Image description: a forest scene. A bracken covered path leads towards the centre of the photo. Long thin pine trees stretch up on either side with foliage underneath. The path leads into the distance which is bright white and foggy.
NB: this blog post looks at how families budget resourcing their home ed. If you’re more interested in how folk manage securing family income and work around the time spent home educating, you’ll want to look at this earlier post which looks at just that!
As with most of my blog posts, this topic has been an exercise in research for my family. It’s so easy to look at beautifully curated photos of Home Edders and construct a narrative that these folk have an unlimited budget. Yet this (for the most part!) is definitely not the case. Home Ed does require additional financial budgeting. Before G was born we got really into learning about personal finance, budgeting and investing. While we are by no means whatsoever experts in this area, it’s something we try and consider carefully, so with our hope to home educate G, my thoughts definitely veered towards how this looks financially for families, and what we plan to do. When I asked around other Home Edders, I got lots of great insights and lots of requests to share what I found. So, to that end, here is a post all about what we do, plan to do as G gets bigger, and what far more established home educators currently do.
I want to highlight the caveat that we are extremely privileged in being able to afford to save. This is not the case for everyone by any means. While budgeting is a big part of home education, it is not a one size fits all method or a simple quick fix for financial suffering. In this post I hope to offer some insights, but really want to make clear that for many folk the financial difficulties they face make this something out of the question. I'm in no way a financial expert, though do have contacts from my charity work days in debt support, so if you are suffering, please reach out and I can try to point you towards some help.
First and foremost: overall budgeting for home education
There’s no bones about it: resourcing learning is an absolute pleasure, but if not carefully considered (guilty!) it can definitely feel like a financial strain, and a barrier for many who are considering going the Home Ed route. I believe in transparency around finances as well as being realistic, being aware of privilege, and being flexible.
How we do/plan to do it
First off a little summary of how we budget for life generally, as I do think that helps! Home Ed is an extension of family life, after all. Before G was born, we budgeted our income into a bills account (which includes all food, petrol etc), a savings account, and what we like to call a ‘spend what you like’ account. When our income comes in we split this out where roughly 60% goes in bills/necessaries, 20% is said and 20% is available as immediate spending (savings have reduced while I’ve been on a reduced income on mat leave). We’re overall pretty stingy when it comes to our monthly outgoings. Once I found out I was pregnant we sold one car to reduce petrol and monthly outgoings on that. We’re strict with subscriptions and we are always looking for the best deals for energy/bills. We plan for any home ed resources to come out of our immediate spend account. Any big purchases might come from our savings, but we then would spend the rest of our time topping up our savings back to a comfortable amount before any big purchases.
We are guilty as anyone for getting sucked into the instagram buzz. At the moment, while G is so small, there isn’t a huge amount of long term planning that goes into resourcing our home for her in terms of topics. We very much follow her overall needs as opposed to interests as more detailed ‘interests’ are something that will come much later - so that’s the current context for our spending/purchasing habits. Within that, it is so easy to see beautiful books and toys, and feel that we ought to be getting those too. What I usually do in this case is look at what we have in our ‘spend what you like’ account. If it’s reasonable, we then wait a few days to see if we still want to get it. I like the MoneySavingExpert idea that with any non necessary purchase (when I say necessary I mean absolutes: food, medicine etc) we ask ‘how much use will we get out of it?’ and ‘is there a cheaper/better alternative?’. We then wait at least 2/3 days before actually making the purchase to be certain it’s something we would really want for G. More often than not, by the end of the week, we’ve forgotten about it!
How more established home educators do it As G gets bigger we will plan in more detail to meet her interests in play - I reached out to home edders further along in the journey for their thoughts on this!
Everyone’s budget will be suitable for them. Some would be horrified how much I allocate a month and others would think it’s too low. It’s what works for you - and very carefully not getting sucked into the Instagram “oh I must have this”. Never fall into that. It’s an amazing space for ideas but nothing is needed for your family. Apart from books! So for us - we have a certain budget for home ed / social (basically what we have left each month) and I plan ahead so I know what resources I’ll need and what to allocate where. I have a word doc with tables galore! I’ll focus on experience and social first (this is why we home ed mainly) and will cost everything from lunch to parking costs. Then I’ll research and write down books and resources that would enhance a topic. Library reservations come first and then resources last.
