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 😉