Making the Most of Used Curriculum Sales, Book Fairs, and Conference Vendor Halls

Just recently, our local homeschool group organized a big Used Book and Curriculum Sale.  This is when a whole bunch of homeschool Moms (and Dads!) get together and buy and sell with each other.  
It is seriously a whole room full of awesomeness, especially for us crazy book lovers.  It is like a Homeschool Conference Curriculum Fair multiplied by 100 times the bliss.  There are not only used books but also used curriculum, homeschool resources, and hard to find stuff that only other weird homeschoolers would ever have.  And at a fraction of the cost.  Seriously!?
It’s pretty much one of my favorite places to be.  Yep…  put me in the middle of a Used Book and Curriculum Sale and I’m in (earthly) geek heaven.
So, for the recent sale, I was a vendor (ie: I sold books at a table).  I enjoyed ‘selling’ quite a bit because I got to chat with so many wonderful homeschoolers and offer thoughts and advice about various books and resources we have used and enjoyed.  I kept my prices super low because, in all honesty, I’m there to support the homeschool group and be an encouragement to other homeschoolers – not to make a fortune.
But as I chatted with the many different homeschoolers…

I was reminded again how much new homeschoolers struggle to find the right resources for their families.  

I’ve been there.  
I remember the first ever Curriculum Sale that I went to about 7 years ago.  I think I left almost in tears, I was SO overwhelmed.   I had no idea what I was looking for.  I had no idea what a good deal was.  I had no idea which programs were good or which curriculum would suit our child.  I was lost.   I spent way too much money and walked away with a weird pile of mish-mashed resources, most of which I never used.  (The one shining light of that year was how God led me to pick up a $5 beat-up, used copy of Five in a Row Volume 1, which was the BEST purchase I’ve ever made for our homeschool!!!)
Anyways, over the years, I have learned (often the hard way) how to not get so overwhelmed and also how to make intentional, wise purchases at book and curriculum sales.  So, well, dear friends – I thought I’d share my experience and ideas.
So, here goes…

Thoughts to help you avoid regret, find great deals, and invest wisely at Used Book and Curriculum Sales:

Arrive Early.

Just today I had a chat with a homeschooling friend who shared her complete frustration with a local Used Book and Curriculum Sale.  “I waited nearly TWO HOURS in line and was so exasperated by the time I got in….”   Yep, that would be super frustrating.  She arrived about an hour after the doors opened and, well, the sale was packed, and she not only had a negative experience, but struggled to find what she was looking for.  Go early. Homeschool Moms are crazy.  Be one of the crazies.  Embrace it.  It’s for the sake of the children.  And the books.  *wink*

Bring Cash.

This seems super basic, but in a world where most people rarely carry cash, it can be EASY to forget to take actual money. People (especially at a used sale) will ONLY take cash, so bring as much as your budget can allow and try also to bring small bills and coins.  This is helpful in getting better deals (helps you bargain) and also a lot easier for the vendors!

Bring something that allows you to comfortably carry your purchases/books.

Alright, I’ll admit it – I totally LAUGHED at the ladies with wheeling suit-cases at the Used Curriculum Sale a few years ago.  Completely snorted.  Now?  Oh, you better believe I’ve got a rolling suitcase with me, sister!  BEST. THING. EVER.  Honestly, if you are purchasing piles of books, you will not want to carry them around in bags all night/day.  Your arms and back will be killing you.  Bring a wheeling something if you have one.  Yep, you’ll look crazy and the newbies who don’t know the secret of the wheelies will laugh at you – but it’s totally worth it.

Know your homeschool goals, philosophy, and style and try to stick to what you know will work for your family.

This is not easy.  This is actually HUGE.  It can take a while to really know what your goals are and what philosophy (or philosophies) you believe in and want to establish in your homeschool.  (If you need help in this area, consider checking out PLAN YOUR YEAR!).  
I spent a lot of money going back and forth with big boxed curriculums in my early years because I didn’t really understand my own personal style and what our family philosophy of learning was or should be. Now that I have a much clearer picture of who we are and where we are going – it is so much easier to say ‘no’ to a mountain of resources.
Do some research and start to shape your own philosophy of learning. If you are leaning towards Classical or Charlotte Mason, that will alter what you purchase (and what you don’t!).  Same for if you are unit study based, school-at-home, or more of an unschooler, etc.  The key is to know what you believe and what you need to achieve the educational philosophy you are striving to embrace.

Resist the temptation to make expensive, spontaneous curriculum purchases just because they’re a great deal.

Um, yeah… ask me how I know.  I am the girl who drops $300 on the shiny phonics program that doesn’t get used… oh, and $200 on the boxed curriculum that didn’t get used…  I’ve made very spontaneous purchases at curriculum fairs and EVERY SINGLE TIME I have regretted it.
Every. Single. Time.  I’ve lost money and I’ve been frustrated and I still didn’t learn because I did it every year for like, oh, 5 years.  (sigh)
There may be the odd time that this works out.  Honestly though, big purchases and big decisions (like a whole year’s worth of boxed curriculum) are not best made on the fly.  Take time to research and be certain that if you want a program, which one would work for you.  If you already know what you want and what would work and THEN you find it – that is a different story.  Spontaneous, “OH!  LOOK!  A big curriculum that I had no intention buying!  BUT it is normally $600 and she’s selling for $200!!!”… don’t do it, Mama.  
Just my humble 2 cents based on experience!

Look for tables where you can easily and clearly see your philosophy of education displayed.

