Reader Question: How do you budget for your school, especially your home library?

Blair asked,  ‘My question is- how do you budget for your school, particularly your home library and projects? That seems to be my hardest spending to manage. I am looking for some budget savvy tips! There are just so many wonderful things to try’

This is a great question, and if anyone has an answer perhaps you could let me know!!

My friend Lorna spluttered everywhere at the thought of me writing a post about budgeting.  I think maybe she felt I should be the very last person to ask!  And I would have to agree.  Homeschooling is where the majority of our expendable income goes.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some rather spiffy tricks up my sleeve for not touching the non-expendable income 😉

Plan in Advance

This is probably the way I save the most money.  I know at least a year in advance what I am likely to be studying with the children.  This means I am able to keep my eyes peeled for second hand resources on Amazon, Ebay or the numerous charity shops we tend to frequent as a family.  This would be the primary way I buy books for pennies.  Also our library, which we never go to in order to, y’know, actually borrow books, has the most incredible sales, especially on children’s non fiction books (just the genre I am looking for).  We also let friends and family know what we need and have received many blessings in the form of second hand books that they no longer need or want.

Always Keeping Certain Items in Stock

The second way I save a truck load of money is by keeping certain items on hand, all the time.  A bit like keeping food items in stock in order to cook from scratch is much cheaper than buying ready made food, I tend to keep basics on hand which allow me to replicate ideas for projects without breaking the bank.  These are a few of my must-haves:

1)  A junk drawer

A drawer full of old packaging, amazon envelopes (perfect for when you need card), packing for large appliances, cereal packs, bottles….basically anything you might want to chuck, is great to have around.  Sweet wrappers are particularly useful!  This costs you nothing but gives you an extraordinary stock supply to call on whenever you need it.

2) Clay

I buy air dry clay cheaply from The Works, and we use this at least weekly.  One pack lasts a few projects so long as you keep any unused wrapped up tightly in celophane.  We have used clay for so many projects:-

  • Stone drawings:


  • Raised reliefs/sucken reliefs:

C's example of a raised relief.

C's sunken relief in the form of a scarab beetle. We used a stencil as a guide

  • Model making:



  • Runes:

  • Printing:

And then used it to print a lovely picture. We were really pleased with the outcome.

  • Oracle bones:


  • Ancient Chinese envelopes:

We then covered it in rope

All ready for delivery!

  • Making dinosaur foot prints:

Dino footprint

  • And bowls:


Clay is incredibly versatile and has the added benefit of not being terribly robust.  I take a photo and it goes in the bin!

3)  Plaster of Paris

This is useful for so many projects, and again a pot lasts such a long time.  We use it for almost every topic we cover, for example:

  • Creating stucco for art works:


  • Making our own mosaics:

Our mosaic tiles ready to fill the plaster sheets above

 As Easter was coming up they chose a simple cross design

  • and masks:


  • Home made plaster cast models:


  • Model building:

And here is the end result

  • Creating currency:

And the final coins hanging on some rope to hang around the neck

  • Making frescos:

T11's fresco


  • Recreating ancient Chinese brush art:

Our final replication of the original tomb painting. Not bad T11, L10 and C10!

  • Model-making using a variety of molds:

I bought a set of four molds, using two for plaster of paris and two for chocolate.

4)  Paper Mache powder:

I use this primarily for map making, and in fact all our home made maps are made from this fabulous material.  I really am a huge fan and a small bag lasts a loooong time:

  • Our map of the whole world:


  • Our Native American North America map:

the painted map ready for labelling

  • The Anglo-Saxon one we made of Great Britain:

which we reused for the vikings:

  • We also made a map to illustrate Marco Polo’s journey to China:

Marco Polo and his route to Cathay

These maps, which have been made for pennies, are fairly rough but are excellent for teaching about countries, migrations and specific journeys.  For example, we were able to map all of the famous explorers’ journeys on our map of the world, for practically no cost at all:


Of course it can also be used for other types of modelling such as the bone we made a few years ago:

long bone model

or dioramas, such as the space one T made when he was about 7:


5)  Acrylic Paint:

I buy this from The Works.  It may or may not be of artist quality but it is definitely good enough for our purpose.  I buy the large tubes, which are often 3 for the price of 2.  We use acrylics for everything, but especially for painting all the above projects to make them look pretty 🙂

If you were to go through my blog, most of the activities we have done over the years have been made using one of more of the above ‘ingredients’ and cost a fraction of what a kit would cost and the result is often far superior.

Know the cheap shops

I know this might seem obvious, but I know which shops to use locally for the best deal.  I know which items I can get from Amazon cheapest, and which to buy from the shops.  The Works and Wilkinsons are my two go-to cheap shop for stationary, paints and clay.  Often I can find plaster of Paris cheaper online and I use Amazon for the paper mache powder.  Of course, making your own paper mache from paper and glue is even less expensive but I prefer the end product when I use the shop bought powder and so, for me, it is worth the extra cost.

Utilise the Plethora of Free Stuff Online

When I am preparing for a particular topic in our homeschool, I do so in the following order:

  1. Keep an eye out for items required in charity shops, library sales, car boot sales (less so).  Basically I am not looking for anything in particular, and am open to anything even if only vaguely linked to the topic we will be studying.  I often come up with my best ideas based on a purchase I had just happened upon!
  2. Next, I will keep an eye out on Amazon and Ebay.  By this point I will have a clearer idea of the purchases I wish to make, having spent a few months researching the particular topic.
  3. I will also keep my eyes open for great deals on any kits from The Works, often buying 3 for the price of two, which are already knocked down in price.  Kits do not make up very much of our school projects but they are a nice addition if I can find them at a good price.
  4. Lastly I find everything else I need online.  And yes I realise that I should probably search for the free stuff online first but, you know when old people are stuck in their ways, doing what they have always done?  Yup, that’s me.  It all works so well and so fluidly that I don’t really feel that motivated to change!  A lot of our curriculum has come to us free this year, thanks to being on the TOS crew.  So I guess joining them is quite a good idea to save a lot of money 🙂

Well Blair, I do hope I have said something that might have been of some help to you.  This would definitely not be an area of strength for me, but I do my best to get the result and learning I am looking for at the lowest amount of cost in terms of both money and time.

