Tips for Budget-Minded Curriculum Shoppers

As the homeschooling market has grown in recent years, so have the number of companies seeking to entice you into purchasing their curriculum. But Pile of bookssometimes those materials and resources can cost a small fortune! What’s a budget-minded homeschool parent to do?

Tip #1 – COMPARISON SHOP.  For example, the 4th edition of Saxon Math 76 costs $103.60 today when purchased directly from the publisher, while you can get it at Christian Book Distributor for $82.89 and Rainbow Resource Center for $76.95. Look at more than just price, however. Discounters may have different return policies than the publisher or author does.

Tip #2 – SHOP ONLINE FOR USED CURRICULUM.  Search using the product’s ISBN number (either a 10 digit or 13 digit International Standard Book Number appearing on the back cover).  Check listings carefully for the condition code and for notes indicating if the item has any highlighting,  missing pages, or if it has been written in. If you will be purchasing components from different providers (for example, a textbook from one and a workbook from another), check very carefully for not only the ISBNs but also for key descriptive words like “updated version.” Not every publisher issues a new numbered edition with updated ISBN number for each update of the book.  

Tip #3 – SHOP USED CURRICULUM SALES.  While some sellers are trying to recoup a large percentage of their original purchase price, many are more interested in clearing out their shelves than in making a large sum of money.

Tip #4 – SHOP STORES SELLING USED CURRICULUM.  Besides stores specializing in used curriculum, some locations have thrift stores or used bookstores that also offer curriculum. And in many places, there is a homeschool mom or two known to buy and sell curriculum on the side.  (If you’re in the Los Angeles/South Bay area, check out my store at www.toolsforthehomeeducator.com.)

Tips #1 and #2 have the highest rate of success if you have already determined to purchase a particular resource and edition.

But if you really want to find the best bargains, keep reading.

While tips #3 and #4 can be exasperating and frustrating when you want a particular resource (supply and demand do not always balance out nicely), they can also be the source of best buys at fabulous discounts if you can flex with your requirements. For example, if you don’t specifically need the 4th edition, today in my shop I could sell you the third edition Saxon Math 76 for $40.  I could also sell you the first edition  for only $10 (that includes the student textbook and homeschool packet with answers, tests, and key). That’s a 90% discount off the publisher’s price.

The first edition set is in decent condition, especially considering it is 25 years old. But there haven’t been any major discoveries to change basic arithmetic in the last 25 years so the information is not out of date. As long as you don’t need a text that aligns to the newly-implemented Common Core Standards (and I am no fan of those standards!), the major differences between the first and fourth editions are the inclusion of more student-directed activities in the later versions.

There is more than one way to curriculum shop. You can wander the aisles of the Exhibit Hall at your convention or scour catalogs and online to find the “perfect” match.  This method works best for the shopper with more money than time.

Or if you are faced with more time than money, a used curriculum sale or store can be just the place for you to stretch your dollars the farthest. Instead of seeking out a specific resource, you could shop by choosing among the resources most available to you locally, inexpensively. With a little bit of time and energy, you can tweak most any curriculum to fit your family’s needs. If you don’t know how to make that happen, find a mentor who can help you do so.

Regardless of which shopping method you use, don’t forget these last money-stretching tips:

Tip #5 – BORROW.  Put the word out among your homeschooling friends and see if someone has the resource you want. It may be just sitting on a shelf waiting for their next kid to grow old enough to use it.

Tip #6 – USE THE LIBRARY.  The book you want or a very similar resource may be available to you free through your public library. Or your homeschool group may have a lending library.

Tip #7 – USE FREE TECHNOLOGY.  Khan Academy, You Tube, and many other free resources online can be used in place of or to supplement formal curriculum.

It would be wonderful to have an unlimited budget to buy whatever teaching resources I want! However just as I’d love to drive a Mercedes, my husband and I settled for a much cheaper, used Toyota that meets my needs quite well. You might be surprised at how little you can spend and still find wonderful curriculum!

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