Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Homeschooling is Cheaper than that "Free" Public School

There are lots and lots of excellent reasons to homeschool (many of which can be found in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto), but one of concerns people seem to have before taking that step is money.  One of the first questions people always seem to have about homeschooling in my experience is either "isn't it expensive?" or "how much does it cost?"  My answers to those are no and less than sending you child to a public school.  That second part surprises a lot of people, but it is true in a lot of other people's experience as well as mine.  When you send a child to school in the fall, oftentimes there is a list of supplies that they are required to have and some of these lists are quite expensive.  I've seen parents spend well over a hundred dollars, some even over $200 for supplies for kindergarten or preschool!  Of course that number is going to vary wildly depending on the grade level, teacher, income level of the school district, and any number of factors, but the National Retail Federation says that the average spent on school supplies in 2010 was $96.39, with an additional $181.60 for school related electronics and computers.  And the spending spree doesn't stop there--the average family also spent $328.41 on back-to-school clothes and shoes.  Wait, there's more.  Once the kid gets to school, they have fundraisers galore that you, as their parent, feel guilty if you don't support.  There are special lunches either to purchase at the school (gross!) or to make and pack.  Some other kid's got-to-have thing may mold into your kid's new favorite got-to-have thing, through that demon of peer pressure.'t....stop..... EVER!

<Here I pause dramatically while you run screaming around in circles, clutching your head with the agony of all this money wasted when there is a better way.>

So how much does it cost to homeschool?  As little or as much as you'd like it to.  You don't have to buy what the teacher says all right now.  You can buy what you need as you need it, so if you anticipate the needs a little bit, you can save a lot of money.  I'm especially fond of those 90% sales on school supplies after the non-homeschool kids have been shuffled off to their classrooms (jail cells?) for the school year.  Plus, you can be a lot more discretionary on what you do decide to purchase.  For example, I'm not a big fan of markers because my soon-to-be 4 year-old daughter thinks she is especially beautiful multicolored, so I don't use markers in our "classroom".  Realistically, I'd say I spend about $15 or less a year on the actual supplies, maybe take it up to $30 or $35 if you include printer ink and paper.  We have a zoo membership and museum membership that my parents get for us for Christmas each year (Yay Mom and Dad!), but for the sake of argument, I'll throw them in here too, so that's another $110 for both memberships.  The museum has monthly homeschool days that we try to attend that have a $4 lab fee, so, assuming we actually made it to all of them, that would be another $32.  I really liked the member worksheets at for what I was looking to teach this year, so I splurged on an annual membership there at another $20.  A lot of the materials for his lessons are food we'd eat anyway or things for the garden we'd be using anyway, (since you can learn a lot about math, science, reading, writing, and a miscellany of other things by cooking and gardening!) so I'm not going to even include those items in the total.  Aaaaaaaaaaand...I just bought the child in question a new pair of shoes the other day for about $20.  Most of his clothes I get as hand-me-downs from Freecycle or other such places, or occasionally as gifts, so I don't need to include any cost in there.  (Clothes aren't nearly important without that peer pressure demon around.  He's happy with whatever he's got!)

So right now, I'd say this year of homeschooling will cost a grand total of $216, but really only $106 out of pocket, since some of this stuff was Christmas gifts.  Compare that to the National Retail Federation's figure of $606.40.  Yeah.  If you aren't going to homeschool your kids, it isn't because of the money.

<Cue random homeschool pictures to show how much more fun it is to be homeschooled than to sit in a classroom>

Keeping that in mind, I thought it would be fun to show interested people in some of the things we do day-to-day in our little home school by sharing my lesson plans with the public.  Something to keep in mind about these lesson plans, though, is that it isn't a complete picture.  My son and I kind of clash a bit on our styles, so we compromise.  I like unschooling a lot and would love for our family to just live that way, letting learning happen organically as we go through our day to day lives.  My son, on the other hand, wants more structure.  As a result, we've been kind of following a loose curriculum, mostly involving reading some stories, doing related worksheets I find on the internet, and then doing a craft or making something, ideally cooking (because then that creeps back into unschooling territory, but he loves it anyway).  There is a lot more learning taking place here than these lesson plans show, but the main point is to show you how easy it is.  I think this age, pre-reading is the hardest part to homeschool too, since I have to lead him through everything and can't just have him read his own directions or information.  Also, I show the products (books, toys, etc) we use to show how simple it can be.  The books are from the library in our case (although I could buy $500 worth and still be paying $0.40 less than the average for sending a kid to "free" public school!  Ha ha!), or or we just happen to have it and I don't really know where it came from.  The toys were mostly gifts or garage sale finds.  These lesson plans can be seen at my spin-off blog at Lesson Plans of a Thrifty Mama (currently dormant because we've been doing more unschooling this year).  Enjoy and I hope you find some inspiration there!


  1. Chris, You didn't even touch on field trips. I am in East Lansing and the kids have to fund their own trips. So trips to the Wharton Center, $5 for the homeschool kids, are $10 for public schools. One year my daughter had to pay $45 to ride in a chartered bus to spend 2.5 hours at PJ Hoffmaster state park and 30 min at the Meijer Garden. The cost of Old Country Buffet was not included. The 8th grade trip to Cedar Point is over $60. I have a lot of public school kids in one of my Scout troops, they are always coming and asking their parents for $5 here, $20 there for things they need for school.

  2. Thank you for sharing this Chris. I am still trying to get my husband to agree to this. I love your lesson plan blog as well. I will be following it. :)

  3. Yup, yup, yup. The field trips vary widely between schools though, which is one reason I didn't go there. I figured it was kind of covered by the random phantom costs of a "free" public education.

