Over the last several weeks, I’ve offered up money-saving guides to two of my primary hobbies – board/card games and home brewing. Today, I’m going to tackle the third leg of my trifecta of leisure time – reading.
Reading fiction and non-fiction books has been a major part of my life almost since I can remember. I remember reading The Lord of the Rings in sixth grade and The Hobbit earlier than that, and there are pictures of me reading things like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe during my elementary school years. I also had an early love of reading nonfiction, gulping down an entire series of presidential biographies during the summer between sixth and seventh grade.
That passion never really stopped. While I do go through phases where I read more and read less – usually connected to how intense other elements of my life happen to be at the moment – a day doesn’t go by when I don’t read at least a chapter or two in one book or another. On days that afford me the opportunity, I’ve been known to read an entire book in one sitting.
Books afford me an opportunity to exercise my imagination. They allow me to see the world from the perspective of others. They also teach me things and give me a deeper understanding of a topic on which my understanding may have once been pretty shallow. Books have given me knowledge, empathy, creativity, and awareness all while being constantly entertained. They have been an invaluable part of my life.
They’ve also been an expensive part of my life. Over the years, I’ve spent literally thousands – and probably tens of thousands – of dollars on books. I have entire shelves full of books and I’ve given away or sold hundreds upon hundreds of them. No matter how I acquired them, that cost adds up.
Over the last several years, I’ve learned how to mitigate that cost without taking away the joy of reading. I still have the opportunity and the joy to sit down with a book that excites me and get lost in the pages, but I no longer shell out nearly as much cash for that pleasure. Here are ten strategies I use to pull off that trick.
Use the Library
This is the number one strategy for saving money on books. The library is simply a building full of free books. It’s like a book store where every book has a “free” price tag on it. All you have to do is bring the book back in a few weeks, by which point you should have read it.
Libraries feature shelf after shelf after shelf on whatever nonfiction topic or fictional genre you might be interested in, from light fiction to incredibly deep literature and fron children’s books to incredibly complex nonfiction and everything in between. They have old classics, undiscovered gems, and the latest releases. All you have to do is browse the shelves to find a huge pile of books perfect for you – and if they don’t have it, all you have to do is ask and they can likely get you a copy via interlibrary loan.
One of my favorite things to do is to simply slowly wander through a section of the library that I’m interested in at the moment – maybe I’ll walk by the philosophy shelves or the science fiction section. I know that whenever I see something interesting, I can pull it off the shelf and take it home with me – and it costs me nothing at all.
Libraries are simply an enormous smorgasbord of books of every variety and type – and they’re all free for the taking. All you have to do is substitute the library for most of your stops at the book store.
Use Your Library’s Online Reservation System (If Available)
But what do you do if your usual book store is Amazon or another online retailer? Most libraries have you covered there as well. Many libraries have an online catalog and online reservation system that allows you to browse through their book collection no matter where you’re at, and most of those libraries have a system that allows you to reserve books with just a click. Those books are held for you at the library where you can pick them up at the front desk or, in larger libraries, the reservation desk.
The experience actually feels a lot like shopping at Amazon, except that every book has the same price – free. My local library has the equivalent of a “buy it now” button on the page for every single book that’s in circulation there. Just click it once and they’ll hold the book for you. If it’s a popular book, there might be a waiting list, but they’ll send you an email as soon as you’re at the top of the list and a book is being held for you.
This simple system has allowed me to pick out my books well in advance of a library stop so that I could just park by the door, dash in, pick up my reservations, and leave. It’s also enabled me to get on the reservation list for popular books when I hear about them and, in a few cases, has allowed me to have hot new releases in my hands the day the book comes out.
Get Involved in Additional Programs from the Library
Libraries aren’t just a place where you grab books and run away to your favorite reading chair. They offer other opportunities for enjoying books as well and those opportunities don’t cost a thing.
At my library, they often have readings and question-and-answer sessions with authors. I’ve even done a couple of them at various libraries myself. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about a writer and the books he or she writes and that can often lead you to walk right out of that reading and check out some of that author’s works.
They also have several different book clubs that meet weekly to discuss books and have a new selection each month. At larger libraries, there are often clubs for specific literary genres and specific types of nonfiction books, meaning you can find a reading group for whatever whets your whistle.
Not only do these services encourage you to read more, they also add a social dynamic to reading that might not otherwise exist.
Swap Books with Friends
So let’s step away from the library for a while. What else can you do to save money on books?
One of my favorite strategies is to simply swap books with my friends, many of whom are avid readers themselves. We often scour each other’s bookshelves for new releases and we inform each other of anything good that one of us reads and also happens to own so that others can borrow those books.
The nice part about borrowing from a friend? You know that friend has already read the book, so you have someone to talk to about the book after you’ve finished reading it – and not someone who hasn’t read it and has no interest and is just being polite. You have a friend with a shared interest who has read the same book.
It has reached the point where I look at the bookshelves of my closest friends as a lending library of sorts – and they look at my shelves in the same way. I can’t even count the number of books that have been passed around my social circle in the past few years alone, but that number has been enormous. Not only has that swapping been a source for great reading material, it’s also helped to cement friendships and enabled fans of the same book to joyfully exchange their sentiments about the book to fellow fans.
‘Borrow’ Books from Your Own Shelves
Even after purging my book collection a few times, I still have several shelves full of books – books I use for reference, at least in part, but also a bunch of books that I simply love.
Whenever I’m wanting to start a new book, one of the best places for me to look is at my own shelves. Why? Because those shelves contain some of my favorite books ever and, almost every time, at least a few of them call out to me to be re-read. I want to pick one of them up, sit down with it, and get lost in that world of ideas or imagination (or both) once again.
I tend to hang onto books that I know I’ll read again for this very purpose, so that when I look at my shelves, it’s almost like a shopping trip where I’m picking out my next great read. (I trade away or sell off the others.)
There’s also usually several “new to me” books sitting on my shelves as well. These books were picked up using some of the other means mentioned on this list, but even at those cheap rates I’ll sometimes accumulate books as fast as (or faster than) I can read them, which means I have a pile of books that are unread and particularly interesting to me to choose from for my next read.
Visit Secondhand Book Stores
Secondhand book stores are interesting places to shop. They tend to be mostly full of strange used books, older editions of familiar items, and lots of pulp fiction.
But that’s not why I go to those stores.
I go because I’ll almost always find a few unexpected gems that really appeal to me somewhere on those shelves. The trick is finding those gems. It takes time because the books are often organized in an eccentric fashion, which means that I’m often relying on serendipity and patience to find those interesting books that I know are hidden away somewhere on those shelves.
I also go because the prices on used books at such used book stores are incredibly low. My wallet loves being able to pay just a few dollars for a great used book, which is an experience I get almost every single time that I stop at a used book store.
Don’t overlook used bookstores. Photo: Ian Collins