Just the other day, I read about the average public school's allotment per student, per school year: $6,251.*

That set me to thinking about just what I, as a homeschool mom, could do with $6,251 for each of my four children. The way I have it figured, our whole family could take an educational cruise around the world for 80 days.

Then reality sets in, and I remember that my budget is more like $100 per child per year. I've had to learn, the hard way, how to homeschool on the cheap.

I try to ferret out the best deals in curricula, services, and supplies and household items. Here are some ideas I've found helpful.

WHEN YOU NEED CURRICULA, MAYBE YOU CAN…
Borrow it. My friend Candace and I have borrowed each other's books for years. We both keep a list of who has what, and make sure it's continually updated. The unspoken agreement is that if one of us damages the other's books, we pay for it. So far that has never happened, and between us, we've borrowed everything from history books to art prints.

Share it. I asked Holly, who owns a microscope and a biology slide set, if my three teens could share both lab time and the microscope with her daughter Rachel. Now my young adults can make use of microscope labs and Rachel gets free tutoring in writing from me.

Buy it used. Used curriculum fairs are available, in our area, in both the spring and fall. I've gotten some incredible deals at these fairs, not only school books, but also Christmas and birthday gifts. Many of the "used" items are actually new or nearly new.

I've also had good luck by simply putting out the word concerning my needs. I started looking for a Math-U-See intermediate by asking every homeschooler I knew if she had one to sell. At last I found a friend of a friend who was willing to sell it for half price.

Used books are also available on several websites, including vegsource.com, eBay.com, and amazon.com.

Get it at the library. Last year I bought a video science course from The Teaching Company, and was proud of myself for getting it on sale. I might have been able to use the same course, though, for free: I learned this year that our library already owned another course by the same company.

Our library is very well-supplied. If yours isn't, or you can't get what you need, ask a librarian about requesting a book or video through inter-library loan. Also consider asking your library to buy a book or magazine you think would be beneficial. I have done this many times, and the library almost always honors my requests.

WHEN YOU NEED SERVICES, MAYBE YOU CAN…
Do it yourself. I don't play the cello or violin, but I've given my daughters lessons. Granted, I have a degree in music education (piano), but you have unique skills, as well. Use your talents, as well as your imagination, to think of ways you might be able to help your own children rather than paying for swim team, cake decorating classes, or harmonica lessons.

Hire an older child or teenager. A few years ago, when I visited a high school friend, I felt somewhat jealous of her ultra-clean house and maid service. Then it struck me: I had four maids — at least, potential maids — in my family. All I had to do was train my children to clean the house and pay them a fair wage.

Think of all the possibilities for hiring your children to help you out at home with housework, baking, babysitting, tutoring, and more — a real bargain for you, and an earning opportunity for them.

Barter. Homeschoolers I know have arranged all sorts of bartering situations: exchanging babysitting, teaching various courses to each other's children, taking turns driving kids to lessons.

Co-op. Our family is part of a large cooperative of 165 students who study music and drama. Eric (17), Christian (16), Lisa (15), and Mary (12) are all involved in two of the three orchestras, and Eric plays piano in the select ensemble. (The co-op loans our children, at no charge, a cello, a violin, and a keyboard amplifier.) All sing in the advanced choir, and all participate in drama. I teach keyboard class and accompany the advanced choir. Because none of our homeschool moms/teachers are paid, and every parent is required to actively participate in some job for the co-op, our family's total yearly costs are less than the cost of paying teachers, for the same amount of instruction, for two weeks.