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Practical Homeschooling® :

Homeschooling on a Budget

By Lori Harris
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #28, 1999.

Homeschooling on $100 a year.
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Lori Harris

Reality is not always fun, but it sure helps when you live on an unstable income. Homeschooling doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. As homeschoolers we should be able to make it work for a lot less money than the public educational system.

Going into a homeschool convention hall is like placing a kid in a candy store, and many homeschooling parents pull out the plastic to make every whim come true. Is that really necessary? We cut up the credit cards quite a few years back and have forced ourselves to learn to live without. That includes everything from phones and electricity to food and clothes or even school books.

Choices That Last

Our family chooses to cut corners several ways without skimping on quality. The most important is to make a wise choice to start with and curb the impulse demon. When I buy a text or reference book, I make sure that I try to get it used first and that I am sold enough on the content that it won't be in the used book pile again. I try to purchase once only. Thus, the next child in line will inherit the book when they reach that subject. I am using the same phonics program with my three-year-old that I did with my fourteen-year-old. Not only do I improve as the teacher, but any of the other children can teach it as well. When I am judging the content, I don't care so much for "busy seat work" as much as clear explanations and tried-and-true methods. I am then free to create the biblical reasoning and principles behind each subject without the clutter that can accompany textbooks.

Let Your Librarian Do The Shopping

I use the library for most information books. Why should I fill my house with books of facts when the classics have so much more shelf life? When we needed to study California geography and rainfall maps, we marched into the library, headed for the reference section, and pulled out a great set of California maps with every kind of breakdown possible. Because the librarian has become a friend, she allowed this reference book to go home with us. She felt that we could benefit from it a lot more in the privacy of our home than the study section of the library. This was the kind of fact book that could be useful at home, but on a limited basis. It is so much more practical for a library to house this information than me. Most literature is checked out from the library as well. They certainly have more money to spend on fiction than I do. The library budget allows for many more books than mine does and I go armed with a book request list. In the long term, my choices will benefit more than just my family.

Clubs and Mentors

Many subjects can be taught hands-on and mentored by a more experienced adult. If you read my article in PHS #23, I found many things were taught well by people of my choosing and through 4-H, Grange, AWANA, Boy Scouts or other such programs. Don't hesitate to use these subjects for school. I require my children to keep notebooks of these activities and complete records of what is learned. This serves the dual purpose of school and club project history. Last year our outside classes included geology, horticulture, ceramics, floriculture, food preservation, cake decorating, candy making, public speaking and a host of others. All lessons were provided free of charge by volunteers and the greatest expense was gas for the car!

This year we plan for our eleven-year-old to become the "gopher" for a neighbor who works as a welder. In the process he will learn the welding trade, a life-long skill he will be able to use as an adult. My girls will be taking crocheting lessons from another homeschool mom. The cost of this class will be the yarn and a set of hooks they will share.

My oldest is fourteen. Since her high school does not offer certain classes, she is able to opt out to the local community college. For $8 per semester she has taken a sewing course and quilting class, and we have plans for more. Her teachers appreciate her ability and her desire to learn. I appreciate their attentiveness to her progress. Both teachers want to know where they can get more kids like her who want to learn!

Make Your Own

Last year all of our poster and drawing paper came from the throw-away bin at the local newspaper office and a print shop. We also asked a wallpaperer for her leftover end bolts and made "books" from these and leftover cardboard pieces.

We are great scavengers and recyclers, Although the original intent of the product may elude us, we can certainly create something from nothing. Teaching children to be inventors instead of consumers has a lot to offer. Learning to make do with what you've got is a skill most adults could profit from.

If you don't own a copy machine, try to invest in one. They don't have to be elaborate and they are certainly great time savers. My children make their own "thank you" and birthday cards and if they really like the pattern, they copy and file it for future reference. With the addition of a copier, I am able to keep a master copy of lessons I want to teach again.

File cabinets are great organizers. As I work up through the grade levels, I retire the material that I will not be using for a year or so into filing boxes. These are put away in the attic until I am ready to use them again.

One Biggie Per Year

Every year I try to make the one purchase that I can't live without. It may be an art history reference book or that copier, but I shoot for a necessity that will benefit us all. Every family should invest in a few necessities: a dictionary, some type of poetry compendium, a basic art history book, a biographical missions book, and timelines/timetables of history and science. With those items being considered the core of a reference section, you will begin to build on a foundation that will last through the years.

Our desire for last year was a music machine. Our children sing at the local nursing home once a week. We wanted a way to make our own soundtracks and have a PA system. Grandpa and Grandma thought it was something they could help with. When Christmas rolled around, we were in for a surprise! The Karaoke machine they purchased for our family was a greater blessing than we planned and came in the form of a Christmas present.

Paper, pens and pencils will be bought anyway, so I exclude those in my school expenditures calculations. I don't count uniforms, either because the children earn their own money for any uniforms they might need. True purchases last year for school use only totaled $48.90. That was for two math books.

Homeschooling doesn't have to be an expensive habit when it is attacked with a battle plan that aims to win. Our success as a family depends on it.

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