Friday, August 16, 2013

Keeping Homeschool Costs Down

The lava lamp experiment is from the chemistry set I have listed on my 5th grade page from Home Science Tools. I combined a 10% off sale with a $40 credit that they offered during a bonus Christmas sale on a microscope. My grandmother paid for the children's microscope as a Christmas gift and had me order it; I used the credit later to order the chemistry kit.

Homeschooling, by its very nature, has some costs savings. By teaching children at home, I don't spend money on:

Gas (and wear and tear on the car) to drive the children to school and back (it also makes it easier to be a one-car family!)


School lunches, including lunch boxes, sandwich bags, individually packaged treats, or the high cost of purchasing lunch at school. (Our meals at home are usually soup and homemade bread, or leftovers, but sometimes sandwiches, salad from the garden, or bean burritos. Lunch for the family usually costs me $.50 to $1.00 for all seven of the children and myself.)

Classroom supplies

School fundraisers

School uniforms (many of the public schools in my area require uniforms)


The latest fashion trends (my children don't know what those are, so there are no requests for a "certain" pair of shoes or a "certain" pair of jeans).

I do, however, buy curriculum.

When people find out I homeschool, the first question they always ask is, "What curriculum do you use?"

I don't believe in buying a "boxed" curriculum for many reasons. One, you're paying for someone else to pick your books, when you can just as easily pick them yourself. Two, you're paying full price for every book. Three, the boxed purchase means that you are buying some books again and again, each time another child in your family reaches that grade. I don't need a new math book, a new English book, a new science book, new reading books,  etc. for every child for every grade; I can pass books down, and they only have to be purchased once. This is a huge cost savings.

Some ways that I have saved money in purchasing our curriculum:

1. Buy used

 There are many ways to do this. Homeschool forums usually have a place where people can buy and sell their used books. Amazon sells used copies of many of the books that we use; I can usually buy a used hardcover or library binding copy of a book for less than a new paperback edition of a book. The hardcover book will last longer, which is better for passing down to the subsequent children. Alibris  is another source for used books. You can sometimes pick up books at garage sales and thrift stores as well.

2. Buy on sale

Most homeschool suppliers have regular sales on certain products throughout the year, but especially in spring (when many people are looking to purchase for the following year) and again in August. Some retailers always have certain books at discounted prices throughout the year. In addition, many retailers offer free shipping or additional discounts (usually these come in their catalogs, but some will also let you know of a deal if you receive their emails).

Amazon's regular prices for many books are a lot lower than full price, which saves me a lot. They often have a buy 4 for the price of 3 deal going on paperback literature, on top of their lower prices, and when you are spending $25 or more, you can get free shipping on most items. In addition, you can use Swagbucks and Recyclebank to earn Amazon gift cards to help pay for your purchases.

Some regular sales that I have seen: Christian Book usually has sales on different publishers on a regular basis (they also have Black Friday sales). Home Science Tools has sales on a regular basis, on top of their low prices. Their service has been phenomenal and they have flat rate shipping of $6.95. They have great sales at Christmas time, too. Scholastic's Teacher Express site has a $1 sale a few times a year, where a large portion of their downloadable books are $1 each (this is when I purchased my activity books from them that you see listed on my fourth grade page, as well as the geography books from them for several grades). Because they are printable, once you download them, you can use them for every child quite easily.

This is Liberty two years ago doing her kindergarten math, which I printed from The Math Worksheet Site.

3. Don't buy it at all

The library may have many of the books you need, especially literature and science books. You may find the exact books you want, or you may be able to find others that will work just fine (our library has a lot of science books that include experiments). If your library doesn't have the books you want, you may be able to request them through interlibrary loan.

Hand-me-downs can work for books as well as clothing! If you have friends who are teaching children older than yours at home, they might offer you their old books. We have received several books this way.

Swapping books that you no longer need is another way to get books. You can do it locally, or online (in which case you would need to pay book rate shipping).

There are also vast resources for school that you can access online for free. I mentioned recently that we found a free online typing class. I have a list of several free sources for all sorts of subjects (including math, English, science, spelling, art, penmanship, music and more) on my website's Homeschool Sources page. Some sites are always free. For some, you will need to print pages for your child. Some sites have a limited number of free pages, but have more available for a subscription fee (which can be month or a year, so you can try it out for a month to see if it is worth it or not to you).

