What Does it Cost to Homeschool?
By Vicki Bentley
If you are considering home education, you are very likely a single-income family, and if you’re like most of us, your budget is pretty tight. Although I have read that the average homeschool family spends about $900 per student per year, I have never personally spent nearly that much. My most expensive year was my first year, when I used a prepackaged curriculum and spent over $600 for three children (okay, with inflation, maybe it would be $1,200 total now!). As we have accumulated nonconsumable materials (“living books” or textbooks vs. workbooks), our home library has grown to the point of just adding a few supplemental materials each year.
Homeschooling costs more than public school, but less than private school. That may sound pretty noncommittal, but $900 can sound like a burden or a relief, depending on your previous education experience! What are some of the expenses that you should consider in drawing up an education budget?
This is the broadest category and will most likely be your largest expense:
Least expensive: Some parents keep costs to a bare minimum by borrowing or renting curriculum from a friend or a support group. Other options include utilizing the library, using discarded school textbooks (be sure you also get the teacher guides), or using all-inclusive basic curricula (such as thick, grade-level workbooks available at discount stores, etc.). E. D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge series (What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know, and subsequent grade levels) or the State Standards of Learning or What Your Child Needs to Know When used with library books would be examples of these options.
A unit study approach utilizing borrowed books for content area subjects such as science and history, combined with discounted or used materials for skills subjects such as math and language arts, could cost less than $50 per older elementary child. For a primary student, combining Ruth Beechick’s Three R’s of Learning (math, language, reading for K-3rd, $12 retail at the time of this publication) with Five in a Row (literature-based unit studies, $35) and a library card is one example of a well-rounded, parent-friendly curriculum combination for less than $50.
Moderate: A reasonable estimate would be about $300-450 per child, including games, software, and books. You can keep your bill down to a reasonable amount by selecting your materials from a variety of publishers. Some or all of these materials can be purchased used at about a 30- to 50-percent savings. Many publishers waive shipping if you purchase from them at curriculum shows or state conventions (A Beka and Bob Jones University Press both offer this discount, often at shows held at area hotels throughout the spring and at our state convention).
Another budget saver is multi-level and/or reusable curriculum. Those dollars seem to stretch if you can use the same content-area program for all or most of your students (examples: KONOS curriculum, Diana Waring’s history guides, Bible Study Guide for All Ages, Greenleaf Press, Five in a Row, Student of the Word, Science in the Beginning, Janice Van Cleave’s science books, Beautiful Feet guides, etc.). The same applies if you can re-use the material for a later student (such as math textbooks, Learning Language Arts through Literature, most unit study guides, or other non-consumable items).
Example of a bare-bones generic curriculum for grade seven, at full retail pricing:
If you didn’t re-use this package for another child, you could re-sell all of it for approximately 50-75% of your original cost (in decent shape, of course), bringing back $76-$116 of your original $161 investment (I subtracted roughly $4 for the consumable Land of Fair Play tests). If you re-use it and then sell it, your per-child rate goes down tremendously.
Most expensive: The most expensive route would be school-by-satellite, video courses, correspondence schools, or all-inclusive curriculum packages. These can run anywhere from $400 to over $1,500 per student. However, this is still less than the cost of private school!
Testing or Evaluation Fees
Standardized tests cost about $25-$45 per student; if you would like to hire someone else to actually administer the test, plan to pay an additional $25-50 per student. A private evaluation can cost from $50 into the hundreds, depending on your evaluator. You may also choose to have your child tested in the local public school system if the school is testing at your child’s grade level (be aware that the results will be sent to the school).
(Not specifically curricular)
Annual State Convention
In our area, music lessons cost approximately $40 per hour (group rates are considerably less). Our homeschool band is $385 per year, plus instrument, for a total of about $585. Ballet or gymnastics classes are about $40 per month for nine months, for a total of $360. Individual or family membership in a gym or the local YMCA will vary. Local sports association fees also vary, from $8 for our homeschool softball league to several hundred dollars for varsity sports. I have recently paid $25 per two-hour class for my daughter to take oil painting from a local artist, while one of our moms teaches a weekly drawing class for $45 per month. Our support group’s parent-taught learning co-op fee is $15 per family per month (for supplies); other co-ops charge per class.
School Supplies and Other Items
This figure will depend on whether you buy brand-name binders or budget spirals, how many children you are outfitting with supplies, etc. Needs and desires will vary from family to family: desks, sofa, computer, file cabinet, bookcase or storage unit, paper, hole punch, stapler, tape, pens and pencils, markers, dry erase markers and board, lesson planning book, file folders, pencil boxes, notebooks, erasers, globe, paints, calculator, scissors, glue, science equipment, etc. Many of these items will be one-time purchases, while others will need restocking each year.
Field trips, gas money, admission for activities such as skating or bowling, phone calls, school photos, yearbook, co-ops, outside classes, anything else that is not listed above. Again, these are not necessarily critical items.
Sample for three children in a satellite program with some teacher support (K, 2nd, and 8th):
At $677 per student for the year for a mid-range program and some activities, this is still less than the average. In subsequent years, the supplies may cost substantially less because you are buying basically just paper and pencils, or you may forego extra lessons, or put together your own curriculum package for considerable savings of up to several hundred dollars.
Be sure to purchase your core curriculum first, then add items from the other categories as your budget allows. Once you have an idea of what you plan to spend, divide it by 52 and set that much aside each week in a “homeschool budget” fund. If you have a lump sum of money at a particular time each year (such as tax time), consider setting your budget amount aside then. Many of these purchases can be made as funds allow, so you might purchase school supplies in August, join the support group in September, pay for band in monthly installments, register for the state convention in April, pay for testing in May, buy curriculum in June, etc. Because I buy very little curriculum at this point, I have actually begun a homeschool year with no resources or curriculum outlay, paying as we went for memberships, classes, etc.
Last, but certainly not least, pray about the needs you have for your homeschool and ask God to provide for these things.
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(Prices were accurate at time this article was posting in fall 2013; some prices may have changed since publication. My sample average cost figures do not include such items as museum memberships, extracurricular classes, or other activities that are likely to be pursued regardless of the education choice.)
For more budget-friendly ideas for specific subject areas, see the “Homeschooling on a Shoestring” series by subject area (math, language arts, social studies, science).