Monday, September 22, 2008

Money Monday: The financial side of homeschooling

We recently began another school year and I am sure many of you are still recovering from the expenses associated with sending the kids back to school. As a homeschooler, we have different "school" expenses, but expenses just the same. MITBeta over at Don't Feed the Alligators, asked if I had ever written an article regarding the financial costs of homeschooling. So here it is:

Having never sent my children to school, I only have my memory to serve me regarding the costs of public/private schooling. Tuition aside (which is obviously free at public school), I figure the expenses faced by a parent who sends their child to a traditional school are: school clothes/uniform, backpacks and lunch boxes, school supplies for personal and classroom use (Kleenex, hand sanitizer, etc), lunches (unless brought from home), club and athletic fees, field trip fees, yearbooks, school pictures, dances/skating parties/etc, gas to get to/from school (unless walking or taking the bus), book fairs and book orders, gifts for teachers, and fundraising activities. Of course, most of these expenses vary from person to person based on what you choose, and are able, to spend; what your child's teacher specidfies on the supply list (some can get VERY specific, right down to brand name items) and what your school district provides. I am sure there are some of you whose children carry their homemade lunch in a grocery bag as they walk to school in their secondhand clothes, just as there are those whose children wear all designer clothing, buy their lunch at school, get driven to school in a gas-guzzler, have top-of-the-line school supllies, and participate in every possible activity. There is nothing wrong with either of those extremes, but I am betting most of you fall somewhere in the middle. Based on an old Reader's Digest article I found, in 2001, parents spent an average of $527 through the school year for clothing and school supplies. That number had been steadily increasing year-to-year, so I am sure it is probably a few hundred dollars more now. That number also does not include all the other extras I listed above.

So how about homeschoolers? We face some of the same expenses such as clothes and supplies, but we also have some unique expenses as well. I will start with how some of our similar expenses differ. Homeschoolers tend to buy their clothing throughout the school year, rather than in one big bunch in August. Homeschooled kids also do not usually have the same peer pressure to wear a certain brand or follow a certain trend. That alone helps save quite a bit of money. The school supplies we buy can be whatever brand we choose and often are the same things that tradition students have at home anyway, so our cost there tends to be cheaper. Homeschooling parents also can receive the same discount teacher's receive at most office supply stores and bookstores. Homeschoolers also face field trip expenses, and often the rates are higher because the group is smaller, but we have the option of not participating in a field trip if we do not want to. We are also able to seek out when and where we go, so we are able to take advantage of the best rates possible. We do not have yearbooks, and "school" pictures can be taken at Wal-Mart for much less than the cost of traditional school pictures. Many homeschoolers do participate in extracurricular activities (town sports, bowling leagues, art or music classes, etc) but again these are typically the same activities that traditional students are participating in, so our costs are generally the same. Ironically, the extremes in homeschooling mirror those in traditional schooling. Of course, we feed our kids lunch, but we do not need lunch boxes for them and backpacks are not needed either. We are also able to avoid teacher's gifts and the obligatory feeling of having to buy whatever fundraising item our child is peddling for their school. Homeschoolers do face having to provide curriculum for their children though and this is where the biggest price differences can occur. There are many parents who purchase "boxed" curriculum (lessons and materials put together by someone else) for thousands of dollars a year, but there are also many parents who spend very little on curriculum by utilizing free and inexpensive resources.

So is there a financial difference between homeschooling and traditional schooling? The answer depends on you and what you choose. For us, it is cheaper to homeschool than it is to send our kids to public school, but for other families, it is more expensive. There are also lots of other "costs" to factor in when deciding if homeschooling is more cost effective. Financially, would one parent be returning to work during school hours if the child attends traditional schools? If so, the loss of that additional income needs to figure into your equation. Of course, I do know dual income families that also homeschool. They just work opposite shifts and take turns teaching. Other things to factor in are not measurable in terms of money. I cannot put a price on the ability to sleep in when needed because I do not need to get up to put my kids on the bus or drive them to school. We also combine household chores and errands with schooling so I have two extra sets of hands at home all day to help with the babies and the chores (yes I also have two extra attitudes but the benefit outweighs that cost). I also have the security of knowing where my kids are, what they are doing, and what they are learning, academically and socially. On a side note, our children do participate in a lot of social activities, with and without us, so I do not worry about their socialization skills.

The decision to homeschool is usually made based on a culmination of all the "costs" and benefits, not just the financial ones. It can be an expensive choice or an inexpensive one, just as the expenses related to traditional schooling can be high or low. Some parents would not find it easier to have their kids home all day, I can understand that. Just as the amount of money one spends on schooling costs are a personal decision, so is the decision of how to have your child educated. There is no right answer, just the one that is right for you and your family.

As I was writing this, I decided to do another article next week on ways to homeschool inexpensively.

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