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How to Save Money on Books – 5 Ways to Read More While Spending Less


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Have you ever heard the expression, “Like a kid in a candy store”? That’s exactly how I feel in a bookstore. The sight of all those beautiful new books, glossy-covered and filled with words waiting for me to read them, makes my eyes light up.

Until I look at the price tags, that is. Even paperback novels cost as much as a movie ticket, and the prices for hardcover books and college textbooks are even more staggering. At these prices, if I bought every book I wanted to read, I’d have no money for anything else.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to keep yourself in reading material on a budget.


How to Save Money on Books

Rather than blow my entire paycheck buying books, I’ve learned ways to support my reading habit for less. I’m constantly seeking new sources of cheap and — better still — free books. And over the years, I’ve uncovered some great resources for the bookworm on a budget.


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1. Libraries

For any book lover, a public library is heaven on earth — a whole building full of books anyone can read for free. If you have a good library in your town, a library card is your ticket to every era in history and every world you could ever dream of.

Sadly, not all public libraries are created equal. Some are vast edifices crammed with millions of volumes on every subject, while others are modest buildings housing only a few shelves.

Fortunately, when you borrow books from the library, you’re not limited to what’s in your local branch. Your library card gives you access to more than just the stacks. It’s a passport to your entire library system thanks to old-fashioned cooperation and modern technology.

  • Interlibrary Loan. If your local library is part of a larger system, you can access any book in that system. Your local librarian can search other branches for the title you want and have it shipped to your local branch, where you check it out, read it, and return it.
  • E-Libraries. Even libraries that aren’t part of larger systems can belong to an e-library. That’s a collection of e-books and audiobooks library members can download and stream for a limited time. Search for “e-library near me” or “virtual library near me” or try Open Library

2. E-Books

Digital books are typically cheaper than physical ones. For example, many titles on Amazon also have a Kindle edition available, and those cost less than a printed paperback. For some longer books, the e-book is as little as half the price of the print version. 

E-books have other advantages over physical books too. They don’t take up room on your bookshelves, which are already packed if they’re anything like mine. And you don’t need a dedicated e-reader to view them. Free apps like the Kindle app, the Nook app, Libby, Adobe Digital Editions, and Calibre allow you to read digital books on any portable device.

You can also find digital versions of many books online for free, legally. E-libraries are one major source, but even if your library doesn’t belong to one, there are plenty of other sites to get your book fix.

For example, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the iTunes store offer some free e-books. The book review site Goodreads offers both full-length books and short teasers authors have made available to read online. You can also find over 60,000 public domain works on Project Gutenberg.


3. Audiobooks

Audiobooks give you the freedom to enjoy a good story while keeping your hands free for other tasks. You can listen on the road, in the shower, or while doing chores. Any device that plays digital music, such as a computer, smartphone, or dedicated music player, can play audiobooks.

The biggest provider of audiobooks is Audible, which is owned by Amazon. For a flat monthly fee of $7.95, you get unlimited access to a selected list of audiobooks, podcasts, and Audible Originals (exclusive audio stories created just for Audible). The first month is free. Other audiobook subscription services include Downpour and Scribd.

You can also borrow audiobooks through many e-libraries. For instance, Hoopla is a service that partners with public libraries across the country to provide their patrons digital content, including e-books and audiobooks. 

There are also free recordings of public domain works read by volunteers on Librivox.


4. Used Books

As handy as e-books and audiobooks are, old-fashioned bound books still have a few significant advantages. You can take them everywhere, and they never run out of power. For thrifty readers, the best perk of bound books is that they’re easy to find secondhand at really low prices.

Places you can find used books include:

  • Online Sellers. Large online stores like Amazon or eBay sell secondhand books at bargain prices. You have to pay shipping, but the total cost is still usually half the price of a new book. You can also check out Alibris (good for rare books and textbooks), AbeBooks, and Thrift Books.
  • Used Bookstores. Brick-and-mortar used bookstores usually have smaller selections than online stores. But the price is generally similar since you don’t pay shipping. To find a secondhand bookseller, search the Internet for “used books near me.” If you’re looking for a specific title, search BookFinder.com.
  • Thrift Stores. Most thrift store books cost less than $10, though newer titles and specialty books may cost more. But often, they cost even less. For instance, my local thrift shop has such a large collection they’re practically giving them away. Each volume costs just $0.10, and if you buy two, you get a third one for free.
  • Yard Sales. Garage sales are a mixed bag. You may find a lot of duds. But every so often, you come across a treasure trove. As such, books at a yard sale are always worth a quick look. The prices are usually unbeatable since sellers are trying to clear out clutter. Some sellers even offer bulk discounts.
  • Public Libraries. Public libraries hold book sales to raise funds for public programs. Prices vary, but they’re often a steal. For example, our local library recently sold hardcover books for $1 or $2 each, and many paperbacks were only $0.50. Consult a library’s website or librarian about upcoming sales. You can also check Book Sale Finder.

5. Book Swaps

When you keep buying lots of books at really low prices, you run out of shelf space after a while. That’s why book swaps are a win-win for book junkies. You can clear out your overstuffed shelves, pass along the excess books to other book lovers, and bring home new titles to read and enjoy.

There are several ways to trade with other bookworms.

  • Book-Swap Parties. Get together with friends and bring all your unwanted books. Browse each other’s collections and choose new-to-you books to take home. You can donate leftover books through Freecycle or a library book sale or thrift store.
  • Online Swap Sites. On sites like BookMooch and PaperBack Swap, you give away your books to earn points. Then you can cash them in for other people’s books. You pay to ship your books, and some sites charge a small fee as well. But it’s still far cheaper than buying new books.
  • Little Free Libraries. A Little Free Library is simply a small, book-filled box where anyone can leave a book or pick one up for free. You can find them in people’s yards, public parks, coffee shops, offices, and apartment building lobbies. Check the site to find one near you or start your own.

Final Word

Years ago, I had a nightshirt covered with portraits of famous authors like Walt Whitman and Jane Austen. In the middle was the slogan, “A book lover never goes to bed alone.” It’s funny, but it’s also true. As long as I have a book to take to bed, I never feel alone. I have whole worlds and all the people in them to keep me company.

Being a book lover also means life never gets boring. As long as you have plenty of books, you always have plenty of entertainment or new ideas. And with so many ways to save money on books, you need never lack for books either. Your only problem will be finding the time to read them all.

But if you’re running low, you can start with our favorite personal finance books

Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, "And from that you make a living?" She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.

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