Best and Worst Homeschool Buys

The Best and Worst Homeschool Buys

We interviewed hundreds of seasoned homeschool moms with real stories and real advice. Tune in as we spill the beans on what worked, what didn’t, and how to make your homeschool budget count!

What do you regret buying early in your homeschool journey?
-What do you wish you purchased earlier?
-What are your best homeschool buys?

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Show Notes

Most homeschoolers are on a pretty strict budget. Many are in a single income household and don’t want to break the bank with curriculum and school supplies.

As a single mom on an extremely strict budget, I need to be very deliberate about what I spend my money on. I’m sure my budget is even tighter than most.

In a previous episode, we discussed whether or not you can afford to homeschool and we gave a lot of tips and tricks for saving money and cutting corners.  Homeschooling on a Budget. And it’s great to save money but you’re not really saving money if you’re buying things that you really don’t need. Sometimes we buy things that we really don’t need or wish we bought something different that would’ve worked better in our home school and spent our money more wisely. 

So in this episode, we went to the source and asked hundreds of seasoned homeschool parents how they *wish* they had spent their money better. What do they wish that they never bought? What do they wish they had bought sooner? Or which item that they bought did they maybe wish they bought a different version of? We discuss real tips from hundreds of real homeschoolers that have been there, done that. These are real parents with real advice, but we wanted to give them their privacy, so we have numbered each parent for anonymity. 

What do you regret buying early in your homeschool journey?  (5:18)

Mom 1

So many of the moms that we talked to said that they wished they never bought a full box curriculum.  Time and time again they said they wished they waited to see what worked best for their children and for themselves. Over and over again they said they would have saved 100s of dollars. A lot of people are super excited at the prospect of homeschooling but also overwhelmed at the same time and these nice shiny, full curricula packages can look like the answer to your prayers, but often, they don’t work for every child, or a child who is learning things at different levels.  

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Mom 2

Another mom was super excited about the curriculum she bought but later it turned out that her child hated workbooks and basically sitting still….ever! She laughs about it now, because she said the thing she bought first was something they never used. A lot of people think that workbooks and worksheets are the answer because that’s what they’ve seen coming home from school as homework, but those are often busywork.  Some kids do a lot better being more hands on or project based or by reading and verbally narrating what they’ve learned.

She said she wished she took more time to figure out the best way for them to structure their days and find out what her kids like best.  She said she learned that homeschooling doesn’t have to look like “school.”  There’s a reason that your child isn’t in school and that’s because it didn’t work for them or your family, so replicating public school at home doesn’t make sense. Creating your own space and structure is a major advantage of homeschooling but for a lot of people it really takes a mental switch! We have an episode called “what is a homeschool lifestyle” that we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback about that has helped so many new homeschoolers rethink education and what they want for their child and family so I would encourage you to listen to that. 

Mom 4

She regrets getting subscriptions and apps that say they claim they’ll be an easy solution and your child will learn everything they need to know. She said her child lost interest, and refused to do them. Anything with ‘easy’ in the title or description should be approached with caution. A lot of those programs are again filler and busywork- it looks like they are functional, but they aren’t.

Mom 5

She also regrets purchasing an AIO (All in One) curriculum.  She felt like she was capable and good at planning homeschooling for her preschool and elementary aged kids but got nervous about middle school and made a big purchase that bombed.

Trust your strengths!  There’s often not a whole lot different than these older grade levels and you know your kids by now if you have been homeschooling a while.  If you are new, consider trying before buying so you can figure out what style best matches your student. Many of them have sample lessons you can download for free and give it a go. Or possibly you could borrow a curriculum for a week from a friend and give it a trial run. 

There is all this talk about dry erase markers, but I find them incredibly difficult to wipe off laminated sheets or pockets. I prefer wet-erase markers that way, I can wipe them off completely clean with a damp cloth.

Mom 6

She regretted spending money on books without checking the library first or making sure they really loved them (like were they going to be well loved?).  We know as homeschoolers, we quickly run out of book space.  And when you have too many, it can be distracting and keeps you from finding the one you want sometimes.

She also recommended not purchasing things that could be obtained from her local buy nothing group- ask big, you never know what people are willing to share. This mom said that she wished that she asked more from her ‘buy nothing’ group because she later found out that there were so many people unloading books for free that she could’ve easily used. 

Buy Nothing Groups

Also, a homeschool group here in North Texas we’ve been a part of for many years has a lending library, and they lend everything! Microscopes, science kits, musical instruments, curriculum, hobby supplies, everything! Many people don’t take advantage of it. A lot of these things were donated by older members to use and help out. Homeschoolers are notorious for helping each other, so take advantage of that and pay it forward when it’s your turn. 

Mom 7

She bought all of these small baskets and classroom organizers. She said they just take up space now because they keep everything, they need each week in a laundry basket.

Mom 8

She said when her kids were 4 and 5 years old, she got a couple of school-desks (you know, seat + desk attached, with a rack under the seat for books) at a surplus store. She said her kids loved them, but never, not once, used them for anything truly “school work-ish. They ended up being outside toys eventually. 

Our kids learn so much about different countries and cultures with
Universal Yums!

Mom 9

She said that she regrets buying a full curriculum, classroom decorations, and coloring books. I am totally with her on the coloring books.  We somehow had a million- mostly because grandparents and other people love to give them, but my kids never wanted anything to do with them.  

Mom 10

She regrets buying a million cheap plastic pencil sharpeners and random Costco workbooks.  She also regrets buying a preschool curriculum for her oldest.  It’s easy to get swept up in getting started, but your later kids will benefit from not starting formal work so early and they end up learning all the same things anyway.

