The United States spends way more per child on education than countries like Canada, Australia, Finland, South Korea, China, and Russia. Yet, somehow, American kids lag behind most of these countries when it comes to reading, mathematics, and science: we’re ranked 14th, 38th, and 19th in the world in those subjects.
The question of where all that money is going is certainly an interesting one – it’s definitely not ending up in teachers’ pockets. On a more practical level, these statistics are enough to make a devoted parent wonder if homeschooling isn’t the way to go, especially once you consider the dangers of drugs, bullying, and other forms of on-campus violence. Teaching your children yourself is not for everyone, though: you’ll have to start working from home or give up one parent’s income, and not everybody has the temperament to be an educator. By now, you’re probably wondering if homeschooling on a budget is a good idea. For over four million children today (and about 2.5 million pre-corona), the answer to both questions has been “yes”, but let’s take a quick look at the subject in general before getting into the nitty-gritty of the cost of homeschooling.
Table of Contents
- 1 Does Homeschooling Place Your Kids at a Disadvantage Later in Life?
- 2 Do You Have to Pay for Homeschooling? Can You Get Tax Back?
- 3 Homeschooling on a Budget: ProMoneySavings’ Favorite Tips
- 4 Educate Yourself Before Trying Your Hand at Teaching
- 5 Team up with Other Homeschooling Parents
- 6 Don’t Spend the Earth on a Curriculum
- 7 Look for Second-Hand Equipment and Buy Supplies in Bulk
- 8 Use Digital Tools for Affordable Homeschooling
- 9 Saving Money on Extracurriculars While Homeschooling
- 10 Set Your Own Schedule; Go on Field Trips and Vacations in the Off-Season
- 11 How Much Does It Cost to Homeschool Your Child?
Does Homeschooling Place Your Kids at a Disadvantage Later in Life?
In the United States, teaching children was for a long time one of the few professions in which college-educated women could compete on an even footing. With more female career opportunities having opened up, fewer graduates are interested in doing such a stressful job for low wages, with limited opportunities for advancement, and when they’re even expected to spend their own money on work expenses.
About 8% of American teachers quit this kind of work for good each year. Contrast this figure with Singapore’s 3%, Finland where being admitted into medical school is actually easier than getting the required 5-year teaching qualification, or tiny Luxembourg where a newly minted teacher earns about $73,000 per year compared to $37,000 in the U.S.
Clearly, the U.S education system is in trouble, and throwing money at the problem hasn’t produced a solution. The causes for this are well understood but not easy to fix nor a hot political issue, so it’s really up to the parents to find another way. Will home schooling cost your child career and educational opportunities later in life, though?
Though maybe not the most representative test of a person’s general literacy (the concept doesn’t even make sense in most languages, which are written exactly as they’re pronounced), homeschooled kids punch well above their weight in spelling bees. College acceptance rates are more pertinent to most of us: contrary to what you may have been told, homeschooled students do just as well or better at a university level as their traditionally schooled peers. Some schools actually give preference to young people who received the bulk of their education at home as long as they can produce a decent SAT score and meet other requirements.
In addition, the other stereotype – that of homeschooled children being maladjusted, shy, and incapable of interacting with people from other backgrounds – is simply false. There is a major caveat to all this, though: homeschooling only works when parents are committed and willing to learn new skills at the same time as teaching. You’ll have to promote emotional intelligence, critical thinking, physical and mental health, place special emphasis on subjects your kids excel in and also ensure that they become reasonably proficient at those they don’t like. These are all things public schools suck at; if you don’t make an effort to do better you might as well pack them a lunchbox, drop them off at the gate, and hope for the best.
Do You Have to Pay for Homeschooling? Can You Get Tax Back?
Considering the average government spending of $14,840 a year per student in public school, you’d think that you can get a roughly equivalent discount on your tax bill if you choose to teach your children at home instead. This is a flawed argument: though politicians seem to be confused on this point, an educated society is a social good. People who read books and understand the news make better neighbors, employees, voters, entrepreneurs, and citizens. Public education is therefore not a service you can opt out of – there’s no federal or property tax credit for homeschooling, and only a handful of states (Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, and Minnesota) allow you to claim back part of the money you save them by doing so.
A few exceptions exist. For instance, you can claim a federal deduction on some types of tutoring, donations to a qualifying non-profit homeschooling organization, and teaching materials you no longer need and give away. You may also want to look into a 529 savings plan: you’re limited in what you can do with it, but both contributions and withdrawals can be made tax-free. Coverdell ESAs work in much the same way; this topic can get complicated, though, so you may want to talk to a tax consultant before signing any paperwork.
