How much money do you need to homeschool?

You’d think I’d be writing a post about how to work full-time while you homeschool. I might write that post one day. But here’s fair warning: it’ll look like this picture. My son is trying to tell me about the Bionicle he built. I am telling him I need to write. He is telling me I always say that.

I ignore him and then he takes my phone and starts taking photos of his Bionicle and then he takes a movie of his Bionicle. He narrates the landscape of the feet, torso and body and then he says to the camera, “Don’t look at the stuff in the background. That’s my mom working. She is pissing me off.”

He loves to use the word pissed. He’s pissed all the time. He understands that it is not a nice word, but also not a swear word, so it falls into a lexicological problem area. He is so jubilant about the debate about whether we can use the word pissed and in what context that I have just given up.

So the post about working from home while you homeschool would be a mom who is pissed that she’s not working and a six-year-old that’s pissed that she is working.

Instead, I’m going to suggest that you don’t need to work from home. You need much less money than you think. For one thing, people are homeschooling on just about nothing. But even if you don’t want to homeschool on an extremely low income, you still don’t need a ton of money. The number most psychologists and economists toss around today is $75K. Wherever you live (yes, NYC and San Francisco too) you need $75K to raise a family (one kid or four kids – the number is the same). Beyond that, the increase in happiness you get from spending time with family is much bigger than the increase in happiness you’d get from earning more money. So if you’re honest with yourself,  $75K is enough for you to homeschool.

This makes sense because the median income for stay-at-home moms is $64K. This means that most people reading this post have a partner who can earn enough to have the other parent stay at home.

I used to feel sheepish about writing statistics like this, because I have made six figures every year for the last ten years. I’m not really sure how I did it. I mean, my income is sporadic and unpredictable and often times life-threatening. Or at least it feels that way. But somehow, I always make a lot of money in the end.

Then I saw my tax return for this year and I realized that most years, my taxable income is around $50K. The rest is running through my business—it’s a messy tax return when you mix your personal and business money, believe me.

But now that I realize that my taxable income is so low, I feel fine telling you that you don’t need a lot of money to homeschool. You mainly need a lot of confidence so you can lower your expectations about your standard of living. But most homeschoolers already have that. Homeschooling defies so many expectations that a low cost of living is just one more item on the list.

29 replies
  1. Rashmie @ Mommy Labs
    Rashmie @ Mommy Labs says:

    That picture of your work desk looks pretty much like mine. My 6-year old (girl) somehow thinks my desk is the best place for her to tinker/write/read a story at AND – grumble! Grumble that I shouldn’t be at the laptop. While I grumble I am hardly spending any time on the laptop when I need more time to write/type.

    I could so relate with the pictures you’ve created through your words. And yes, I agree – you don’t need much money for homeschooling. The time spent with your child creating the bond is much more precious and priceless!

  2. Mark Kenski
    Mark Kenski says:

    Perhaps it is no coincidence that homeschooling has exploded as the internet has exploded. The internet makes it incredibly cost effective to homeschool. It also makes it possible for parents to seek guidance and fellowship with others who have made the same decision.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Laura, I think it would be great to hear what your days are like. Maybe they are the same as mine. I don’t even know. I just think that I have not read a day-in-the-life of a homeschooler at that income. I would like to know if it’s different, so I bet other people would like to know, too.


  3. Lisa S
    Lisa S says:

    I’m prepping for my seventh year of homeschooling, and each year it has cost me roughly $600 to educate three grade school kids. Once I toss in swim lessons and saxophone reeds and field trips and such, it likely gets to be about $1000 for the year’s expenses. It always hurts each spring when I shell out the cash for books, but throughout the year I think to myself, “A thousand bucks. Just a thousand bucks to educate all three kids.”

    And as a side note, *not once* have my kids had to go door-to-door asking for money to support their education and activities. It boggles the mind that a state can spend thousands of dollars per student and yet the kids are still asked to sell wrapping paper and cookie dough.

    • Robert
      Robert says:

      In my modest house I pay way more in property taxes to fund public education than the $1,000 homeschooling investment you are making each year. If only I could pull the money spent on substandard public education system and invest it in homeschooling… It is clear the public education system is not set up for efficiency, nor for results. All the more reason to home school!

  4. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    Since both my wife an I are lazy, love leisure, hate work, and don’t care too much about living a big lifestyle, we plan on living on just my single income (it’s 33k right now) after our first child and homeschooling any and all of them. We also want to own property and a small craftsman house.

    This is tricky because 33k is not enough to buy a house with, or pay a mortgage, car payments, etc. You can’t really do much but survive on 33k if you have a family to support.

