Posted in Homeschooling

How to save money on homeschool curriculum

Last year I saved 70% over regular prices on curriculum and homeschooling materials.  I didn’t pay full price for a single item.  Over the past year I’ve found myself explaining my “secret” to others so often that I decided it’s time to write down my “strategy”.

 

There is no secret, I am just on a tight budget and can’t afford to spend the hundreds of dollar per child that I see some people spending.  So here is how I made it work.

 

The best way to save is to plan ahead and be ready to order the moment a good deal appears.  This is also helpful when on a tight budget because you are able to spread out your purchases over time instead of spending a lot of money at once.  We don’t get a big tax refund like some homeschoolers so we can’t buy everything at once and be done with it.

The plan:

I start my planning in February with the goal to finish shopping by the beginning of August.

 

Make a shopping list

This may seem obvious but if you don’t know what you are buying it’s easy to get carried away or buy more than you need.  In February of every year I analyze what we used, what we like that we want to buy again next year and research anything new that we want to use.  I create a list of everything that we have decided to purchase and then we move to the next step.

 

Learn the prices

This is important, you don’t know if you are getting a good deal if you don’t know what the prices are.  My shopping list includes regular price or MSRP for each product so that I can easily see if a posted deal is a good one.

 

Some stores overstate the regular price of the item to make it seem like you are saving more than you truly are, you won’t fall for this if you have the regular price listed on your shopping list.

 

Also part of this research is to be familiar with used price trends.  Some curriculum resells for cents on the dollar while others resell for prices near their new prices.  Based on these trends I evaluate what my “goal” price will be.  My goal is usually 50% savings on used books, 20% on new books and 25% on workbooks, this is the bare minimum savings that I want to achieve, I usually do better than that.

 

The website CamelCamelCamel provides pricing history on items from Amazon so that you can see how the New and Used pricing has fluctuated over time.

 

Become familiar with the market

There are many different options for shopping for online curriculum and your mileage will vary.  There are discount online sellers like the Homeschool Buyers Co-op and Educents that provide savings on new materials and there are used sellers like Homeschool Classifieds and Thriftbooks that offers great deals on used materials.  Amazon and Ebay can also sometimes yield some great deals.  There are also many Facebook B/S/T groups for used homeschool curriculum.

 

Look for local markets, check for a Facebook curriculum trade group in your area and you can save money on shipping.  Some Co ops and homeschool groups also host annual curriculum swaps which can be very convenient, specially if you want to look at the content of a book before deciding to buy.

 

Check prices regularly

Decide which methods you feel most comfortable buying from and check their prices regularly.  You can setup alerts to be notified when an item that you want is listed on Ebay.  Thriftbooks has a wishlist feature and you can request to be notified when an out of stock item becomes available.

 

I always setup price tracking for Amazon using CamelCamelCamel, I set my desired price for the item and they e-mail me when the Amazon price drops to that level.

 

I also set up a “Wanted” listing on Homeschool Classifieds.

 

There are so many Facebook curriculum trade groups that I don’t check them all, if there is an item that I am having trouble finding I will create an “ISO” (In Search Of) post, just be sure to be familiar with the group’s rules as some have specific ways that they want you to do this.

 

Even if you only want to buy new materials, it pays to shop around.  Also check for places that offer teacher discounts. I tend to buy workbooks new but never at full price.  If Amazon doesn’t give me at least a 20% savings, I will wait until Barnes and Noble has their Educator Appreciation Days and save 25% buying it from them with my Educator Card.

 

Be Ready to Buy

When you find the item that you want for the price that you want, don’t hesitate to order.  Unless this is a sale by a store on a new item, pricing and availability can change faster than the stock market.  This is specially important on Amazon, Ebay and Facebook groups.

 

Verify before you pay

Depending on the shopping site that you are using, information on used items may be very limited.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions and request pictures before paying to ensure that you are getting the item that you want.  On Homeschool Classifieds I have found it important to verify the ISBN number on books as some sellers try to sell a 20 year old edition of the book.  That may be ok depending on subject but you want to know what you are paying for.

 

Also look at shipping costs.  Sometimes a book is a good deal until you factor in shipping price and then it costs almost as much as buying new or it’s more expensive than buying it used elsewhere.

 

If buying from a person that you don’t know, I recommend paying with Paypal to protect your money if the person doesn’t ship or the item is not as described, do not use the “Personal” or “Friends and Family” option as that doesn’t provide you with the buyer protection.

 

Don’t forget about your purchase

Remember that shopping list?  Make sure you mark what you bought, when, from whom, and how much you paid.  This not only lets you know how much you saved, but it prevents duplicate purchases (I see it happening often) and it protects your money because if something goes wrong you have the data to research the status of the order and file a claim with your card or Paypal before it’s too late to submit it.

 

Some may think that this process is time consuming but a small time investment translates into hundreds of dollars in savings (last year I saved $290) so that makes it worth it for me.  You can do a lighter version of this and still save some money to stretch your homeschool dollar.
Posted in Homeschooling

Dodged the Bullet

Last week we dodged a bullet.

Hurricane Mathew Cone
I made this image on a whim and it ended up going viral with several thousand shares

Hurricane Matthew was scheduled to come within just a few miles of our coast as a very powerful Category 4 Hurricane.

