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February 19, 2007

I came upon this advice: “10 ways to save money on books.” The website is called “,” which offers more than just get-rich-slowly schemes. In the least, it’s about frugality.

The “ten ways” distill down to a few bits of advice: (i) buy cheap, (ii) buy only what you want and, even then, only what you intend to read, (iii) use the Internet, either for content or finding cheap books, and (iv) use your public library.

Buying cheap is easy, if you don’t mind waiting. The author advises not buying new releases and points out that you can build a fine library cheaply if you wait. I guess it depends what you want out of books. Many people want to read what’s new. It’s one way we participate in, and stay in touch with, our culture.

It’s like any other market. A library patron once expressed amazement at what we pay for books and thought we should save money in much the way suggested above (although I notice that he first goes to the library’s New Book Shelf, too).

We buy most of our books new but at substantial discount. Buying cheap means exploring used book stores (such as The Book Haven and All Booked Up), thrift stores (such as Caring and Sharing), garage sales (such as the thousands that happen here every year), library book sales (we have two per year: around Halloween and beginning of May), and online sellers.

He even advocates getting classic literature for free online from the Gutenberg Project … which is a great website, and the oldest collection of online books, but it’s a tough way to read “War and Peace.”

If you live an online life, there are some interesting book trading sites: TitleTrader, PaperBackSwap, Bookins, and Bookswim (which is more a Netflix for books). Each works a little differently.

If you don’t know exactly what you want, it’s nice to be able to browse, pick up a book, and examine it. Libraries and bookstores are perfect for that. However, in a bookstore, you might be seduced into buying something you don’t “need.”

Sometimes, though, you just have to own a particular book. You want it at hand to consult or re-read at your convenience. Or, it’s such a lovely thing that you simply most own it. Or, you don’t like holding books heavily used by the public … a not uncommon sentiment.

There are other reasons. I’d already read Kathleen Lee’s “Travel among men,” but I bought a copy of this neglected book as a gesture of thanks. It made a nice gift.

In the interest of full disclosure, note that the author of this advice spent $3,000 on books in 2003; got it down to $700 last year. Booksellers dream of a town full of such bookbuyers.

The author really started using his public library once he discovered the joys of the library’s website and online catalog, through which he could place holds. More and more of our users are doing the same.

But he also said: “I keep those books out for what seems like forever. My library system lets me renew for nearly six months! I believe that every smart, frugal person should make active use of her public library.”

You can forget about six months, though. We allow two renewals (if nobody else is waiting for the book), for a total of 9 weeks, but then the book must come back for the next frugal reader.


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