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Thrift Store Shopping Without Leaving Your House

by Deanna Knoll

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Do you live in a book desert with no used book stores or thrift shops to browse? Or maybe you have several small children and desperately want to stock your library with beautiful living books but the idea of toting them through Goodwill seems too daunting to be worth the possible benefit. Here’s a small sample of what I’ve purchased online recently. Each book was $10 or less, most being $2.50 or less with free shipping! I’ll share my techniques with you so you can be equally successful shopping online as you may have been if you stumbled across a Half Price Books clearance sale.

Where to Shop

Let’s start with the basics. There are many websites that will provide thrifty options for purchasing many of the books you need to stock your library.

This is the most obvious choice, but there are several things to remember when shopping on Amazon. Be careful when buying a more expensive used book ($50 and up)—resellers often take orders online and then purchase what they’ve listed from another wholesale company and then drop ship the book to you. Sound confusing? It is. I try to do my best to purchase from real people and make sure I’m dealing directly with the actual seller by emailing them through the link listed. Some ways to check on the validity of the seller is by asking for extra pictures of the title page or other details. Secondly, Amazon is often more expensive than the other online choices, so I typically choose Amazon only after looking around for books in other locations.

BookFinder.com and addall.com
These are two search engines that consolidate the results from all the major booksellers online into one complete search with books listed according to price (including shipping). addall.com is slightly easier to read through but doesn’t include eBay listings as bookfinder.com does. Another reason I almost always use bookfinder.com is that it also lists the book in "new" condition on the left column and "used" on the right. It seems to be slightly more complete in its listings overall as it will include books that have similar titles and authors which helps find books that might have the title off by one word or the author’s name misspelled.

ThriftBooks, BetterWorldBooks, Discover Books and Wonder Book
These are my favorite places to search, even if I sometimes have a love/hate relationship with the condition and stickers that appear on them. This is where you will often find your best deals on books, especially if you aren’t overly concerned with condition. Sometimes I’m happily surprised with the condition of the book that arrives; more often than not, they are ex-library books in decent reading condition; occasionally the condition can only be described as dismal. Here are the reasons I keep shopping here:

  1. Wishlists and notifications of the books I want when they arrive into the warehouse. If you add “out of stock” books to your wishlist after you’ve set up an account, several of these websites will send you notifications when one becomes available. On some sites, you can even set a price point as to what you’d like to pay.

  2. Rewards—the bonuses of ordering multiple books at once! Each of these companies (except Wonder Book) offer a rewards program. Be sure to sign up as you will immediately begin accumulating points toward free books. Sales and coupons are different and often change from week to week so sign up for their email reminders.

  3. Supply and demand—Certainly there is the risk that all the good books will eventually be gone, but as long as people continue to purchase from giant warehouses such as these, the warehouses will continue to stock these books which is a good thing. None of us can possibly shop the goodwill outlets every day (which is where many of these companies get their books) and save all the books from every library or personal discard.

When shopping here, try different search terms; possibly the series name you’re looking for, the author, illustrator or part of a title. On these websites, it’s common for titles to be spelled incorrectly or authors to be left out entirely.

On a side note, the stickers from all these companies are unfortunate, but applying a hairdryer to them will quickly allow you to remove them with minimal damage. Also, all three of these companies are very quick to refund your money should you be unsatisfied with a book’s condition. Just this past week, one arrived with a musty smell and I sent a quick note to customer service. A full refund arrived in my Paypal account within 24 hours.

AbeBooks.com, Biblio, and Alibris
These sites are also able to be independently searched and I sometimes find books listed here that are for some reason not showing up on BookFinder.com. AbeBooks.com allows you to set up alerts and then sends you a notification when the book you’re searching for becomes available. Also, each of these companies have their own sales and coupons so be sure to search for current coupon options. Biblio also offers a membership where you can get 10% off every purchase.

This is a wonderful place to find books you need. Homeschooling families frequently liquidate their libraries this way and you can often buy book lots of specific series and types. You can set alerts in several different ways that will notify you when a specific book or series is listed. I often use the “best offer” option or even email the seller to see if they will lower their price if I think a book is overpriced. Just recently one member purchased 35 books from a highly sought after series for less than $40.

A lovely set I’d been watching for and was able to purchase for $28 on eBay.

Etsy is another option, but due to the higher cost of doing business on this website, I find it pricier. However, good deals can be found here, you just have to do some searching, as you would do in a brick and mortar store. Since books posted on Etsy do not show up on used book search engines you can sometimes find a rare book here that you weren’t able to find elsewhere.

This option is best used on a smartphone or tablet. There are many vintage and children’s book sellers using the Instagram app. Use search filters such as #livingbooks, #livingbooksforsale, #childrensbooks, #childrensbooksforsale, #vintagechildrensbooks, #vintagebooksforsale, #vintagebooks and simply, #booksale. Prices vary widely—it completely depends on the bookseller.

