The book world can be full of snobbery. BookTube videos will tell us that if we can afford to pay for internet we can afford to buy every book we read. Never mind that the books I read per month are worth more than the price of my internet bill. But this is part of an attitude that overflows with blind privilege and callousness. Many of us on tight budgets can’t afford to buy every, or even any, book that we read. Or we don’t have the space to keep them. Or we don’t have access to good bookstores. Or other circumstances that prevent us from living up to this bookish ideal. And that is okay. It is okay to read and love books in a way that fits your personal economic and social circumstances. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a jerk.
First let’s talk about libraries, the most obvious port of call when looking at reading on a budget. If you live within easy access of a public library, they can be an absolute lifeline. While homeless, I found that libraries are warm, dry, comfortable, free places to go. [This is also useful if you don’t have heating/air-conditioning in your home]. I could use their electricity for free to charge my phone. There is access to free WiFi and computers and a quiet place to study or relax. Many libraries also offer classes for adults and activities for children. And then there’s all the books, audiobooks, music, DVD’s, games, newspapers to read, borrow, and play for free or a very low fee.
If the public library isn’t accessible for you, or you want more choice, there are other options.
– If you (or your children, or your partner, etc.) are in school or college, make use of the library there if possible.
– Local churches and community centres often have their own libraries. There may also be Little Free Libraries in your area.
– Charity shops/thrift stores and used bookstores are one of the best places to buy books on a tight budget. These are good not only for recent paperbacks, but also the chance to find some antique books at very low prices.
– Many charity shops/thrift stores offer audiobooks for sale on cassette that are very cheap. Even including the price of a cassette player, this may be cheaper than buying digital.
– Budget grocery stores and pound/dollar stores may also sell books. The choice is usually limited, but this can be a good place to buy children’s picture books.
If you have access to a computer or smartphone, then free public domain ebooks and audiobooks may be a good option. But read here for more on difficulties accessing ebooks for poor kids.
– Shared computers or limited internet may prevent you from downloading books. Classic Reader allows you to read online without downloading anything.
– Free trials for sites such as Audible can provide you with a couple of books with a far wider choice. If you or your family have more than one email account between you, that works out to more free trials. But remember to cancel your subscription at the end of the free trial.
– Finally, it’s not free, but many of my own ebooks and audiobooks have come from Humble Bundle. Money goes to charity and you often pay less than a tenth of RRP.
Editor’s note: here’s a recent round-up of 15 places to find free books online, legally.