One of the most common questions I get asked is about the financial cost of homeschooling. Either it’s from families who are looking into homeschooling and overwhelmed by the price tags they see everywhere or it is from nay-sayers who say that homeschooling is only for the very wealthy.
Being in the homeschool community, I know that this is a hard question to answer. No two homeschooling families look the same, and neither do their income levels! The United States Census Bureau (USCB) did four surveys in 2021 about income levels for homeschooling families (see table below). 57.3% of homeschooling families make less than $50,000 per year. Does that surprise you?
Can you homeschool on a small income? Yes! Can you also homeschool on a large income? Of course. That’s why you’ll see the dissonance on what families choose to spend on their supplies and curriculum. So much is dependent upon what you choose to use and what your income level allows.
Did you know that there is free curriculum out there? We use one called Ambleside Online. The curriculum plans and book lists are free, you’ll just need to purchase the books in order to teach the curriculum. But many of these books can be found online for free or at your local library, and I’ll use the same books for all three of my children. (And, at the end I can resell them!) Obviously what I’m spending on curriculum then will look very different from a family who is using a consumable curriculum (ie: workbook style) that they need to repurchase for each child, every year.
Here are some of the ways we keep costs low (in addition to using a free curriculum):
- I buy used whenever I can. I use Facebook almost exclusively for the buy/sell/trade curriculum groups. When you’ve decided on a curriculum search for their used curriculum group and join it! Join your local homeschool used curriculum groups on Facebook too!
- I thrift. This goes hand in hand with the first one, but I use thrift shops, garage sales and used book stores to save a ton of money. I have (again, on Facebook) my notifications set on my local marketplace to ping me anytime someone posts a new listing with the words “homeschool” in it. And now the algorithm knows what I like and so it shows me lots of books, teacher garages sales and anything homeschool-y.
- I do my research. Now, not everything is foolproof, but if I’m looking at dropping some serious coin on a curriculum choice, you know I’m doing my best to really figure out if it’s going to work for our family. I will watch unboxing/flip-through videos on YouTube. I will search the hashtag on Instagram and see how others are using it. I will google search “____ curriculum review” and see if anyone has blogged about their experience using it. There is more information out there than you think! Sometimes, just seeing the inside of a curriculum, rather than just the beautiful front cover, has helped me decide for or against a curriculum. This helps me to not waste money on things that won't be a fit.
- I make sure it’s worth it. If I see a pretty book on Instagram, I usually try and check it out from the library first. I ask myself– is this something I truly need or something that consumerist-homeschool-culture is telling me I “need”? I also try to form our plans around things that I already own. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought an outdated book at the thrift store only to recognize the same activities copied in a prettier, modern version. There are a lot of gems hidden in books you probably already have on your shelf!
- We do a lot of family subjects. Bible, history, science, foreign language, poetry, handcrafts, folk songs, solfa, artist study, composer study, hymn study, and physical education we do together as a family. The only subjects right now that my kids complete individually are math and language arts based and some geography. This really helps cut down on costs.
Here are some other ways you can make homeschooling cost a little less:
Some Tax Deductions(especially for Illinois, Minnesota and Louisiana)
Also, just by living more frugally! I’ve written some about this here.
A Transparent Look at Our Expenses
With that said, here is a complete breakdown of our homeschool expenses for the 2022-2023 school year. These are the expenses for my whole family (preschool, kindergarten and second grade) in total.
Gifts= books I’ve been given by the creators to promote, books our children have been given as gifts or books that my sister in law gave me when she was through using them for homeschooling
Red= books I’ve thrifted. If it was $2, chances are that it was thrifted at a goodwill type shop (books in my area are $1.39-1.99 for a hardcover so I rounded up to $2) and a lot of the other books I know the exact price because I leave stickers on when I buy them used (this way I’m not over charging if I go to resell them). Many, many books I’ve bought at homeschool used book sales in my area! We have a few of them each spring and they are amazing!
Blue= things I’ve bought brand new. I’ve included shipping in the cost (because obviously, that’s a part of it too!)
Books and Curriculum
I included the price I paid for everything, and our total was $328.43 on curriculum/books. But, many of these resources we used in previous years, so the total of what I spent THIS year was actually $160.04
The supplies we needed this year were glue, clay and a few notebooks. The total I spent was $18.12.
Brand New Supplies
I went and added all of these books, supplies and curriculum to a cart and BRAND NEW, I would have spent right around $650 to buy this all.
If I were using my library, YouTube, Librivox and other places to find all of these resources that I could for free, I would have spent $181 in total.
Co-Ops, Activities and Supplies
Another question I get asked is about outside activities and supplies. Some families count these things towards their homeschooling expenses and some don’t. I use this rule of thumb: If my child would be in this activity, sport or club if we did NOT homeschool, then I don’t count it as an expense.
For example, swimming lessons aren't considered a homeschooling expense in our family because we would be taking them no matter what. And that goes for supplies as well. I’m not counting new shoes, paints, picture books or toys because I would buy them whether or not we were homeschooling.
Our co-op for all three of my children this year is right around $730 for the year. We live in a metro area where there are quite a few co-ops to choose from but this one happens to be less expensive than others nearby. Co-ops vary a lot in cost. If you are participating in a drop-off style co-op this is often more expensive than ones where parents volunteer in the classroom. Also, prices depend on how often your co-op meets throughout the month/year. The most expensive co-ops in our area are right around $1000 per child, per year. The least expensive ones in my area are free. If your co-op is a newer co-op or meets in a family home, this often can save on cost as well.
So, with including our co-op, our family grand total for the year is right around $908, or $300 per child. Without including our co-op, our cost would be $60 per child. Based on a poll with 4,346 votes on my Instagram, the most common answer was that families were spending $200-$500 per child and that the first year was the most expensive!
How does this compare?
Just going off of the school list for the elementary school our family is zoned for, it would cost our family $156 per child for my kindergartener and my second grader to buy supplies.
These supplies include notebooks, folders, scissors, zip lock bags, expo markers, wipes, binders, crayons, pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, markers, glue, and kleenex.
It doesn't include clothes, shoes, backpacks, lunch boxes, pencil boxes, beach towel, or headphones (which are all things on their school list).
There are also lots of fees that creep up throughout the year, specifically, school pictures, school yearbook, field trips, birthday celebration/classroom snacks, transportation fees, music department fees, ipad insurance, athletic registration fees, or school lunches. These I'm listing based off of their website.
There are fees that may creep up in a homeschool year if you choose to change curriculum or run out of certain supplies (though I do think school supplies get cared for better when they're kept at home vs. carted in a backpack) and field trips and such are likely similar in price.
But, I think you get the picture overall! School isn't exactly "free" no matter what option you choose. For our family homeschooling is significantly less expensive than public school!
The Bottom Line
Homeschooling is as expensive as you make it. Personally, I believe that the biggest expense to homeschooling is income, especially if your family is eliminating one adults income in order to home educate. For my family, I'm able to do work for Little House Learning Co. from home and that helps. Many families find a way to still generate income while homeschooling, and I plan on sharing more about how families do this in a coming post!
Thanks for reading, and Happy Homeschooling!