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.

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Guest's picture

Half.com is an excellent source for textbooks, and their postage is slightly less than amazon.com. Paperbackswap.com has both paperbacks and hard covers. Swapping is one for one, and you get points by listing and sending books to requestors. I've been a member for over a year, and love it. Thrift stores, if they're well-stocked--not for textbooks, but for classics.

Guest's picture
Debbie M

I thought the whole point of homeschooling was that you don't have to do all the teaching out of books. Maybe that's just me, though.

How about museums, zoos, etc. on their free day?

Art openings and star viewings and speakers at local colleges. Lots of them occasionally have activities especially for kids.

Tours. Especially if you can get enough neighbors together for a group discount.

Stuff you already have at home like cooking tools, gardening tools, paper for writing books and making newspapers, etc.

Thrift stores, garage sales, and discount stores for legos and other building toys.

Asking your friends over to teach how to do their hobbies.

Scouts, Little League, and other similar groups.

The Red Cross and similar groups for courses in first aid, swimming, etc.

Local parks for checking out plants and for physical education.

Home Depot or the grocery store for cheap seeds.

PBS, Netflix and the library for good educational shows.

And my favorite, the internet, for all those questions that come up like why is the sky blue. And for directions on things like how to make your own play dough and papier machet.

My favorite place for books, once you have a specific title in mind, is www.addall.com. Just input the book and your location, and it will list sellers in price order including shipping.

Guest's picture
Jeff N.

Does it matter how cheaply you're homeschooling if they're missing most of the important social stuff anyway? When I was in high school, homeschooling (is that how you'd say it?) seemed like a great idea. Now, however, after being in college 4 years, I've met and hung out with at least 15 home schooled people and all of them have pretty rough social skills. Several past roommates have been home schooled and, a year after graduating, have continued to work menial jobs occasionally because they're still too coddled to go out in to the "real world" and think they're above any sort of entry level career position. But I'm sure you and your kid is an exception/brainiac, so by all means, rock on! But don't mind me, I'm 22 so I wouldn't actually know anything about anything. Feel free to ignore.

Guest's picture

National Parks are another rarely explored resource, but an amazing teaching tool. Almost every park has a Jr. Ranger program that will guide the kids through exploring the park in general, and then the kids will get a badge when they complete the activities in their booklet. The Visitor Centers have displays relevant to the park, and there are always Park Rangers there who will answer questions or talk to the kids about the park and nature in general. Some of the bigger parks have teaching materials online as well (to do once you get home, or to print out and take with you to the park). I am fortunate enough to live near a lot of National Parks, and we do 3-4 week-long camping trips a year. My son is only 7, but he has been to over 20 parks and visited 27 states so far.

Linsey Knerl's picture

and ones that we also use.  This article was just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.  It was meant as a starting point for those families who rely heavily on curriculum.  I am going to be doing more articles in the future on field trips, outings, learning clubs, etc.  Keep the ideas coming!


Linsey Knerl's picture

Your comment made me laugh, ONLY because 22 is old enough to know plenty!  Yes you may have seen home-schooled kids suffering from what I call the "bubble-effect" (i.e. lack of socialization skills...) They are out there, but let me tell you, it's getting better with each generation.  It largely depends on the parents' view of the world and socialization. 

My daughter is 9 and most of her friends are from the public school system.  This is because most of MY friends don't homeschool their children.  It's neither right nor wrong.. it just is.  We try to teach our daughter that this country is great because of the freedoms it guarantees each family, and that our way is our way, it won't work for everyone.

That being said, social skills are a top priority.  We don't overemphasize peer groups (we allow interaction among different age groups, within reason), but my daughter is involved in groups and clubs with others her own age across a broad spectrum of social categories.  If we don't agree with something she is exposed to, we use it as a teachable moment, not a tool for condemnation.

One thing to remember, is that many homeschool THESE DAYS, with one main concern -- education.  Some geographical areas lack school resources, some parents are really that equipped to teach, and others just want to be sure to get in all the extras that public schools won't be able to get in.  We all have our reasons, but most of them are very pure in their intent. 

One of the reasons we try to save on textbooks is that the social activities we are involved in can be very costly.  Swimming lessons, gymnastics, 4-H, summer camps, field trips, etc are not cheap (regardless of where your kids goes to school.)  Since we foot the bill of our own books, we try to save where we can.

22 and thinking... there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I was well on my way to starting a family at that age -- I'm only 29!



Guest's picture

Another place to look for homeschool resources is VegSource. Try http://www.vegsource.com/homeschool/ They have message boards and places for swapping resources.

Jeff N.: Homeschooling can be good or bad and can have good or bad results, just like anything else. I know many homeschooling families and most of the children turned out great and are doing well in life/careers. Some haven't done so well. Sometimes you get both results from the same family - one kid does great and the other kid doesn't. You're dealing with people here, not robots. The same input in two different people does not guarantee the same output. Personalities, personal ambitions, etc. all play in to it, too. There are plenty of public school (or private school) kids who got all the "socialization" you're talking about yet still work in low-paying, mediocre jobs their entire lives because they're not motivated enough or self-confident enough to look for a better job. I agree their there are some homeschooled kids that don't do well because they didn't have good opportunities for "life experience" when they were homeschooled, there are also plenty of public school kids that end up the same way.

