Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…“ It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!
This week’s question is probably on every mom’s mind — regardless of whether they homeschool or not — at this time of year (and it seems to get earlier and earlier every summer):
How do you save money on school expenses for the new school year? Especially as a homeschooling parent, with all the costs of homeschooling to manage, do you have a strategy for purchasing school supplies, tools and curriculum without breaking the bank?
Here are our strategies for shopping smart during the back-to-school sales and other promotions going on at this time of year:
I have a real problem with school supply sales. Even though I already have plenty of stuff after homeschooling for seven years, I just can’t help myself. I can’t pass up 50-cent crayons and markers, etc. I literally have to keep myself from filling my cart with all this “fun” stuff. I still have unopened glue and markers from last August.
I remember when my girls went to public school, I would go pick up the dreaded “school supply list” and then gripe and complain about the odd things on it, such as baby wipes, paper plates and plastic baggies — and the fact that they wanted certain brands (why did they have to be Prang watercolors and Fiskars scissors?). Now that I am a homeschool mom, I have the freedom to just stock up on the items and brands that I want: It’s so much more fun!
The biggest curriculum savings I found when I first started homeschooling was that my girls were able to do history, science and English together because they were so close in age. I saved money because I didn’t have to buy two of everything, but it was also more fun to do their school lessons together.
We are also very blessed, here in Tulsa, to have a used homeschool bookstore called Bibiomania, and a once-a-month free “book blessings,” where we can pick books up for free and also donate the stuff we are done with. I actually splurged this year and bought mostly new or barely used Horizons curriculum and history curriculum (Ancient Civilizations and the Bible, which I will use with my sister Elizabeth’s girls as well as my son Joel).
For more of my bargain-hunting tips for curriculum, see my post on how to find bargain curriculum and tools.
Take me to the sales! To save money on school expenses, I make a list of what I need and stick to that list the best I can. I try to hit places such as the Dollar Tree and check for the big sales at other stores. Pencils are my big item that I must buy more of this year during these sales. Paper of all kinds, pencils and red pens seem to be the things we run out of most often during the school year, so I will try to stock up this time.
To save money on curriculum, I have used Goodwill, Bibliomania, Craigslist, thrift stores, Amazon.com, and the Free Books trade at a local church. Oklahoma is such a big homeschooling state that finding used books can be pretty easy. For example, I got a Saxon Math book at Goodwill for $1 and picked up the accompanying answer keys for free at the book trade. If you’re resourceful, you can assemble a very complete curriculum for your children without spending thousands.
Last spring I became a full-fledged couponer (see my personal blog for a four-part series on my journey), so I made a point of trying to save money on school supplies utilizing my new couponing skills. I didn’t do a good job of tracking all my expenses and savings, but I do know that I saved LOTS of money by using coupons plus weekly store sales — and I still have unopened packs of notebook paper, pens, pencils and index cards, plus unused spiral notebooks and 3-prong file folders.
One thing I learned from shopping more strategically last year that is helping me save even more money this year is that week to week, at least one store (if not several) will feature a few “penny” and even FREE items, with limits to how many you can purchase at one time. These super deals will vary each week, but they always cover all the basics, such as pens, pencils, paper, folders, glue, crayons, etc. So my plan this year has been to limit my shopping each week to the super deals (and utilize cash rebate programs whenever possible) and trust that by the end of this back-to-school cycle, I will have all the bases covered.
I use helpful Web sites such as the Krazy Coupon Lady, Passion for Savings and Coupon Connections, because they do all the research for you. This makes it quick and easy to identify where I will go each week and what to buy there. You can even print out a shopping list of just the deals you plan to shop for right from their deals lists!
So far I have passed on a lot of the first week sales that weren’t so great and have spent only a net of $4.12 at Staples, purchasing about $50 worth of items! I now have two plastic shoe box sized tubs filled with enough glue, crayons, pens, pencils, mechanical pencils, markers, new scissors, erasable markers, and more for all three of my girls.
And if I have any holes left to fill by the end of this early sale season, I can pick up what I am still missing during clearance time: Last year I discovered that Target’s clearances seemed to be the best, with lots of necessities still in stock but for 80-90% off. Walgreens also had a pretty decent selection of school items left come clearance time.
When it comes to curriculum, I have found that being able to download PDFs of lesson plans, student notebook pages, lapbooks, and other curriculum resources for sale online can save a lot of money. You can also look for any recommended reading books at your local public library first before purchasing anything new, and purchase what you can’t find from discount book sources online, rather than buying a bulk “library” from a curriculum company for use during the school year. I’ve taken this approach and it has saved us a lot of money compared to our first year purchasing out-of-the-box curriculum.
How do you save money on school expenses, such as curriculum, supplies and tools? Do you stock up, wait for sales, or shop throughout the year? We’d love to hear your strategies and tips in the comments section below.