    However, we only have one student loan payment, we are both working, we have no car payments, we are moving in with my parents for a couple years on $400/mo rent, and we plan on using 95% of our expendable money toward building a tiny house (possibly with these people:

    If we can buy a house and a small plot of land, that 33k becomes 33k + 8k (cost of rent – property taxes and other house related expenses) = 41k. This doesn’t seem like a lot extra, but you can do a lot with 8k saved every year in addition to anything else one saves.

    Anything is possible if you are willing to cut corners creatively for a while.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      Of course, I don’t mean to say that money saved can automatically be thought of as the same as money earned. It’s just that if you have one less expense than most people do, it is as if your income is higher because you can do more with it.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Just a heads up: saving money before kids and saving money after kids is like apples and oranges.

        When you save money and it’s just you, you deny yourself stuff you decide you can do without. When you save money and there are kids involved you are constantly having to say no to things that would clearly be nice for the kids.

        Having kids is not a rational decision: kids make marriages bad and kids do not make people happier. By the same token, how we manage money when we have kids is not rational: we want to give kids as much as we possibly can because we love them so much. Mixing saving money with having kids is very complicated because it’s rational behavior in the context of irrational behavior.


  5. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    Well, this is a pretty common theme in the world of hoemschooling. If you attend the WPA conference on homeschooling
    there will be a ton of people there who can tell you how to homeschool on a shoestring budget.
    However, given the fact that you have made a 6 figure income I would like to know how you use your money to make homeschooling easier. The religious nuts who homeschool are poor. The hippy activists who homeschool are poor. You’re not. What’s that like? What’s the best way to spend some of that money on homeschooling?

  6. Karen Loe
    Karen Loe says:

    We are a six-figure family and I can honestly say that I don’t do anything particularly noteworthy or different from anyone else…
    …with one exception…too many books!
    I have on one-click.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      DITTO!! I read this to my husband…he picks on me for my kindle and amazon book orders. I am blushing too.

      We also have some family memberships that I think are $$$$ to museums, nature centers, etc. and lessons that add up. I don’t know if that would be different at all though.

  7. EMJ
    EMJ says:

    As a point of reference, the median family income for Wisconsin in 2010 was $62,088.

    I note that this is likely to include many families with two incomes. I am unsure whether statistics are tabulated on the median income per adult in a family with children, which is really the more relevant statistic. Regardless, your assessment that $75,000 for one breadwinner is “not that much” is at odds with the facts on the ground in your state.

    • EMJ
      EMJ says:

      Rereading your post, I gather that you may not understand the term “median.” This refers to the value that splits your sample in two: half of the scores are above the value and half below it. $75K is above both the median you cited and the one I cited; by definition, it can’t be true that “most people reading this post have a partner who can earn enough to have the other parent stay at home,” since fewer than half will make $75K or more. (Unless of course you have some reason to believe that your readership is unrepresentative in some way — which may well be true, but such an assumption should be stated and justified.)

  8. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    Most of our expenses were fuel for driving and lessons – music, art, karate, etc. I always had a lot of books anyway.

    If starting over I wouldn’t buy things “I think we’ll use someday.” Also I bought several curricula and videos that went unused. We kept thinking we’d use school-type materials but were too much unschoolers to follow through. Even supposed “special” text books are too confining.

  9. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Here’s a plug for our depressed economy in MI: houses are cheap and homeschooling laws are liberal.

    We do well on less than average (but above poverty-level). My car is 14 years old. My carpeting is probably twice that old. My last “real” vacation was my honeymoon in that last millennium.

    I consider a lavish night out one in which we go *to* the movies and have pizza *out* rather than a Netflix stream and frozen pizza.

    Unschooling’s marvelous for the thrifty as there’s no curriculum guilt.

  10. joanm
    joanm says:

    question for all of you ~ I would LOVE to homeschool my kids (ages 8 & 10). What about single parents, of which I am? I am the sole money earner as their father is not in the picture financially at all (long story) so I am raising 2 kids on $39K. I have a 15 year old car (no payments) rent a small 2 bedroom house ($850) and am barely gettng by with the cost of insurance and food. what do you suggest? I have to make $$ to pay rent. My current employer will not allow telecommuting, and jobs are scarce in Stoughton, WI. thanks!

    • Daisy
      Daisy says:

      If I were in your shoes, I’d network in my local homeschool community to see if any arrangements might be able to be made with other families.

      I home educate my daughter, an only child, and often lament the fact that I do not know a single parent or dual income family who has similar ideas about education to my husband and myself. I’d jump at the chance to help them out as it would help me and my child out as well. She’d have regular ongoing contact and play and learning opportunities with the same children and I wouldn’t forever be trying to find friends for her, schedule play dates, and bear the entire burden of her young social life on myself as it seems I’m for the one inviting and arranging, never the one having the favor returned. Our own little co-op “unschooling school” could be an ideal arrangement to solve several issues for ourselves and others.

      Investigate and see what you can find. There may exist other only children parents or others who’d be interested in helping you out in some way and have a need that could be met by doing so.

