Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How I got started...

When I was a little girl my grandmother would take me with her to garage sales. She loved them, and to this day she still loves to go to garage sales. She can always find something she 'needs.' I, at the time, hated them. Growing up I never understood the idea of digging through someone's old stuff, while they watched on, hoping I would buy up half of their 'junk' just to get it out of their house. My grandmother, on the other hand, loved the hunt, and would often have a pile of garage sale stuff waiting for me when I got to her house. I was never too impressed with the naked Barbie dolls with horrible hair, or worse, the imitation Barbie dolls, that I tried to act excited about. A few times though, she did hit the jackpot with brand-new, still in the box gems.

My cousin, Joie, on the other hand, loves thrift stores, and always has. I used to hear stories of her going to thrift stores and finding amazing deals on clothes. Being a young teenager at the time, I couldn't believe someone would actually go into such a 'gross' place to buy clothes. It was a small step up from garage sales- these clothes were actually on hangers not in boxes on the ground- but still it was someone's old, out of season clothes.

In my mind, nothing good could have ever come from garage sales or thrift stores and I avoided them. That all changed about a year ago...

My new found interest in all things garage sale, yard sale, and thrift store related came about a year ago when I graduated from college in May 2010 with a degree in Elementary Education. I couldn't wait to get a classroom (which I'm still waiting on) and start decorating it. I knew some schools did building-wide themes so I didn't want to start buying too many decoration type items. Also, I didn't know which grade level I would be teaching which makes buying education items difficult. But what I did know was that I loved books and instilling a love for reading in my students was a goal of mine as a teacher.

Most people, not including those in education, don't know much about students and their 'reading levels.' Here is a quick review- a guide is used to gauge students and what 'grade level' they are reading on. It is very possible to have a third grade classroom with students reading at a third grade level, a first grade level, and a sixth grade level- all in the same classroom, and all wanting to read books out of their classroom library. It was my goal to find books at a wide range of levels and styles. I wanted to stock my future classroom library with picture books and chapter books. But I didn't want to spend a small fortune on these books.

I say all of that to say this...thrift stores and garage sales are excellent places to find cheap books. Which started my love for all things thrift stores, garage sales, and the general satisfaction I get from finding a good deal. Most of the books I found were visibly used, but more often than you would think, I found new and like new books.

I get a lot of comments about my wide range of book purchasing.
"What if you buy lots of picture books and you get a job in an upper grade classroom?"
My answer- Students of all ages like picture books- plus they can often be a great resource for teaching writing techniques or showing interesting word usage.
"What if you buy lots of chapter books and you get a job in a lower grade classroom?"
My answer- Some students may be at a higher reading level and get bored with shorter picture books and would enjoy the challenge of a longer chapter book. Also, I would like to have an ongoing read aloud from a chapter book (which helps students visualize the story instead of the illustrator showing them what to see).
"But aren't those books old and worn out? Don't you need brand-new books?"
My answer- No.
Simply put, books are going to get worn out, beat up, stuffed in desks, stepped on, and 'lost' no matter what. Buying a book that has already seen some wearing isn't a bad thing in my eyes. But you do have to be careful about how much wearing there is. Even though brand-new books are awesome- no bent corners- they are expensive; too expensive for my taste- and hard-back books?- you might as well forget it. I can't see spending that much money on a book that is going to get worn out anyways. Now, spending $.25 on a used, worn book I can see.

Over the course of a year, I have bought well over 1,000 books- actually make that pushing 2,000. Crazy, I know. Yes, I understand how crazy that sounds. Yes, I understand how expensive that sounds. But, when you look at how much I bought those 2,000 books for and how much money I saved, you'll be singing a different tune. Oh, and how do I keep track of all the books I have? Part of it is memory and when that fails me, I have a notebook where every title of every book I have is written down (separated by first letter of the title). More on that in another post.

On average, most picture books I buy are $.25 or $.50- occasionally, hard-back books are $1.00. Soft-back chapter books are usually $.50 or $1.00, with hard-backs landing in at $1.00-maybe more depending on the size. I have never spent over $1.75 on a book (the two times I have spent $1.75 if was for hard-back Harry Potter books- which we'll get to later).

Now, on average, a brand-new, from a 'real' bookstore, picture book will cost you around $5 and up. Chapter books (depending on size) can range anywhere from $5, $10, or even $20 for large, hard-back books like some in the Harry Potter series.

Already, you should be able to see what a great deal I am getting. For my sake, we'll make this simple, and say I bought 500 books for $5 each at a regular book store. That's $2,500. Or a couple house payments.

Now, let's say I bought those same 500 books, but at thrift stores and garage sales, at $.25 each. Now, my total is down to only $125. Big difference, I know. Let's up it though, say I bought those same 500 books for $.50 each- I'm still only paying $250.

But what about the chapter books which I could pay up to $1.00 for? Well, 500 of those would be $500 or at a regular book store at $10 each...$5,000.

Are you starting to see why I'm practically addicted to buying books at thrift stores? The savings have shown themselves. Of course, you have to factor in the wear and tear on these books but even with that factored in, I still feel like I'm getting an amazing deal.

