When we first moved into our house three years ago, I hadn't yet located our plates or shoes, but I made it my top priority to unpack one thing: our books.
Books change how people think, so they change who people are, so they change the world. All at once they can feed us understanding, wonder, enjoyment, and curiosity. They can mobilize us to grow as people who are compassionate, interesting, and brave. The value of books is really not quantifiable.
So, even if you're frugal or a minimalist, I think spending money and taking up space with books is a very worthy sacrifice. The beautiful thing, though, is you don't need to spend that much money to build an incredible collection of books.
The secret, not surprisingly, is to buy used books. There's a time to buy new books (availability and support of the author), but there's also a time to buy used books.
Garage sales and library thrift sales are a great way to add to your library. Oftentimes the books only cost 25-50 cents each, or "stuff a bag for $5." However, since you probably won't find the specific books you want, you'll buy books you probably don't know anything about, and chances are hefty you'll end up getting rid of half of them anyway.
My favorite tool, then, for buying used books is ThriftBooks.com. (No, I'm not an affiliated with them or making any money off of this post or anything. Just recommending!)
Ready for math/confession time? I've bought 217 books from ThriftBooks since July 2016. Yep, 217. But, to give you some price perspective, I just ordered 22 books and the total came to $74.67, which averages to $3.39 a book. So, in the past 18 months, I've probably spent about $800 on books. Considering that literature is our primary homeschool curriculum, that multiple children will be reading these books for many years, that reading brings life to me, and that I give these books as gifts, spending about $800 on books in a year and a half isn't too bad.
I've bought used books online in the past, but the process of finding the titles I need and the added costs for shipping felt really inefficient to me. Here's why I love Thriftbooks so much:
1) You can search for a title and add books to your Wishlist, and they'll send you an email when the book is available. Sometimes I'll find a book I want, and I'll wait seven months until I get that glorious email that an item from my wishlist is now available. This is how I got so many Usborne books for cheap!
2) The website is a lot more intuitive than others I've tried. It's a lot more like searching on Amazon than on eBay; you can find other books by the same author, you can find books by category, you can read summaries and reviews, there aren't too many duplicate titles...It's an enjoyable experience.
3) It's not hard to find a coupon. You'll definitely want to use a Welcome coupon; they're extremely easy to find. After your first purchase, you'll have no trouble finding more coupons. (And I have wikibuy in my toolbar, which automatically finds and tries coupons at checkout.)
4) If you can't find a coupon, they also have a "Reading Rewards" program that gives you a code for $5 every time you spend $50.
5) Shipping is free after you spend $10. Of course, that's factored into the price of the books, but---as you can tell from my averages---it still ends up being quite affordable. Though they usually ship the books the next day, it does take a week (or more) to come in, but it feels like Christmas every time because I don't even remember what I ordered!
Here are some ways these books greatly improve the life of our family:
-When my kids are misbehaving, oftentimes the best thing I can do for them is send them to their rooms with a basket of books and set a timer for 30 minutes. My 3-year-old usually asks for more time because she's having so much fun! Even on road trips, setting them up with books in the RV was one of the best calm-down tools. And, of course, can I possibly exaggerate the value of reading together? We got rid of nearly all our toys several months ago, but books have certainly helped filled the void.
-Sometimes I'll find a book that would be a perfectly thoughtful gift for family members. For example, I bought my mom a Disney recipe book for her birthday, an old non-LOTR Tolkien book for my brother for Christmas, and I keep excellent theological works (in "very good" condition) in my gift closet for any time I need to put together a gift bag to encourage someone. They don't need to know that I only spent $3 on their gift, and some of these out-of-print books have to be bought in used condition.
-I'm confident that if I read books, I'm going to be a better mom, wife, friend, and neighbor. So, for the sake of those around me, reading is important. Even fiction can broaden my perspective and help me become a better person. Plus, escaping my own little world of grumpy mundanity to discover and enjoy thoughts and experiences beyond me, I'm able to bring back wonder and inspiration to my everyday life. Let's kill the stigma that reading is a selfish pursuit or only for antisocial people!
-As I said earlier (and elsewhere on this blog) reading books is the main way we do homeschool. So many of the things I'm learning by reading picture books with my kids is brand new to me as an adult! The Christmas Truce of 1914, the inspiring (and morally complicated) story of abolitionist John Brown, and countless other true stories captivated all of us and made us yearn to live for more. Fantastical tales and funny stories made with beautiful art and language cause us to dream bigger and enjoy more deeply.
Here's a way to find good books for your kids: Start by finding book recommendations on Pinterest; I look up "living history books" or "best books for kids" and find large lists with links to Amazon. On Amazon I read reviews and take peeks inside the books. Then I go on Thriftbooks to buy the books I want or put them on my Wishlist. One hour and a hundred tabs later, you'll be on your way to a greatly-improved family library.
Once I find an author or illustrator I love (such as artists John Hendrix, Brett Helquist, and Catalina Echeverri), I'll look up every other project to which they're connected, and chances are good that I'll like that stuff too.
For personal books, I get a lot of recommendations from The Rabbit Room; it's a good idea to read the authors that inspire your favorite authors! Older books are often invaluable because they've actually stood the test of time. A lot of modern authors are trying to ride trends to make money, but I prefer to read books by people who wrote for the good of the audience, even future readers that are born long after the author dies. I get vibes of that kind of timeless, writing-for-generations-to-come intentionality when I read Tozer or Spurgeon.
Hopefully this is encouraging to you! All this talk of the value of reading makes me want to go read to my babies! Check back tomorrow for some of the top books I recommend for kids and adults along with mini summaries of each! And if you have any secrets for buying books on the cheap, I would love to hear them :)
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today