I think it’s fair to say I have had a pretty serious book addiction since I first discovered the tongue-twisting delights of Doctor Seuss. Even as an adult, I remained an avid reader, far more tempted to while away the hours with a good book than in front of a game or TV.
On a dollar per hour basis, books can be pretty economical entertainment when compared to movies, concerts, sporting events and other activities. In a world where a single movie ticket easily runs $9 even without popcorn, a $10 book price doesn’t look so bad…if you actually read it.
Like a lot of readers, though, I tend to pick up books faster than I read them. I have a lot of books, and in the past I’ve spent a lot of money just to satisfy that book addiction.
And as much as I love reading, I do understand that books are discretionary, not needs. (Heresy! I can’t believe I just said that!) Since a book addiction gets expensive, I have to do a number of things to save money and still keep myself well-read and entertained on a budget.
The Basics of Taming a Book Addiction
If you have an irresistible urge to get books, there are three things to remember in order to :
- A book that is never opened is not a bargain. I have a lot of books I bought on impulse. Some I paid a premium for, some I got cheaply, and some I got for free. Obviously, the ones I regret picking up the most are the ones that were expensive and sit unused, but even free books take up valuable space in my house. I find that when I get a lot of books at once, usually at least some go unused. If you have a mass of poor lonely books that languish on your shelves forever, try slowing down your acquisitions.
- You will usually save money if you are willing to wait. Books, like games and movies, are often priced at a premium when they first come out. Books that have been available for a while tend to drop in price over time as new editions or new printings emerge, as books are remaindered, as books are bought by libraries, and as used books come on the market. Popular bestsellers are often extremely common and cheap after their popularity has waned a bit.If there’s a book you really really want to read, you may be able to save money or even find a free copy by waiting.
- You will usually pay more if you want specific reading material than if you just want a good read. Closely connected to #2, someone who just wants to find something entertaining or informative to read can generally find something that costs little or nothing, because there are so many sources of free and cheap books. If you want to find something specific, though, you may have to pay a premium, especially if you aren’t willing to wait.
Most of the ways I have found to feed my book addiction without going broke take advantage of these three factors. If you don’t spend money on books you don’t read, if you’re willing to wait to read popular titles, and if you are willing to be flexible with your selections, you will never run out of good reading material while remaining well inside your budget.
Read Your Stash
See my first point above. If you read a lot, you probably have a lot of books you haven’t gotten around to reading yet. Maybe you were given books as gifts. Maybe you bought books with an armful of other books, and forgot all about them. Maybe you read the beginnings of books, only to have them shoved into a corner when more compelling titles came along. Maybe you even bought them with the intention of reading them “someday.” Let “someday” happen. You’ve already spent the money to read the book, so take advantage and explore the depths of your collection for hidden gems. At least when you finish the book you’ll know whether it’s a keeper.
Re-Read your Stash:
If you’re like me, you also have books that you read a decade or three ago and have forgotten most of the plot, all of the details, and the name of every character. I have a lot of books around that I know I enjoyed but don’t particularly remember very well. Sometimes rereading a book can cause you to question the tastes of your younger self, but not always. Rereading books at a different time of life can bring new insights and a new experience. Rereading books can also be like visiting old friends, bringing back warm memories of the first time you paged through.
Check Out Books (From the Library)
We go to the library all of the time to pick out books for my daughter. It’s a great source of books, especially for a kid who’s still primarily working through picture books that take 15-20 minutes a piece to read.
It’s rare, though, for me to cruise the library stacks for my own entertainment. Not because I have anything against reading library books, but because I can download books from my library account onto my Kindle. I can get e-books from the library anytime, anywhere, and never have to worry about incurring a late fee. The books are automatically returned. It’s extremely convenient.
The library selection is a little limited, and you might have to wait a few months to get a turn at more popular and newer titles, but I’ve found a lot of good reading material by perusing the local library’s downloadable options.
Borrow from Friends
Book people love to talk books, so friends can often be good sources of reading material. Not only are they willing to share and discuss their favorites, but generous friends have often passed on books they’ve finished and recommended.
The only caveat I have with borrowing books is that I would recommend talking to your friend about whether and when they want the book back. If your friend expects you to return the book in a few weeks, then you’ll need to take care to do so promptly and in good condition, lest you lose a friend.
