The warmth of a good book is sometimes better than a friend. The words hit nerves to inspire and encourage us, the stories embrace our curiosities and comfort our pains, and they help connect us to the truth that the human experience is not all that different from person to person. Stacks of books tuck in our little ones at night and are food for us to passionately learn. So when we build a home library, we’re not just cluttering our shelves, we’re stocking our marketplace of ideas, making plans and dates to meet and share with a loved one, and building homes for good friends.
But as a family with 5 children, I know that ripped papers, ooey-gooey messes, and distracted care-free minds are some of the hallmarks of childhood.
… and those sweet moments of childhood don’t pair well with spending a lot of money on books that might see damages or loss. Instead we would love to invest in keeping them in our own home library.
But after years of living in a home under 1,000 square feet and utilizing the public library for countless works of literature, when we moved I decided to work on building a robust home library that wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg, but would spark curiosity, joy, imagination, and love in my children for the world of books and reading. We have enough room and extra space to implement a cozy reading nook with a fireplace, shelving, and a couch. In time we will add built-ins, but for now we will live in stacks and overflowing shelves.
We’ve historically had a small home library in a hallway closet, one with one or two bookcases on a 3 season porch, and now we’re dedicating a whole room to make more of a living room library than a TV room.
I want to saturate my family in books; I wan them to relish in a world that focuses on understanding how to find the information we need without just using the internet, learn new hobbies and skills without having to use YouTube, and understanding references and sources beyond Wikipedia and crowd-sourced information.
I was worried that growing our family library would cost a lot of money. And honestly, I think some of my purchases were more impulse and unnecessarily expensive early on; however, I have found several systems that put good books on our family shelves without stealing away from our pockets.
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Utilize ThriftBooks and know how to maximize your orders
I have used ThriftBooks for years and years to grow my personal library. They are my go-to for grabbing a book that maybe I cannot find anywhere else to add to my bookshelves. Over the last 3 years or so I average only about $3 per book purchased and that’s even with several books that I buy that are over $10-$15.
In some ways I feel like using their platform is like an art to maximize the number of books in our library while stretching the dollar as far as possible. Over time they have changed some of what you can do like no longer allowing more than one free book award per order, but there are still ways to really make Thrift Books work in your favor.
First, sign up for a rewards account. Like any company this is a way to keep you coming back, and I am not mad. Basically you earn points towards a free book with every purchase. Many times they will highlight something like collectible books to earn twice the points or maybe they’ll double points for a specific author set one week. The more often you order the higher rewards you get and faster you earn.
Second (and third), know their Deal Section and how to use it. And if you’re a homeschool parent or a teacher, sign up for the 4Teachers program and use that in conjunction with their Deals. Basically Deals are as they sound, but they stack. So if you find a little red tag by the price that says “deal” then if you add more of those to your cart, up to 8, you get a higher and higher percentage off of those specific books up to an additional 20% off. I do this with the buy 4, get one free teacher deal and buy 10 at a time: 8 deal books, 2 non-deal books under $5 to get for free. All of this also still earns points towards a free book from my first point).
Please note: especially for my family, I don’t mind grabbing books that claim they’re in “acceptable” condition. I am trying to get words indelibly etched into my children’s minds, not the nicest cover out there. I have purchased hundreds of books from Thrift books and I have not been let down. I have often got what I feel like is almost “like new” condition on many “good” and “acceptable” purchases. And I have also had great experiences with customer service if a wrong title is sent or it doesn’t match the description.
When you earn a free book is the perfect time to grab a higher price book plus a free book. Their minimum for free shipping I believe is $15 and that does account for the price of the free book you’re getting.
Finally, make a good wish List in their app or on their website. They recently added the ability to make multiples too. The reason this is great is because you can also set up alerts. And the better rewards member you are, the sooner you get the alert before someone else. So when something comes in stock, you’ll get an email and at that time decide if it’s the right time to snatch it.
Find a Library Sale
Honestly, library book sales are a favorite way to obtain books, especially when it’s a big library system! It’s even worth going on a road trip to do so. We loved going to the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library sale and we came home with boxes and boxes of great books and spent $60.
This included audiobook CDs, hardcovers, textbooks, and more. So definitely try to find these sale events.
Join book resale groups on Social Media
There are so many to choose from and most are low cost options for finding both non-fiction and fiction alike! Especially if you are building a home library for both children and adults, it would be great to join some homeschool curriculum groups regardless of if you have chosen to homeschool. This can help you find small bundles of truly good books at a more reasonable rate. I really enjoy the Reshelving Alexandria Marketplace and the Buy/Sell Ambleside Curriculum groups on Facebook.
Stalk Craigslist and Marketplace
So often people purge books. Whether it’s because they collect dust, don’t know what they have, or because they’re helping friends or family clear out an estate. This is a great way to find a lot of treasures, especially anthologies like Childcraft or Junior Classics that someone just wants to offload for a small amount of money.
