This Mom Shares 5 Brilliant Strategies for Home-Schooling on a Budget

Lorielle Hollaway, a 28-year-old single mother from St. Petersburg, Fla., home-schools her daughters Nadia, 8, and Ava, 6. Hollaway has learned over the years not to stress about doing everything right and has found ways to help stay on budget. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

When Lorielle Hollaway stocked up on soda this summer during a buy one, get one free sale, it wasn’t for an upcoming get-together or because her family enjoys the bubbly beverage.

In fact, the sodas weren’t for sipping at all. They were for science.

Hollaway used the carbonated drink to show her oldest daughters — 8-year-old Nadia and 6-year-old Ava — how dropping a Mentos candy into the soda accelerates the release of carbon dioxide and causes a foamy eruption.

The girls loved it.

“We did the soda thing lots of times,” Nadia said.

The messy experiment was part of a home-school lesson about volcanoes. Hollaway, a 28-year-old single mother from St. Petersburg, Florida, has been home-schooling for over three years.

“We went the home-schooling route when Nadia was getting ready to go to kindergarten,” Hollaway said. “Then once we started, it just took off, and we haven’t stopped yet.”

Nadia is now in third grade, and Ava is in first grade. Hollaway also has a 1-month-old daughter, Joyce.

There was a little bit of trial and error in the first year of home schooling as Hollaway stressed over wanting to do everything right. But now, she’s hit her stride. And she’s found that home schooling doesn’t have to be expensive if you’re conscious about your spending.

“You could be like a kid in a candy store, trying to purchase, like, all the latest things that are trending for school and education,” Hollaway said.

5 Ways to Save on the Cost of Home Schooling

Hollaway keeps things simple by prioritizing what’s essential for her kids’ education, and she keeps costs low by finding ways to save. Here’s what has worked for her family.

1. Find Your Tribe

Nadia and Ava Hollaway work on an art project during school time at home in downtown St. Petersburg. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

When Hollaway first started out as a home-schooling mom, she joined Facebook groups for home-school parents. Her mother connected her to veteran home-school moms she knew. Hollaway even joined a home-school co-op — a group of families that cooperatively educate their kids.

Being in touch with other home-schooling families gave Hollaway a sense of support. It also provided her with ideas on how to educate her kids on her own.

She said the home-schooling moms she met were excited to share the learning materials that worked for their children.

“The only curriculum I’d purchase was probably a few math books,” Hollaway said. “Everything else was given to me.”

Hollaway recommends new home-school parents consider joining a co-op to get that valuable support. Every co-op is different, she said, and the cost to join will vary. Hollaway recalls paying about $100 per semester for her eldest daughter to attend co-op sessions once a week.

Hollaway said parents who aren’t part of a co-op can look into attending open houses hosted by co-ops, where they might be able to get free teaching materials through a curriculum swap.

Outside of home-school co-ops, Hollaway advises parents to tap into the skills and talents of friends and family.

“Use the people that you know,” she said.

Hollaway’s daughters learned penmanship from their great-grandmother, who is a retired teacher.

“[She] always had them writing,” she said.

2. Shop After the Back-to-School Rush

One of the benefits of home schooling is that you get to set your own schedule. Home-school parents aren’t tied to the constraints of the school calendar.

That means while other parents flock to stores at the end of summer to buy school supplies, home-schooling parents can wait until after the rush dies down.

Hollaway buys supplies like crayons, markers and glue about a week or two after school starts, when those items are priced lower than they are during back-to-school sales.

She also advises parents to check out thrift stores for books and teaching materials. She’s found whole sets of curricula — some for math, some for science — at thrift stores.

3. Make the Library Your Hangout Spot

Hollaway carries her baby, Joyce, and smiles at her daughters Nadia and Ava by Mirror Lake in St. Petersburg. The family lives about a half-mile away from a library branch — a favorite hang-out spot and a great resource for them. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

The library is a great resource for frugal families — especially home-schooling ones in search of free education materials. Hollaway and her girls live about a half-mile from one of the library branches in her city. Before the baby was born, the family would often take walks there when the weather was warm.

“The library is very helpful,” Hollaway said. “We used to go for story time and then just always get library books and sometimes DVDs.”

Many public libraries offer more free gems. You can take advantage of computer access and community programs hosted on-site. You can have your children spend time in the periodical section reading up on current events from newspapers and magazines. Your library may even let patrons check out unique items like museum passes, science tools and musical instruments.

4. Seek Discounts for Field Trips

Hollaway loves to participate in Home School Field Trip days, when museums and cultural centers offer free admission, a couple of times per year. She also likes to take her three children to see other types of local art, such as the painted murals throughout downtown St. Petersburg. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Home-schoolers don’t have to miss out on the fun of field trips just because they’re not part of a traditional school group.

“A great thing about home school is that there are home-school days at museums and cultural institutions,” Hollaway said.

Some places offer free admission a couple times per year specifically for home-schooling families. Others offer educator discounts that reduce the price of admission.

“You have to tell them that you’re home-schooling, and then you have to bring in your paperwork from the school district that says that [your child] is enrolled in home education to receive the discount,” Hollaway said.

The places she has taken her daughters on field trips include the Salvador Dali Museum and the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, and the Florida Aquarium and Busch Gardens in Tampa.

“We love our home-school field trips,” she said.

5. Balance Home School With Work

Hollaway saves money on school supplies like crayons, markers and glue by shopping after back-to-school sales and by checking out thrift stores for books and teaching materials. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Hollaway said the major financial challenge with home school isn’t purchasing books and supplies. It’s balancing home schooling with working to earn a living.

Hollaway, who generally home-schools during standard business hours, said she has to juggle when she works so that it fits into the girls’ schedules.

The first year she home-schooled, Hollaway worked nights as a janitor. She also worked as a nanny out of her home for two years.

These days, Hollaway’s children get to come to work with her.

“I tutor at an after-school program, which is awesome, because I get to take them,” she said.

Hollaway is also a small-business owner. She’s the founder of Cultured Books, a pop-up children’s bookstore that specializes in books featuring children of color. The shop is open on weekends only, and Hollaway’s daughters are able to participate in the business by selling their art. Being at the bookstore helps them learn entrepreneurial skills, like how to price items for profit.

The crafts the girls create include bracelets made with wooden beads. They go for $1 apiece.

“A lot of people buy our bracelets every time we make bracelets,” Nadia said. “Every time.”

Hollaway said one of the benefits of home schooling is that the parents are in charge of when schooling happens, so you can still home-school even if you have to work during the day.

“You don’t have to quit your 9-to-5 job,” she said. “You can home-school when you get off work. Home school doesn’t just start in the morning and end in the afternoon.”

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.