On the other hand, though the government won’t help you with expenses like textbooks and grade-level testing, there are relatively few financial hurdles or penalties levied on parents who choose to homeschool. In general, you only need to notify your school district that your children are being homeschooled in order to comply with attendance requirements and have them take required academic tests at certain ages. Though you can’t use homeschooling as a tax break, it is still nice to have this option open to you – in several European countries, sending your kids to either a public or private school is mandatory.
Homeschooling on a Budget: ProMoneySavings’ Favorite Tips
It’s clear that teaching your kids at home has a couple of major advantages, but one question remains: how much is homeschool going to cost you? Since your offspring’s future is at stake, there’s always the temptation to give them every advantage regardless of price.
Homeschooling on a budget is all about cutting the fat without cutting corners. Some expenses, like those on stationery and textbooks, leave little opportunity for savings, though you can still lower the cost of homeschooling by being a smart shopper. In other aspects, like approaching the whole process with the right frame of mind and enlisting the help of others, doing some of what’s described below will already get you quite a way towards effective yet cheap homeschooling.
Educate Yourself Before Trying Your Hand at Teaching
The coronavirus pandemic pushed millions of children into a kind of homeschooling-by-default situation. One result of this was to demonstrate that schoolteachers really are the donkeys of the modern employment landscape: hardworking and mostly uncomplaining, but highly underappreciated and the target of many unfair jokes. Many parents went into homeschooling thinking it was an easy job; most of them soon realized that they were woefully unprepared for any part of it.
I can tell you from personal experience that, at a university level, there’s a world of difference between a lecturer who’s studied education as a science and those who know only their particular academic field, even though they’re smart people with years of teaching experience under their belts. The truth is that there’s a technique to designing a lesson plan or figuring out a child’s unique learning style, much less aspire to apply advanced educational techniques like the Montessori, Waldorf, or Michel Tomas systems.
A basic course covering essential homeschooling skills will most certainly pay for itself – you can also look around for similar resources that won’t cost you a cent, or ask to sit in on other homeschooling parents’ classes. Note that, in most states, there are few or no qualifications needed to become a homeschool teacher. You’ll be glad to have learned as much as you can about being a home educator, though, including time management in the classroom, structured learning, and evaluating your children’s progress. You’ll also need to figure out a way to manage your own energy: homeschooling requires a great deal of patience, and trying to do too much too quickly will only leave you as well as your kids exhausted.
Team up with Other Homeschooling Parents
You may be surprised at how many homeschooling co-operatives can be found out there, both online and in your area. Joining one of these is probably the single best way of bringing down the cost of homeschooling: you can share lesson plans, ideas for low-cost educational activities, and sometimes just simple encouragement when the task of cramming knowledge into tiny skulls seems insurmountable.
This is only the beginning of the affordable homeschooling benefits of not trying to go it alone. Ideally, you’ll be able to connect with three or four like-minded families with children of similar ages. Lumping them together into a “learning pod” means that different parents can share the burden of teaching and hosting duties while specializing in the subjects they know most about, split the cost of hiring an in-person or online tutor (usually about $10 to $50 an hour), and dramatically increases the number of people you know and trust around your children. You’ll find that many retired professionals are more than willing to teach everything from calculus to judo for free.
This teaching model allows each learner to receive the individual attention they need while allowing parents a few days off in a child-free house each week. Another, less obvious advantage is that children actually learn a lot by taking on the role of informal tutors, including communication skills that will prove invaluable in the workplace.
Of course, many parents look into the possibility of cheap homeschooling specifically because they want to have a greater say over their kids’ education. Joining a learning pod or co-op reduces the workload but also means giving up some control: it’s essential to communicate clearly with the other parents about your respective goals and expectations.
Don’t Spend the Earth on a Curriculum
Many parents, newly bitten by the homeschooling bug, don’t know exactly what is expected of them and buy a boxed curriculum – a detailed description of how to teach all basic subjects for a full year. These typically include textbooks, teacher’s guides, and a series of homework exercises. The trouble is that these can cost up to a thousand dollars per child, a significant addition to home schooling cost.
This can still be good value for money: perhaps you have limited confidence in your teaching ability or even your grasp on certain subjects. It also obviates the need to plan lessons in advance, which by itself can save you several hours a week.
Do you have to pay for homeschooling materials, though? The answer is generally “no”: as long as you understand what material needs to be covered in order to keep your kids’ education on par with those of public school students, you can use resources like those described further on down to create your own learning schedule – about half of traditional teachers prefer to do this anyway. This means that they (and you) can combine various teaching methods depending on what works best in any given situation and focus on learning outcomes rather than obsessing over the roadmap meant to lead to them.
