Saturday, February 24, 2007

Is being a homeschooler as expensive as private school?

The second paragraph in recent article in Kiplinger Personal Finance brought me up short:

"Whatever the advantages of home-schooling, saving money isn't necessarily one of them. Add up what you spend on books, curricula, tutors, field trips -- not to mention the loss of a second income if one parent becomes the full-time teacher -- and the cost of home-schooling can easily rival paying private-school tuition."

The article goes on to list ways that parents can spend money when homeschooling in Finance Lessons for Home Schoolers. But in adding up the books and stuff mentioned in the article I still have trouble getting to the $5,000 to $10,000 a year per child that many of the private schools in our area charge. There is even one private school in our area that charges almost $30,000 a year!

I don't know any homeschoolers who spend even $5,000 a year per child. I have read of children who were going after a particular sport or skill who were being homeschooled. Maybe their parents are spending several thousand a year paying for tutors to help with golf, tennis, or chess, but most of us get by just fine for a fraction of what a private school charges.

Last year I made the claim that homeschooling can be cheaper than sending children to public schools. Public schools are "free" but they come with a variety of costs, some explicit, and some hidden.

On one extreme end parents can homeschool for almost nothing. With frequent trips to the public library parents can give a good education to children.

Most of the people we know who homeschool have one of the parents stay at home with the children during the day. If they had had both parents working, the lost of the two income can be a challenge. Parents typically homeschool to provide a better education. It can be a financial challenge for some. But homeschooling is not as expensive as private schools.

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Patti said...

Are these the same people who assure us that raising one child to age 18 will cost several hundred thousand dollars?

Henry Cate said...

One of the points the author of the article in Kiplinger Personal Finance was trying to make is that for two income families, deciding to homeschool may mean the law of one of the incomes.

This is true for both homeschoolers and families which send their children to private schools.

But the place with the article was either unclear, or the author forgot to mention, is that private schools have the additional costs of tuition, which is typically much, much more than what a homeschooler would spend on books and stuff.

Dana said...

I read one of these things some time ago (I don't think the same one), but it added a lot of costs I would contest.

Yes, I personally consider my daughter's karate class part of her homeschooling and some might put it under our homeschooling expenses. But everyone else in her class is public schooled. And she'd likely be in it regardless of our educational choice.

A lot of the learning toys we purchase we may tend to rationalize as a homeschooling expense (who can call themselves a homeschooler and not own a gazillion puzzles, books, 'manipulatives,' etc?) But most families make similar purchases for their children regardless of where they go to school.

I think the assessment isn't accurate because it fails to consider that almost all parents strive to create an stimulating environment for their children and promote education in the home, regardless of where their children are formally "schooled."

Anonymous said...

I agree, actually, with the report author that homeschooling can cost more than private school if one parent gives up a full-time professional income in order to homeschool.

The loss is more than the take-home pay, it's the loss of accrued social security benefits and even tax deferred 401K (or 403B, whatever) contributions. I realize we can all invest in IRAs, but those tax-sheltered contributions are limited to less than what someone can put away in an employer's defined contribution plan on a full-time professional salary. And then there's the loss of the company's contribution--some chip in quite a bit on behalf of their employees.

If a private schooling parent gives up a $50K/year job to homeschool, s/he gives up a lot on the benefits side, plus any left-over take home pay. If s/he was spending $20K/year on tuition, s/he still gives up some cash and all the long-term financial benefits, which can easily add up to and exceed the same cost as the tuition.

That said, the decision about where/how to educate our children has to be more than a financial decision, of course. But some people can't afford to give up the second income even if their kids go to public school. Even if they can, I think it's important to be realistic about the long-term financial ramifications of that decision. Some families can handle those just fine, but others will struggle with them now and when it comes time to retire.

I don't think it does anyone any favors to not be completely honest about the financial impact of homeschooling. (All of this assumes, of course, that someone is giving up an income to do it. If s/he wasn't going to work anyway, regardless of where the kids learn, then it's moot.)

Henry Cate said...

I agree, there are a few situations in which two parents who are sending a child or two to an inexpensive private school might end up losing money if they deicided to homeschool.

The true take home pay for the second parent making $50,000 a year is much, much less than $50,000. There are taxes, daycare, a bigger clothes budget, more eating out, the lose of frugal shopping, and so on.

There was one study a year or two ago that found the true net benefit to a family for a second income in the $50,000 a year range was a small fraction. I have forgotten the exact amount, but it was in the $10,000 to $20,000 a year range.

Carol Topp, CPA said...

I was e-mail interviewed for this Kiplinger article. (I'm Carol Topp mentioned on page 2 under High School costs). I too was a little surprized to read the author's comment about homeschooling costs rivaling private schooling, but some familes do spend a lot. I posted an article on my blog about some families in NYC that spend up to $15,000 per year homeschooling. It would be more like hiring a private full time tutor. Also some private Catholic schools here (Cincinnati) charge only $3000/year. I could spend that quite easily homeschooling if I used tutors, enrolled in special classes, and took really great field trips. IOW, you can spend as much or as little as you wish homeschooling. But that's part of the beauty of homeschooling-the flexibility.

Henry Cate said...

In retrospect I think what the author of the article was saying was that the lost of a second income can be very expensive. Clearly it is not expensive for most people to homeschool. Private schools can’t even come close. Most private schools have to charge for the building and pay salaries. The average homeschooler might spend a couple thousand for supplies, but the cost is very low.

But if a two income family decides to homeschool, and one of the parents quits a job, then the income could drop dramatically. I think this is what the author was trying to compare, then a two income family sending their children to private schools might have a net higher income, after expenses, when compared to a one income family homeschooling. It is a valid point. I am sure there are some instances in which the two income family does take home more money.

Anonymous said...

Homeschooling via tutors can be expensive, but I’ve come across a number of online tutoring websites (e.g.,,,, etc.). Has anyone prepared a comparison of the various companies (pricing, quality, etc.)?

Anonymous said...

I too would like to compare various tutoring sites, such as Vie-Nova, Tutoring School Trainer, Tutor Easy and Tutor Next. Do you have any comparative data on this?