Dawn Starks, finance expert and blogger at SimpleMoneyPro.com shares tips for managing your homeschool budget.
Budgeting for Homeschooling
People homeschool for many different reasons, and people who homeschool have different priorities for their children. Homeschool families are all over the map in terms of how much they can spend on homeschooling, so there is no single best way to budget.
Regardless of your ability to spend freely (or not) on homeschooling your children, making a plan is a wise and useful endeavor. Here are some things to consider as you plan your budget for this homeschool year.
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Set Your Priorities
The very first thing you should do is sit down as a family and set your priorities for the year. What is important to you as parents, and what is important to your kids? Are there absolutes when it comes to activities to continue or join? Consider the following questions when developing your priorities:
- Ability to spend. Is money tight for your family right now? If so, making sure you stick to a budget is a priority. On the other hand, if you have more flexibility with your budget, perhaps you have areas you wish to emphasize this coming school year.
- Absolute “must” activities. Do your kids engage in extracurricular activities that are currently non-negotiable? If so, then these need to be given priority status when developing your budget.
- Your calendar. What is on tap this year? Planning to travel? Kids going to camp? Think about what you already have planned or things you have been considering. Sometimes a major trip or project is coming up and will have an impact on how you structure your homeschool plan, as well as your budget.
Be sure to review the priorities in an age-appropriate way with your kids. Have discussions and work together as a family to narrow the focus and establish the priorities. The more input and understanding children have about their schooling, activities, and the family budget, the more vested they will be in the process. Our very best school years have occurred when our daughter had lots of say in the subjects we pursued.
Create the Homeschool Budget
Determine the amount you can spend. Perhaps as part of your overall household budget, there is a specific figure available for your homeschooling efforts for the year. Or maybe you have a range within which you prefer to stay for homeschool spending. Either way, start your budget process with some idea of your spending target.
Create your categories. There are lots and lots of ways you might spend money as a homeschooler. Aside from curriculum, there are books, activities, travel, field trips, and supplies. You might also need to include funds for outside instructors, classes, or tutors, depending on your needs. Build out your categories, keeping in mind the areas your family has designated as priority.
Allocate available funds. Using your priorities as a guide, determine a target monetary allocation for each category. If you have been a homeschool family for a while, this is easier to do, as you will be familiar with the costs for certain things. If you are new to it, make your initial allocations to the best of your ability.
Research your options. For things like curriculum, books and tools needed for coursework and activities, look around in your community as well as online to assess what is available. You will begin to understand if your estimates for various categories are appropriate or if they need adjusting.
Adjust your budget categories. Based on your research as well as your initial purchases and spending, adjust your categories. If you see yourself spending too much in a particular area, you can correct course or shift some available funds from other categories.
Take copious notes along the way. The first several years of our homeschooling, I kept track of numerous curricula I was potentially interested in, along with the costs. For example, while I was looking for what I needed for second grade, I came across interesting resources for fourth or fifth grade. By recording what I was learning along the way about future studies, I had a head start in subsequent years of budgeting.
Be willing to sacrifice in some categories. Remember your priorities as you begin to spend in preparation for your school year. Keeping those priorities top of mind will help you avoid impulse spending on items that are not on your list. Recognize that areas of less importance might require “making do” if funds are tight.
Homeschool Budget Lessons Learned
My daughter is ten this year, and we have been homeschooling from the start. Along the way, I have learned many lessons about how we spend money on homeschooling. I have also gotten far better at managing how much we spend.
♦ Go way easier in the earliest grades.
Good grief is it ever easy to spend money on curricula! I have always loved the “hunt” for good resources for our homeschooling endeavors. But the enjoyment of the hunt frequently resulted in curriculum-hopping, and subsequent misery on the budget. Looking back, I would have focused more on the basics in the early grades and let more “elective” things go.
♦ Understand your child’s learning style.
If you purchase curricula in the early years, pay very close attention to what style of learning it is best for. When a method works really well for you and your child, remember that and stick to it. When something doesn’t work as well, move along and don’t repeat the mistake.
For example, we started with Saxon Math for our Kindergarten curriculum choice. I quickly learned that spiral learning was NOT right for my child and me. We switched to a mastery-based curriculum, Math Mammoth, and we’ve been happily using that ever since.
Knowing how unpopular the spiral style was for us, I avoid spiral-oriented curricula in other subjects. Learn what works for your family and stick with it to avoid wasting tons of money on curriculum that ends up collecting dust on your shelf.
♦ Take advantage of free samples online.
Always test things out if possible before making a purchase.
♦ Shop used.
We have Facebook groups and local swaps in our area, and of course Craigslist. Over the years I have saved money buying used when I see something that is on my list. The danger with thrift shopping for homeschool is that it is easy to justify buying more than you need, because it’s so inexpensive. Stick to your research and your list!
♦ Buy ahead but be careful.
I watch for the best sales on certain publishers’ sites. I’ll take advantage of 35% off sales to buy the next level in our science or history curricula, for example. The risk is when your family loses interest in the material and/or your child’s learning style shifts and you’re stuck with curricula that was a good deal, but now is unusable.
♦ Take advantage of free.
This is important especially if money is tight, but everyone can benefit from paying attention to free resources when homeschooling. The library is the number one free resource we use. We also monitor free opportunities and experiences in our local area in which our daughter can participate.
♦ But don’t go overboard on free.
Many quality materials online are available to you for free. Keep in mind, however, that your time is worth something, too. Having to spend ten hours to piece together free resources to cover a science unit, for example, might be more expensive to your family overall. Spending a little for a ready-to-go curriculum, in this example, allows you many additional hours to apply to other tasks. Everyone’s situation is different. My point is that sometimes “free” requires a ton of time, and the quality can still be questionable.
♦ Watch for volunteer opportunities.
River clean ups, tree plantings, and other community efforts can provide free and valuable experiences for your family.
♦ Stock up on supplies.
We school year-round with lots of breaks, so we aren’t necessarily changing grades each August. Nevertheless, we take stock of our glue, notebooks, pencils, and other supplies in order to take advantage of the best deals. We only take advantage of the especially low deals in July and August, however. We wait for later in the fall when all the remaining school supplies are on clearance to really rack up savings.
The danger, of course, is to hoard too many supplies. We’ve been guilty of that, and there was a stretch of time that we went two straight years without buying a single school supply. We shopped our cabinet instead. Now we are more judicious, but we still enjoy good sales and having things on hand when we swap subjects.
Homeschooling can be a fabulous experience and great adventure for families up to the challenge. Just remember it’s all too easy to spend A LOT of money trying to make your homeschool days top notch. By paying attention and doing some planning each year, you can avoid a budget disaster without sacrificing a quality education.
Dawn Starks is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner, homeschooler, writer, blogger, and podcaster in Asheville, NC. You can find her at SimpleMoneyPro.com. If you like what you read, subscribe to her free weekly newsletter. This will keep you up to date on the week’s blog posts and podcast episodes, but also includes content only available to subscribers!
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