My sister and I were both homeschooled and lack the "socialization" you mention. Instead of being stuck in a classroom with 29 other people the same age as we were, we were out dealing with older people, younger people, middle-aged people, and all the other ages in between. Believe me, we never lacked socialization. However, I'm not always comfortable in group situations. I suppose you could blame it on the homeschooling, but my sister doesn't have an issue being in groups of people. Perhaps it's just personality differences. I'm more of an introvert and she's more of an extrovert. We're both pretty successful in our careers - she's a dog trainer for a VERY well known dog trainer (her previous job was also with a very well known dog training place) and I'm the manager for an entire boarding kennel. We're both still in our early/mid twenties, too, so it's not as if we've finally gotten around this this at 35 years old.

We spent tons of time at the library, did lots of volunteering and job-shadowing, did hands-on projects, got together with other homeschoolers for "classes" and science projects and every other kind of project, researched, went to parks, and had pretty much everything turned into a learning experience.

For home-ec, my mom would have us cook a meal every so often (we had to do that before we "officially took" home-ec, too). She incorporated a recipe book in the curriculum: she bought us each a recipe book and told us we couldn't put a recipe in it until we had made it. I hated the project at the time. Absolutely hated it (I was not an indoors person - I wanted to be outside). Now I'm married and living on my (our) own and I love that cookbook. It's crammed with recipes, magazine cutouts, printed out recipes from online, and recipes scribbled on scrap paper. It was really a good project (even though I loathed it at the time).

Lynn Truong's picture

I also know plenty of non-homeschooled people who have rough social skills exactly also because they are coddled at home and have a skewed sense of reality. These kids don't know how to problem solve or think for themselves because their family does everything for them and tells them what to think. Similarly, most schools teach conformity and uniformity, discouraging a sense of individual style or thought, and school playgrounds use peer pressure to form cliques and enforce the same kind of conformity within social groups. Social skills can be taught in a variety of ways, one of the most important and influential being right at home.

Guest's picture

I completely agree with the previous poster - when people find out that a child is homeschooled, they immediately look at any fault or bad habit that the child might have and blame homeschooling as the reason the child is the way that they are, but if a kid is in public school and has the same bad habit then the school is never to blame. When a homeschooled kid is shy then homeschooling is always the "reason", and yet when a public/private schooled child is shy then it is just assumed that that is the kid's personality and the school isn't to blame. Homeschooled kid talks a lot? Blame the fact that they get one-on-one attention at home. Public school kid talks a lot? They are outgoing and just acting like a kid. Homeschooled kid seems anxious a lot? It is because they are homeschooled, but if a public school kid is anxious then it is just part of their personality.

Socialization isn't always a great thing you know. Go to a public school and ask the fat kid how fun it is to be teased all the time by a class of his peers. Ask the stutterers how they like being around a ton of kids every day who make fun them for something that they can't control. Ask the wallflowers who don't get asked to Prom how much they love the social aspects of public high school. Being forced to interact with a never changing group of kids isn't always a good thing. Being homeschooled and never leaving the house isn't a good thing either. You have to find what works for your kid.

Guest's picture

I find that the firefox extension Book Burro is just perfect for finding a book for cheap.  It finds the ISBN on the page you are visiting and then checks other stores prices for you.  not so good if you are buying multiple books at the sametime (as it makes it hard to combine shipping)  but I have frequently saved 50% or more through it. Book Burro

Guest's picture

My son has been home-schooled for the past 2 years and he is much more social than many of his peers who are in private and/or public schools. Why is it that we all think the only way to "socialize" kids is to make them spend 7-8 hours per pay day locked up with a bunch of people their own age? Where else does this happen? In the real world, you need to be able to interact with people of all ages, not just your own. I find that many of my son's friends haven't the first clue about the appropriate way to greet an adult. Most of them ignore adults. Conversely, my son looks people inthe eye, greets them, and politely answers any question they may have for them.

Between sports, Boy Scouts, friends in the neighborhood, and weekends at the playground, there are myriad opportunities for kids to socialize with peers.

Guest's picture

My daughter is 11 and homeschooled and one of the most social people I know!! Not only is she social but she has respect for everyone around her. Im not saying anything bad about public school children but they pick up wrong behaviors from other children and from some teachers. (my daughter was enrolled in publc schools for 3 years) She is also involved with people from all ages. Clubs, public school friends, volunteering at our local Toys for Tots and homeless shelters. Socialization is the least thing that I worry about. She is way more outgoing and social then I have ever been, and I am a public school graduate. Here are a couple of websites that we go to for help, lesson plans, etc.