So, for example – if I see a table heaped with Bob Jones University curriculum, I’m not going to stop.  If I see a table full of various fill-in-the-blank workbooks – I’m not going to stop.  It’s not that I have anything against these things, I just know that they do not work with my philosophy of education.
If you never use workbooks and don’t ever plan to use a boxed curriculum like BJU, then don’t waste your time at those tables.  Move on and find a table that DOES offer what you’re looking for… for example…
If I see a table full of living books, historical fiction novels, resources for greek, latin, nature study, dictation, or narration – I’m going to stop.  These are clear signs that this Mom (or vendor) is selling materials that would appeal to my more Classical, Charlotte Mason philosophy of education.  

Look for classic books and don’t be afraid to snatch them up.

I really don’t have to expand too much.  Classic literature is ALWAYS worth the investment.  Seek out and don’t be afraid to purchase classic picture books and novels.  I’ve never regretted those investments and the majority of these types of books will never leave our family library.  When you can get a classic for $1 – it is always worth the purchase! (Even if you won’t use it for a while or your kids have outgrown it!)

Get familiar with titles in the booklists that support your philosophy of education.  When you see the titles from the lists – grab them.

So, this is kind of related to the whole idea of buying classics.
After several years of homeschooling with a Charlotte Mason inspired philosophy, I’ve grown very familiar with the types of books to look for.  Think: Sonlight catalog, Heart of Dakota books, Ambleside, Simply Charlotte Mason, classics, living books lists, biographies, poetry anthologies, etc.
So, if I see books that I know are frequently listed as great living books, I quickly grab them up.  Even if my kids won’t be ready to read them for another couple of years!   I am actually quite liberal with my purchases of these types of books because they rarely disappoint.

If something is under $5 and you are really torn as to whether or not to buy it… just get it.

Don’t leave the sale regretting not buying that novel for two bucks.  If something inside of you is nudging you to grab it, listen.  Better to grab it at a cheap price than regret not getting it later.

Come with a list and don’t be afraid to actually ASK people what they have.

Honestly?  It know it seems a bit ‘over-kill’ to walk  up to table vendors and start rhyming off a list of books you are looking for – but, it’s not a bad idea.
At the sale last week, I casually mentioned that I was looking for the Nature Liberty Readers and the Mom promptly dug in a box and placed two (the two I needed!) in my hands.
Trust me, you might feel silly, but it will save you time and frustration to just ask.  Plus, if you ask first – well, you know, the early bird gets that worm!

Recognize and grab everyday, useful homeschool books at a great price.

I’m talking Atlases, Dictionaries, Thesauruses, high quality Encyclopedias (like Usborne’s World History ones), Nature Guides, and handbooks for Math and Science concepts.  
There are countless Atlases in our home and we use them all.  Explorer’s Atlas, World Atlas, Canadian Atlas, Animal Atlas, these are all incredibly useful and will stay in your ‘library’ forever.  
We also have the Usborne Junior Encyclopdias, several World History Encyclopedias, and books like, The Last 500 Years and The Encyclopedia of Planet Earth.
Bird guides, plant guides, animal guides, and local nature books are also really helpful to have on hand.
These types of resources are very  good investments no matter what content or curriculum you cover year to year.  You will always have a great selection of books to access when you need information about a wide range of topics.  These may never be read-alouds or core books, but they will be used often and in many ways.

Stick around to the end of the sale and grab the best deals (and even the freebies!).

Yep, I totally do this.  On purpose.  Because no doubt, every time, when the sale is coming to a close – people get crazy and start either dropping their prices crazy low or actually giving stuff away. (I did!)  Most Moms who come to a used book sale with piles of books have already emotionally detached from the books they are selling.  They really don’t want to bring heaps of stuff back home with them.  Come the end of the sale – they may very well give you some GREAT deals.  It’s worth sticking around to the end.
Alright, now, let’s see if I actually put my own tips into practice…  to give you an idea, I spent about $100 cash on everything you see in the photos below.

A look at what I purchased at a recent Used Book and Curriculum Fair:

A Child’s History of the World $10 (this is such a classic living book for world history and my copy was falling apart… so a no brainer purchase in my opinion!), Pocketful of Pinecones is a classic Charlotte Mason Nature Study book, the three HEROES books from Dave and Neta Jackson were a GREAT find (if you ever see these, buy them, they are amazing!), Christian Liberty Nature Readers are classic Charlotte Mason readers for narration, Among the Night/Farmyard people are also classic Charlotte books, Plutarch’s Lives is a classic, and Story Starters is a Writing Resource that I have seen in various Charlotte Mason inspired lists and catalogs, so I grabbed it when I saw it.  LOVE this pile.  Super happy with these purchases!

The Children’s Book of Home and Family goes along with William J. Bennet’s various other virtues based literature (The Children’s Treasury of Virtues, etc.).  Any time I see books like this, I buy them because they are great for character study, read-alouds, and narration.  I grabbed the Apologia Science because it was $10 and we do not have a good resource for creation-based human anatomy.  The White Stallion of Lipizza is in many living book lists and is hard to find.  The others caught my eye and fit our philosophy, so I grabbed them.

Living Literature!  Many of these are titles I recognized from lists, or were written by authors we are familiar with and enjoy.

More Living Books!  Here I was excited to find tons of biographies.  Biographies are a wonderful way to learn history and study character and Hero Admiration.

I’ve actually always really loved the books from Christian Light Publications, so I don’t hesitate to purchase them when they look good!  ($2 for this, I think!)

This is a beautiful resource for bible study!

Inside Story Starters.


  • Stephanie J

    I love this list! Great haul. I used to read your blog a few years ago and when my computer died I lost the link to it and could not find it for awhile. So happy to have found you again. You have an amazing amount of helpful information here. Thank you!

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