A note on printing: I print quite a few pages each day. My printer is a laser printer, and it only prints black. Using a laser printer instead of an ink jet printer saves me a lot, as does using a black and white printer over a color printer. The cartridges that I buy are labeled for 7000 sheets per cartridge, and I usually can get 10,000 sheets per cartridge by cleaning the wire, shaking the cartridge, and covering the reader hole on the cartridge with masking tape. I watch for sales on Amazon to replace my cartridge when it starts to get low. I have been using my printer for many years; they have newer models now that also take the same cartridge.

Paper sales are best at back to school time. This week Office Max has a box of 10 reams (500 sheets each) of paper on sale for $25. (Regular price is $35). We use computer paper for painting, drawing, and origami,  as well as for printing.

This week I updated our curriculum lists to reflect what we are using for each grade. You can find those on my website. For simplicity's sake I am listing the links to each grade here:


First Grade

Second Grade

Third Grade

Fourth Grade

Fifth Grade

Sixth Grade

Seventh Grade

Homeschool Resources

A little homeschool encouragement

We homeschool year-round. If you don't homeschool year-round, when do you start school?

This post contains affiliate links. A big thank you to those of you who have made purchases through my links; the credit I earn helps me to pay for schoolbooks!


  1. Oh, how I envy you! I would have loved to homeschool my children for the very same reasons but my husband just isn't on board. I have 2 children in elementary school, 1 in middle school, and 1 starting high school this year. I just got a letter, today in fact, saying that my oldest needs a TI-84 graphing calculator and either an ipad, netbook, or laptop for school that starts in 11 DAYS!!! Oh how I wish my husband would change his mind....

    1. The graphing calculator I understand, but why are they requiring you to buy a computer?

      We homeschool for lots of reasons; the frugal benefits are just a perk!

    2. Those calculators are expensive, although I have seen them at Goodwills in our old town (large city). If you have to pay full price, have your oldest take very good care of it. They can last a while and mine was passed down to several siblings. It will definitely get a lot of use in high school and even college depending on the major. :)

    3. Check local pawn shops for graphing calculators. I've seen them at pawn shops for about half the retail. Or, ask friends who have kids just a few years older if they'd be willing to sell you theirs, or at least allow you to borrow theirs until you can find one at a good price.

    4. I love that idea Lili! Our town has plenty of pawn shops, too! We're not needing one yet but when we get to that grade I'll have to remember that idea!

      I just have to say that I am LOVING your blog! I should have clicked over sooner! I spent several hours last week reading your posts.

    5. We found one on ebay. Still expensive, but saved $50 over the store price

    6. Schools are starting to down load the text books onto the ipad, notebook or laptop. With budget cuts and the ever changing curriculum they're finding it easier to purchase the digital copy and just download it to all students with those devices. When you have four or five history classes using the same book through the day and the class has only one classroom set, it makes it difficult for student to take them home to use for homework. The idea is great, download four or five text books on to it and they have it available to them at home, however, reality is, not everyone can afford them separating those that can from those that can't. Frustrating for those of us who work in the schools.

    7. Interesting about the books, I still find it so strange that the schools here have TWO sets of books per student; one for the classroom and one for at home. We always had one book per student and you took it home and then brought it to class.

      There are students who struggle just for clothing (I know of a school here where many students had clothing, but not underwear or socks, because they could not afford it). I know 1 in 5 people in the U.S. is now on food stamps. There are school districts throughout the U.S. where 60% or more of the students are on free lunch. What are the students supposed to do who cannot afford this?

    8. I'm going to check Ebay, Craigslist, and Freecycle for the calculator--new ones are running $108 on Amazon, though there may be used ones available, I haven't yet checked.

      In middle school, the kids each had TWO textbooks-one for home and one for the classroom AND they were able to access the book online if they had a home computer or other device. I'm not sure how the high school operates yet since this is our first year in but I'm going to assume it's about the same so I'm not even sure why they would require a laptop or equivalent?

      I live in a very affluent town where there aren't many in need, though the numbers have risen over the past few years. Just this past year they voted to increase the school budget by $1 million dollars even though enrollment has steadily declined by 600 students over the last 5 or so years. They stated the reason for the increase was to provide more school security (Newtown, CT where the school shooting happened in December is our neighboring town) and for added technology like ipads and netbooks, etc. So the budget increased, our taxes increased, and now they want us to spend more money out of our own pockets to pay for something they were supposed to have accounted for. It's just ridiculous.

