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

Lorielle Hollaway, a 30-year-old single mother from St. Petersburg, Fla., home-schools her daughters Nadia and Ava. 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

Editors note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated.

When Lorielle Hollaway stocked up on soda 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 — Nadia and Ava, now 10 and 8 respectively — 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. At the time, Hollaway, a 30-year-old single mother from St. Petersburg, Florida, had 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 fifth grade, and Ava is in second grade. Hollaway also has a 21-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 Tips for Home Schooling on a Budget

Hollaway keeps things simple by prioritizing what’s essential for her kids’ education. Here’s what has worked for her family.

1. Find Your Tribe

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 for 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 can also attend 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

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

One of the benefits of Home schooling is that you get to set your own schedule and 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.

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

A woman interacts with her daughters outside.
Hollaway stops to interact with her daughters Nadia, Ava, and Joyce on Mirror Lake in St. Petersburg. With the closest library branch being only a half-mile away, Hollaway has made the library her favorite hang out. 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.

“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

A mother walks through downtown St. Petersburg to look at murals with her daughters.
Hollaway participates in Home School Field Trip days where museums and cultural centers offer free admission a couple times per year. She also likes to take her children to see 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.

She has taken her daughters on field trips to the Salvador Dali Museum and the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, as well as the Florida Aquarium and Busch Gardens in Tampa.

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

5. Balance Home Schooling With Work

A woman home schools her two daughters.
Hollaway home schools her two daughters, Ava, left, and Nadia at their home in St. Petersburg. Hollaway said the major financial challenge with home schooling isn’t purchasing books and supplies — it’s balancing home schooling with working to earn a living. Aileen Perilla / The Penny Hoarder

Hollaway said the major financial challenge with home schooling 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.

Hollaway is 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 Sunday afternoons from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and the rest of the week by appointment only. Hollaway’s daughters participate in the business by selling their art. Being at the bookstore helps them learn entrepreneurial skills, like how to price items for profit.

Hollaway said one of the benefits of Home schooling is that the parents are in charge of when schooling happens, so you can 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.