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Where to Buy Cheap Books and Save Money

By Jacqueline Curtis

woman reading bookI’m always getting in trouble at home because my book collection has slowly outgrown its designated bookshelf, and now also resides in my office, beside my bed, and tucked away in just about every nook and cranny. It’s an addiction I can’t curb, as reading is my favorite way to relax after a stressful day. And because I’m an avid reader, I want to foster a love of books in my children. They have a bookcase packed with all of my favorite childhood authors, and we read together every night.

Before I had children, heading to the bookstore was something to do on a Friday night. I could peruse the shelves and check out the latest releases, not concerned if I had to pay $20 for a paperback. But since then, I’ve become much smarter about buying books for less. Getting better deals means I can buy more for both myself and my kids.

Buying Bargain Books

Literacy and a love of reading is important, so having books available in your home is a great idea. However, you might not have the $18 a pop that it costs to build your library from scratch. Luckily, there are a number of ways you can have books on your shelves and keep money in your pocket as well.

1. Buy Used
Used books are perfect because they are cheap and typically in good shape. Though I frequent a local bookstore to try and support small business, I also love sites such as Half.com and BetterWorldBooks.com. Buying secondhand books in a lot or group often nets the best discounts, so don’t be afraid to load up!

When buying used books, be sure you check the condition. “Like new” means that the book looks close to store-shelf condition. “Very good condition” typically means that a book only shows light signs of being read, while “good” probably means that the book is readable, but there might be some marking inside. Well-worn conditions can add to the charm of a used book, but if you prefer newer editions, look for “like new” or “very good” books.

2. Buy From School
Remember Scholastic book orders from when you were a kid? They’re still around.

Because Scholastic gives discounts for bulk orders, there’s a good chance that your child’s class still has Scholastic catalogs available. The books often sell for very cheap prices, especially when there’s a “featured” book for a dollar or two on the front page of the catalog. It’s a great way to help build up your child’s library without breaking the bank. Plus, it’s a good incentive for allowance, chores, or good behavior. I let my daughter pick out a few books each month, and it’s always fun when she brings home a few new stories to read together.

family reading book

3. Check Out Garage Sales
Garages sales are a goldmine when it comes to books. Some people simply aren’t sentimental about the books they or their children read, so when they’re done, the books are sold for cheap. To get the most bang for your buck, look for a garage sale that allows you to purchase books in bulks, such as five for $1.

4. Read e-Books
You can use your smartphone as a way to snag free and cheap books from a variety of different e-book vendors. Whether you use iBooks, Kindle, or Kobo, you can download e-books directly to your smartphone or e-reader device. While new releases from high profile authors can be pricey, most e-book apps also offer free classics and cheaper books from lesser-known authors. You can even rent or borrow e-books to save even more. Load up your e-reader and you’ll never be bored in a waiting room again.

Final Word

I still love a trip to the bookstore, and I think it’s important to support new authors and small businesses by buying books at full price every now and then. But when I’m building up my summer reading list or grabbing classics for my own collection, I usually look for used editions or search for the best deal through swaps and garage sales. The words are the same whether or not you buy a book at full price, so it makes sense to stock your shelves with books that have been well-loved before, or are less expensive versions of what’s available in stores. No matter the means, making books accessible in your home can foster a greater love of reading for your entire family.

What other tips can you suggest to find books for cheap?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Jacqueline Curtis
Jacqueline Curtis is an experienced style expert, and she focuses on getting high fashion on a tight budget. She writes for several online publications, including her own fashion blog, How Not to Dress Like a Mom, and specializes in fashion, finance, health and fitness, and parenting. Jae grew up in Toronto, Canada, but now resides in Utah with her husband, two kids, and prized shoe collection.

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  • Winston C

    I am an avid reader, but I rarely buy books. I don’t mind waiting for couple months when new books are available in my local library. And one of the best feature about my local library is that it is connected with other libraries in the same county. So my local library doesn’t have a particular book, I can request it online. And that book will arrive to my local library, without any additional charges. And another good feature is that it even offer free e-books. Since they only started this e-books thing, the collection is limited.

    • http://madsaver.com Mac

      I do the same. In Minnesota at least, we can request books from any library in the county to be shipped to our closest library for pickup. If I need a book immediately, I can make the trek to the library that has it and return it to ANY library in the state.

      • Winston C

        This option is only possible thanks to a lot of local volunteers. I have volunteered at my local library for a while now. And one of the benefits is that I get to be first in line when new releases are available. And also while checking in books, I can also discover new books to read. :)

        • http://madsaver.com Mac

          Really? Didn’t know that. Well, thank you for doing your part to make it easier to use the library! :) Definitely appreciate it.
          I am lately rediscovering our local library system for computer books…I can’t believe how expensive they are @ full price!