      My son has an ipod that he got for Christmas last year and a Kindle Fire that he bought with his own money and both have wi-fi so we're going to see if those are "acceptable" devices. The schools here use Google docs instead of Word, Excel, etc. so the documents are saved online and can be accessed from anywhere so I can't see that it would be a problem. If so, the school is going to have to come up with a solution because I can't imagine we are the only family who can't afford it...

  2. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

    Which microscope did you buy and when do your children start using it? Do they use it often? Do they love science? I'm on the fence about buying a microscope now for our 5th grader since we've already spent a lot for the upcoming year....and since they have other favorites like history.

    We don't do school full-time all year. We've done a lot less during the summer and focused on art shows, swimming, summer reading, and other extras. We'll start in a week with a 5th grader and a kindergartener.

    1. They LOVE science! When I redid the chore charts, I changed the schedule so that we could do more science.

      I make sure I am with them while we use the microscope, because I'm afraid someone will trip over the cord otherwise. They think it is a lot of fun. I really want to use it more; hopefully the new schedule will make it possible for us to do it more.

      My microscope says it is the MI-4100SPL. I'm not seeing that exact number on their site, so it is either the MI-4100STD or the MI-4100LST that would be the same. We got it on a Christmas sale, and they had an additional deal where for every so much you spent, you received a gift certificate for $10 off your next purchase. We received $40 in gift certificates. Also, several of their microscopes come with an additional kit thrown in as a bonus that they normally sell for $25, that includes several slides, including 6 prepared slides. I asked my grandmother to get it for them as a group Christmas gift, rather than individual gifts that wouldn't last. I'm so glad I did.

      The chemistry kit has been a huge hit. It's less money and you might want to start with that.

  3. I do use a "boxed" curriculum but I only had to purchase 2 workbooks to reuse it with my second child. I have loaned it out to others and gotten it back intact as well so they used it for free :-). Each grade is like this. It's one of the reasons I choose that curriculum, because of it's purchase once and reusability. Funny enough plenty of people actually use it without the workbooks because the guide is built to be flexible. So I know even if the work books become OOP I can still use my set.

    Part of me appreciates the ability to open the teachers guide and work thus I can devote my time to other passions. I really admire you in that you can do all that planning :-) your amazing!

    1. Good for you! A friend of mine rebuys the entire set for every child every year; if you just buy the workbooks again (or if you scan the workbooks and print them) then it would certainly reduce the cost.

      Everyone has to do what works best for them! I like picking and choosing, but not everyone does! People look at me strangely, though, when I say I don't buy a boxed curriculum. I get the weirdest questions. Some people think there isn't any other option out there!

      K-12 is "free" in my state, so a lot of people wonder why I don't "just use that." It's not what I want to use; there are so many great books out there and I think that schedule (including meeting with a teacher every week) would drive me crazy. I like the flexibility that I have.

      I once read someone's advice to only plan a week at a time. When I started doing that, everything was much more attainable.

  4. As always, I love your posts - they are so helpful and informative. I especially liked your tip on the printer cartridge - I have a similar cartridge and will try taping over the hole to see if it lasts longer.

    We are homeschooling 1st grade and K4 this year and are doing a lot of the things you are doing - using the library when we can, buying books that we can use for several kids, etc. The other things I do that I didn't see mentioned are these:

    1. If you don't find a title at your library, it doesn't hurt to request it as a purchase - then when you aren't using it someone else might be able to.

    2. Every year when I see things I'd like for homeschooling, I add them to a Christmas/Birthday wish list for our kids. When relatives ask what they want, I give them the list. There are fun things on the list too, but last year, my dad bought us Story of the World's history and activity books as well as a grammar book.

    3. Used curriculum sales can be a great resource. I discovered one last year in Kansas City that had amazing deals on a lot of the books I would like to use, so when we get extra money for homeschooling, I am trying to put it into a little fund so I can purchase more for less at the annual curriculum sale.

