How To Homeschool Cheap…without sacrificing quality

There are so many homeschool resources out there.  Hundreds!  Thousands!  Pinterest alone gives seemingly endless resources.  So how do you choose?  An even tougher task…how do you choose when you have a super tight budget?  Over the last 6 years I’ve learned several tricks for purchasing high quality curriculum cheap and in some cases free.  But before I share all my secrets with you, I want to share with you the BIGGEST curriculum mistake I made in our first year homeschooling….

When we started homeschooling back in 2011, I had a LOT of ideas in my head on what homeschooling was “supposed” to be…and none of them were right.  I thought that we essentially had to do public school at home, which is an option and a perfectly fine route to go if that’s what you choose to do.  For us though, it just didn’t feel right.  I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a boxed curriculum that I couldn’t really afford, but I was so overwhelmed with the entire curriculum buying process, that I only went off the scope and sequences I was looking at, and made a choice from there.  I looked at some cheap curriculum options, but, it didn’t seem to have enough to it, and I wanted my son to not only strive, but to exceed what he was doing in public school.  We all have that dream in our head at the beginning, right?  I know I did.  Boy was I wrong.

Well, the school year started and we were off to an ok start.  Then the sit-in-a-desk-all-day course work started getting a little harder, and my then kinesthetic 6 year old son, was in tears.  Daily.  And so was I.  We were NOT enjoying this whole homeschooling thing, and I thought about giving up several times.  It breaks my heart to think of the circumstances surrounding why we left public school, and how he was probably feeling at home.

Of all the time we’ve spent homeschooling…this is the one thing that still haunts me and I wish that I knew then what I know now!

My mistake?  I had the wrong curriculum!  High dollar is NOT synonymous with being the best curriculum for you child.  Boy did I learn that the hard way.  A little shorter than half way through the school year, I changed everything!  I kept our math and reading going, but I scrapped everything else.  I asked him what HE wanted to learn about.

“I really like the Mississippi River Mom.”

“You got it buddy!”

It just so happens that we live about 15 minutes from the Mississippi River, and an hour and a half from the coolest Mississippi River museum ever!! That gave us more than a year’s worth of curriculum.  We studied waterways, layers of the river, river life, trading and trade routes, prehistoric Mississippi river bed history, Mark Twain, our local history and hot the river towns developed, and how the locks and dams were developed and how they work.  So by studying that one thing he was interested in, we got history, math, reading, engineering, physics, biology, and we even did some art projects.  It was awesome.

Great story…what does it have to do with cheap curriculum? I’ll tell you…I learned how to use my local resources.  That brings us right into my NUMBER 1 way to have a quality homeschool curriculum cheap!

1.  CREATE IT FROM SCRATCH

This option is the most time intensive in my opinion, and for a lot of new homeschoolers, the most intimidating…but definitely NOT impossible, no matter how much experience you have.  Here’s how I do it:

1st- We choose the subject(s) we’re doing

2nd- I make a rough outline of what we want to learn about

3rd- I decide on the learning approach

4th- I look for local resources that provide hands-on education on it

5th- I write out the lesson plans for the quarter, semester, or year

So, here’s an example of what all that means…let’s use the story I already told you about as an example.

1st- Mississippi River

2nd- River Life, Waterways, River Origins and Mapping, Trade Routes, Locks & Damns, Water Safety, Art Projects associated with water, River History, Wars

3rd- hands-on, living history and living science units, readers

4th- Museums, going to the river, fishing, library, lapbooking, notebooking, local historical festivals and reenactments

5th- This is where I’ll be write down “Week 1-2 River Life” and for each day I’ll have an activity, book, field trip, or combination of everything planned and give myself instructions on what to do.

When you find free printables online that you’ll need later for your lesson, print them out as soon as you can.  Sometimes the “free” stuff today isn’t free tomorrow, or sometimes the content gets removed,  Better safe than sorry…grab it when you see it!

I’m gonna be totally honest here…..this is a LOT of work to put together a curriculum from scratch, but it’s my absolute favorite way to do it!!  I have complete control over the content, and it’s 100% customized for my kids, their interests and passions and their learning styles.  If you’re up for the challenge, it’s a great way to go.

 

2.  BORROW IT

I think it goes without saying, that borrowing is a great option.  You get to try out something you’ve been wanting to, without having to dish out the cash for something that may not even work out.  I haven’t personally done this, but, I know several people that have.  Often times I’ll see them swap levels of a curriculum and swap back when they’re done with it.  This works really well with computer based curriculum.  However, it may not be the best option for you if it has a lot of worksheets that would require copying.  I suppose it all depends on the cost of the curriculum.  Nonetheless, it’s a solid option, but weigh the financial cost of all those copies before you make a decision.

 

3.  BARTER FOR IT

So there was this one time, a homeschool mom friend of mine was selling a very good (in my opinion) and very expensive math curriculum.  She also buys her laundry soap from me.  So, we worked out a deal where I’d give her a LOT of laundry soap, and a little cash, and I could have the curriculum.  I’ve watched my husband barter with various people for tools or equipment before and I thought, “no, I feel ridiculous, I can’t approach someone and ask them to trade!”I thought it’d be a huge insult, and I certainly didn’t want to offend my friend.  Then my husband said to me, “she pays you for goods that you make and you want something she has.  If you have something she wants, and she has something you want, it’s not an insult.  It’s a way for you to both get a good deal on things you want and need, and save some money in the process.”  Makes total sense huh?!  I now do this whenever the opportunity pops up, and I’ve scored some amazing deals this way!  You might be a little uncomfortable at first, but you never know if you don’t try…right?