The other huge benefit of Facebook Marketplace is that you can set up alerts for certain terms in your searches and even do different search criteria such as adding a different locational radius for books or collections you’re looking for.
Quick tip: a lot of people will juts do “book lot” as the term. So know what you’re looking for. Are you looking for more classic, antique, children’s, YA, etc.? You can add those descriptions as a more generic way to refine your search when others might not know how to otherwise label their sale ad.
Know how to look at your local (and semi-local) thrift shops
We have Savers and Goodwill as our primary large thrift shops. I know that at Savers I am looking to utilize their buy4, get a 5th free deal and that I am also bringing in a small donation bag before shopping to get a 20% off coupon.
As far as Goodwill goes, they typically rotate through 4 or 5 color tags and each week is a different 50% off color. If you go in every week (I know this sound excessive, but please hear me out) then you can readily grab what’s worth it.
How this works: The first time you go in, look at pretty much every title. It will take a long time. But you’ll know what that store has on hand. Then each week it’s a quick look at two things: 1) the new books with the new sticker color and 2) the books with the discount sticker color. I take note of books that are not worth buying “full price” so that if I come back on a half price day that I can get it for the 50% off. But some are worth paying for right then and there whether it’s because I know someone else will grab it or because it’s been on a wish list.
Since I am used to their book selections, it takes me 5 or so minutes each week to go through the book area and I usually come home with an armload. Especially for children’s book, if I can spend anything under $5 per book, I know it will be $1/child if each one reads it only once. But I am bringing home many items from my wish lists (yes, from Thrift Books) that I am getting at a thrift shop for only 49 cents. This week I got FIVE things from my wish lists and I think 15-20 books total and I spent well under $20.
The more local-to-us, non-chain thrift shops are also super valuable because often they price books to sell. For some reason people just don’t value literature as much as they used to. YouTube has replaced DIY and self-help, Netflix has replaced entertainment from stories, and who knows why else. But Charity shops near you likely have inexpensive books by the box too that are a great way to help you with the resources to build a home library.
Grab used books through Amazon
Most people probably know about this, but make sure that when you’re perusing the internet aisles for the right title, that you look to see if there’s a used option on Amazon. This might score yourself some free shipping while also getting a great deal on books.
Host a book exchange trading event
There are bound to be books that show up in your home library that you just don’t want to maintain space for. Maybe it served its purpose, you’ve decided you found something better, or you’ve moved on. All of those reasons are perfectly acceptable to help them find a new home.
While you can donate, consider hosting a book swap in your community! This not only connect you to other book lovers and keeps your literature local, it means creating a tradition too. Others might start saving books for you that they know you’re looking for or pile up a stack to bring to a swap.
And no one is spending any money to move books between people in your town.
Shop Antique stores and Yard Sales for books
Of course you’re more likely to find hard-to-find books in an antique store and maybe it’s more than you’d regularly spend on an average book; however, when not online, you can find treasures far less than many places.
Yard sales are people that are literally trying to unload and downsize. It’s a great way to get a good deal on a larger collection of books, assuming they’re good titles.
Wait for sales
I know this is obvious, but it does need to be said. Of course know that a lot of authors and vendors will run Black Friday sales among other yearly events; however, Amazon and Target also fairly regularly have events that are BOGO or similar. This is a great opportunity to maximize your new book purchases, especially if you’re upgrading beyond paperbacks.
I admit we don’t buy a lot of new books, but when we do this is usually how we do it. And most of the time a new book purchase is something we have already had and deemed worthy enough to get a shiny new one with a hardcover and dust jacket.
Use the Public Library to see if certain titles are the right fit before investing in your home library
Similar to waiting for sales to buy new books of previously loved ones, the local library is still a great resource and the perfect place to test-drive titles. I will never say otherwise. I will say though, that after building a family library, most public libraries feel a little lack-luster. They don’t always have what I am looking for, many rotate out anything that hasn’t been checked out in a certain amount of time regardless of the literary or financial value of the book, and some push certain values that maybe our family doesn’t follow.
All of that to say though, that if you know of a good book but one that doesn’t necessarily serve to be on your home shelves, recommend it to your library system. Check it out to see that it stays in rotation. Be involved in the implementation of great literature for both children and adults.
It’s also a fantastic way to request a title that you’re on the fence about to give it a test drive before spending even a penny on a title that might not be worth it for your family’s book collection.
The more kids we have and more books we introduce as we build our home library, the more I don’t want to have to pay for something lost or damaged. So we just don’t use it to get 100 books a week anymore.
Find free books on Buy Nothing sites and peruse Little Free Libraries
This is so similar but more specific than some of the suggestions above. I have been a part of Buy Nothing and everting Is Free group for awhile and it’s a great way to both grab what someone posts or ask for a certain title or set.
The Little Free Libraries are a great way to swap out a title or two that you don’t want on your shelves or even that you find super inexpensively but that you feel should be read by more people in your area. As you add, maybe there are times you find a treasure to take too!
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 5 children living on a farm in New England. She believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience and has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development. She is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!