Strategies for Buying Homeschool Curriculum: A Grocery Store Analogy

Is it just me or has our society overcomplicated things that should be fairly straightforward? 

Take food, for example. The overall process seems like it should be pretty simple. Grow or buy food. Cook food. Eat food. Done. 

But when you get to the grocery store and spend the first 15 minutes just trying to pick a breakfast cereal from the 129 choices available, you quickly realize this might be harder than you thought.

I’ve found the same to be true with choosing homeschool curricula. We’d like the process to be simple. Decide on content. Find resources. Teach. Learn. Done.

But when a new homeschool parent (or even a veteran one) browses a homeschool review website, a curriculum catalog or, heaven forbid, attends a homeschool convention unprepared, they quickly find themselves completely paralyzed by the thousands of choices available. 

Thankfully, the strategies we use to conquer the grocery store and feed our family are the same strategies we can use to overcome the curriculum overwhelm and educate our kids.

How to Buy Homeschool Curriculum

Prepare First

Before you enter the store, you already have some ideas in mind of what you need. You know your daughter has a nut allergy. You know you’re out of milk. You know you need to find something for dinner. Even without a super-detailed list (more on that later), you still have some idea of what you need and where to start.

Do the same thing with your homeschool planning. Spend some time on prep-work and take an organized approach. Pray about what each kid needs that year. Create a master course of study to give yourself a framework for organizing all the ideas you’re researching. Think ahead about what your kids can learn together (maybe science or history) vs individually (probably math and language arts). Brainstorm curriculum features you think you’ll need to succeed (online or video teaching, minimal teacher prep, curricula that work with certain special needs, etc.) to help narrow down the ocean of possibilities.

Keep Your Budget in Mind 

Ideally, when I go grocery shopping, I have a budget in mind (or at least I try and compare prices and make sure I’m getting a good deal). We should treat our homeschool purchases the same way.

Even if you don’t have an exact budget number in mind, try and be cost-conscious or the expenses will add up quickly. One of the best ways to do this is to buy used. Books and non-consumable resources don’t have to be new!

There’s a huge resale market out there for homeschool materials. Check out Homeschool Classifieds, specific curriculum websites (IEW, for example, has a forum with a section for used for-sale postings), facebook groups (like this one), and local co-ops, private schools and libraries for used curriculum sales.

And, just like you don’t buy more food than you can eat, don’t buy more resources than you’ll use. Many homeschool bookshelves (mine included) are lined with volumes of good intentions. 

Make An Organized List

I’ve found it isn’t wise for me to enter a grocery store without a list. When I do, I quickly blow the budget, buy things we don’t need and stock up on not-so-healthy choices (Cocoa Pebbles anyone?). Lists help me stick to my plan and save money. And, when I take a few extra minutes to organize my list by aisle, I save a lot of time not criss-crossing the store. 

As you plan, make a list – by student or subject – so you can keep track of what you need to find, buy or prepare. You can use a fancy planner, a spiral notebook, or just do what I’ve been doing lately and email yourself your working list. As you can see in the screenshot below, I color code mine so I can easily see what’s left to buy from where and what my next steps are for each subject. It doesn’t have to be Pinterest-worthy (mine definitely isn’t) – it just has to be something that WORKS for you.

Homeschool mom to-do list
It’s not pretty but it gets the job done!

If you take some time to organize your list you can save money on shipping by ordering more items together. You’ll also be able to keep better track of your purchases to make sure you don’t buy something twice or not at all! 

Don’t Shop Hungry

Food shoppers buy more when they shop hungry. Homeschoolers buy more when they’re scared or desperate. Sometimes it’s a toddler pulling at your leg while you’re at the homeschool conference exhibit hall trying to decide between choice A and B. Or maybe you’ve pulled your kid out of public school mid-year and are trying to figure out what to do on Monday. 

Either way, try to give yourself space – both mental and physical space – to plan ahead and think clearly. Rushed decisions aren’t going to help you in the long run. Get grandma or a babysitter to watch the kids for a few hours, use the kids’ TV or nap time, or trade babysitting with a friend to give yourself some uninterrupted thinking and planning time.

Ignore Irrelevant Aisles

I don’t ever go in the pet aisle at the grocery store because we don’t have any pets. It’s the same with homeschooling. Don’t feel like you have to check out Every. Single. Category. of curriculum out there. There may be subjects you don’t do every year or elective subjects you never cover (gasp!).

If your kids go through all of elementary school without smushing their hands in a DIY water bead sensory bin or learning how to diagram a sentence or read Latin, believe me, they’ll live. My childhood included none of those and I survived to tell about it.

So don’t worry!!! Just like no one buys every item at the grocery store, no homeschoolers teach every possible topic that exists. If you have a plan in place, you know you’ll cover what your family needs to be doing. Just let the rest go.


True, there are options galore. And, especially if you’ve never done this before, it can feel utterly overwhelming

But if you take the time to make a plan, organize your list and keep a clear focus, you won’t be distracted by flashy ads and sales on things you don’t need. 

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Strategies for Buying Homeschool Curriculum title on grocery aisle background