4.  UTILIZE A HOMESCHOOL CO-OP

I know homeschool co-ops aren’t for everyone.  Even in our awesome co-op, there are some families that opt out of what we call “Friday School” and choose to only come to field trips…and that’s okay!  One of the major perks of joining your local co-op is all the moms.  Moms with kids of all ages who range from their first year of homeschooling to their last year.  Aside from the obvious relationships and support you find in them, there’s also a TON of used curriculum!!  BONUS…..buying from someone you somewhat know, means that you can also pick their brain about the best and worst things about the curriculum, and get some pretty cool tricks and tips that they already learned the hard way.  Homeschool co-ops usually have yearly fees and some requirements, but if you have the option, I recommend checking it out.  Even if you decide not to participate in everything they offer, there’s still lots of perks to joining.  Our co-op has a yearly curriculum sale.  and you would not believe the deals they have!  Last year I scored an AMAZING deal on a couple super expensive curriculums that I really wanted for 2 of my boys.  You can watch my full curriculum haul by clicking the video below.

5.  LOOK AT RESALE SHOPS

This can be a real hit or miss kind of situation.  The downside is, any Goodwill, Salvation Army, or local second hand store is going to require a chunk of your time to sift through all the potential hidden treasures.  I used to shop at a small family owned consignment shop who had a couple homeschool families that sold curriculum there.  The deals were unbelievable!! I’ve also gone into resale shops and spent way too much time sifting through books and haven’t found a thing.  Hit or miss…it’s still one of my favorites.

6.  AMAZON PRIME

If you don’t have an Amazon Prime membership, you should click HERE and get one!  Free shipping on pretty much anything you can think up, Prime TV, Prime Cloud storage, Amazon Music, there are so many perks to an Amazon Prime membership, I could keep going….but, the books….the BOOKS!!!! Having a kindle gives you access to Kindle First, Prime Reading, and the Owner’s Lending Library.  If digital downloads aren’t your thing, the discounts you can find among the used books will blow your mind.  I spent less than $20 on ALL of the readers for my 7th grader…just had to throw that out there.

7.  SOCIAL MEDIA

There are a number of Facebook groups around where you can buy, sell, or trade used curriculum.  A sort of virtual “garage sale” if you will.  The best thing about these groups is that you have the opportunity to really pick their brains and get any questions you may have answered before you make your purchase.  It’s always nice to get a “sneak peak” before you spend your hard earned cash.  A quick search will tell you if a local resale group is in your area.  If not don’t worry; there are several national groups as well.  If you choose to make a purchase from a national group, I’d urge you to make your purchases through a PayPal account.  PayPal keeps all financial information anonymous and protects you in the event that anyone is…less than honest.

8.  FREE CURRICULUM

While there are several free online resources, the list of completely free curriculum kits is a lot shorter.  Both  Ambleside Online and Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool Curriculum have excellent reviews and several grades that offer a thorough curriculum in.  Homeschool Curriculum Free For Shipping is a site that provides FREE curriculum to those in need, only for the cost shipping.  They offer all types of curriculum included, but not limited to, MUS, BJU, My Father’s World, A Beka, Lifepac, etc.  If you’re not in need but would like a place to donate your gently used curriculum, they do accept donations….and donations are tax deductible.  K12 is a totally free public school curriculum.  Students receive several services through this curriculum, and K12 provides families with everything they’ll need.

9.  BUY IT AT A DISCOUNT

One word here….SALES.  Every curriculum company has sales.  Some offer free shipping if you spend a certain dollar amount, and some give a percentage off of your total purchase.  These sales happen several times throughout the year, so keep an eye out.  Rainbow Resources offers discounted curriculum year round as well as free shipping on orders over $50 as well.  Buying directly from the manufacturer may not be the MOST frugal way to purchase curriculum, but a savings is a savings…right?

10.  SHOP AT THE RIGHT TIME

Most homeschoolers purchase their curriculum in the summer because, well, that’s when you are in full planning mode for the upcoming school year.  I’m here to tell you, that in all my years of buying homeschool curriculum, I’ve never found the best deals during the summer.  True, you can find some awesome deals during that time, but there are 2 other times of the year that you’ll find the huge, jaw dropping deals.  Black Friday / Cyber Monday, and mid-Spring.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday, ok, they’re self explanatory right? You’ll find your average 50-60% off plus free shipping most places.  But, around April-ish is when manufacturers are tossing out the old to make way for the new.  If you’re buying second hand via one of the other avenues I mentioned, you’ll find lots of moms emerging from the isolation of winter and wanting to purge all the stuff.  Books, manipulatives, miscellaneous supplies, classroom furniture, whiteboards, organization stuff…you name it, they’ll be selling it.  Because after several consecutive weeks or months of winter, being locked in your house with your miniature mess makers, and watching the clutter self-propagate endlessly, everything that isn’t nailed down needs to find it’s way out the door in a hurry….I’m not alone in this…right??

Have any tips and tricks for getting cheap, good quality homeschool curriculum not mentioned above??? Share in the comments….