As a homeschool family, one easy way to save a good bit of money is buying used books or materials.
There are a couple of downfalls to buying used. The best way I've found to purchase used items is online, so the first downfall is that I don't get to see what kind of shape my purchase is in until it arrives at my door. Usually there are just a few marks and we ignore them. However, the photo above shows a particular book I spent probably 2 hours going through erasing then scribbling over where I had erased. Apparently the student had done all of their work in the book and the parent felt it was still acceptable to sell the book in that condition. There was really no way for Nia (or my other children if we reuse this book) not to cheat without me going through and getting ride of the answers. So, below is a picture of what I found to be an acceptable solution. I erased, scribbled in one direction and then the other.
The other downfall I have found also stems from purchasing online. Sometimes you may not catch exactly what is included in what you are buying. For example, we purchased Wilson reading material for dyslexia. It included instructional videos... that were on VHS. We have purchased other curriculum that called for a zillion pieces to implement (workbooks, flash cards, magnet boards, you name it) to find after spending more than our budget would allow that we really still needed more pieces for the curriculum to work. Or, that we purchased part of level 1 blue edition and part of level 1 aqua edition and they are not compatible.
Here are a few tips we have picked up over the years in purchasing used:
1) Avoid curriculum designed for 'regular' school. There are usually several pieces you need, and might now be able to find. I taught in public school for a few years before homeschooling and my first inclination was to grab my favorite curriculums from my old life and use them at home. Major foul! One they are designed for a classroom not a single student. Two, see the paragraph above. Keeping all this in mind, I still manage to decide to do this for at least one subject a year for the last few years. Maybe one day I'll decide to take my own advice...
2) Grade level bundle sets. I don't recommend them, but several people
like the a lot find them good to use. I've yet to find anyone that really loves the 'bundle sets' as I've labeled them. I'm talking about lifepac, Sonlight, and other programs that include everything needed for one year in a box. Most of the people I've known that have used them do so for the first year and then move on to something else. Let's face it, there is no perfect curriculum and getting everything for the year in one purchase would make life a lot easier. However, none of these companies specialize in any certain subject nor will they be tailored for a certain learning style. Many homeschool kids work on different levels in different subjects and buying everything at the same level could prove to be a big pain in the neck for you and your kid.
3) Figure out your budget FIRST. It will do you no good to fall in love with a curriculum that runs 2 grand if your budget is $200 or even tighter like $20 (as mine was one year). If your budget won't allow for buying all you need at once, stager your purchases. Our girls generally like to focus heavily on one subject at a time, so it's been fine for us to purchase a few subjects later in the year at times. If the budget is really, really tight you can check if your state offers online school for free. Most states offer some if not all course work online for grade school age students for free. Ohio, the state I live in, has online charter schools where they provide a computer, school books, and some school supplies all for free. This greatly conflicts with why some people want to homeschool, but for many it's a great option. Googling K12 (one of the big names in online kindergarten through 12th grade schooling) will give you a ton of information on the this option.
3) If you need help figuring out which materials to use there are several homeschoolin' mommas out there that love to write reviews and opinions of what they have used on their blogs. If you are new to homeschooling a 1st grader, find several blogs that have written reviews of what they used for 1st grade. Look at what they did. Consider your child's/children's learning style and your teaching style. Think of how you want your school year to go and narrow down from there.
4) When you think you have decided, read reviews, read more reviews, and then ask questions. Find the bloggers that have used what you are considering and ask them anything you can think of about the material. Sites like Amazon also have a ton of reviews. Then weigh them out. If you read 5 people that say a book was perfect and 1 that says it was too challenging for the grade level, odds are there is something going on for that one family that makes it too challenging for their child, not most children at the grade level.
5) Once you have figured out what you want, I have found the best place to start when looking for used homeschool books or other materials is Amazon. Our next stop is generally ebay. I always do a google search of whatever it is I'm looking to purchase also. I've seen materials for sale on craigslist and through homeschool groups. Some groups even have curriculum swap/sale days.
6) The best times to purchase are the end of the school year and just before the beginning of the school year. Other families will be trying to unload their used stuff as the finish up with it, but some will wait until the beginning of the next school year in hopes more people will be trying to find it. There are always people randomly putting things up for sale, so don't get too discouraged if you miss that window.