One good approach is to use a free curriculum you can adapt where appropriate. If you feel the need, you can still buy a curriculum for only those subjects you or your kids struggle with. Before you do so, reach out to other homeschooling parents in your area to see if they can sell you lesson plans their own children have outgrown at a reduced price. Even if you don’t have this kind of support network available, you’ll be amazed at how you can cut down on the cost of homeschooling study materials by searching for used curricula online.
It’s also important to read reviews of different curricula and textbooks before spending any money: some just aren’t suitable for every child’s approach to learning. Switching to a new curriculum partway through a semester is a real hassle as well as potentially expensive, though you may have no choice if what you’re doing isn’t getting the expected results.
Look for Second-Hand Equipment and Buy Supplies in Bulk
Parents with children in an ordinary school grumble more than enough about the cost of markers, notebooks, glue, flashcards, and all the hundred-and-one items a child requires to learn effectively. When homeschooling on a budget, keeping an eye on these kinds of expenses becomes even more important.
You’ll have to buy your own teaching materials, electronics, internet access, and software, too. Most homeschooling experts agree that it’s also beneficial to set up a dedicated workspace away from most distractions with everything you and your kids might need, which means you’ll also have to go furniture shopping. How much is homeschool going to cost you once all of this gets added up?
Outdoor schooling was popular in the early 20th century, especially as a countermeasure to epidemics.
The key to homeschooling on a budget is to actually draw up such a budget, or rather two: one for one-time purchases and another for ongoing expenses. Once you have some figures on paper, it becomes much easier to see where you can save some cash. This can by itself be a learning experience if you involve the kids: financial literacy is one of those crucial life skills traditional schools just never get around to teaching.
One way in which you can save plenty of money is to go shopping for second-hand furniture, blackboards, and whatever other equipment you’ll need. Repainting a ratty-looking bookshelf for your new classroom together or letting your children decorate their own folding desks can get the homeschooling year off to a fun, creative start. Using online marketplaces specific to the homeschooling niche will make it easier to find exactly what you need for a reasonable price.
You’ll also want to buy a ton of stationery and other school supplies when sales are running, especially around the start of the school year and holidays such as Black Friday. While you’re stocking up, learn a little about using coupons and ask around about which stores offer homeschooler discounts – plenty of businesses either want to support independent educators or like the idea of cashing in on this lucrative and growing market.
Another great source of assistance is your local library: many of their best customers are families who want to keep the cost of homeschooling as low as possible. Introduce yourself to their staff and explain your situation: many are geared to support homeschoolers with special programs, preferential access to resources (i.e. making it easy for you to ask for an extended or interlibrary loan, or for them to place a hold on books you’ll soon need), help with finding age-appropriate reading material related to the topics your kids are covering, and access to the internet and a quiet space for studying. Libraries are nearly deserted in the morning, generally free to use, and natural hubs for meeting people interested in creative, cultural, and intellectual hobbies. Don’t let this important public resource go to waste!
Use Digital Tools for Affordable Homeschooling
As another bonus, many libraries offer free subscriptions to online educational resources you would normally have to pay for. These professionally curated materials tend to be of very high quality, but you’d be surprised at how much stuff you can access for free. This includes complete lesson plans to help with teaching difficult topics to online games that make learning fun.
A simple internet search will show you dozens if not hundreds of digital freebies; when it comes to the question of how much does it cost to homeschool your child, don’t neglect high-speed, reliable internet. The following list barely scratches the surface of the wealth of online homeschooling tools for every imaginable purpose, many of which are designed for kids to enjoy by themselves while parents make a dent in their household chores:
- Google Workspace for Education and Google Classroom: Takes a learning pod or homeschooling co-operative online with features like document sharing, chat, and videoconferencing.
- Prodigy: Make math fun with this immersive online game.
- Mystery Science: Though only available up to grade 5, these online lessons are great at engaging kids’ curiosity about the natural world and lay a foundation for a STEM career.
- Starfall: One of the defining characteristics of ivy-league students is that they read an immense amount, both as part of their study regimen and in general. This habit is formed in childhood; Starfall helps guide your kids’ literacy development from letter recognition up to grade 3 level.
- Kindle Unlimited: Free for Amazon Prime members, this gives older children a wealth of books and magazines to browse through for learning as well as entertainment.
- Khan Academy: Arguably the one online resource you should use to cut down on the cost of homeschooling, this non-profit organization gives you access to almost everything you need from kindergarten to college levels, including complete course materials.
- Core Knowledge Foundation: Though not quite as comprehensive as Khan Academy, parents of younger children will still want to look into this free service.
- Learning Games for Kids: For when you want a few minutes to yourself to prepare dinner or the next part of a lesson, these online games teach younger kids typing, arithmetic, spelling, and more.