There are many buy/sell groups on Facebook where wonderful books can be purchased from others with similar interests. A quick search for "homeschool books" or "living books" will direct you to a variety of bookselling groups. Most of the sellers in these Facebook groups are mothers (or fathers) selling books they no longer need and who are trying to make some extra money for their families. Not only are we supporting each other’s book purchases when we buy from these groups, but these are communities where we can generally trust that what is being purchased is accurate and clearly described (ahem, that’s a quick advertisement for all those who sell to be honest, upright and fair in your dealings with each other!) Books may cost just a little more when we do it this way, but truly, we are helping each other when we purchase books that benefit the families and libraries of those who we interact with on a regular basis. Facebook marketplace is also something to search regularly. This is completely unpredictable but many of my book-loving friends have been happily surprised with their finds.

Bethlehem Books, Beautiful Feet Books, Hillside Education, Living Book Press, Living Library Press, Purple House Press, Rabbit Room Press, Riverbend Press, The Good and The Beautiful, and Yesterday’s Classics
These small publishers reprint hard to find vintage treasures at a reasonable price and sometimes even offer discounts or sales throughout the year. Every summer, Bethlehem Books advertises a 50% sale, including their clearance books. Purple House Press has a clearance/slightly damaged section where books are as little as $5. They also frequently offer new releases at a discount if you are receiving their emails or Facebook notifications. Supporting these publishing companies is vital to the mission of reprinting some of the books all of us want so desperately to be able to read.

Books just purchased on clearance or in the discount section of Purple House Press and Bethlehem Books. Hanna’s Cold Winter $5; Paperback titles $2-5

Online bookstores
The final location I want to share is very unpredictable and has to be used wisely. When I find a book I’m interested in (generally a more expensive volume), I search on BookFinder.com until I find a listing of the book with a bookseller name that appears to be an actual brick and mortar store. I then search online for that bookstore. Many times these bookstores have their own websites where they list the books that they have in their brick and mortar stores. I often email or call at this point and check to see if they have other books in specific series that are on my wishlist. For example, I’m still working on completing my Landmark collection. I found a bookstore in the upper Midwest that listed several Landmarks I needed. I found a contact number and called the owner and found he had several more I was searching for as well. He then offered me a 20% discount off all that I ordered (because I am a homeschooler) as well as combined shipping. Many bookstores are willing to do this as they don’t have to pay a fee when you order directly from them which is mutually beneficial. Some give discounts to teachers or homeschoolers as well. I’m always very respectful of their business, but it never hurts to ask!

The Best Shop for the Situation

Now that we’ve discovered where to look for books, how do you decide which location to purchase what books? Here is a quick guide to what type of books will best be purchased where.

High quality
If you're looking to purchase a book as a gift or you prefer to purchase books with an intact dust jacket and minimal writing in the book itself then I recommend starting with AbeBooks.com and Biblio. Occasionally I will also use Alibris, but I find their quality control is not as good. Be sure to carefully read the description and condition of the book that the bookseller has provided. Booksellers will also generally answer questions and provide pictures when asked.

Sets of books
EBay is by far the best online location to purchase book sets or book lots. Often sellers will post several photos of the exact book(s) and provide detailed descriptions. You can set alerts on eBay for specific search terms, such as "Landmark lot" to let you know when something becomes available that you are looking for. Sellers on Etsy and Amazon will also occasionally post sets of books so it's worth your time to try some creative searches on these sites as well.

Reading copies
This is where ThriftBooks, BetterWorldBooks and Wonder Book shine. These sites often carry ex-library books, library rebinds, and/or books missing dust jackets. These sites will list the general condition of the books but they are often not as dependable as booksellers on Abebooks or Biblio.

Variability in quality can be drastic. A lovely privately owned copy may arrive or you might be surprised with a book disaster.
(I requested a refund on Hans Andersen given the condition and price I paid)

Free international shipping
Book Depository only carries in print books but they have a very wide selection and always offer free international shipping.

New books
If you want new books Bookshop.org, Target, and Amazon are generally the best place to purchase those, unless of course, you can purchase directly from the publisher—don't forget those small publishers I mentioned! Rainbow Resource Center also has a significant book inventory and offers various discounts through the year. Bookshop.org supports independent bookstores and Target (online) will often run a similar sale on books when Amazon does.

Don’t be discouraged about your inability to visit real life bookstores or thrift stores. Spend a little time searching online and you’ll likely be rewarded with timely finds.

Deanna Knoll

Deanna Knoll

Family on my mind and in my heart. Book lover, outdoor enthusiast, pediatric physical therapist, musician and library builder.

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Thrift Store Shopping Without Leaving Your House


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