Homeschool 101: Shopping, vendor halls, and your homeschool budget

Shopping paradise

One of my favorite parts of a homeschool convention is the exhibit or vendor hall. The shiny new tools and toys, the shelves upon shelves of new and fascinating books just waiting to be read — it’s a homeschooler’s shopping paradise.  But the sheer volume of things to look at, the crowds of people, and the noise of the chatter can be overwhelming to even a veteran homeschooler.  If you prepare for the vendor hall, you’re more likely to have a successful trip and be excited not frustrated with your homeschool plans.

Step One: Do your homework

If you’ve been homeschooling or looking at homeschooling for very long, you’ll have an idea of what kinds of curriculum or materials will work or not work for your family. Start preparing for the vendor hall by making some lists. First, list what you know will NOT work for you and your students. Then make a list of the types of materials you think might work very well for your family. Take the time to consider carefully.

If your daughter loves reading fantasy, she may not appreciate a science kit that asks her to dig into dissection. If your son prefers to take apart the family car than read a book, he may love that model of the solar system that catches your eye. Neither child may like the fill-in-the-blank workbook, or maybe they will.  That is a quick and easy way to “get school out of the way” so they can get back to the things they love.

Step Two: Get Familiar

Once you’ve gotten firm on what you want and don’t want, get familiar with the vendors. Most conventions will provide a list of the speakers and vendors at their conference ahead of time, so check over that list. Get the catalogs or look at the websites of the various exhibitors. Mark which ones you know you want to look at and which ones you can skip. This will save you time later on.

Step Three: Review your Options

Now that you know what kinds of curriculum you’re looking for and what is going to be offered, spend some time looking up the options that interest you the most. Look at reviews online. One of my favorite sites for reviews is Cathy Duffy’s Top 100 Curriculum. Also, you can ask for opinions from other homeschoolers in the various forums, chat rooms and Facebook groups online. Use your preparation time to get a solid idea of what is out there, and what you are looking for.

Step Four: Write a List

The next step is to put all the information you’ve been reading and learning, and start making a shopping list.  It’s easy to forget about that science curriculum you wanted to purchase when you’re in the middle of grammar and spelling choices. Make a list, and include both publisher and vendor information. Also, note prices from Amazon or other online shopping sites, so that you can know whether or not you’re getting a good deal.  Don’t forget that shipping will add to the prices from online. Most vendors at homeschool conventions offer free shipping if you order instead of purchasing directly.

Step Five: Budget

All those prices you just put on your shopping list will help you set a budget for your trip. It’s very important to create a budget for the vendor hall, as it’s so easy to overspend when surrounded by all the shiny new curriculum. In fact, I’d suggest you set two separate budgets. One budget is for the shopping list you created in Step Four. That’s where you have a lot of curriculum decided upon, or options narrowed down based on your research.

The other budget is for those “impulse” buys you will want to make. Homeschool vendor fairs will offer a lot of things you didn’t even know existed. I’ve bought birthday gifts and great books to add to our library at these exhibits. But when I didn’t budget for that sort of thing, I ended up having to choose between that awesome gift idea and the curriculum we needed. Don’t make that mistake. Budget for it.

Step Six: Pack

You obviously don’t want to waste all your hard work and forget your shopping list at home! So pack appropriately for the convention vendor hall. Be aware that exhibit halls tend to be cramped for space and crowded. Most conventions will ban strollers or large carts from the vendor hall, as well as food or drink other than water. So you’ll want to make sure your plans for shopping aren’t relying on something you won’t be able to take in with you.

Keep the personal items to an absolute minimum. I recommend that you even leave your purse or handbag at home or in your vehicle and only take what you can fit in your pockets. You’ll want to have a variety of payment methods — cash, check, cards — as not all vendors will have the technology to process electronic payments. Obviously don’t forget your list and put it with your wallet or envelope of cash.
You may want to bring a backpack or small wheeled suitcase to carry those heavy books. While most vendors do offer plastic or fabric shopping bags for your purchases, those aren’t the most comfortable to carry heavy books in for any length of time. You may even want to consider making a few trips to your vehicle to stash your items, so you aren’t carrying them around.

Don’t forget to bring some kind of box, crate or laundry basket for your books in your vehicle. That way they won’t be laying around loose, possibly getting damaged, on your trip home.

Preparation is the Key to Success

The difference between a fun but tiring trip through the vendor hall, and a frustrating, exhausting one is the preparation you do beforehand.  Spend the time thinking, reviewing and making lists of what you want. Make the best use of your time and money. You’ll leave the convention excited and inspired about your homeschooling plans.

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Happy Homeschooling!

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