Hold a Book Swap
One thing about being a book lover you find you make a lot of friends who have a similar book addiction. f you have a bunch of bookish friends, try organizing a book swap party. Have everyone bring 5-6 books they enjoyed but don’t want to keep and let everyone pick out the ones that interest them. It’s an excuse to get together and talk books, and the leftover volumes can always get donated to a charity thrift shop.
Have you ever been tempted by a well-written book description only to find that you absolutely hate the book? One of the best ways I’ve found to avoid paying for unwanted books is to download a sample first. Generally, Amazon will let you read a free sample of a chapter or so before you buy to decide if a book is worth the price. The sample may not be huge, especially for nonfiction books, where you may only get a preface or introduction. It’s generally enough to tell you whether you enjoy the author’s writing style, though, and can help you avoid truly awful books.
Shop the Discount E-Book Lists
And this is why you need the samples. I check the daily and monthly Kindle bargains on a regular basis, and Bookbub sends me emails every day. If I get too caught up on the price (“Only $1.99!) I can end up spending money on books I don’t read. That’s still money wasted. Sometimes, though, browsing the sales pays off.
I find free books in my areas of interest. I find bargains on books I’ve wanted for a long time but haven’t bought. I’ve found books that friends have recommended. I find books I’ve never heard of but that are absolutely fantastic.
I’ve found all of these things by taking 2 minutes to browse the sales list. Used judiciously, the discount e-book lists can save a lot of money.
Get Advance Reader’s Copies (ARCs)
I used to get Advance Reader’s Copies in exchange for doing reviews of books that were about to come out on Library Thing. I stopped participating in the program when my daughter was born, but you can still get free books from various sources if you are willing to read them in a timely fashion and write a review or give feedback to the author and/or publisher. Sometimes the books are good, sometimes they’re bad. Just stick to the terms of your agreement, and the books will keep coming.
Since my daughter was born, I’ve developed a strong preference for reading e-books over paper. This is mostly because my reading time windows are much shorter, and I don’t want to waste time trying to pick up where I left off. Unfortunately, that preference has really reduced the amount of money I used to save by buying almost all of my books used, and trading my books for new reads.
The nice thing about physical books is that a lot of people don’t really want to keep them after they’ve read them, and reading a book doesn’t usually detract from its ability to be read again. This all adds up to a large supply of used books in the world, and a lot of sources to find them. Used book stores, library book sales, church book sales, second hand shops, web sites, yard sales…the sources are almost endless. Unless you’re looking for the latest best sellers, you can find a near infinite variety of titles and topics used.
When you go into a Barnes and Nobles, you see all of those books up front with really low prices. Those are remainders, books where supply outstrips demand. You can find good deals on picture books, book kits and former best sellers.I don’t use this often, but I’ve found some nice gifts and kids books amongst the remainder stock, and find it’s generally worth a look if I’m browsing in a new book store..
Use All Amazon Prime Benefits
I’m an Amazon prime member, which provides a ton of benefits. Music streaming, movie streaming, free 2 Day shipping…and 2 free e- books a month. While I’m not sure I would pick up Prime just for the e-book benefits, they are a nice add on if you already have the service. If you are a Prime member, you can select a book a month from the curated Kindle First list of 4-8 new releases, and you can borrow a book a month from the Amazon Prime Lender’s Library.
I admit that sometimes the Kindle First books just sit unread on my electronic stash, but I’ve also picked up some great titles that I otherwise would not have found. There’s also a bunch of titles in the Lending Library to sort through to find the good stuff, but there are some gems I’ve enjoyed. For instance, I’ve been going through Michael Lewis’s books, and just finished Liar’s Poker. Next up: The Big Short.
And One I Don’t Use: Have an E-Book Subscription
For a base price each month of $9-$10, you can subscribe to Kindle Unlimited or Scribd. (Oyster, one of the other well-known book subscription services, is shutting down). I haven’t actually used one of these services, because thanks to the other sources of feeding my book addiction, I’m not spending the $10 a month on e-books that I’d have to be saving to make it worth the cost. From what I’ve seen, a lot of my favorite authors aren’t with either program. The two services appear to have very different lists of available titles.
Obviously, I don’t think this is a good deal for me, and probably not for most people who only read a book a week or so. If you have a serious e-book addiction, then an e-book subscription might save you money. You can get a free trial (30 days for Amazon, 14 for Scribd). to see if it’s a money saver or a money sink, and it’s probably a good idea to give the selections a long hard look and a trial run before spending your money.
Do you have a book addiction? What are your favorite ways to save money on reading material?