The reactions of the locals ranged from “the sky is falling, run for your lives” to “it’s nothing”. Thankfully our prepper skills came in handy.  Since we plan early for hurricane season we didn’t have to deal with the madness of Walmart, Home Depot, etc. We live in a mandatory evacuation zone due to my front door being less than 1,000 feet from the river. Normally I would be mandated to work at a local shelter but my son was sick and contagious and thus unable to be in the shelter childcare.

I have a bug out bag with essentials so packing wasn’t too difficult and the only stress for us what where/when to evacuate. I did have an internal struggle between wanting to bring everything that I didn’t want destroyed in the storm vs. bringing just what we need to get through the storm. In the end I compromised, I brought our textbooks and curriculum as I would have hated to see them destroyed and just tried to protect the rest of the items from water if the house flooded.

We lucked out with a decent rate at a local hotel thanks to a homeschooling association discount so we didn’t have to go far. During this process my children learned a lot about the weather, hurricanes, weather forecasting, trajectory tracking and more. So while we haven’t cracked open a book in days, learning has been a continuous process.

Curriculum
Our curriculum evacuated with us

In the end the hurricane made an unexpected wobble in it’s trajectory at the last minute that had it passing further away from the coast. We still had a sleepless night listening to the howling wind but were blessed to get through it unscathed and still having a home to come back to. Not everybody was so fortunate, that could have been us.

Now I am trying to get back to some semblance of normal, difficult as our household is in flux due to uncertainties about an upcoming move. I used to be a gypsy but lost those skills. The stress has impacted routines and affected our immune systems, we tend to be fairly healthy but not this month. For the first time ever everybody in the house is sick at the same time, that is not very conducive to productivity.

I am supposed to be packing but I am writing this instead because I didn’t want to leave you hanging. There it will be a while longer before I can get back to a semi-normal writing schedule but I hope to be able to pipe in as I am able. Meanwhile I’ll be posting on Facebook

Posted in Homeschooling, Parenting

Pley Toy Rental Review

This post includes affiliate links.

I was recently approached by Pley, a toy rental company offering me 1 free month of service with no obligation to review although they would appreciate that. I decided to give the service a shot since it is something that I had looking into and considered trying in the past.

As part of the sign up process I got to select which toy we wanted to receive, I was afraid of renting a LEGO set due to our experience with another toy rental company and my kids being heartbroken at having to return them so I chose a different toy that my children had expressed interest in at the store.

Order processing was super fast! I got a shipping notification within minutes of submitting the order but the shipping method used was very slow so the cross country trek took over a week.

Box opening
Box opening

The toy pieces arrived in a mesh zipper bag with laminated instructions which I like. There were no pieces missing and the kids were super excited. There was a surprise gift included for my son to keep, a silicon Lego bracelet that he could attach bricks and minifigures to, he loved it!

What I liked:

  • Affordable plans
  • Quick shipping notification
  • Toys are sanitized
  • Environmentally friendly- the website keeps track of reduction in CO2 emissions
  • No commitments, easy to cancel.
  • 500+ toys to choose from including 400 Lego sets
  • User friendly website, easy to report problems such as missing pieces
  • Free gift- my son was surprised to get a LEGO compatible bracelet to keep
  • Laminated instructions
  • Customizable wish list, select categories to be suggested toys, x out the ones you are not interested in, star the ones you want to get
  • Ability to buy the toy if the child wants to keep it
  • Pley donates a toy to underprivileged children for every new member
  • Ability to print return label from website if you loose the one included in the box
  • As soon as the return tracking is active you can choose next toy that you want which saves time in waiting for the next toy
  • Referral program.  You can earn free months of service by telling your friends about it.

 

What I didn’t like:

  • No search feature for toys, I have to scroll through pages and pages of Lego sets and can’t search by name
  • Some toys are not a good value. I saw several Lego sets that can be purchased for less than the cost of 1 month’s subscription so I recommend using this for bigger Lego sets and fancy toys to make sure that you are getting a good value
  • Despite it shipping quickly, it was with a slow method that took over a week to arrive, time is money when you are paying a rental by the month.
  • Toy purchase price was a couple of dollars higher than the regular price at several local and online stores

 

The kids were captivated
The kids were captivated

About the toy itself

We chose the Nano V2 Helix 180° toy.  This is something that the kids had showed interest in at the store so we decided to try it.

The toy instructions were practically useless, not very user friendly but thankfully the toy wasn’t hard to figure out.  Once assembled the boys had a lot of fun playing with it and customizing the configuration of the tunnels.

The bug would sometimes get stuck on its side and we had to right it before it entered a tunnel otherwise it would get stuck on the tunnel, other than that it was a great toy.  The boys liked it enough to want to keep it but we chose to return it to buy a slightly different version of the toy that offers more configuration options.

 

 

 

Pley plans
Affordable plans with no commitments

Bottom Line

This toy rental service is a great concept and fits a need in the market. This service is good for people that have limited space and don’t want to accumulate toys that don’t get played with after a while. Your child can play with the same toy until the novelty wears off and then choose something different.

It is also good for when your child wants a very expensive toy that you don’t think would be a good value long term. For example, I love building with LEGO but don’t want to spend several hundred dollars on a fancy LEGO set that I will only build once. With Pley I can rent it, build it, take pictures, play with it for a bit and then return it without such a huge hit on my wallet.

 

Disclosure
I received a free toy rental with no obligation for a review. The opinions expressed are my own.