Once you have your goals in place and have selected your curricula, it is time for the daunting task of purchasing your materials. The two most daunting aspects of this task for me are keeping accurate records of my purchases and staying on budget.
I start by making a list. In fact, the "All-Purpose Wish List" from The 2009 Schoolhouse Planner is perfect. The three columns on this form provide a place for me to write in the names of the books I need as well as where I purchased them and the price I paid for each. I list my core items first like math texts and the Tapestry of Grace year plan I need. Then I look through TOG's book list and other supplemental lists and add anything I think I will need to complete our program. I know I will not be able to afford every item on this list so I write the necessities in red and the others in blue.
Once my list is in order, I purchase those items which must be bought new. For example, I have found it is very difficult to find good, used copies of Singapore Math, and they only cost about $7 each new from Sonlight. I strongly suggest that if you can buy something new for only a small percentage more than it would cost used, buy it new. The amount you would save buying used is not worth the headache you will incur seeking out a quality used book. Once I purchase these books, I write on my spreadsheet where I bought them and the price I paid for each.
Also consider if you can buy any of your curricula through a promotional sale. Check vendors' websites frequently. Put yourself on their mailing lists or subscribe to their newsletters. Find out if they offer discounts to new customers or to loyal ones. For instance, I bought my Tapestry of Grace year plan at a discounted price through a Tapestry Tea hosted by one of my friends for families new to TOG.
Next, I visit my library's website and search for books I need. I have to admit that I do not use the library often. First, many of the books found in our libraries do not support a Biblical worldview. It is difficult to find books, particularly non-fiction, that do not promote evolution, revisionist history, etc. Secondly, I am forgetful (Have I mentioned this before? I can't remember.) and end up paying as much in library fines as if I had purchased the book to begin with. Third, my local library is not large and does not always have the number of copies of a book needed to support the demand. I have found myself in a jam having to wait for ILL arrivals or for another dear mother to return the book I need. By the time it is available, we have moved on to a new topic.
Therefore, I consider a few things before I make the decision to borrow a book from the library. One, how many copies of this book does my library offer? If it seems that I will be able to get the book easily when I need it, I write an "L" on my spreadsheet under the "where to buy it" column. I make sure to note in my lessons plans when I will need to borrow it, too. Sometimes I make an exception and go for an inter-library loan or place holds on items if it will save me a substantial amount of money. Once again, I make a note in my lesson planner to reserve these books two to four weeks in advance.
I also consider the book's content. If I am searching for a specific title, like The Jungle Book, which will read the same from the library as it would from a Christian book seller, I borrow it from the library. If I am looking for a general book to support a content area, I am more careful. For instance, one year I needed a book on Jupiter for a science unit. All of the books on planets available at my library were written by an astronomer who promotes Darwinian evolution and panspermia. I do not want my children adopting his worldview so I purchased a more acceptable book elsewhere.
After I have made my library decisions and marked my spreadsheet accordingly, I shop at any local book sales available to me. My local homeschool association hosts a book sale each spring. It is not large, but each year I find a few things that I need at good prices. I bought two teacher's manuals this year for half of what I would have paid for them new. If you are just getting started on your homeschooling adventure, I suggest you join a local association and seek out your state's home education association. Ours hosts a large used book sale every year.
I follow up the book sales by purchasing the remaining books online. With my list beside me, I open three internet tabs, one for Ebay, one for Amazon, and one for a Google search. I search for my remaining red items first and then for blues as my budget allows. Comparison shopping is easy since I only have to click to move from store to store. I pay for all of my items after I have completed all of my shopping. If I have bought multiple items from a single seller, often shipping can be combined. As I shop, I fill in the information for where my purchases were made and the prices I paid on my spreadsheet.
Next I create an e-mail folder and name it "curriculum". I store all confirmations, receipts, shipping notices, etc. in this folder. I keep these records until all of my items have arrived. I place my spreadsheets with my purchase records in my planning folder. When an item arrives, I write an "R" in the margin of my spreadsheet beside its title if the book meets my expectations. If it does not, I review the listing information to make sure I am not at fault and then contact the seller immediately. When all items have arrived to my satisfaction, I go to the appropriate online markets and leave feedback. Then I delete all e-mails in my curriculum folder.
If there are items on my list that I could not find or could not afford, I turn to my homeschooling friends. The Lord has provided a number of times through a generous friend who was willing to loan us a book. However, we must exercise good manners when choosing to borrow from others. Books must not be kept too long and must be returned in the same condition as when they were loaned. I think one must be willing to loan as often as she borrows, too. Each time you receive a book, consider how blessed you feel and seek opportunities to bless others in return.
I have one final tip. I do not try to organize my books as they arrive because I have found this is too much to do at once. Instead I stack them in my classroom until I receive the last item on my list. Then I organize them accordingly. In case any of you may be getting the impression that I have it all together, here is a picture of what my classroom looks like when the books start pouring in. I hope you have a good chuckle, and it brightens your day.
Remember this lovely, organized, freshly-remodeled room?
Here it is now. What's that noise? Do I hear giggling coming through my computer?
To read about how I organize our books and return order to our classroom, return soon for the next article in the Plan-It School series, Organizing Your School Materials.