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From the Editor | When Free Isn’t Free: The hidden cost of cutting corners

Oooh, there’s a topic. We want to save money (with good reason!), so we cut corners in various ways. We are always looking for a deal. That oh-so-sweet deal that will free us from having to pay as much, or anything. I am no different. I enjoy finding a great deal, and saving money, often buying used books to support our homeschool and preserve older books from the trash heap. I used to print out hundreds of pages of free resources, taking hours to hunt them all down.

But sometimes cutting those corners on the cost will cost you big in the long run.

Take my own experience as a warning:

When we set up this website, we cut cost corners wherever we could. Used free plugins, inexpensive ones, etc. For the most part, this was good. And helped us get up and running on a shoestring budget. Great, right? Start up with a low out of pocket cost and get running quickly. It was great, until the main plugin we used for subscriber access had an update that conflicted with our shopping cart. During the trouble-shooting process, we also discovered that the problem had been going on for approximately three weeks. Enough time for several new subscribers to attempt to subscribe, but their orders were hanging in limbo. Payments not processed (and we couldn’t get them to process), and subscriptions not started. The result of that was lost revenue and about two days of work trying to figure out if we could fix it. To fix the problem, we wound up purchasing another tool that we had wanted to use, but couldn’t quite justify the immediate expense.

We had the new tool up and running in about 20 minutes, including transferring subscriber information and setting up memberships. It works like a dream. In fact, it handles more than the old one ever did, and we don’t have to manually send out renewal reminders, expiration notices, etc. To top that off, it also offers more control to subscribers. They can manage their subscription without having to contact us directly unless there’s a problem, and even sets up automatic payments for them. While I love talking with all of them, I know that they don’t necessarily want to talk to me. It’s going to save dozens of hours of work every single month. Now my hope is that all the new subscribers who didn’t get signed up over the last few weeks tries again. We’ve sent emails explaining this, apologizing for the inconvenience and including discount codes to try again, so if you tried but haven’t seen the payment come out of your account, check your email or contact me for the code at gail @

How does this experience apply to homeschooling?

The lure of free or cheap is everywhere. That free or cheap product seems to offer everything we need, without the cost. We have tight budgets and a limited amount of money to spend on schooling. I get it. I feel the same pull.

 Note: If your budget doesn’t allow for buying curriculum, don’t feel like I’m beating you up. I’m not, I have very honestly been in the very same place. If that’s where you are, don’t despair – there are some very good free resources, very inexpensive used ones. Take advantage of them. We offer some of the digital resources free periodically for just that reason. In fact – hey, here’s a code to pick up the Homeschooling High School issue in PDF form that we published last year. FREEFALL – it expires July 30th.

My only point in relaying the story is that free often has hidden costs that you don’t always see on the surface. Costs that you need to be aware of before committing to using them. SometimesMost of the time, buying something that a company has spent literally thousands of hours developing will save you hundreds of hours that you can spend with your children, your spouse or significant other. Or even spending a few minutes on yourself. Taking care of yourself so that you can take care of your family.

Here’s a short list of the costs I have found in using only free resources:

  • Hundreds of hours spent downloading and organizing
  • Money in printing costs: ink/toner, paper, wear and tear on equipment
  • Hours figuring out how to tweak it to your specifications
  • Time figuring out just what the author intended, sometimes free resources aren’t all that great. Sometimes they are…it’s much more hit or miss.

Remember that our first homeschooling year, we didn’t buy anything but Latin. I had no idea what was going to work, so I didn’t see a reason to spend on curriculum that I thought was great, but had a strong chance of failing miserably due to my inexperience in choosing. In fact, I strongly recommend not making big curriculum purchases your first year or maybe even two!

That said, after you know how you want to homeschool – at least think about picking up at least one or two subjects to save yourself the time and frustration of doing it all yourself. Most often, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, merely tweaking it to your family’s needs will save hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours that you get to use for whatever purpose you like. The Fall issue will have all sorts of ideas on homeschooling with projects and unit studies – I love these things because we can have such variety in our schooling. Using projects can also reduce your out of pocket expense for homeschooling and inject some much needed interest into your day!

Free college, free curriculum, free this and free that. Sometimes the cost of free is time, others it’s a bit of your very precious freedom. The cost of free stuff is everywhere, and you get to decide whether you’re willing to pay it.

Save money, cut a corner here and there, but do it wisely.

Use the code INDEPENDENT to save on any subscription to Learning Tangent.


What do you think?