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.
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.