Guest post from Charity of The Homeschool Experiment
I could care less about shopping for shoes, but I anticipate my favorite used book sale for months.
I’m weird that way.
If you are a parent, chances are you love finding quality books for your kids at great prices. Used-book and curriculum fairs (whether you homeschool or not) are great opportunities for finding some gems.
If you’ll be looking for used books this summer, here are a few tips:
1. Find Pickier Sales
There are a lot of junky books out there. I personally avoid crowded library sales and other book fairs in my area that have only a few good books tucked in among lots of mediocre ones. I focus on smaller sales with higher quality books.
If you don’t know of any used-book fairs in your area, find a homeschooler. Whether you ask her in person or on a Facebook group, chances are she’ll know of a few. Any used-book fair, library sale, private-school book fair, or church curriculum sale is an option.
2. Familiarize Yourself with Great Books
How do you know what books to buy? Every year I read over the Sonlight book list on Amazon (or look through their catalog), and the Five in a Row book list to remind myself of titles. Those books are the best of the best.
Since we homeschool, I also try to plan out what books I want to read with my kids the upcoming year, maybe 10 chapter books, and 10-30 picture books. For Easy Reader books, and additional picture books, I get what looks good at the sale and supplement with the library.
I might take my list to the sale, but it’s awfully hard to shop directly from it. It just serves as a reminder and gets the books fresh in my mind.
3. Think about what you need for this year
Even if someone is giving a high school curriculum book away, I don’t take it. My kids are young (eight, six, and two), and I just don’t know what life will look like five years from now or if we’ll even need that science book.
Next year, for example, I know I’m teaching an art class at my homeschool co-op so I am looking for art and artist books, art prints, etc. I don’t actually need a lot else. I’m going to try to restrain myself.
4. Go early and take cash
I try to get there when the doors open for the best selection and I find someone to watch my kids (my brain works much better that way). I take a stroller to put the books in, otherwise, my enormous, teetering pile makes my back hurt.
My Favorite Deals:
1. Easy Readers – There are many wonderful choices here. I’m looking for books that will engage my child with history, science or poetry, or are just funny, warm stories. If a book is in great condition and we’ve loved it, I might buy it for a gift.
2. “Spine” or Anthology Books – By this, I mean books you can read every day for a few weeks or months. You’re looking for something you can get a lot of use out of.
3. Stories on tape – Since nobody listens to cassette tapes anymore, I’ve gotten some great deals on them. We once purchased a whole box for $1. Often, my daughter will listen to stories on tape during her rest time, and sometimes we’ll put in a tape at meals when Mommy needs everyone to Just. Stop. Talking.
4. Educational Toys for Toddlers — These are great to buy at curriculum fairs. You can save them for birthday or Christmas gifts, or use them to keep your toddler busy while you read to your big kids or do a project with them.
What I Don’t Buy:
1. Junky books – Like books my kids might enjoy once or twice, but without a great vocabulary or an enduring story. I try to stick to the classics!
2. Books I can get at the library – If I’m running out of money in my budget, I think, “Can I get this at the library?” It is nice to have a good home library, but I don’t need twenty Henry and Mudge books. We can own three and supplement from the library.
I do still buy new books occasionally (often hard-to-find character books at a homeschool convention), but the bulk of my book budget goes to used book sales.
After the sale I get to drive merrily home, give our new friends a happy home on our bookshelf, and show the kids (and my husband) all the great deals I got. It beats a pair of new shoes any day!
What are your favorite frugal ways to find used books?
Charity Hawkins is the author of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel. Charity lives, homeschools, and scours used-book sales in Oklahoma.
Note from Crystal: See a list of our family’s favorite picture books here.