  • http://thefrugallawyer.com Danielle

    There are a couple of authors that I really love and I will buy their new releases. The same goes for several of my friends. Fortunately, we all like different authors. This creates a great borrowing circle. One of the friends in this circle is 2500 miles away and we send each other books through media mail. At $2.50 or so for the postage, it is still much cheaper than paying full price. (Since I live in Vegas, the wait can be a really long time and I do get impatient for a new Sedaris or Weiner.) That system has worked really well for us.

    • http://www.fatwallet.com Laura Pagles

      My friends and I do the same. It’s worked out to be an almost foolproof approach to never buying a bad read.

      I keep an eye on our forums so I don’t miss cheap magazine subscriptions. Recent scores include (12 month) National Geographic for $10, Vegetarian Times and Spin for under $4 each.

      Laura Pagles
      @fatwallet

  • Donna

    I only wish I had discovered inter-library loan sooner! I would have saved tons of cash. When I am interested in a book, I always go to the inter-library internet site first. I have found all the books requested except one time. Also, a few sites have special deals to promote magazines my small library does not carry. I recently snagged a one year subscription to Real Simple for $5! It pays to wait and research. I also do one more thing. When I take my recycling to the local waste hauler, I do admit to digging through the bins to find magazines. Hey, they are free!

  • peg

    After I discovered interlibrary requests/loans, I stopped buying books. Love my public library. But I also like the “swap market” community for some of those online vendors you noted in your article. In particular, I think paperbackswap has a great following. Bookmooch seems to have better selection but the interface is not as friendly. As for magazines, it seems everyone is trying to get rid of them. Luckily, people at work bring them in and leave them in the common area for people to take/read at will. If I were more ambitious, I might try to arrange some sort of free bookshelf area in the office for people to trade books (but since this is a rather conservative company, I think the CEO would frown on having a “library” on display in our office)

  • Lauren

    This article came just in time! I had to curb my book buying because it was getting too expensive. I’ve always used my library but I would still buy the books that my library didn’t have. Another great things about my library is their book sales. My library has 2 books sales a year but I prefer the spring sale. On the last day, all the books are 75% off from the original sale price, so you can get a hardback book in excellent condition for less than a dollar.

  • Jenni

    I’m not a fan of the library, but I do like Paperbackswap.com. The downside is that books posted there are usually older or not as popular, although that has led me to some GREAT finds I never would have tried otherwise!

    PBS now has a ‘marketplace’ where you can buy some books for a few bucks and one of your credits. Very convenient and so much cheaper than the bookstore!

  • gina

    I definitely use the library to read books. I have also recently been looking out for special offers on Amazon for nearly free magazines and have scored a few great deals!

    • Sally Aquire

      I’ve not seen those offers on Amazon before so I’ll have to have a look. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  • Emily D.

    I love our library. It’s connected to a couple of different library systems so I can find almost everything. I especially like checking out their cookbooks, since many times all I do is look at the pictures. My town’s Friends of the Public Library has a great used bookstore. You can find all sorts of books for really cheap. I usually stock up before a trip and just leave books in airports as I finish them. For magazines, coordinating with friends works great (provided you have similar taste). You can each subscribe to one magazine and trade. The only time I buy books is as a gift for others.

  • http://www.yourfinances101.com/blog David/Yourfinances101

    Don’t forget Amazon if you collect the books you read.

    You can get tons of books for a penny (plus $2.99 shipping).

  • Winston C

    Oh by the way, I forgot to mention that there is a magazine exchange stand in my local library. They are mostly for women: cooking, fashion, etc. But occasionally I do find what I am looking for.

  • http://www.toxic-shock.blogspot.com Shock

    When this topic comes up, everybody seems to forgot the cost of gas to travel to the library. When referring to book swaps, the author says “…This isn’t strictly free, because you’ll need to pay the postage…” The same argument can be made for a short trip to the library. Postage is relatively cheap and so is gas on a short trip, but it’s still an expense to be factored in.

    • Sally Aquire

      That’s a good point, but the article was intended to discuss how to reduce the cost of books and magazines rather than how to get them for free. Even if you have to pay for gas to get to the library, the fact that the books can be loaned for free usually means that it’s still cheaper than buying those books in a shop, especially if you’re loaning lots of books.

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Another way that hasn’t been mentioned is to pay for a digital subscription to your favorite mag instead. With Zinio, you can do just that and don’t have to worry about losing the mags or storing them. It may not be as relaxing as flipping through the paper version, but it sure is green! http://www.zinio.com

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