I guess I would just add that there is so much pressure to spend ridiculous amounts of money when you look at insta or Youtube and see other homeschoolers with loads of amazing resources, and wooden toys, and stuff supporting small businesses. I'm not against that stuff at all, if you have the money go for it. But I think there is a danger of making it feel like you can't homeschool your children well if you're on a budget. Then you feel guilty that you can't give them what others can give their children. There is no shame in second hand books, budgeting and using the library. I hope I manage to portray that in my instagram and don't get sucked in the the beautiful aesthetic. I really want to keep it real and for people to know that you don't need to be rich to homeschool!
We don't buy much as a rule, and try to make the most of what we either have already or what we can find second hand or get for free! I'm sure that will probably change as the children get older. I liked how Ainsley Arment said "All you need is a good pair of walking boots and a library card. Everything else is just icing." Although I'm not sure how much that really applies to her life and financial situation.
We do have an accessible bank account for both of them, and put half of their child benefit in there per month, and half in an account for when they're older. I know that not all can afford to do that though, and the money has to go on necessities, but it's worked quite well for us. We have tried to ask friends and relatives for things like subscriptions, experiences or things we need for birthday and Christmas presents, but I know the success of that will depend on different people's extended families. It sometimes works for us but not always.
On specific resourcing (with a book focus)
How we do it
When I first planned out this post I thought I’d split things up into ‘trips’, ‘physical resources’ and ‘books’, but on speaking to folk it was glaringly clear that the overall thing people think about is the cost of books. So, I thought I’d just focus on this in the resourcing section, and extrapolate it to things like physical materials too. When folk reference libraries, many areas have ‘toy libraries’ that can be used in the same sense as book libraries, and the same can be said in buying secondhand books for toys/games/other learning materials. We’re fans of eBay, preloved instagram pages and Facebook marketplace when it comes to secondhand, and when it’s possible charity shops are also a great way to add to your resources. We love using everyday items for play now (think sensory baskets) and will continue to try and do the same as G grows - real fruit, cups and plates in the toy kitchen, using pots and pans for instruments, egg cartons for ten frames and the like. If you’re interested in being more environmentally friendly with toys, I have a post all about that here, which goes into more on secondhand purchasing too. Here are the things friends had to say regarding budgeting for books!
Our library service isn’t too bad but I reserve most for 10p a time so I can get them sent in from bigger branches. It’s still much cheaper than purchasing. It only fails as an option if P is showing an interest in something that I haven’t prepared for.
Some are second hand and I buy a lot of books from WH Smith now...I save up my list and buy all at once as they often have a big discount for over £40 or £50 spend. I don’t like shopping at Amazon where it can be helped and tbh WHSmith is cheaper than Amazon with the discounts they offer. I do also consider my time - it’s not worth my time to spend half an hour trawling eBay to save £1 on a book so sometimes I opt for discounted new over second hand for that reason. End of print books (like in the inquisitarium book sale or book club 66) are such a good way to buy books; I stash a lot for future.
Book budget wise, I don’t really have one, I just have an instant saver that I book money into and spend from that.
In terms of where the money comes from (sic):
I am ruthless with moving on books and toys that don’t work for us, selling on eBay or on my preloved page so that makes book buying funds. Any money that I make with inquisitarium affiliate scheme goes into her book budget.
We are pretty set for toys for the foreseeable so I don’t buy that much really now, I don’t have any big ticket items to save for really (other than maybe a doll house and Grimms big block set but will probably fund those via selling toys that don’t get a lot of love - for space more than anything!)
My parents prefer to get O a smaller (well what they consider small, I think they are very generous with her!) gift at xmas and birthday as they are so close together and then will just transfer me money to get O books and toys through the year
Also, we just prioritise books in spending over holidays, sky TV, eating out etc etc. The book budget has definitely got bigger in lockdown. Hope that helps! 💛
I try to resist buying every beautiful book and stick to seasonal ones or topics we plan to cover in near future! Helps limit scope.
Books I buy out of our weekly budget, but on our monthly budget I add in his class costs (this is just for drama and dance groups) and when things reopen I’ll add another £50 for day trips out of town. Although I am looking at museums with annual passes for our adventures!
I really hope that my research and the experiences of others helps in some way demystify the world of home education. My main take away is that the vast majority of home educating families live on a budget, and think carefully about where their money goes in resourcing. As you can see there’s a huge amount of secondhand and borrowing going on, and for me that’s really encouraging. I’m definitely guilty of falling into the social media trap of perfection, but reading the non filter, realistic ways folk do this is a breath of fresh air. I hope the same goes for you!