  5. My sister-in-law and I swapped books throughout the years (K-8) that we homeschooled. We would watch for new updated versions, and buy up any of the older companion worktexts that we might need to go with our older text books. We pretty much split the costs between our two families, 5 children schooled in total.

    We would work from early September until the work was complete, usually around the 4th of July. I liked taking a break for several weeks in summer. It helped me gear up for the coming year.

    I miss those years.

    1. We take breaks, but not in summer. Because it is so hot here, I find it better to take breaks when the children can go outside and play, which is NOT in the summer. No one wants to play outside when it's 107º like it is today. I also start each child when they turn 5 (although my younger ones are wanting to have schoolwork, too, so I've been giving it to them!), without regard for when they would otherwise start school (in Winter's case, being after the cutoff, she would have had to wait 9 months to start school if she was in public school).

    2. Oh, yes! The summer months would be the unpleasant months to have holidays from school, where you live! :-)
      I am north of Seattle, and about the 4th of July to mid-September is our sunny season, and very nice. And it's my gardening season, so it was always nice to both have time for me to garden, but also have the children help, as they could.

    3. We are the same. Not quite as hot as your area but still normally in the 100's so we take our breaks when we can enjoy more time outside.

  6. The reason for the ipad, notebook or laptop, schools are now starting to download their text books onto them, I know high school text books are huge;down loading them reduces how many books they carry and with budget cuts some schools have only one class set of books making it difficult for students to take them home for homework. You don't have to publish this I just wanted to explain the reason behind it.

    1. How can they require this? Tax dollars should at least pay for one book per child. I always took my books home; there was never a classroom set. My high school backpack was very heavy, because I had to take everything home, but that was normal.

    2. LOL this is the third time I have typed this so it may sound terrible. Sorry. Google is acting weird.


      Our district is likely last in the nation for per pupil spending. We rarely have individual textbooks per child and haven't for years except in math maybe, we have classroom sets. There also hasn't been any online access for most books, with the exception of math. It doesn't seem fair to require children to find their own facts for a worksheet, but then test them from the text they have little to no access from.

      This year the school is planning to have a set of classroom ipads for texts with online access for home use. I can't provide enough computers/time on screens for as many children as I have, nor do I want my children looking at a screen that much in a day.

      Of course our new school buildings and new district building with cherrywood furniture and granite counters/desk tops throughout are quite beautiful. I'm just not sure the opportunity cost of not providing materials to educate our children is worth it.

    3. Penelope, you said that so well.

      My entire middle school was portable buildings (including the principal's office and the nurse's office, which were the same building). We had one bathroom that was part of a public pool that the elementary school used for P.E.

      My high school had a large number of students, but we had no cafeteria (one tiny little kiosk-sized area that cooked some food but usually ran out of food before everyone could go through the line, which was one line on each side of the kiosk). There were a few tables, but not enough for hundreds of students. I had lunch on the ground everyday, brought from home; the two times I tried to buy lunch they ran out of anything besides fries (the lunch they sold was a few things, including a chicken sandwich and fries, and one other hot sandwich).

      We had no hallways; we had separate buildings.

      There was only one bathroom open for the entire school of several hundred students; they locked the other bathrooms because some students had damaged them. If you needed to use the bathroom you often could not in time.

      We had to go to the community college for our football games and our graduation ceremonies because we did not have a place to play at our own school.

      Our lockers were too small for all of our books so I had to carry many of those heavy books around even when I didn't need them for class.

      So the amazing demands that you and others are mentioning just floor me.

  7. We are starting our second year, and I am buying a box set, I buy Sonlight and have been loving it, I will reuse it for each child and it holds up to a decent resell for even old copies. For last year and this year, though I had to buy new sets, but they know when you have previously bought a book, so I don't have to rebuy it, also I skipped the binder and tabs, I got some clearance heavy duty binders last year and use those instead, saved $20 on that alone. We are switching to using Life of Fred math, and I am borrowing the elementary set and used my swagbucks amazon gift cards to cut the pre-algebra and algebra costs way down. These books also hold their resell value, with used copies going for the same as new.
    For our family switching from $5500 in tuition for each child to $500-$800 each, even the boxed set is frugal. Perspective right.
    We fight less and are so much less stressed.

  8. So is it a typo or do your 4th and 7th graders truly share math? I was looking at 7th grade curious as to what you use for algebra since my oldest is starting 7th grade as well and is doing algebra next.