Can anyone else chip in with any ideas for Blair?  Do leave your tips in the comments and we can all (me included!) benefit 😉


  1. Thank you, Claire. You have given me some useful ideas. Especially, about sourcing craft materials. We often use pound shops but their offerings are unpredictable. Must try Wilkinson and the Works.

  2. Thank you Claire. I love all the projects you have done, especially as you did them only using three art supplies! You have got me thinking now…

  3. Thanks, Claire. A year in advance would be so helpful instead of my usual 3 -6 months, lol:). Great tips! A friend just reminded me about Free, online curriculum for all grades. Not sure if that would be helpful to anyone or not. 🙂 Thinking I might have heard it mentioned before on your blog, not sure. 🙂

    1. Yes we used that for a while, but then I was blessed to receive access to the old school house because of being on their review crew, so this is where most of our stuff comes now 🙂

  4. Good advice. I also sell things that we do not use or are finished with on Ebay to increase my spending money.
    Blessings, Dawn

    1. I am so bad at actually selling things. I will happily take them to a charity shop but I often wonder if they are sellable having been used by five very robust children!

  5. Thank you so much Claire! This has been very helpful and gives me some places to start for the map projects and other things you’ve inspired. Now if I could just cancel my Amazon account I might actually be able to create a budget. 😉

  6. If you’ve parents/grandparents that are still holding onto barrels of yarn (mine literally had a barrel) or scraps of fabric or old Christmas cards, paints, and any other crafty items, beg, borrow (but don’t steal!) them if they’re willing to let go of these items. We had a stock of great materials in the younger years for our projects. It sure saved on forking out extra cash for these kinds of things.

    We’ve also had the privilege of many of our closest friends choosing to homeschool so we’ve been able to swap and borrow books and curriculum (and even instruments).

    And on that note of instruments, we had dear friends down south who had children in advanced music programs who were interested in teaching violin and guitar lessons (when only 13 and 14 yrs old) so were able to offer lessons to our young ones for much cheaper than from the “professionals.” They were extremely talented children and able to take ours through the early stage of lessons, while at the same time learning how to become better teachers of music lessons. It was a wonderful opportunity for both sides!

  7. This is such a great source of information, Claire. I visit Amazon way too often because I would rather buy books than clothing or almost anything else, which is why we have them everywhere in our house. I find that planning ahead does help to minimize costs, but I still find so many books along the way that I add to our stash. It is easy to pick up everything you find on a subject, so be picky, and try to choose the best. Home school fairs are a great way to find books on sale. Many fairs have used book booths and they always have great finds. I try to buy medium quality art supplies, and then if there is something that someone really wants to pursue, I will buy a better quality. I like to look at Abe Books; they have free shipping on many books. Also, keeping books and supplies in an orderly fashion helps to keep purchasing at a minimum. It is very frustrating to know you have something, but can’t find it, only to buy it again, and then to find it later. Also, shop around. Amazon isn’t always the cheapest, especially when you have a store coupon. I also look at trusted blogs and websites to find good resource information.

    I hope this finds you well, Claire. We are enjoying almost summer temperatures. Hugs to you, my friend.

    1. These are excellent ideas, Donna, especially for my American readers. We do not have homeschool fairs here, or if we do I don’t know anything about them 🙂

  8. Your organisation skills always boggle my mind! (Not sure that expression works that way round?) I’m pretty good at getting the materials in (LOVE the Works!), less good at getting round to using them. And our junk drawer has at times threatened to eat our kitchen. Brilliant post, anyway. Lots of inspiration, as ever. Thank you. 🙂

  9. I’d say avoid impulse buys. So many of those things that look perfect in the moment, don’t seem as perfect or necessary if you just give yourself a day or two to think about it. For instance, after seeing all your terrific clay projects, I’m tempted to pop over to Amazon and order a block or two of clay…but I’ll try to resist for a day or two, and see if it still feels like a must have 🙂

    1. Hello Leah!! I have SO missed you! I hope all is well with you? And yes, thinking about purchases is a great idea for calming the ‘in the moment’ passions about a certain item. Unfortunately, I am definitely an ‘in the moment’ type of person!

  10. I’m like you and plan my schoolwork ahead of time in the theoretical, and keep an eye out for cool stuff, but I too am not at all organized in my housework.

    Anything to add in….. Not really, you covered all of the things I was thinking of.

    1. Yes, I suspect we are quite similar in many ways, although you are about a trillion times better than me at all this computer and social media stuff!

  11. Well, I’m definitely good at creating a junk drawer! Not so much with the forward planning or keeping things in stock, though. We used to get a lot of free things on Freecycle, including craft stuff, although where we are now that all seems to be done on Facebook, which I am not on. Swapping things/ passing stuff on to/ from other homeschool families has also worked well for us 🙂

  12. Look in charity shops or fund rising events with stalls. Every now and again I pop into charity shops and although most of the time I do not find anything we can use I sometimes find lots of great books for next to nothing. I have found new science kits at fundraising events with stalls too.

    Also making good use of YourTube! If it an amazing free resource where you can learn about almost anything.

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