Our Reading Lives

How I Sustain My Reading Habit on a Tight Budget

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Jen Connic

Staff Writer

Jen has more books than she'll ever read. A seasoned journalist, she has fought against fake news at Storyful, wrote snappy social media posts for NJ.com and helped launch the Patch local news network. She loves good stories, doesn't matter the genre and can't stop watching true crime shows on Netflix. Jen always believes the Mets will win this year and that Dave Grohl is a national treasure.

I’ve had to think about everything I spend money on these days, because I lost my full-time job last summer. I question if I can make my jeans last a little bit longer and analyze every sales ad to save money on my groceries.

My book habit, though, has been one of the hardest parts of my budget decisions.

If you looked around my apartment, you’d question just how many more books I really need. I have piles of books everywhere. There’s the overflowing shelf of “to read” books in my living room. Piles of books fill and surround my nightstand. A pile of books hasn’t yet found a home because I recently purchased them. That’s not to mention the library book pile.

Reading is important to me, especially during stressful times, as it helps ease my anxiety and depression. I also say in order to be a good writer you have to be a good reader. I’m always reading multiple books at once (I’m currently actively reading four books). And there’s just some comfort with the books on my shelves, something I can browse on my own time and read whenever I want.

So I’ve had to find ways to sustain my book addiction during these tight budget times. Some of these suggestions are things I’ve been doing already; I’m just doing it more now.

Library Book Shelf

Use Your Library Card

Your library has tons of books just waiting for you to check them out. If it’s not on your local branch’s shelves, there’s probably an interlibrary loan system that will get you the book in a few days. When I search my library’s catalog, I’m looking at every book in Westchester County and can put a hold on any of them.

My library card has gotten more of a workout in recent months than it has in the four years since I moved to my current city. It’s helped with the “I don’t know if I want to read this book” conundrum. I’ve also felt better about abandoning a book when I’ve borrowed it from the library.

It might be harder to get your hands on a copy of a book you want to read because you need to borrow it via interlibrary loan. There also may be a waiting list, like when I requested The Library Book (though the wait was shorter than I anticipated).

You’re also going to have to read a borrowed book right now as you have limited time with it. New books at my library can only be checked out for 14 days without any renewals.

Libraries are important parts of any community for whole assorted reasons. The basic function of a library, though, is to lend books. If you don’t know what book to pick up, the librarians would be happy to give you some recommendations. Plus, you might find some hidden gems that aren’t on the shelf at your local bookstore anymore.

Consider adding the Library Extension to your browser for when you’re on Amazon. It’ll let you know when the book you’re about to buy is in your local library.

Sell Your Books

I have a rule about visiting The Strand in New York City, the giant independent bookstore where you can lose hours. The bookstore also has a place you can sell your books, and I try to bring several books to sell every time I visit.

There are books I know I’ll never read again. Or there are the ones I’ve started and know I’ll never finish. Selling your books is a good way to rid these books from the bookshelf while also putting some cash in your pocket (to spend on more books, of course).

The Strand will pay you in cash for your books or give you store credit, which is a higher rate. I usually use the store credit because, let’s be honest, I’m going to buy more books with whatever money they give me.

Not every independent bookstore buys back your books, because they already have crowded shelves. Or they may have restrictions. I frequented the Montclair Book Center when I lived in New Jersey, and they only accept larger quantities of books and only by appointment, for example. They offer store credit, too, rather than cash in most cases.

There are also a few places online you can sell your books in case you don’t have the option of a local bookstore.

Hit the Discount Shelves

The Barnes and Noble near where I worked in Midtown Manhattan got rid of its discount shelves, which broke my heart. It’s where I spent a considerable amount of time looking for books I wanted that were now half the original cover price.

My local store, though, still has its discount shelves, and you can get an even deeper discount if you buy several discounted titles. It’s likely a maneuver to get more people into the stores (because the chain’s financial future is in doubt).

Your local independent bookstore may also put some books on sale. One of my local bookstores had a shelf of children’s books marked at 40% off this week.

Then there’s the indie stores that sell used books at a discount, like The Strand and The Montclair Book Center. You can even browse and purchase from The Strand’s used book collection online.

Not to mention The Strand discounts off the list price without having to pay for a membership (looking at you, Barnes & Noble).

Ask Your Friends and Family

How many times have you finished a book and raved to your friends about it? I sometimes offer to loan the book if someone’s interested in reading it after hearing my review. Now, I’ve twisted that offer by asking people to borrow the book after they give me a rave reviews.

I admit I haven’t done this as much as I could, but I have done it with my mom and sister. For years I was passing them books I had finished reading, and now they’re passing me books. We all have differing tastes in books, but there are a few things we all like.

Just Wait

That brand new hardcover books is just screaming at you to buy it. The reviews are brilliant, and your friends are telling you that you must read it.

But have you looked at the list price of a hardcover book? I wanted the Beastie Boys Book when it was released, but then I looked at the list price: $50. Even with store discounts and hunting online, it was just too expensive for me to buy.

If you wait, though, there’s a chance you can score a deal on the book later as it hits discount shelves or it goes on sale.

That’s not to mention waiting for the book to be issued in paperback, which can be at least $10 cheaper. You might have to wait months, if not a year, before the paperback version is released, but it might be worth the wait if you need to buy the book rather than borrow it from your library.