    Due to a huge decrease in pay in the past 6 months, we are borrowing curriculum from our homeschool library which is a HUGE blessing right now. We're using the 7th and 4th grade Sonlight curriculum and my younger children will listen in on the 4th grade readalouds and do their own levels of math (Singapore, inexpensive), phonics, reading, etc... . Fortunately, we had bought Rosetta Stone before things got so tight so they'll continue that for Spanish, along with my oldest doing Latina Christiana 2 (and concurrently taking Latin 2 at our homeschool co-op). We were blessed by my dad with a used laptop from his work (they auction them off) which we will put the kids' schoolwork items on this year. Still hoping to purchase Teaching Textbooks level 4 for my 4th grader and have purchased a used copy of TT Algebra for my oldest (still looking b/c I didn't realize when buying that it doesn't cover quadratic equations).

    We actually started a bit in July for this year-round year but were still finishing up last year's math at that time. My daughter went to visit her grandparents in Florida but will be back next week and we'll get back to schoolwork as well.

    It's always interesting to read what others are doing and to glean ideas.

    1. That's a typo! I was certain I fixed that but I must not have hit save when I updated it this week. I hope I didn't miss anything else there! I will fix that; thanks!

      Saxon says that after the 7/6 book, you can do the 8/7 for slower math students, or the pre-algebra (Saxon calls it Algebra 1/2). I'm planning on doing the pre-algebra.

      We'll be ready to move to the next grade in about 6 weeks for the three oldest, and Liberty already moved on to 2nd grade. Wren and Elsa are both doing the same work, which is really strange, because Elsa is 3. She wants schoolwork and she recognizes more letters than Wren and almost as many numbers. So, I am just teaching them together. If she can keep up, we'll keep going; if not, I'll give her slightly different work.

    2. Elsa sounds very bright! It's nice to be able to group the younger ones together for some areas. My 3, 5, and just turned 7 year olds will be doing the same in some aspects. The 3 and 5 YO will do the same math (Singapore K) and reading curriculum, but the 5 YO is way ahead on writing. Funny how it all works out and that doesn't matter when we're grown. :)

      I'm not super familiar with Saxon (have looked at it but not tried it). We did pre-Algebra for 6th so will follow that with Algebra for 7th. But Teaching Textbooks also has those for higher grades. I had her take the placement tests when we went to TT and she placed into pre-Algebra so we went with it.

  9. Love your posts, thank you. I'm wondering if you could please clarify how you prolong your printer cartridge. We also have a laser jet printer. What is the reader hole? Thanks!

    1. Take it out, shake it up to redistribute the toner, and then there is a wire that you clean by running the little slide thing (sorry I don't remember the actual name of it) just like you do when it is brand-new. Put a piece of dark tape over the little hole in the side (it's like a little window where the printer reads to tell you that the cartridge needs to be replaced) and it reads as full. It will still be obvious when the cartridge is out of toner when you are printing, but I get another couple of months from it this way.

  10. this is our first year doing homeschool year round. We took a couple of weeks off for camps and to visit family. We are finishing math with my oldest and my youngest has religion, math, and spelling to finish. I like the year round. I always have the need to finish an entire book before moving to the next subject.
    I like reading about the savings that come with homeschooling. I would add that we are able to travel during off season.
    Thanks for posting the list of items you use for each grade. I like adding books to our reading list.
    This year we will be getting a chemestry set and combining the science for 3rd and 5th grade. we always start with great ideas about what we are going to do for the school year but around November we drop one or two elective subjects (such as latin, art, music)

    1. I hope that one day we can travel during the off-season. I think September/October travel out of state (to a cooler state where the leaves actually change colors; here they turn brown in December and fall) would be ideal.

  11. I agree with Brandy that this new double sets of textbooks thing is strange, to say the least. Back in dinosaur days when I was in school, textbooks were free, on loan, through eighth grade. ONE set. For high school, we had to buy our books, but could sometimes buy used, and could resell them to the school book store at the end of the year. (Now books are free here through high school.)

    I just recently learned from a friend that in our town, the school buys the two sets of books per student "because the books are so heavy" to carry around. To me, this is just nonsense. Learning to manage your books, and have the right books in the right place at the right time, was just part of learning to think ahead and prepare to function in the real world.

