Homeschooling a Large Family on a Small Budget

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One question people often ask when they learn we homeschool is, “How can you afford it? That must be really expensive! Especially when you  have so many children!” It does help that my husband is an electrical engineer with a good salary. It doesn’t help that we live in California’s Silicon Valley, which is notoriously expensive, and that we have six children. But that doesn’t mean that educating our children at home has to be incredibly expensive.

Blowing your homeschool budget? Check out these tips.

My oldest son has just started college, and my youngest daughter just turned three, with four more girls in between. My son was the guinea pig, the one for whom I found a path by trial and error, so the expenses for his homeschooling were perhaps more than for the others as we tried and discarded different books and curricula. Of course, with only a couple of children, other expenses in our lives were not as great. Once we figured out a curriculum and books we liked, we had materials and approaches to use as the others got older. And just as in other areas of large families, the younger children got a lot of hand-me-downs!

When we had an idea of how our children learned, and found a curriculum that fit their learning style, we also found other people who had a similar approach to homeschooling and used the same books. So we all saved by swapping books over the years. At the beginnings and ends of school years, emails and phone calls would fly around: “Do you have my history books for third grade? I think I have your fourth grade math book!” This community sharing of resources helps greatly in keeping the expenses down – and saves on storage space!

There’s a catch, though, to this great hand-me-down system: one of my middle children has a very different learning style than my older children. So all the materials I carefully collected didn’t work with her. Now what? Again, my community of homeschoolers was very helpful. Someone was done with a different math program and passed the supplies on to me. I got recommendations for different programs that might work for her, and was able to find them at the library or inexpensively at curriculum swaps or ebay. I did splurge on an expensive reading program for her, and once she learned to read, I was able to re-sell it for a pretty good price.

The library is, of course, a great resource for thrifty homeschoolers! Many times the books we wanted to use were available at the library. Or if we were considering using a different book, we could borrow it from the library and save the expense of buying a totally unsuitable book! The savings in not having to purchase books is tremendous! Our local library also has a used book area as well as regular used book sales where I’ve found useful books, including textbooks, for very little.

Used curriculum swaps are also great. There are always a lot of local sales, as well as bargains online at ebay, Amazon (always using the GHF affiliate link!) or curriculum swap sites. My local homeschool group often has people informally buying and selling curriculum, but many people just bring stuff to give away once they’re done with it. Each week, there’s a blanket to the side of the group gathering covered with books and stuff for our “great exchange.”

Aside from the direct academic expenses, such as books and supplies, the enrichment activities can be very expensive! To control these expenses, I try to put my children in the same activities as much as possible to take advantage of multiple-child discounts. Some places have given extra discounts for my younger children because I’ve been such a loyal customer: “Yes, we can do better than the 20% off for an additional child once your fourth child is in the program!” It never hurts to ask! This can also work if several families inquire together: a class might be started at a less popular time at a discount over the regular prices. Also, once my children are older and have a job I ask them to help contribute to the expenses of their activities. I also try to use smaller, local activities, such as through the community centers as they tend to be less expensive but can be just as rigorous as the “name brands.”  For the most part, my children have participated in extra activities such as soccer, dance, and gymnastics as much as they wanted.

Trying to homeschool on a budget? Check out these great ideas.Our family vacations are always learning times as well. With so many children, flying is not cost effective for us, so our vacations are driving trips. To save on costs we camp when we can, sometimes borrowing my in-laws old motor home. Since we like to visit state and national parks, the costs for this are quite low. And the children always do the Junior Ranger activities, so every vacation continues our learning adventure! This past summer, we drove up the Pacific coast, visiting lighthouses, the Olympic National Park rainforest, and beaches with tide pools with starfish and otters. We all had fun learning new things!

Now that I have one child in college, I can look back over the years and the costs and consider, has it been worth it? And it definitely has been worth the sacrifices along the way. My son has grown to be a fine young man, and my daughters are also growing into lovely, talented young women. And I have also learned many new things. Education may be expensive, but the results of are priceless!

About the Author:

Eleen KamasEleen Kamas is a homeschooling mother of six who lives in the Silicon Valley of California, where the weather is great but we’re all praying for rain. When she’s not driving the kids to activities or guiding their learning, she serves on the board of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, helps out at the local Catholic homeschool group, and occasionally has time to read, cross-stitch, and try not to trip over her feet in “beginner” ballet lessons.

This poGHFst was written as part of a blog hop hosted by The Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.

Check out other people’s thoughts on Parenting Gifted/2E Kids on a Shoestring.

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    • Eleen says:

      It’s really great when you can find families with kids a couple years ahead of and behind yours so you you can share both ways!

  1. Jennifer says:

    Ok, so my question is how do you afford to live on one salary with 6 kids? Even if your husband makes a ton, that would still be hard,right?

    • Eleen says:

      It’s not actually that difficult for us to live on one salary, but we do have a few factors that make it easier. Our first two children were a boy and a girl, so after that we had all the equipment we needed. By the fourth child, when people would ask what we needed for the baby, I’d draw a blank: we had everything from equipment to clothes to toys to books to … All we needed were the consumables (diapers and food — and since I breastfed, the food for baby was cheap :-) ), and a new carseat every few years. With five girls in a row, we have plenty of clothes, toys, etc. for each of them (tho’ some have worn out and new replacing by the time the fifth one needs them). And as they get older and might need more expensive things, they have ways of earning money to help with the costs.

      Other things that help: We didn’t have any college debt (I had really good scholarships and my husband’s parents were able to pay for his college). We didn’t have children for a few years after we were married, so we were able to get established first (which was good because I was still in school and my husband didn’t find a job in his field for a year after we married). We were able to buy our house in the late 90’s before the stock market crashed using stock options from my husband’s job. And we don’t drive expensive vehicles: our main ‘small’ vehicle is our ’02 Odyssey minivan, and our ‘big’ van for when all of us are together is a 2005 Ford Econoline (big enough to bring friends along!) which we bought used three years ago.

      But I think the biggest help is that we just don’t have extravagant tastes. We don’t eat out much (tho’ I do use a lot of prepared foods since I don’t like to cook). Our vacations are simple, driving and camping or staying with friends or relatives. And my children are also not very acquisitive, happy with books and mostly content with hand-me-downs (tho’ each always gets some new things for birthdays, holidays, or just because). And my husband is very handy around the house, and has made improvements from putting in double-paned windows and extra attic insulation to installing solar panels on our roof, as well as everyday maintenance on our home and cars.

      Did that help at all? By the time I finished typing all that and realized I could say even more, thought I probably should have just written another blog post! :-)

  2. jofreitag says:

    Thank you for an inspiring post, Eleen.I agree -hand me downs, discounts and bargains and swapping textbooks and resources and libraries all help make homeschooling effective and affordable.

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