staples, notebooks, and paper as a stockpile, I spent only five dollars out of pocket to cover supplies for at least one and a half school years! Just think if you do that every year when you can, you can stockpile to the point that you don't have to buy supplies for all of high school! Remember to focus on the essentials when stockpiling, paper and pencils, paper and pencils.
Last, when it comes to buying the items other than paper and pencils, quality is much more important than quantity, because face it- quantity starts adding up! When you are buying items that will take a lot of use like printers, computers, and even hole punches, it is always best to try and find a higher quality item if you are planning on it lasting for more than a few months! When it comes to copiers, always go with laser printers because an ink jet would run out so fast your head would spin! Also, most toners come in high yield varieties as well. We use this printer, and it has been a gem! Research any big ticket items before making the move, and it will save you money and frustration in the long run. If buying big ticket items is just not in the budget, try borrowing! Perhaps you know other homeschooling parents who can let you use some of their equipment from to time, of course, gauge this, because if you find yourself needing to use a particular item multiple times a month, it might be wise to go ahead and find a way to invest in one of your own! Many copy shops offer discounts to teachers that may apply to homeschooling, if you just ask.
I saved the doozy for last. If there is anything that can sink a financial ship with the click of a mouse, it is curriculum. There are so many choices, so many types, and so many shiny things to distract you from your goals! It is nothing to rack up a thousand dollars in boxed curriculum, if you let yourself get roped into it. There are a few things you can consider when it comes to purchasing curriculum that can save you money, but it depends on how much time you have to prepare. If you are not a newbie, or if you decide well in advance of fall, you can purchase items slowly, book by book over a period of time, which doesn't necessarily save you money, but it softens the blow. Another way to save is to not buy into the boxed curriculum craze. While it may be all inclusive, lay out your lesson plans for you, and therefore is easier, it isn't necessary. Again, I'm not bashing the ease of use or the programs in any way, I'm merely offering an alternative way of thinking so you can plan your money wisely while you get the hang of things. So, aside from planning in advance, you can (once again) get on the email lists of publishing companies that you are interested in in order to catch the sales. I know that some companies will even give you a courtesy call (namely Alpha Omega), if you request to be let know about their special sales. A better way to approach it, cost wise, is to pick and choose. Buying highly rated books in different subjects from different places may be more research on your part than just picking a grade level from a catalog, but it also gives you more options, and more customizing ability. If something doesn't work for your child, no need to force it because it was part of a set.
Another way to save money buying curriculum is to buy it used, or to buy an older version of the same thing. I buy almost all of my curriculum through Amazon, usually through used book sellers. You can find great deals on there, just make sure if you get a used copy to get it in good or great condition. You can be cheated by these sellers, but the good thing about using a larger umbrella company like half.com, Amazon, or Ebay, is that if you run into problems with the product, they can intervene on your behalf. There are forums that you can find to get used copies straight from homeschoolers, rather than from bulk books sellers, but again, with these, you have to be careful. Some churches or schools run curriculum swaps or sales, finding homeschooling groups in your area can alert you to these events. I personally am a fan of buying new books, but older editions. When a publisher prints an updated version of a popular text, they often sell the old version at a deeply discounted price. Using this method has helped me tremendously, especially when I have to buy three versions of the same book!
Last, there are numerous websites and resources available for free homeschooling. I have used plenty of worksheets searched for on the internet, right alongside my paid-for books, and they met the same purpose. There are a ton of free printables, fun interactive activities, and great ideas for things you can do at home for free to encourage growth and learning without breaking the bank. Many have argued that the library is the only resource needed to homeschool, and that may be true, but we use it only as a supplement! If you are interested in homeschooling for free, even if it is just to get started or to supplement, check out sites like An Old Fashioned Education or Easy Peasy. There are plenty others, I'm sure, but these two are both highly lauded.
Education is something that can be achieved with as little as a piece of paper and a pencil.
The biggest thing to remember is that it doesn't have to cost a lot to be valuable or useful.