Lunch money, field trips, school pictures, clothes, shoes, teacher appreciation, snack day, book fair, fundraisers galore…am I the only one that feels as if the school year is an endless drain on my finances? A proverbial syphon on my wallet? I’m always wondering, “What next?” And then it comes home one day in the backpack (which, now that you mention it, is getting ratty and probably needs to be replaced)….the dreaded science project. Great. What’s this going to run me? Twenty dollars? Thirty? Gulp. More?!?!
Years ago (before I was a mom), I worked as a technical consultant for a large chemical company that, among other things, produced chemical test kits. Even though I didn’t have children, I knew exactly when the science project assignments were coming out. I received calls from all over the country asking many of the same things: “Where can I find a cheap, reliable test for lead?” (You can’t.) “How much is a spectrometer?” (More than you want to spend on a science fair project.) “Do you sell any test kits without chemicals?” (I preferred to answer that one with silence.) These calls came from parents of two types: (a) those that were genuinely unaware of the cost, hazard and knowledge of such prefab kits and (b) those that regarded money as no object as long as little Susie or Johnny could get a good grade.
Well, I’ve been called many things in my life (some of which I don’t care to repeat in an open forum). Coupon Lady. Junker (not to be confused with junkie). Penny Pincher. And my favorite—-Queen of Cheap. I decided that there has to be ways to do quality science projects and keep costs to a minimum. So, here are some thoughts on creative ways to produce quality science projects without breaking the bank.
1. Consider the cost BEFORE choosing a project. Make sure you look over the list of required components. Are you going to have to buy almost everything new? Don’t forget to allow some money for producing the final product (if you aren’t crafty and don’t have a supply of cardstock, glue, & accesories, remember that you’ll be buying some stuff to make a project board). If the project you want to do requires five variables that you will have to purchase at $10 each, you might want to move on to a more budget friendly idea. Have your young scientist brainstorm on ideas that can be done using everyday household “stuff.” Personally, I think of a new science project almost every time I do laundry or cook supper (the effect of time on stains, home remedy stain removers, water temperature, boiling points, surface area, etc.)
2. Make it a game to see how little you can spend on the project. Perhaps you can incorporate it into the theme and subtitle accordingly. For example, “Cheap Heats/Building a solar heater without spending a dime” This is particularly great if you are doing an experiment or demonstration on something like recyling. Let the entire assignment be a lesson on budgeting, especially if you have a child in middle school or older! Can you do a project using only resources at home/borrowed/donated? How about five dollars? Ten? Make it fun!!
3. Know or learn where to shop. This can be time consuming, but extremely cost-effecctive. Many, if not all, of your materials can be found at local thrift stores. Depending on your area, you may have a plethora of “junk” sources right in your backyard–Salvation Army, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, and many local ministries as well. Also, yard sales are a great resource. The typical rule of thumb for yard sale prices is 1/8 of the original sales price (so it pays to know the value of things). Often, you can get people to donate stuff if they know it is for school. Whether you are shopping at thrift stores or yard sales, don’t be afraid to ASK for deals and/or freebies. Finally, the internet is a great resource for hunting out great deals. Craigs’ List is a neat tool for finding local deals. If a parent or someone you know is on websites such as facebook, you can put out a request…”looking for 2 yards of fabric for science fair project” or “need three different brands of sunscreen…” You’ll be amazed at the response!
Hope this helps you create a great science project without having to sell an organ! Happy deal hunting!
PS: Want an inexpensive way to launch your budget friendly science project? Consider 24 Hour Science Projects. There are some excellent ideas with very easy to find (and inexpensive) components!!