    Good points, Ann. Thanks for bringing them up!

  4. We home school and find that while yes, if I worked, we would be making money, but you can't make up the time spent with your child learning together. You can't count the cost/savings benefit of having your children being best friends...there is so much benefit you cannot put a price on. Homeschool is in the intangibles.

  5. I don't even know why I torture myself so and read articles like this one. I would love to homeschool but it's illegal here. :(
    And yes, it's soooo expensive. My oldest starts first grade this autumn and we have already spent upwards of $300 on school supplies, with some more stuff to come. :/

  6. I can see homeschooling could be inexpensive, but I think you overstate the cost of sending your child to school. A thrifty mama can spend way less than you suggest. As an example, we've found that the retailer push for back-to-school school supplies is just a marketing ploy. Our teachers have not wanted the children to come in with any school supplies--the school supplies the school supplies. And no "school related electronics and computers" are have been required or purchased here. So that puts it at pretty much a new lunchbox and backpack per year, except this year my child refused to let me purchase a new one of either, preferring to use last year's holy backpack instead. As for lunches, we pack the same stuff she would eat at home, so the major expense there is sandwich bags, although we use as few of those as possible, having tupperware for the sandwiches, etc. Those were a one-time purchase for kindergarten, of course. Clothes? Well, our kid keeps growing and would need clothes anyway, and the beginning of school (or shortly after, to catch the sales) is a convenient time to get them. Our child wears uniforms, but those are so standard that we can find them used easily, like we do her other clothes. And the uniforms cut down on the number of outfits she needs for the other days of the week, so that works out even anyway. Fundraisers are all optional--and we've skipped three out of three *school* fundraisers this year so far. We're still hit up with fundraisers for extra-curricular activities, but homeschoolers sometimes would have those, too. And teaching your child that you don't always give in to the peer pressure of what every other child has can be a valuable exercise at the same time. Even field trips are an optional expense -- and an optional one of both public schools and homeschools.

    So this is just to say that parents who send their kids to public school can be thrifty, too.

  7. My kids were homeschooled for 7 years but 3 yrs ago they had to go to school in an emergency situation. They're back home now and I did the math.

    Uniforms cost me $396 last year for 3 kids because the kids were in a new school due to a move, and this was only for the bare minimum (3 shirts, 2 pants and 2 shorts each). Prior to that I spent about $300 on uniforms that were worn for a few years, most purchased used.

    School supplies, even on sale, easily cost $75-100 per child. Thankfully my parents always helped us out with this cost.

    School lunches were $3.50 a day each, breakfast was $1.50. Even a packed lunch that was acceptable to the school (no nuts, no sweets, nothing that needed to be heated, no thermoses, nothing requiring a utensil of any kind) cost at least $1 each.

    Field trips were so ridiculous last year that my kids didn't go on any because we just couldn't afford it. My son's school trip to the zoo was $40, but admission if I took him would have been $12. My son could have gone to an amusement park for $35, but the educational rate for our homeschool group was $5, so we went with our homeschool group.

    Now, add in the expected birthday party for the classroom if you have a kid in elementary ($10 if I make cake, I refused to take in gift bags). And teacher appreciation week ($10). And holiday gifts ($10). And art fees ($20). And PE fees ($25). And locker fees ($14). And the fee for the required agenda that they never use ($5). And graduation fees ($100). And school pictures ($40 twice a year). and did I mention I have 5 kids who would be in school this year?

    and to top it all off, while I live 7.8 miles from the school our zip code was one of the "too close to be offered bus transportation" zip codes so I had to drive the kids to school every day. That's 16 miles a day with gas being near $4 a gallon, just to go to school.

    I bought curriculum for all 5 kids for under $300 this year, most of it used, and every single bit of it can be adapted to make it non-consumable so I can use it for many years to come. My kids are going into 10th, 8/9th, 4th, 2nd and K.

  8. Where do the school supply the supplies? There are areas where schools still do that?

    In the schools my 5 have been in we've had to supply everything from their pencils, paper, crayons and pens to boxes of tissues, paper towels, hand soap, hand sanitizer, ziplock baggies, paper plates (in two sizes), get the idea.

    We had to pay an arts fee and PE fee so the teachers could buy supplies. For goodness sake we had to pay a locker fee so my middle schoolers would have a locker, and even then they had to share their locker with another student. Oh, and the science lab fee was about $50 per kid too. We weren't required to buy computers but we were required to buy 2gig flash drives and have internet access at home because in one middle school all assignments were turned in via a special school program that wasn't available on the computers at the library, so that's another $20/month there.

    For us, at least, homeschooling is far cheaper than sending them to school.

  9. The number you have quoted are highly inflated. While schools may ask for help funding supplies and/or field trips they are not allowed to require it. Granted if enough parents didn't have the money to support the activity then it would probably be canceled but they can not make it a required expense. New clothing & backpacks are optional & they are gonna eat anyways & if you fix their lunch they can eat exactly what they would eat at home.

    Don't get me wrong I am all for homeschooling but even when we choose to help fund activities our school expenses are nowhere close to what you are implying that most spend. In fact for 'school expenses' I'd say the only reason we exceeded the $100 you spent last year was because we OPTED to go to Disneyland for a music competition (oh which not paying the 'fee' would not stop any child from going). In addition to all the core ackademics my children were able to take violin, drums, keyboards, art & drama and next year will also be taking ceramics & graphic arts. This is a free public art school grades 4-8 and an unbelievable experience for them. It would be VERY pricey to fund these specialty classes on your own.