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For Homeschoolers: 4 Tips for Saving Money on Textbooks

I was homeschooled from 4th grade on and our whole family learned a lot about curricula, portfolios, etc from the experience. Homeschooling is generally more expensive than public school, since you have to buy the materials, but it’s a lot less expensive than private school.

There are a lot of ways to save money while homeschooling. Today I’m going to look at textbooks and the various methods we used.

1. Reuse textbooks.

In most cases, one textbook will work for all your children (see the corollary to this below). Depending on your children’s age range, math and English (grammar and most literature) won’t change. Science and history might, but if it’s less than a 5-year difference your kids may not be behind underfunded public schools who also aren’t able to get new books. Consider supplementing slightly out-of-date texts with materials from the library, magazine articles, etc.

You can even reuse workbooks by doing all the exercises on notebook paper, instead of in the blanks. You can also photocopy some of the more complicated workbook pages, like crossword puzzles. My parents often bought us new workbooks, but it’s not necessary.

Corollary to #1: Don’t write in the textbook.

This increases its reusability and swap or resale value. If you do write, use pencil and erase between terms.

2. Share the textbook with another family.

I wouldn’t advise doing this if you have children in the same grade. Trying to use the same textbook at the same time in different houses just doesn’t work.

But it can work quite neatly. For example, my best friend was 1 year and grade younger. Then my little sister was a year/grade younger than her and her little sister was a year/grade younger. So you had 9, 8, 7, 6. It’s not always that perfect, but this is a good option for many families.

If both families are using the same curriculum, there are several ways to go about such a split.

– Split upfront. You each pay half with the understanding that you’ll use the book in a certain order.

– Half (or token amount) upon first use. The second family pays half (or some token amount like $20) when their first child starts using the book, but with the understanding that both families will share it from now on.

– Free sharing without keeping score. Each family willingly shares books with the other. Neither keeps track of how many books they’ve lent, they just ask for the books back and in good condition at the end of the semester.

Of course, this can cause problems if either family destroys it, loses it, moves, or refuses to share. My favorite is the using without keeping score. Hopefully each family will have something to offer and they can peacefully coexist.

3. Find or arrange book swaps and sales.

I was part of a vibrant homeschooling network (in many ways fostered by Micah’s mother), so it was more a matter of finding these swaps and sales. People would announce them in the newsletter or you’d go to some monthly function and a few families might have brought some books they were trying to get rid of.

But if you don’t have that, try arranging your own on Craigslist. Post a list of the books you’re looking for or selling/giving away. Perhaps even look for a group of other homeschoolers to swap with.

4. Your library is your friend.

The library where I’m currently working has all the Saxon math books, for instance. You can only have them for 3 weeks at a time and up to 2 renewals, which means 9 weeks tops. Still, that gives you a chance to try them out before purchasing or while looking for a good deal.

Check your library’s 700s (adult and kids) for art history and projects. You probably don’t need an art history textbook. There are often plenty of health and body books in the early 600s. Language materials are in the 400s.

If you’re dedicated enough, you might be able to develop your own whole or partial curriculum based on what’s in your library system.

Just be nice to your librarian, homeschooling families can be overwhelming if they come in with huge lists at once instead of getting a few things every week.

Homeschooling? Do you have other tips to share for how you’ve saved money on textbooks without jeopardizing your child’s education?

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Curtis May 2, 2008 at 11:59 am

We are into our 3rd year of homeschooling and we follow tip # 4 over and over and over and over again. We’ve got an awesome library system here and rarely need to get anything from anywhere else.

There’s also a strong network of support groups in the area, including one where us parents offer classes for the kids in exchange for our children signing up for other parents classes. Awesome stuff.

Michael May 2, 2008 at 12:03 pm

5. For some subjects, teach the same topics to all your children at once. For example, teach history on a 3-4 year cycle and buy books, not workbooks/other materials. The older children read them on their own and the younger children hear them from you. You can do the same thing with science, geography, literature, etc.

Frugal Dad May 2, 2008 at 2:12 pm

I had a friend growing up who was homeschooled and the idea of getting textbooks never really occurred to me (shows what I know!). This is great advice for those homeschooling their kids (or are planning to), and could be stretched to apply to college students acquiring textbooks for classes. If they would take better care of their books, and look for alternative sources other than the campus bookstore, they could save some significant money in book costs. Nice post!

Funny about Money May 2, 2008 at 4:50 pm

Explains a lot about how literate you are…for which we all may thank your parents a thousand times over!

Hang on to those textbooks! Having just finished reading the last raft of my university juniors’ and seniors’ papers, some of which are desperately bad, I realize I didn’t do them a favor by not ordering a $90 textbook for them.

The prices of texts are obscene. So I decided to let them make do with my course notes and a read through Zinsser. Alas, Mr. Zinsser is, shall we say, beyond their ken.

Here’s what happens if I make them order a writing guide:

As freshmen, they spend $70 to $100 on a grammar and style guide. The instant they’re done with the hated freshman comp course, they fly to the bookstore to sell the text back, receiving pennies on the dollar. Two or three years later, never having learned (or having forgotten) everything that was in the text, they register for another required writing course (best described, no matter what its title, as “freshman comp for juniors & seniors”). Now they have to spend ANOTHER $70 to $100 on a new grammar & style manual, whose content is by & large the same as the one they gave away for peanuts (how many ways, after all, can you say “write in complete sentences”? how many ways can you explain what a paragraph looks like?). So the young people get royally ripped off.

On the college level:

* Never buy a textbook or a reference work at your campus bookstore without first checking the prices at

* Always look for used versions of the text at nearby bookstores. Used books are trafficked through go-betweens who buy the 2nd-hand books that students turn in at campus bookstores and peddle them to a wide variety of resellers. Near most campuses, you’ll find an off-campus independent book dealer who’s selling used texts cheaper than you can buy them on campus.

* Ask your professor if you have to use THE most current edition. If she or he didn’t write the book, you’ll probably learn that the older (cheaper) edition is just fine. Usually the changes are minor–it’s a device to circumvent used-book sales, which rob publishers and authors of revenues.

* Figure out if copying workbook pages on your FAX/printer is cheaper than buying a new workbook. This allows the kids to fill them in but you to resell or recirculate clean workbooks.

Mrs Micah's Mom May 2, 2008 at 8:11 pm

An addition to Funny about Money’s list: Don’t write your name in the textbook until after the first class. I did, went to class, and found that the teacher and the books had been changed. Because I’d written my name in the books, they could only have been sold as used, not returned it to the store. On the upside, though, the books (Cicero’s De Amicitia and Pro Archia) were ones I wanted anyway, and I happened to own a copy of the new book.

fathersez May 3, 2008 at 12:09 am

I remember buying used school text books during my younger days. I would also sell those of mine that I didn’t need.

These days our educators have slyly changed almost all the books into some sort of work books so that you have no choice but to buy new ones.

And having 3 kids in school makes this a big financial pain.

Cath Lawson May 6, 2008 at 11:53 am

Thanks Mrs M – This post came at exactly the right time for me. I’ve just pulled my son out of private school and I’m thinking about home schooling him until we emigrate, but I was worried about the cost of books. I’ll check out what the local library has to offer.

Sheri May 14, 2008 at 8:00 am

My husband always says that I probably use the library more than anyone else in our county. It’s definitely a money saver!

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