I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

5 Tips for Finding FREE {or almost free} Books for Homeschool

5 Tips for Finding FREE {or almost free} Books for Homeschool-The Unlikely Homeschool

The posting of my monthly What We're Reading lists coupled with the fact that we use TruthQuest History, a living literature-style history program which requires us to read dozens and dozens of fantastic, albeit somewhat hard to find, books has compelled many to ask...

How can you afford all of those books?

The truth is, while we do own some books, our one-income-debt-free lifestyle and our itty-bitty house make it impossible to hoard more than a couple of bookshelves' worth. While I would love to pack our home with all manner of literary perfection (I'd live in a house MADE of books, if I could!), I have to be rather snobbish in my selections.

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Then how and where do you get all those books?

You may be thinking.  

5 Tips for Finding FREE {or almost free} Books for Homeschool-The Unlikely Homeschool

Well, like most homeschoolers, the library has become my second home. But, even that does not ensure I will be able to secure EVERY book I want to read or provide for my kids.

Case in point...

Last month, I read the hot-off-the-presses, newly released book, Growing Up Duggar and my children read the out-of-print, impossible-to-find, The World's Great Stories for our Ancient Greece unit. My local library branch did not own either one.

What's a girl to do?

Well, here's a list of my top five tips for finding FREE (or almost free) books for homeschool.

5 Tips for Finding FREE {or almost free} Books for Homeschool-The Unlikely Homeschool

Utilize the Interlibrary Loan System

Every few weeks finds me ordering books from libraries all over my state...even public school libraries. As they are PUBLIC libraries, the public has a legal right to use them. Some states require you to file a paper form requesting each.and.every.book you desire to borrow from an out-of-area library. Most, however, have on-line catalogs that you can access to request that any number of far-away books be sent directly to your local branch. Because state-funded universities and college libraries often house rare, out-of-print resources, you can borrow these too. The downside is that each branch generally has its own return/monetary fine policy which you must adhere to when borrowing a book.

With the simple click of a mouse, I have access to the literary collections of hundreds of libraries. The books are shipped to my branch and set aside for me to pick up. Rarely, do I request an interlibrary loan and come away empty-handed.

Request a library purchase

Publicly funded libraries have budgets...budgets which must be spent and accounted for. In addition, many libraries have been given grants with which to purchase new materials. In other words, they have money to spend. Don't be afraid to suggest ways to spend it. Librarians, obviously, want to purchase books and resources that people want to borrow. Your suggestion is just as useful as the next person's.

My particular library branch has an easy-to-use, on-line request form that I have to fill out detailing the publication information of the book I'd like for the librarian to purchase. It takes just a few seconds. Within a week or so, I usually get an email alerting me to the new purchase and informing me that the book will be put on hold FOR ME as soon as it is processed in the catalog system. Out of dozens of book purchases I have submitted over the years (including some curriculum-style resources), only one submission has been denied. In fact, Growing Up Duggar was a purchased-for-me book as well as the one I am currently waiting for, The Talks.

5 Tips for Finding FREE {or almost free} Books for Homeschool-The Unlikely Homeschool

Keep a running list of titles

It's no secret that I haaaaaaaaate department store shopping. But, put me in a book store or at a used book sale and WATCH OUT! I've got book-shopping moves you've never seen before.

Ok, that last part was a bit eyebrow-raising, wasn't it? Let's just mentally edit that one out, shall we?

In all seriousness, I love a good used book sale. While the books are not necessarily free at a sale, they are often as little as a quarter. But, since my space and budget are limited, I can not morph into a book-crazed shopaholic at a book sale (garage sale, thrift shop). I must shop with purpose. Throughout the year, I keep a running list of titles I'd like to add to our curriculum. I consult the curriculum catalogs that I've chosen to use for the upcoming school year and write down the resources that I do not currently own or do not think I can borrow from the library. Recently, I've begun putting that list on GoodReads for easy recollection.

I tend to be a person attracted to "the shiny". I can get easily distracted by any and all books that catch my attention. By maintaining a well-ordered list, I can shop with purpose and make my purchases count. Here is a collection of books that I came home with from a recent library used book sale. (You'll notice the book in the far left corner. I've been searching for a Biblically accurate account of the Christmas story for years. I found one! It depicts a toddler Jesus being presented with three gifts by many wise men at a home, not a stable.)

