Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Homeschooling Lessons I've Learned the Hard Way: Homeschooling Isn't Cheap

I thing being frugal in life is a good thing. Frugal, by definition, means to be "prudently saving or sparing, not wasteful."  However, there is a different between "frugal" and "cheap."  I've seen the cost of some curricula and programs -- we looked at one online high school program that came pretty close to Luke's brick-and-mortar school tuition.  It can be intimidating if you just Google "homeschool curriculum" and you see the price tags of some of the "popular" programs.  So often I see on social media and web sites someone saying, "I can't afford to homeschool," and twelve people supply "Yes, you can, you can do it for FREE!" and start listing resources.  I'm not here to disparage any of them - because they can be great resources.  With so many resources out there, homeschooling can be frugally done. However, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is not true.  And guess what? "You can homeschool for FREE!" is too good to be true.

When we first started choosing curriculum, Jude was in preschool/kindergarten. We used a lot of "free" downloads and worksheets.  I thought, "Free is good.  Can't get any better than free, right?"  Sort of.  Because even though the download was free,  99% of the time it needed to be printed out.  We went through a ream of paper every other week.  Every time I turned around, the printer wanted more ink.  I figured out that it was costing me about $80 a month in ink and paper, plus supplies to complete the activities.  It was cheaper than private school tuition, and allowed us the flexibility we needed for him, but it wasn't "free."

In the past, I've tried to buy workbooks that I could photocopy and re-use.  I'd check the copyright and put books back if they said, "Single use only."  This has been good for some more expensive curriculum programs that are designed to be used with multiple children in the family.  However, there are some I wish I had gotten and used anyway - the book I just finished copying for Jude so I could re-use it for Damien cost $8.  We recently got a new printer (another "hidden" cost) with ink service that significantly reduced the cost of printing.  However, using HP's "per page" figures,  I worked out that it cost me $6 for ink plus half a ream of paper, plus how much time I spent flipping pages on the photocopy screen.  Was it cheaper?   I probably will about break even on that expense, but when you add in staples and folders to keep things organized, no, it wasn't.

We've set up our homeschooling budget to allow for some wonderful travel/field trip experiences.  I don't think you can compare reading about Gettsyburg with standing at the top of Pickett's Charge and imagining the war around you.  It was gut-wrenching to experience a simulation of the sinking of the USS Tang, but it pushed the price of admission to the National WWII museum up.  We've done our trips as frugally as possible, by eating in the hotel  and stacking discounts and loyalty points, and yes, if the budget couldn't include them, we wouldn't go.  However, we chose this over a busy "local-stuff-for-the-day field trip" plan, because even just local museum/zoo/etc. memberships can add up quickly. I don't think I've ever met a homeschooling mama who thinks these aren't worth every penny, but they are definitely not cheap.

As your child gets older, there is less "free" stuff out there, and if you're used to spending next to nothing, you're in for sticker shock!  For upper grades, most parents agree it's better to find experts to teach what you don't know, but homeschooling middle and high school is not for the stingy of wallet. I can't possibly get 1:1 in-person Spanish lessons with a native speaker for $9.17 an hour, but to do so requires a lump sump payment of $550 every six months with the company that provides them.  (I can't complain about the value when I've seen how good the program is, but yes, ouch.)

I'm not a math teacher.  I'm barely a math student. I couldn't comprehend high school Geometry 25 years ago, so I happily punted high school maths to Thinkwell's video-based math programs.  Yes, there are some cheaper programs, but after researching many math curricula, we went with these because they fit our needs best.  To hear your child giggle at Calculus means you've probably made a good choice, and it's worth the money spent.

We recently signed the big boys up for a two-day Biology Lab Intensive program.  Luke wants to major in a science field, and science courses with labs are really important for this.  It certainly was less expensive than even getting just the materials we needed for lab (plus I'm not even sure where to purchase "just one" fetal pig to dissect), but between the course fees, transportation costs for back and forth, and more field trip costs for the little boys since we're already out for the day, the bottom line is getting larger and larger!

I'm not trying to scare anyone away from homeschooling! Homeschooling costs, like everything else, comes down to prioritizing the items in your budget, and then trying to find ways to afford it.  You may find you can trade teaching specific subjects with another family, join a more formal co-op, purchase used books at lower prices, etc., and that can help keep costs down. Can you get a good value for your spending? Absolutely.  I've come to the conclusion that homeschooling can be the best value for your education dollar.  However, homeschooling, no matter how frugally done, is not going to be totally free.

Today is Day 2 of the Schoolhouse Crew Review spring Blog Hop.  There are over 50 bloggers participating in this season's theme, 5 Days of Tips for Homeschool Parents.  I'll be featuring a different group of bloggers each day, and encourage you to check their blogs out and see what advice they have for you!

Adventures with Jude
Day 1: Choosing Curriculum
Day 2: Homeschooling Isn't Cheap (this post)
Day 3: Creating a Customized Curriculum
Day 4: Don't Lose the Big Picture
Day 5: 8 Truths about Homeschooling (live 4/1 @ 8 am)

Melissa @ Grace Christian School
Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays
Missica @ Through the Open Window
Monique @ Mountain of Grace Homeschooling
Rebekah @ There Will Be A $5 Charge For Whining
Renita @ Krazy Kuehner Days
Sarah @ Renaissance Mama
Sasha @ Such a Time as This
Tawnee @ Adventures in Homeschooling
Tiffany @ The Crafty Home
Tina @ Desperate Homeschoolers

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