How to Build Your Home Library on a Budget

If you’d like to build your home library on a budget or are wondering where to buy cheap books online or in person or even get free books for kids and adults, try these 25+ suggestions!

free books for kids

If you’re a book lover, you probably have dreams of a home library somewhere along the lines of the one in the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast.

I mean. . .who wouldn’t want a massive room with floor to ceiling bookshelves, a bunch of squashy chairs and, hey, while we’re at it why not also some magical servants/household objects to bring you hot chocolate while you read?

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a princely budget to stock that home library.

buy cheap books

I get frequent questions about how to build a home library on a budget or where to buy cheap books online and a few months ago I asked for recommendations on Instagram for how to build your library on a budget or find inexpensive or even free books.

There were so many great ideas – no castle required.

I also feel like I should mention that I do NOT feel like you have to have a massive home library to create a family culture of reading. The public or school libraries are wonderful resources for bringing books into your home and exposing your children to a wide range of great titles without having to pay a cent.

So if you don’t have the space or budget to own very many books of your own, don’t worry that you’re ruining your chance to raise a reader.

All that said, if you ARE interested in building your home library without breaking the bank, here are a bunch of great suggestions:

where to buy cheap books

Where to Buy Cheap Books Online for your Home Library

  • Used Books on Amazon. When you’re buying a book on Amazon, you can choose the “Used” option under Hardback or Paperback and they often are significantly cheaper (although you generally have to pay about $3.99 of shipping).
  • Kohl’s Cares for Kids. They have tons of popular books for $5 each (and sometimes on sale for $3.50) plus coordinating stuffed animals. You can buy these cheap books online or at your local Kohl’s.
  • Half Price Books. I love Half Price Books and we go fairly regularly to our local one. They have a massive collection and excellent prices on both new and used books.
  • Abebooks.com. You can search any title and they’ll show you all the options at different prices to buy that book.
  • Discoverbooks.com. I’d actually never heard of this one before, but I did some research and I LOVE their mission to keep books out of landfills by collecting them locally and reselling them or donating them classrooms or families in need of books. And if they aren’t usable any longer, they make sure they’re responsibly recycled. Their prices are excellent and you can find a donation center here.
  • Thriftbooks.com. Basically like searching your local thrift store except you don’t have to leave your house and they are delivered right to your door! If you’re looking for cheap books online, this is a gold mine.
  • Better World Books. They sell used books and use some of the proceeds to help support literacy programs.
  • PaperBackSwap. You list the books you’re willing to swap, then when someone requests it, you send it to them (you pay postage) and you can choose any book from their collection (well over a million titles) and it ships free to you.
  • CamelCamelCamel. You plug in a book on Amazon you’re interested in, and when the price drops, you’ll get an email so you can buy.

cheap books online

Where to Buy Cheap Books Locally for your Home Library

  • Buy holiday books after the season is over and they’re hugely discounted.
  • Thrift Stores. You can pick up titles for a SONG at places like Deseret Industries or Goodwill or Salvation Army, as well as local thrift stores. They’re often less than $1 each and you can usually find lots of classics or popular series.
  • School or library book sales. This is a super simple way to buy cheap books for your home library, plus no shipping and you get them right away!
  • Used Book Stores. Google ones in your area and stop by to see what treasures you’ll find. Some of my favorite books from my childhood were ones my mom bought at a little used book store in Wisconsin, including a beautiful hardbound set of Louisa May Alcott books.
  • FaceBook Marketplace. You can search by your location and see hundreds of books being sold for less than a dollar each.
  • Scholastic Book Orders usually have $1 deals, plus there is the benefit of supporting you school too. Talk about a place to buy cheap books! (Although, I do find that often these $1 books are not the highest-quality literature).
  • Kids consignment shops. Many of them, like Kid to Kid, have a great selection of board books or popular chapter books in good condition.
  • Garage sales. I LOVE garage sale books – you can usually get books for 10 to 50 cents each. Don’t forget to negotiate or ask for a discount if you buy a bunch at once.

How to get free books for Kids or Adults

  • Request books instead of cards at a baby shower. The women who threw me a baby shower did this and I LOVE the board books I have with sweet notes from my friends written inside them.
  • Ask grandparents or family members to give books instead of toys. Toys might be more exciting when they’re first unwrapped, but our books usually end up being our most long-loved gifts. And as a grown-up, a copy of a new book that you don’t have to wait six months on the library hold line for, is a treasure!
  • Sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. If your area participates, they send free books to your child every month from birth until age 5 – no limit on family income! My address isn’t in a participating area, but you can see if yours is here and if it is, you should definitely sign up right away for free books.
  • Host a book swap. Have everyone bring a certain number of books, let everyone look through them and take home a new set! (I’m kind of dying to do this now). This is the easiest way to get free books and give other families free books for kids.
  • Usborne Books & More. If you’re not opposed to network marketing, you can host book parties or become a distributor and get free books for kids based on how many you sell.

free books

Ongoing Habits for Building a Home Library on a Budget

  • Build it into your budget. Each month, set aside a specific amount of money to spend on books, whether it’s in cash or a separate bank account.
  • Order a book every time you make an Amazon order. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, adding a book to your order is a great way to makes sure you meet the free shipping threshold!
  • Keep a list of books you want to own. Then when they show up at a thrift store, garage sale, school library sale or on Amazon, you know to grab them. And if you have people ask for title suggestions for gifts, you are ready to go!