    Of course, this was before every student walked around looking like a turtle with a back pack on. You just carried your books in your arm. Boys commonly started getting acquainted with girls by offering to carry their books. Such a civilized custom.

  12. You know I love your curricula/book lists! And your pictures!! :)

  13. Personally I love school uniforms. They're very cheap (my daughter's dresses cost about $5 each; the shirts are $2 each) or sometimes free (the school does a school uniform exchange where you bring in uniforms your kids have outgrown and swap for the next size up). I love that there is no pressure to dress up or have nice clothes for school. It also does away with morning arguments of "I have nothing to wear." Uniforms are a great equalizer.

    Also, I stumbled upon my new favourite website today and thought I'd share - hundreds of books you can just open up and read on your computer, for free! What's not to love?

  14. Wow this is so timely kind of post...learning a lot here though I am sending my son to a private School, I liked the uniforms as well even though I had to spend money on it buying part of it from a particular retailer. He is kindergarten so far so we have a long way to go.this school had a uniform exchange earlier in the summeer that helped me set off the expenses quite abit. I cannot say I did be that blessed year after year but we will see...
    I wanted to also say that for my son he had no interest in traditional books and method to read and learn numbers.However I stumbled on a site called and it helped with his reading and numbers in a very fun way over the summer and $25 for three months subscription seemed fair for that progress. Maybe some kids respond better that way and I could see it being used for homeschooling.


    1. Reading Eggs is amazing; my kids love it! A lot of schools (at least over here) pay for the kids' memberships; otherwise they often have free 6 or 12 week trials. My kids also love Spellodrome but if you're an American you might want to exercise caution in using that site as American and Australian English have slightly different spelling (eg "s" instead of "z" for words like realise/realize, or "re" instead of "er" in words like "centre/center"). I think there's also a math one, but I'll have to ask my daughter for the name.

  15. In the last photo, did you print a gray scale copy of a photo and then watercolor over it? That looks like a fun project!

    1. Only my then 2-year-old painted it that way. The others used it to do their own paintings by tracing over it. This is the project: I did a painting of Ivory with it. I ended up doing mine a little differently than she did, as I used Photoshop and had some different tools; I left in more than she did so that I could better see areas of more paint, which I found really helpful. I did a painting that day as well, of Ivory. It was really fun. She has several other great watercolor tutorials on her site.

    2. Thank you so much for the link and ideas! I appreciate it.

  16. Brandy, I am very grateful for you continuing to provide this information. After a series of difficulties and serious issues throughout last year, I read through your home school page encouragement and it made a difference for me. It helped give me the courage to just go ahead with it when I knew I should be. The school district starts this week, and we are not going. I have spent months trying to figure it all out and much of what we will do is inspired if not directly from your list.

    I have been given a great opportunity by way of an educational liaison that supports homeschooling and funnels our educational tax dollars towards curriculum for home use.

    Any suggestions as to specific chemistry materials, like a kit or something else? I am a little overwhelmed right now and not sure where to start on this. My oldest 2 will be taking honors chemistry through the BYU independent study H/S so we will all study it (K-11). I have a limited amount of money that I would like to have cover chemistry AND biology/physics materials just in case we take the entire plunge into home school next year away from the liaison.

    I also made a trip to the Seminary building to sign up my 2 H/S aged children. They were super easy to work with.

    1. Check out Home Science Tools for Chemistry kits. They have a few different kits, plus they have all sorts of other chemistry supplies, and their prices are great. They have a free shipping code right now for orders over $99 if you have to spend that much: PB2S13 Otherwise shipping is a flat rate of $6.95. You can see what supplies your class requires and if you need to order anything extra to meet your requirements.

      Chemistry is a LOT of fun! We are loving it here!

    2. They have some great things for biology, too, including dissection kits, if your program requires that.

    3. Most of our chemistry experiments for younger kids involve household borax, vinegar, baking soda, etc. I bought measuring spoons/cups at the dollar store and keep extra plastic containers for things, plus I bought two beakers for $7 each from Amazon for things that might be reactive.

  17. I so need this this year!!! We would love it if you would link up at our linky party:
    Live every Wednesday to Sunday.
    Hosted by: Parrish @ Life with the Crust Cut Off Dana @ This Silly Girl’s Life
    We hope to see you there!


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