- Streaming Video Services, Youtube, and TED: All of these have easily digestible documentaries and lectures to flesh out what your children learn in class. This is invaluable for showing kids how each topic connects with others and the world at large.
Saving Money on Extracurriculars While Homeschooling
Extracurricular activities – debate club, sports, dance, etc. – are one of the advantages of traditional schooling that’s difficult to replicate at home. These are free or subsidized at most schools, eating up a significant portion of the education budget.
Though these can be costly, they are important and perhaps even more so for homeschooled kids. Learning how numbers and words work isn’t enough to ensure a well-rounded learning experience; activities outside the classroom provide valuable opportunities for socializing, and college admission boards certainly appreciate seeing something besides SAT results. Each child should pursue at least one cultural activity and one sport, preferably played as a team, if building an attractive scholastic resume is a priority for them. It’s therefore essential to budget for these even if you’re dedicated to the idea of cheap homeschooling.
Some schools do allow primarily homeschooled children to take part in their extracurriculars, as well as classes like foreign languages and advanced placement courses that may be too difficult to teach at home. Your local community center, church, YMCA, 4-H, or Boys’ and Girls’ Club may also provide a few creative and competitive outlets that will interest your kids. Note that in both cases, there’s often a discount if you sign up early, while coaches and instructors are still figuring out how large their classes will be.
Also make sure that you ask what additional costs – equipment, transport, uniforms, and so on – you should expect. You may prefer to rent items like classical music instruments for the first few months until you know your child is going to stick with their lessons or at least buy them second-hand. Also don’t forget about free activities a little off the beaten path, including community theater, informal sports leagues that offer some coaching, music learning apps, and hiking and environmental clubs.
Finally, don’t forget how important it is to give back to your community: volunteering can be fun as well as a learning opportunity. Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, your local animal shelter, and numerous other organizations are all looking for children of any age who’d like to help out others.
Set Your Own Schedule; Go on Field Trips and Vacations in the Off-Season
Summer vacations and school-sponsored excursions are some of the high points of many people’s childhood memories. However, planning an outing to the zoo or planetarium for several dozen kids (and returning with the same number you set out with) can be a real headache for teachers. Homeschoolers have the advantage here: when you can zip off on a field trip any day of the week, the cost as well as the amount of organization needed are reduced dramatically. You can even conduct a lesson at one of these locations or a nearby park to shake up the learning experience a bit, or bring your textbooks along on an overnight camping trip.
Many museums, botanical gardens, and cultural institutions offer free or reduced entry on certain days. Virtual tours are also available, even at locations you’ll never be able to visit with your family. The people working at these attractions are often surprisingly knowledgeable and eager to help; if you visit while things are quiet, you can often get a guided tour for free.
You’ll also have much more freedom in terms of where, how often, and for how long you can go on vacation. Since you won’t be limited to the two or three months of summer break, during which time nearly everyone wants to take time off work and crowd up the best tourist spots, you can save a great deal of money on everything from flights to holiday resorts.
How Much Does It Cost to Homeschool Your Child?
In general, you should budget at least $700 per child per year for home schooling costs, rising to almost $2,000 if you want to splurge on premium teaching materials and activities. Compared to tuition at private schools, which often runs to $20,000 or more annually, this seems like a bargain for a quality education. In fact, once you add in all the miscellaneous expenses associated with sending your children to a normal school, like fundraising drives and extra fees the school throws at you at unpredictable intervals, the cost of homeschooling can come out slightly ahead of going the traditional route.
However, you’ll also have to take into account how much a parent could earn outside the home if they chose not to homeschool. On average, home educators spend about 3½ hours per day on this task, leaving plenty of time to pursue a hobby or run a home business. This still translates to much more one-on-one time than the average student in a class of 30 receives. In fact, one common complaint among students in a traditional learning environment is that their time is being wasted: very little of a typical 7-hour school day is actually spent learning.
Deciding which half of a couple will spend more time teaching the kids can be contentious to say the least, while single parents who don’t make their money working from home may find this hidden cost of homeschooling to be too much to bear. On the other hand, some expenses will be lower: your children won’t need as many stylish outfits to fit in with their peers, childcare fees will be a thing of the past, transportation costs will be lower, and with a little planning, you can serve them snacks and lunches that both cost less and instill healthy eating habits.
You could say that the real question is not “how much does it cost to homeschool your child?” but “how much is homeschool going to improve your kids’ chances of succeeding academically as well as in other areas?” Compared to the one-size-fits-all, sink-or-swim approach public schools are forced to follow, the answer is overwhelmingly positive. Homeschooling, for example, leaves plenty of room for addressing special educational needs and allowing gifted children to reach their full potential rather than turning them into bored underachievers. When thinking about your children’s future, cheap homeschooling really does seem like the best value you can get for your money and time.