If you have other suggestions for how to buy cheap books, get free books or build your home library on a budget, please leave them in the comments!

You might also find these posts helpful:

home library

Photos by Christie Knight Photography

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  1. To add to the garage sale tip — look for community garage sales! In my area schools and churches often have these as fundraisers and a lot of families contribute stuff to sell, so there tends to be more books to look through than at your average single family garage sale. Also, since it’s usually families with kids donating the stuff that’s for sale, they tend to be pretty well stocked with great books that those families have outgrown or that they read for school and don’t want to keep — I’ve gotten SO MANY Newbery Medal books and other excellent quality titles at these sales. Bonus: the last couple hours of the event they usually have a bag sale to get rid of as much as they can — fill a bag for $2-$5 — books are pretty picked over by then, but if you’re patient and know what you’re looking for, I’ve been amazed by what was still available 🙂

  2. Many great ideas here! Personally, I recently came to love Thriftbooks, but the biggest way I have afforded an amazing home library (on a shoestring budget) is through shopping large and small used books sales, usually hosted by libraries. I share some of my tips here: http://bookishfamily.blogspot.com/2018/04/best-tips-for-used-book-sales.html

    Can’t beat amazing books in very good or like new condition for $1 or less and no shipping required!

  3. Love the suggestion for kids to get books as gifts instead of toys! I remember one of your posts a while back talked about taking it slow on Christmas morning and that if someone wanted to stop and read their new book right then, you should go ahead and do that instead of rushing through all the presents. I thought that was the best idea! I remember when I was little my mom would keep track of when new books in our favorite series were being released and tell relatives about those books when they asked her what we wanted for Christmas. I still have a series of books that I’ll always cherish because my grandmother would always give me the next one for Christmas or my birthday each year.

  4. How do you decide when a book is worth purchasing? I feel guilty buying any book because we can get so many for free from the library.

    1. Personally, I try to buy books that aren’t at the library and that I want to read over and over–so less mass market paperbacks and more things like fairy tales, nature books, folk tales, poetry books, etc.

      1. Yes, I was wondering the same thing. How do you decide if you’re going to buy a book vs. checking it out from the library? Now that we get so many books from our library and even on Overdrive I have a hard time buying them.

  5. I used to buy a decent amount of books through Half.com and was bummed when I discovered they closed! I mostly bought hardcovers for myself of books I had already enjoyed and would like on my shelves. I’ve looked many times at Amazon’s used books but haven’t bought any there yet! So many good resources here I’ve never heard of! Thank you for compiling!

  6. Ooh! Thanks for the tips, I hadn’t heard of some of these websites! Another little tip, I keep my goodreads “want to read” list full of lots of books I’m interested in and they send me an email with books from my list that have gone on sale, usually a kindle version for $1.99, but others options as well. I think the email is sent daily, but if there is nothing from my list being offered the subject says something along the lines of “titles we thought you’d be interested in” rather than, “a book from your shelf is on sale!”

  7. Yes to HPB and Abebooks! Almost half of the books in my collection are secondhand, and my coffee table books were all bought at a discount. My husband and have been living in the UK for the last two years and the charity shops here are GLORIOUS with used books! The local library in our town sell their withdrawn titles seriously cheap.

  8. Another organization that gives out free books to children is Ferst [http://ferstreaders.org/]! Both of my boys are currently signed up to receive a free book every month from birth until 5. Definitely worth checking out if you live in a supported area!

    1. I just checked this. It is only for Florida, Georgia, Montana and Texas. Looks like a great program though!

  9. One way that I’ve gotten a ton of free books is through elementary teachers who were retiring and a local school who was clearing out their literature closet and was getting rid of loads of YA titles. It’s worth calling or asking around, especially if you already know a local schoolteacher!

  10. This is fantastic! I have a home library that is mostly stocked through Amazon used books since I never buy a book over $5, and I still have lots of current titles. All these other websites are amazing. Thanks!

  11. I would have a hard time never buying a book over $5 but I like the idea of setting an amount, say perhaps $10 or $15. That would probably be doable for me and it’s a great idea. The only thing is what do you do about shipping and tax? Is that included or is it ok to spend more?

  12. One problem I have is that every once in a while there’s a book that’s vintage or rare that I really want bad and I always wonder if I should splurge and buy it or not? The great majority of my books were bought cheap, and I wouldn’t pay more unless it was an absolute necessity that I couldn’t possibly get the book for less. Perhaps we should set a limit of $10 or $15 as described, but maybe once or twice a year allow ourselves a more expensive book. I think that would solve the problem for me.

  13. Another place to find books at reasonable prices is Pangobooks. You can sell and buy books. I have found great books there.

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