5 Tips for Finding FREE {or almost free} Books for Homeschool-The Unlikely Homeschool

While most of my purchases tend to be non-fiction books that I would consider to be core elements of a curriculum, I do purchase fiction books. We typically read them, enjoy them, and then donate them back to the library for the next book sale.

Request books as gifts

Not wanting to be a "plastic toy giver", my mother almost always gives my children books for Christmas and birthday presents. She lives in a large metro area and has access to wonderful new and used book stores. Every few weeks in the summer, I'll get a phone call from my garage-sale-hopping momma prattling off titles that she happens to be staring at and asking if she should purchase or pass. By keeping a running list of titles I am looking for, I can give her a quick "yes" or "no". Since she lives on the opposite side of the country, she is not able to just pass them along to us with ease. She puts all her book purchases away in a box. When the box is filled, she ships them out for me to tuck away and dole out at birthdays and holidays. (Which reminds me...I have a small collection of Elsie Dinsmore books at the bottom of my clothes closet just waiting for one special little girl.)

While I've never done this, you could request that birthday party guests forgo plastic toy gifts and bring books for your child instead.

Start a book swap club with other families

A book swap club/group can be rather formal with a Facebook group page and specific borrowing/loaning rules. Or, it can be as simple as a few friends who share similar book/curriculum standards who loan out resources to one another. Either way, by partnering with other moms who have book needs, you can potentially have access to resources that would otherwise be out of your budget.

Over the years, I've formed a close circle of homeschooling mom friends who I trust with my books/curriculum and who apparently feel the same about me. If I'm in need of a particular title or resource, I shoot them a collective Facebook or email message asking if anyone has that item and might be willing to loan it out.

A few months ago, Sweetie Pea had the privilege of enjoying, Beautiful Girlhood, a book that has been on my MUST-READ list for her for quite some time. We borrowed it from a lovely friend in my trusted circle.

Lest you think the street only goes one way, I, too, enjoy blessing other families with resources that they simply can't afford. It was an honor to be able to loan an entire Sonlight Science curriculum to two of my favorite ladies in order that they might form a small science co-op for their kids. As I have a really bad memory, I am sure to add all my loans to the ON LOAN sheet in my family binder. I can easily keep track of who has what.

Got any books-for-free secrets to share?  I'd love to hear them!


  1. You can find books for free online on sites like archive.org and project Gutenberg

    1. I've heard of these and a few other sites. I've never utilized any of them, but I'm glad to know they are good resources.

  2. I just mailed out 20 books we no longer needed using the website paperbackswap.com. I paid the shipping (media mail so its cheep). Once the book is received I gain a credit that I can use to request a book off of the site. The person that has the book then mails it to me. So you can get books for $2-$3 which isn't horrible!

    Great ways to save money! We have a used curriculum sale next month that I am looking forward to finding books at!

    1. I have several friends and family members who use that site. It sounds like a reader's dream. Thanks for sharing for others to see this!

  3. I'm curious which Christmas Story book you found :)

    1. Actually, I found two. I found the one in the picture (called The Birthday of Jesus) the first day of the sale and then went back the last day for the "fill a bag for $2" sale and picked up another great one. Can't remember the name of that one, though.

      The book in the picture is from the 50s, I think and is out of print.

    2. Would you give the name of the author? We love old books.

  4. I am also very interested in the book that you found for the christmas story.

  5. Thanks for this post. And I thought I knew EVERYTHING about books! Just kidding, of course. But I did not know that I could make a request to my library for them to order an item. Cool Beans! I will definitely be looking into that. Thanks so much :)

  6. Speaking of running lists, I've started a LibraryThing account to keep track of my books with the idea that I can hopefully use an app on my phone to check my list when I'm browsing at the used book sale. Still a work in progress because I have to enter a lot of books but for now, I think I'm trying to concentrate on the Wishlist section!

    1. I'll have to check into that site. I love GoodReads.com. But, it does have a few snags.