Home Education Curriculum on the Cheap: 10 Ways to Learn for Less
In a recent cost-study I completed, I found that it is possible for American families to spend between $300 and $4325 per year to homeschool a single child. While this is as varied a figure as the child it represents, there are some very simple, smart ways to keep your costs on the low side. Here are my top picks for keeping curriculum expenses low and how each has worked for our family.
Ebay – I’ll be the first to admit that my top pick for cheap textbooks and student materials is going to fall behind other resources. Their now strictly-enforced rule preventing the buying and selling of teacher’s editions (even those clearly labeled as home educator editions) has left many loyal Ebayers in the lurch. While still a great resource for buying student copies and readers at pennies on the dollar, I predict it going the way of the dinosaur for most parents.
Wagglepop – A whooey what? This up-and-coming auction site has been making a modest comeback for some time. With only a handful of sellers offering homeschool curriculum, it isn’t for everyone. There are some fantastic deals to be had, however, and I personally purchased over a dozen books from one seller with superb results. Given some more time, this could be the solution to Ebay’s teacher edition conundrum.
Amazon – Taking over as my personal #1 resource for buying student and teacher materials, copies of textbooks range anywhere from a penny to very close to retail value. Older editions of textbooks can be identical to newer ones in content, so do your research to find out if buying that newest release for 50% more will only net you a shinier cover. (How much has Algebra changed in the last 10 years, anyway?) The only drawback to using the Amazon seller’s marketplace for finding textbooks is that you purchase sight unseen. Book descriptions are vague, and shipping is not usually able to be combined. I have had great experience, nonetheless.
Homeschool Forums – With many parents fed up with auction sites, they have turned to each other for their cheap materials. The best sites for forum-based curriculum listings include HomeSchool World and Homeschool.com. You may also be able to search around some Yahoo forums to get a more local set of listings. I have been successful finding curriculum for my children at reasonable value, and the materials have been in great condition. Most parents on these forums aren’t resellers looking to profit, they just want to get enough money from last year’s curriculum to buy next year’s.
Your Local Library – It doesn’t get any cheaper than this. While not usually offering textbooks, your library will have some excellent resources for the homeschooling family. This is especially useful for those families following a Charlotte Mason model or who just want to interject some classical reading into their educational diet. By buddying up to your librarian, you may find them consulting you on what types of books they should order, and this could be a huge opportunity for you and other homeschool families.
Internet Resources – If you are a worksheet kind of instructor, you’ll be pleased to find many printables online for all grade levels. Some websites may charge an annual fee in exchange for high-quality worksheets and lesson plans. Others can give you the same kind of access for free, if you’re willing to put up with a few ads and limited ownership rights.
Scholastic Book Clubs – I will always remember getting the book order forms at school, looking them over with big plans for acquiring paperbacks, and then having my parents tell me “no.” Homeschool parents can sign up for the same ordering info from Scholastic’s website and get order forms for as many grade levels as you teach. They have some great deals throughout the year, and there is no minimum ordering levels. If you do purchase above $20, however, you get free shipping and some fine promotional perks. With each dollar spent, you will accumulate “points” that can be redeemed for future purchases. In addition to getting some nice classic paperbacks at school pricing, we have been able to get a few Nintendo DS games for my daughter well below retail. The Scholastic Teacher’s site also has a good selection of seasonal printables, including answer keys.
Craigslist – No resource list would be complete without my current shopping addiction. Granted, you will need to weed through listings for mint condition Playboys and tattered boxed lots of V.C. Andrews, but you if check early and often, there are deals to be had.
Garage Sales – Those parents especially dependent on concrete plans and tight deadlines might not appreciate the beauty of a surprise curriculum find at a garage sale. There are no guarantees that homeschool curriculum will even be mentioned in the sale ad. You just go, dig through books, and see what you find. I have gotten boxes and boxes of books for quarters, just by asking. If the family seems to be the type that might homeschool, ask! (Usually the lab equipment, early childhood education software, and huge blackboards will give them away…)
Homeschool Support Group – If you are homeschooling and haven’t joined a local support group, you are missing out! In addition to access to cheap and fun activities, discounts, conferences, and educational programs, there is often a forum or email list for trading and selling used curriculum. The best deals come from those you know!
One of the biggest expenses you will bear as a home-educating parent is the curriculum. Get out there and get informed about what you will need and what it will cost so that you are prepared to barter your way to a cheaper school year. If you make a mistake, just resell it. It’s all about learning, anyway.