BookshelfWho doesn’t like free stuff? And if we’re talking about stuff that will actually help you out in the long run, it’s hard to find a reason to turn it down. Free books, for example, are more than worth their price, especially if they are good reference materials. But sometimes it can be hard to find free books — it’s not necessarily something that’s advertised.

There are plenty of places to get free materials, though, if you know to ask. Brand new books, as well — not the free used books that you can find just about anywhere. This goes beyond the many websites that offer free ebooks of fictional work, though. The publications on this list are mostly reference materials. While they aren’t something you might consider for an afternoon of light reading, though, they can be very useful in planning your finances, doing home projects and other tasks that may require reference materials. Most of this information is available online, as well, but sometimes a hard copy can come in handy.

  1. How to Really Start Your Own Business: SCORE offers this workbook, along with others, that provide an immense amount of information on how to plan your business. If you’re considering entrepreneurship — or have already started — consider requesting these books. The easiest way is to request them through your local SCORE chapter. You don’t need to be a member and you can find the contact information for each chapter on the SCORE website. Other available materials include booklets on specific business structures and other small business information. If you complete How to Really Start Your Own Business, including all the questions, you’ll essentially have a business plan ready to go.
  2. The Consumer Action Handbook: A new edition of this book is published yearly by the U.S. government. It offers practical advice for consumers, from buying a car to writing a will. The handbook contains an immense amount of information and isn’t exactly light reading, but it is an excellent reference guide. To order a copy, you’ll need to visit the order form on ConsumerAction.gov and provide a mailing address.
  3. Investing Basics: This is another government publication. It’s actually a set of several publications to help readers create financial plans and begin investing. If you’re hazy on the details of investing, this kit is a great starter set. And its price tag is much less than investing programs costing hundreds of dollars for essentially the same information. You can order Investing Basics online through the GSA’s order form.
  4. Easy Weekend Projects: Interested in do-it-yourself projects? Minwax, the makers of wood stain and various related products, offer a free guide to projects you can do yourself. It’s a little heavy on the wood-based projects, but there is plenty of useful information. You can order Easy Weekend Projects through Minwax’s online order form. They also offer up a variety of other publications, including Wood Beautiful Magazine and the Guide to Hardwood Floor Care.
  5. Genealogy Publications: If you’re interested in researching your family tree, the National Archives have made a whole list of publications, from booklets like Using Records in the National Archives for Genealogical Research to reference materials like Chinese Immigration and Chinese in the United States. A full list of the free publications available through the National Archives is available on their website. Unfortunately, you can’t place a request online — you’ll need to call the National Archives by telephone or through the mail.
  6. IRS Publications: The IRS will provide the majority of both their forms and their publications in print, as well as in PDF. To order copies of any of their publications, you will need the publication number. A few key publications are 334 (Tax Guide for Small Business), 505 (Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax), 5 (Your Appeal Rights and How to Prepare a Protest) and 910 (Guide to Free Tax Services). There are literally thousands of IRS publications, and as long as you know the number, you can order up to 10 publications to have mailed to you through the IRS’ online order form.
  7. Tourism materials: Every state, as well as quite a few countries, will mail you books, brochures and other publications about their location and the tourism opportunities. There’s no need to buy guidebooks or maps — just look up the local tourism board and request the materials. Many have online request forms, although a few will ask you to call to place a request. Some cities offer the same service. If you’re requesting books from overseas, be aware that you may be asked to pay shipping.

Most of these organizations make their publications available as PDFs, as well. They also have an even wider selection of free publications available for download, as do hundreds of other websites. The FDA, for instance, makes many internal publications available as free downloads. While their Industry Guidance documents may not appeal to everyone, their consumer publications, which range from recommendations for dietary supplements to fact sheets on precautions to take when applying eye cosmetcis, can be excellent reference materials. And if you’re willing to pay for shipping, you can get many more free hard copies.

One thing to keep in mind about free publications, though, is that you may get what you pay for. While I personally trust the U.S. government’s recommendations about consumer protection, I’m a little more leary of Minwax’s recommendations of their own product over all others. That doesn’t make Minwax’s publications unrealible — they just should be taken with a grain of salt.

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