However much—or little—you have to spend on homeschool materials, you’re always going to want to feel like you made a good investment. That feeling comes from a combination of things: finding a curriculum that you actually use more than once or twice with you kids, feeling like the curriculum did work you couldn’t easily have done on your own, and being satisfied with the cost-to-curriculum satisfaction ratio of your purchases. Before you click “checkout” on a new curriculum, mentally run through this checklist to make sure you’re on the path to homeschool spending satisfaction.
Limit your shelf space. If you know you’re prone to overbuy, set a physical limit: “These two shelves are all I get for curriculum.” Limiting space will encourage you to be thoughtful about what you add and vigilant about letting go of what doesn’t work. (Not sure if you’re prone to buy more stuff than you need? Count the number of history curricula on your shelves—if you’ve picked up more than two or three this year, there’s a good chance you might benefit from a self-imposed space limit.)
Shop for the homeschool you have. A new curriculum is probably not going to make your craft-hating kids magically love crafts or your fidgety 1st grader want to settle in for long stretches of quiet work time. It’s easy to buy into the fantasy that the right curriculum can steer your homeschool in a whole new direction, but you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you acknowledge the reality of your homeschool before you click buy. That doesn’t mean the right curriculum can’t make a big difference—it definitely can. It just means you shouldn’t expect any curriculum to change your student in a fundamental way.
Do not buy curriculum for the future. I know! It’s such a good deal! Why not go ahead and stock up? You just don’t know what’s going to happen: your perfect-right-now program might not be a good fit in three years, or you may realize that your child learns better a different way. Shopping for the future isn’t a waste of budget, exactly, but it’s rarely the best use of your dollars. Focus on what you need now.
Keep a master list. You will forget the cool book series you bought for earth science or the nifty novel unit study you snagged on sale unless you write them down. Use a notebook or a spreadsheet (I keep a low-tech index card file) to keep track of purchases—group by broad category (science) and then specific categories within that broad category (physics,chemistry, etc.)
Stick with what works. Suzanne’s homeschool mantra is “If it works, don’t change it.” She’s used the same basic curriculum for all four of her kids, and it’s worked fine for all of them. A curriculum doesn’t have to be life-alteringly joyful and exciting to be a good fit for your homeschool, so if you find something that’s working fine, stop shopping around for something that might be better. (Obviously if it’s not working for a particular kid, that’s a different story.)
Don’t automatically default to curriculum. Not every subject needs a structured curriculum. Hit the library, load up your Netflix queue with documentaries, and look for resources online before you spend money on a full curriculum. Curricula can be great resources, but make sure you really want to use one before you buy.
This was originally published in the winter 2017 issue of HSL.