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Download your FREE Preschool Routine Charts!

What do you wish you’d purchased earlier? (18:02)

Mom 1

She also wished that she had purchased a large, detailed map of the world and US first. She said it was the single most thing that I had been the most helpful when teaching. That and/or a globe are really helpful and much younger kids really get more out of these than we think they will. It’s a great reference when talking about geography, history, and science. Around the World in Your Homeschool

This is one of our favorite Maps to see all those details:

Laminated Giant Map of the World (46 x 80)

Mom 3

I wish I would have done more play based and adventures with my oldest back in Kindergarten and first grade versus curriculum/seated work. She also said that she wished she found like-minded secular homeschoolers early on in her journey. That’s one of the things that we have listed in our 10 Things episode– finding your people is really a key part of homeschooling.  You definitely need support and tapping into a local group early on can mean everything.

Mom 6

She said she wishes that she had encouraged her children’s love of learning and done more field trips, and always had science and art supplies on hand for those spurs of the moment projects.  This is something we’ve talked about in multiple episodes! We love field trips.  We’ve also talked a lot about making an art area somewhere in your house, where kids can just make things whenever the creativity strikes them.

Mom 10

She said she wished she had gotten sooner: electric pencil sharpener- is this a theme or what?  

Mom 11

She wished she had gotten school work display options earlier- she said she somehow thought they would have less items since they weren’t in school anymore and she quickly got overwhelmed.  She felt she was prouder of the things they created at home and really looked for a way to showcase those things.

She also mentioned library cards- not everyone knows your kids can get library cards when they are little.  They are usually free and part of your parent account.

Analog clocks and analog watches are really po;ular. A lot of times we don’t realize every clock in our house is digital until we start learning how to tell time.

Analog clocks and analog watches are really important to teach time. A lot of times we don’t realize every clock in our house is digital until we start learning how to tell time.
Timex Kids Watches

Analog Clocks kind of go along with Math Manipulatives, in general.  We are both big fans of lots and lots of math manipulatives for learning all kinds of concepts from counting to money. Check out of Top Math Games!

I’d also recommend Headphones- these can be great for listening to music or audiobooks for your kids or can be used to tune other family members out.  We are all together a lot so sometimes not having to hear a chatty sibling or someone eating can help preserve peace in your home.

These headphones were recommended by my teenager’s music appreciation professor at the local college and we LOVE THEM!
Sony MDR-ZX310AP ZX Series Wired On Ear Headphones with mic

What are your best homeschool buys? (28:24)

Mom 5

She said the 3 things she’s so happy she purchased day one and has used everyday are her printer, book binder and laminator. 

Homeschoolers that have this BOOK BINDER unanimously agree it was one of their favorite purchases:
MAKEASY Binding Machine, 21-Hole, 450 Sheets, Book Binding Materials Kit

If you do not want to bind yourself, you can also take books to Office Depot and have them cut the binding off and 3-hole punch or spiral bind. 

She also said that she wished she would have purchased PDFs of everything when available instead of hard copies. She said she learned it can be a lot easier to print from a pdf and use between multiple kids and now she’s stuck scanning and printing pages from her hard copy curriculums. You can also laminate or put consumable pages in plastic sleeves so that you can use dry erase and then clean off for the next kid.

She also said she recommends anything that encourages their love of learning/makes it easier for you to continue, like field trips and science/art supplies to have on hand for spur of the moment learning.

Mom 9 

She wishes she bought earlier: good printer, piano, sewing machine, and memberships everywhere. Memberships are a great gift, too- that’s an option for grandparents to give for gifts when we definitely don’t need more toys! And we talked about museum reciprocal programs in our field trip episode, so it really is the gift that keeps on giving.  

I use my printer every single day. Having a good printer is a must for me and the Cannon Pixma is one has been really good to us. I even use it to print photos – our first day of school phots goes in the book right after I take it! I save a ton of money on ink by buying the generic version and it lasts forever.

Canon Pixma MG3620 Wireless All-in-One Color Inkjet Printer with Mobile and Tablet Printing. A cost-effective reliable printer we have used and been very happy with

Mom 11

I’m super glad I bought an Ecotank printer, a laminator, and rolling carts! See- printers and laminators may be all you need!  I also love a great rolling cart- we have that on our homeschool essentials list.

EcoTank Wireless pringers are a favorite among homeschoolers. This one specifically was recomentd by numerous moms:
Epson EcoTank ET-2800 Wireless Color All-in-One Cartridge-Free Supertank Printer with Scan and Copy

Mom 12

Functional storage is necessary! This mom talked about having her husband put in fancy floating shelves everywhere only to realize that books are heavy, and they had a lot of them.  Some really great bookshelves and storage systems were what she really needed instead.  Ikea has great, handy systems that are cheap and easy, and shelves are also often a great item you can find free or cheap at moving sales or on marketplace.

She also mentioned having a CD player or Alexa.  I know most of us stream music now, but a lot of secondhand curricula still includes cd’s so having a player is handy.  Some newer cars don’t have them anymore either.  

When our kids were little, they loved having their own CD players in their rooms. We have this one and it’s lasted a long time:
Magnavox MD6924 Portable Top Loading CD Boombox with AM/FM Stereo Radio-CD-R/CD-RW Compatible, LED Display, AUX Port, Programmable CD Player

We hope these real tips from real homeschoolers that have been there, done that, will help you keep a tighter rein on your budget and save you from making regrettable purchases.

This Week’s Freebie

We don’t have a specific FREE resource that goes with this week’s topic, but we created these FREE resources to help bring fun to your homeschool over the summer.. Enjoy!

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