Last fall, I talked about the cost-per-entertainment-hour for books, and how most of us probably use some strategies for keeping our overall book spending within limits, whether we do it consciously or not. Today, I’m going to talk about some of the strategies you can use to stay within your book budget, no matter how large or small it is.
1. Use your library
The absolute best and easiest way to read or listen to books without spending a penny is to borrow them from the library. Libraries usually have the big-name authors and popular releases (though you may have to put your name on hold for them.) These days, libraries also carry audiobooks in both CD and digital formats, and usually partner with one or more ebook-lending services to offer ebooks as well. If your library doesn’t have the book you want, you may be able to request it through ILL (inter-library loan); you’ll pay a small fee to cover shipping. And many libraries will take requests or suggestions for books they should purchase.
If the library nearest you is small and doesn’t have a great selection, or neglects your favorite genre(s), see whether you can use the library system in a neighboring county or city, usually for a fee. I pay $35 a year to use a regional library system that encompasses the nearest city and at least three neighboring counties. (Our county is the only one in the region that doesn’t participate.) Believe me, it’s been worth every penny.
A bonus of using the library is that the more patrons use it, and the more books they check out, the better the library’s chances of getting funding.
2. Little Free Libraries
LFLs are, well, tiny free libraries. Actually, they’re not exactly libraries. You don’t check the book out; you can just take it. Good manners strongly suggest you either bring it back or put a different book in its place. You’ll find Little Free Libraries in unexpected places.
3. Borrow from friends
Again, this costs you nothing—and it gives you at least one other person you can discuss the book with. Of course, you should use good borrowing etiquette: Don’t damage the book, use a bookmark, remove the dust jacket and use a book cover for a treasured book, and don’t keep it indefinitely—about the length of a library loan, if possible. Also, offer to replace it if something happens to it despite your precautions.
4. Free and bargain ebooks
There are tons of free ebooks out there. They range in quality from good to abysmal. By quality, I refer to either the literary quality or the proof-reading and formatting—frequently all three. It’s very much a caveat emptor situation. That said, it’s worth looking, and also signing up for email alerts from various services that will tell you when a book or author goes on sale. Check out my 2015 post on finding free and bargain ebooks.
5. Trade your books
There are several websites that let you list and trade your books. You pay for what you ship; sending out books usually gets you credits toward the books you want. Some brick-and-mortar used-book stores also let you bring books in for credit. Generally, you’ll have to bring in 2 books to cover the cost of buying 1, but it varies from store to store.
- Paperback Swap is the best-known of the online swap sites. Despite its name, it’s not limited to paperbacks; they also list hardcovers, audiobooks, and even textbooks. There are three levels of membership, from Unenrolled (pay a swap fee for each items) to Standard ($20 per year, unlimited items without swap fees.)
- BookMooch is another online swap site which allows worldwide trading (foreign “mooches” cost more points.) The site is free to use.
6. Buy used books
Check out library book sales, yard sales, thrift stores, used bookstores, and online used book retailers (see list below.) You’ll find the best bargains at library book sales, yard sales, and thrift stores, but may not have what you’re looking for. A good used bookstore will keep a record of what you’re looking for and call you if they get something in. And if you really need to have that book soonest, you can almost certainly find it online at one of the following:
- AbeBooks is a site where book dealers can list and sell their used and rare books and audiobooks. It’s a great place to look for out-of-print or unusual books; I’ve found hardcover copies of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess with the Tasha Tudor illustrations, and even the fairly unknown book written about my father’s antinuclear protest voyage in the 1950s signed by the author, who captained the boat. (I’m going to get my dad to sign it, too.) Shipping fees vary with the seller, but AbeBooks lists books from sellers in the UK as well as the US.
- Alibris lets both professional and “casual” booksellers list books (for a fee.) Their listings include both recent bestsellers and rare books (mostly the former), along with (nondigital) audiobooks, music, and movies. Some items ship for free.
- Amazon has a lot of used books and used audibook CDs available also, sold by “Amazon sellers” through the Amazon interface. Just search and click on the title, then look at the editions under “Hardcover” or “Paperback”, where you should see something like “6 used from $1.25“. Click that link, and choose the one you want to order. Some are warehoused with Amazon and available with Prime shipping, but for most, you’ll pay a flat shipping fee (usually US $3.99.)
- Biblio is much like AbeBooks, with focus on rare and out-of-print titles and a socially-conscious twist: they have built and stocked public libraries in Bolivia, and they buy carbon offsets. I haven’t used Biblio yet, but I intend to check next time I’m looking for an out-of-print or unusual title.
- Half.com is owned by eBay, but it’s strictly a buy-it-now site. It’s a good place to look for textbooks—and you can even rent them! You can also find recent books, music, games, and movies here.
- Thrift Books buys, sorts and grades, warehouses and resells millions of used books for reasonable prices. And they donate or recycle what they can’t resell, keeping it out of landfills. Plus, at $10 you get free shipping within the US. This is definitely one to check.
7. Buy at a discount
Retailers often discount popular or best-selling books by 10% to 20% in order to entice customers. Amazon discounts quite a few of their titles. Books at Walmart and Target are often sold below the cover price, even the brand-new and best-selling titles. Many stores and websites also sell remaindered or “bargain” books: books which the publisher printed too many of, and is trying to sell off. Look for remaindered books at big chains like Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million, and at cut-price clubs like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s.
So there you have it! Seven ways to save money and still read the books you crave.