Now, I haven't kept tabs on the price of all the books I've bought. But, I do buy most of my books from two main thrift stores in my area. I know most of the time the books I buy are about $.25, if that book originally cost $10, then I'm getting it for 87.5% off the original price. A book that originally cost $5, that I get for $.25, I'm getting for 95% off the original price. Some might think $250 is still a lot of money to spend, but this is how I justify my purchases.

1) My future students- and children- will be able to get their hands on amazing books. I will get to teach using a wide range of books, and I will be able to fulfill my goal of instilling a love for reading in each student I have in my classroom.
2) My money is going towards a great cause. The thrift stores I frequent are non-profit organizations that use people's donations to stock their stores. The money from each purchase goes directly to help out fellow members of the community that could use help paying bills, a hot meal, or clothing assistance (among other things). Knowing that my $5 purchase could feed 30 people makes my heart warm. Knowing that I am helping out the people in my community makes every dollar I spend well worth it.

I can't explain how exciting it is for me to go into a thrift store and find amazing books at such great prices. It's hard for most people to understand, unless they come from the world of education like me. I have found other amazing deals on non-book related items (be looking forward to my future entries).

Here are some examples of the great deals I have found on books.

I bought two paper-back books from the Harry Potter series (years 1 and 2) for only 50 cents each. I bought hard-back copies of the series (years 3 and 7) for $1.75 each. I'm still waiting to find the rest of the books in the series (years 4, 5, and 6) but patience is a part of this process. I know that I will eventually find the rest of the books, but I'm in no real hurry to have them right now. I would like to read the whole series, but I have time and plenty of other books to read. :)

Only a section of my books, I have more in my living room and more in boxes too. :)
The Caldecott Award is an honor given to outstanding children's picture books and the Newberry Award is another honor given to outstanding children's chapter books. Books that have won these awards are excellent books to have in classrooms and I have found countless numbers of both at thrift stores and yard sales.

If you are interested in purchasing books from thrift stores or garage sales there are a few pointers I have for you.
1) Flip through the books- especially picture books- for marks. I have found some great books that I was very excited about, only to open them up and find crayon marks or writing all in the book. This is not the kind of wear-and-tear I can be okay with. Also, water damaged books are just that- damaged. Sometimes, the pages can be flattened back out or the damage is only to one page, but you'd have to really want a book to deal with water damage.

2) Worn-edges on a book are going to be a common occurrence. Just make sure the edges aren't too worn. Books with a missing cover or pages are not good buys. A few dog-eared pages aren't going to hurt, but books with significant damage to the edges need to be passed up.

3) Quality within- I'm talking about the story line. Just because a book is 25 cents doesn't mean it is worth that 25 cents. I pass up lots of books because they aren't what I'm looking for in a classroom book. Winnie-the-Pooh and commercialized characters are great, but 5 years from now when the show is off the air, no kid is going to want to read a book about a character they don't know. I don't know how many Nickelodeon and Disney books I see in thrift stores with characters from shows that have been off the air since I was a kid. They might make a good addition to a personal collection, but not the best idea for classrooms.

4) Thrift stores and yard sales are a great way to buy books for your children, but chances are they won't read the book again. So, consider re-donating it back to the thrift store where you purchased it (or donating it to a thrift store if you purchased it at a yard sale). I heard a lady at a thrift store recently say that she re-donates all the books she buys- except for the paper-back romance novels because she can't remember which ones she reads and often re-buys the same book after re-donating it. :)

5) Be careful about buying series of books. Some, more than others, build upon each other and you might not be able to keep up with the story line if you haven't read the previous books. Like I said earlier, I got a great deal on 4 out of 7 Harry Potter books. I know I'll probably be able to find the other 3 books I need, but it will take time and patience and I'm okay with that. Just be sure you can wait to find the rest of the series.

6) Don't think you'll be able to find the latest best seller. I generally don't buy adult books (because I'm too busy reading all my other children's books), but when I do look through them I see titles from 7 or 10 years ago. Some resell book stores specialize in newer books, but generally at thrift stores you can't find new books. If you can find books from the last year or two, expect to pay a little more for them. A book from 10 years ago might only be $1 but a book from last year might be $4 and up.

7) Be comfortable with the price you are paying. Almost all thrift stores are non-profit, so please don't try to get a better price on an item, but do make sure you are comfortable paying the price they have listed. In the past, I have passed up books because I didn't want to pay the price- this occurs mostly at garage sales. I know I can buy picture books at 50 cents or $1, so I don't want to pay $3 or $5 at a yard sale.

8) Last, but not least, buy it now because it probably won't be there the next time you come in. That's how thrift stores work, there is a constant change in inventory, and if you want it or think you'll use it, you better buy it before someone else does.

Needless to say, I have changed my ideas about garage sales and thrift stores greatly. No longer are they 'gross' places filled with other people's discarded 'stuff.' They are now wonderful places of excitement. Every time you go into a regular store, you know what you are going to find, and it's going to be in the same spot it was the last time you were there. Every time you go into a thrift store or stop by a garage sale, you never know what you will find. There are always new discoveries to be made and new treasures to uncover, which is part of the reason why I now understand the thrill of the hunt my grandmother and cousin refer to.

More posts about my other 'non-book' related finds to come; in the mean time, happy hunting :)

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