  11. Sara
    Sara says:

    My kids say the same thing to me – especially my six year old daughter. While I’m trying to work, she will say “which is more important, your work or your CHILDREN?” Great vocal emphasis that she gives it, so she really is saying it in all caps.

    Homeschooling isn’t about money, at all, so you don’t need much. But there is the issue of time and supervision – for single parents the question is “who will watch the kids while I work”. My mother worked that out by running a home daycare, and later a tutoring business (daycare while she was married to my dad, tutoring business and back-breaking/stomach-empty poverty after the divorce). For me, I work a full-time job outside the home that has flex and evening/weekend hours, and allows me to bring my kids to work with me.

  12. Andi
    Andi says:

    My husband brings home just over $30k annually, which is just a smidge above the poverty line here in Ohio. My sister homeschools her littlest one, & I have considered it on & off. But I don’t know how I’d reconcile work time / teaching time / play time, & I fear I’d be terrible at it since I’m not the most patient person in the world. However, my sister loves it, & I am not overly fond of the public school system, so maybe I should give it further consideration…


  13. John Drolet
    John Drolet says:

    Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason seemed to be on the internet the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while people think about worries that they just do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  14. Meg
    Meg says:

    It’s funny to hear one needs $75K annually to homeschool, wherever one lives. Is that an average?
    Then it doesn’t apply “wherever you live”.

    Where I live, most of the homeschooling families I know make far less a year than that. Where we live, pretty nice houses can be had for less than 100K, and livable ones for less than $75. Ours cost less even than that, because it’s in a gritty neighborhood. We know several other homeschooling families in the area who have a lower family income than we do, and our income, which would be poverty in many places, here, is above the median.

    It does matter where you live. Living and paying all one’s own bills on $50K/year isn’t luxurious, but it’s quite doable, here. It wouldn’t be doable except as welfare recipients, in many places. It depends on how much you have to shell out for a mortgage. But homeschoolers can go for cheap mortgages if they know that the quality of the school district doesn’t matter to them.

  15. J.
    J. says:

    I agree that homeschooling keeps costs down. We manage to do it on one income (my income, since I am a single parent), in a second-world country. I make less than 10 K, and that would make me privileged. Plenty of two-income families make much less, including families in which both parents are police officers. I don’t think I could do it in a developed country on the same income. There would be income taxes too, which I don’t pay.

    My guess is that our kid-related expenses are less than those of public school families. We spend more on curricula and fun stuff, but far less on food, travel and clothes.

    Still, I would have to disagree that it is possible to homeschool on any income — or at least to homeschool in a way that meets kids’ educational needs. My income recently reduced, and I started looking for free online resources. I’ll have to say that I don’t like what’s out there, with some exceptions.

    My kids are probably around the same ages as yours. It is feasible that the cost will actually decrease later on, contrary to popular belief. There are plenty of classics out there as free ebooks that would rock a rhetoric-stage kid’s world.

  16. J.
    J. says:

    I have been reading through your blog over the last few days, by the way, and I have to say I love it! I would really like to see a post with career advice for folks in developing/second-world countries.

    Here, a degree certainly doesn’t get you a job; joining a political party might do it. I am planning to get my kids apprenticeships to learn trades by the time they are old enough — 12 or so. I’d love to hear other ideas.

  17. Ron A.
    Ron A. says:

    Our family gets by on my $37K / yr income with no big problems. Sure – things are tight, but with a stay-at-home Mom, we SAVE a lot in other expenses. (The kids are learning how to cook from scratch to boot!) There is a lot of free curriculum out on the ‘net – and the local library is always a great resource.

    I suppose it all depends on how attached you are to ‘things.’ Of course, attachment to things drives the economy – right? Being unattached to ‘things’ is not being a good consumer – and not being a good consumer is unpatriotic. Another reason for the State not to like us . . . .

  18. Lili D.
    Lili D. says:

    Having read a goodly amount of your articles regarding homeschooling over the last hour or so (it all started with a TEDx talk on Hackschooling) I am majoritarily sold on the idea of homeschooling. This seems to be a lovely website/blog.

    However, there is one major hang up. Single parenting and homeschooling do not seem particularly compatible (after all, who earns the ‘minimal’ amount of money aforementioned while I stay home?) and yet I find myself wondering how we can afford to NOT homeschool. Do you have any particular input on this matter?

    Lili (in France)

  19. Roberts
    Roberts says:

    Are there any single parents surviving on one income and homeschooling?

    I honestly would love to start homeschooling. I have an education degree. I do not have another half to help with bills. Any advice?

  20. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I don’t think you need 64k to homeschool. We scrape by on a single income of 24k (take home) with our three (soon to be four) children in Virginia, with NO federal/state assistance programs. It is doable. Just not easy.

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