Homeschooling your kids can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. Here are the costs to expect—and ways you can potentially cut back—shared by parents who are homeschooling pros.
Advertisement
Side view of smiling son writing while studying by father over table at home

Homeschooling can seem daunting, especially with the perception that you need to have loads of money set aside to do it. Is homeschooling expensive? Well, that depends. There are different philosophies of homeschooling and different ways of doing it. Besides, "expensive" can mean different things for different families. Here are a few buckets in which most of your homeschooling expenses will fall under, and the costs to expect.

Curriculum

For many homeschooling families, curriculum is a major cost. How much one spends on curriculum is often a personal choice, based on the needs and interests of the child. If a child does better in a more structured environment, curriculums might be necessary. In other situations, you may choose to go the unschooling route, or create your own curriculum. 

There are a number of different curriculums one can choose from, ranging anywhere between $50 to $600 (or more) annually, per child. Different curriculums and resources offer different benefits, including free digital and printable downloads, and more. You can also look into sharing a curriculum with other homeschooling families, especially if your kids are just a year or two apart. 

"A major homeschooling expense for us is curriculum," says Rachel Sheridan, a homeschooling mom of four. "We spend a couple hundred a year on it for our oldest, but it's all by choice and it all gets used again for the next child in line. In all we spend about $500 on curriculum purchased before the school year, which includes lesson plans and all books needed for all subjects," she adds.

Homeschooling Pods

Learning pods or homeschooling pods can be a major expense. While it gives homeschooled children a set of peers to learn with, and learn things outside of their parents' expertise, it is usually the most significant cost for families who chose this route.

Lisa Quattlebaum, a self-employed leadership consultant and homeschooling mom of one, says, "I have one child, and she does a lot of interactive activities, face to face and virtually. These learning pods are great because the kids get to interact with each other. But these can cost anywhere from $75 to a couple of hundred dollars a week. If you have multiple children, you sometimes get family discounts but it ends up being as expensive as it would be to send your child to daycare or an after-school program."  

Lauren Umlauf, co-founder of the Dandelion Project, facilitator of Wild Seeds learning community, and unschooling parent of three, agrees. "Wild Seeds, the in-person learning community that my children go to, is by far our greatest expense. For this, I pay $700 per month, for two kids," Umlauf explains.

However, increasingly, there has been a push to make homeschooling pods more accessible to families of all income groups. Wild Seeds learning community, for example, offers a sliding scale model, which goes down all the way to $0, if need be. This can especially be valuable to families with a parent who works part-time, or low-income families.

Extra Lessons

Not all parents are able to teach their children every subject or activity. They may need to get extra support for different subjects or other interests such as painting, dancing, sports, and more. Sheridan says that for her, the biggest expense is music education. "We do weekly piano and drum lessons for the kids. These end up costing about $2,500 per month," says Sheridan.

However, this is not to say that all activities need to be as expensive. Parents on a lower budget have also been able to provide a number of activities for their children. "We occasionally pay for online classes based on the interests that the kids have," says Hannah Mackay, a homeschooling-unschooling parent of three, co-founder of the Dandelion Project, facilitator of Wild Seeds learning community, and Pennsylvania homeschool evaluator.

"We also pay for other kinds of lessons such as horseback riding lessons, or karate lessons. The maximum I have spent per month on these is $300, for all three kids combined. Horseback riding, for example, was quite expensive," Mackay explains.

Gear, Field Trips, and Activity Supplies 

For many homeschooling families, exploring the outdoors, field trips, activities, and independent reading makes the core of their education. While books can be borrowed from the library, and some libraries even have special programs for homeschoolers to rent books for longer, other expenses can still be substantial.

Quattlebaum says, "Last November, for example, we went to a lot of museums. So that's about $30 each. Even if she can get in for free, not every engagement is free with entry so there may be extra costs. I also spent about $50 on books, along with the ones we borrowed from the library. I pay on average between $200 to $300 per month for such activities." 

Umlauf says gear (such as bicycles) and clothing are important expenses to consider. "Part of our learning philosophy is that the kids need to be out in the world, exploring. So gear is a big part of it," she says. "I would say that I spend maybe $250 per year, per kid, on basic all-weather clothing," Umlauf adds.

Loss of Income

For some families, homeschooling might mean that one parent needs to give up their income, or reduce to a part-time income to support their child's education. This can be a significant cost, and needs to be planned around. For Quattlebaum, who is a single parent, this has been the largest expense. "When I think about how I am able to homeschool her, it's because I am able to essentially support us working part-time or freelance," says Quattlebaum. "If that were not an option, I don't know if homeschooling would have been an option," she adds.

However, with COVID, and many parents working from home, Mackay suggests that giving up your job may not be necessary. "The thing is that when you're homeschooling or unschooling, you are not tied to a bell schedule. Families can be really creative with their schedule, and when work and learning happens," says Mackay.

"As a homeschool evaluator, I work with a number of homeschooling families that have two working parents. Over the course of the pandemic, two working parents can manage to homeschool by having their kids do more independent activities during the day while they work, and outside of parent work schedules, they are able to do more of the family learning, and experiential learning," she explains.

While these are the major expenses, there are a few hidden costs to account for. These include gas money for field trips, increased electricity costs, the cost of school supplies, and higher grocery bills. "In conventional schools, kids are given at least lunch and snacks, which in homeschooling are then provided at home. This also becomes a substantial expense," says Umlauf. 

The Bottom Line

Homeschooling can be done as well on a budget as it can be when you have a larger amount at your disposal. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) suggests ways in which you can homeschool with $50 all the way up to $500 or more.

"We are spending more, but we could be spending less," says Mackay. "We could choose not to do the in-person learning community, or the extra classes we are taking, and instead do more learning at home, together, as a family community. Homeschooling and unschooling can cost money, but it doesn't have to," concludes Mackay.