Good Cheap Reads ~ 3 Ways I Read for Less

I was one of those adolescent girls who always had her nose buried in a book. I’d stay up reading until 2 in the morning, because I couldn’t bear to go to sleep without knowing what happened to “my” protagonist.

Ever since my oldest was born, though, I have to confess that my fiction reading has taken a huge nosedive. Instead, I’ve segued into short stories (anyone else have a hard time committing to a full-length novel?) and a whole lot of non-fiction.

Another thing that has changed is how I acquire my books. It used to be — in my pre-Dave Ramsey days — that I’d hear about a book I wanted to read and would just head over to Barnes & Noble to buy the book. I even thought I was hot stuff using my 10% off membership card. Hahahaha.

Now I know the real deal when it comes to good cheap reads. Here are my three favorite ways to save big while still reading when and what I want.

1. The Public Library — The libraries in America. Oh, the libraries. They are definitely on my Top 3 Favorite Things about America list! Now when I hear about a book that sounds interesting, I just mention it to my husband — the library “manager” of our family. He requests it from inter-library loan and a few days later, I’ve got my book! Totally free, for at least three weeks.

2. Paperback Swap — It took me a while to get on the PBS bandwagon, but now that I’m on it… it’s magic! If you don’t know PBS, it’s like a book swap-meet – but virtual. To get starting swapping, you need to:

  • Sign up for a free PBS account
  • List all the books you have at home that you want to get rid of. (They don’t have to be paperback. You can list old coffee table books, kids board books, text books… if it’s a book — or a CD or DVD, for that matter — you can list it!)
  • Get 2 FREE starter credits when you list at least 10 books for swapping.
  • When your book get requested, package it up and mail it off per the directions. When your book is received, you earn another credit.
  • Now here’s the best part: You can also search for books you want to read and request them. If they’re in the system, you can get your book in a matter of days. If they’re not, you have to get on the waitlist — but that’s okay. It gives you more time for your credits to pile up!

I have a shelf full of PBS books that I love and use often. I’ve easily saved over $250, just by passing on something I was going to declutter anyway. As for the few titles that didn’t turn out quite as riveting as I’d expected? I just relisted them on PBS!

3. Amazon — Most of the time, I read my books for FREE from the public library. Sometimes, the book is so impressive, that I want to own it. So, I put it on my PBS list and wait patiently. But sometimes, I need to own the book RIGHT NOW and CAN NOT WAIT. Thanks to Swagbucks and my $5 Amazon gift cards, I don’t have to — I can just order the book. Most of the time for free after giftcards! It doesn’t matter how obscure the title is, odds are I’ll find it at the Amazon Book Store.

Are you a reader? How do you save money on the printed word? (And yes, I know that the future of literacy is all Kindle and iPad. But I’m too old fashioned to give up reading an actual book. What about you?)

This post contains affiliate links. Affiliate links help to support Kosher on a Budget. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.


  1. Library, library, library

    My workplace has a “free book” table. You never know what you might find. Often enough, someone else bought a new best seller and is now ready to pass it on. I get books from the free table, and then, if I don’t like them or don’t have room for them, just put the books back on the free table when I am done. And if I do like them, they are mine forever.

    • That library table at work sounds so cool. The other day, I had an appt for one of my kiddos at the local children’s hospital – and they had out a cart of “free, please take” books. We’ve got children’s book coming out our ears, but that was heartening to see!

  2. This is one of my handful of frugal FAILS. My children have the uncanny ability to hone in on the single object in the house that I need to keep from being unrecognizably schmutzed and/or torn to shreds and then LOCATING AND DESTROYING that object. The last few times I’ve tried reading paper books it has been a losing battle, and reading has turned out to be more frustrating than the pleasure and relaxation of it is worth.

    The only, ONLY way I am ever successful in reading and enjoying a book is with my Kindle app (on my Droid phone.) The book is always with me and there are no pages to damage or shred. I can read if I am nursing the baby in the middle of the night or waiting to pick up the boys from preschool. So I buy all my books on Kindle.

    But! Here’s the problem. I am so so cheap that I’ll “order” the free sample Amazon provides (something like the first chapter) and then grouse so long over shelling out the $9.99 that I ultimately decide not to buy the rest of the book. So there are dozens of books out there that I would have really liked to read, but I wasn’t completely IN LOVE with the first chapter, so I talked myself out of it.

    Hmmm…sounds like I need to do a blog post about this. 😉

  3. As a huge customer of the public libraries my entire life, Ben Franklin is my hero! He has made books available to us all. Plus libraries have videos, music, magazines, kids reading programs, art classes, wireless, and quiet places to sit and work on home-school, grad school, or just to get away and enjoy the air conditioning during a hot summer day. Our short coming – delinquent and lost books and the dreaded library fines. Now I know with e-renewals this should not be as much of an issue as it is with our family. But some how we have lost the vigilance in this area of our “organized” lives. In reviewing the credit card statement one month I noticed a charge for $40+ to the library and was bowled over. I believe it was from a book we had carefully left out in the rain!!! Still the library is our way of life – we go once a week and we try to make it a set day each week so we can always return the books on the day they are due (in case we did not get on-line to renew them). We also do a day of home-school there and it is a good change of location for our kids.

    • Love that you homeschool there, too! We also have lost books / DVDs on rare occasion. But mostly Frankie stays on top of it, thank G-d, since I’m about tapped out for my ability to keep track of things these days (I’ve been missing my cell phone for over a week now… waaaah!)

  4. Library-and mine will do e-books and audio books. The one thing I don’t like is that my library charges $0.25 for reserve books, although that’s still cheaper then actually buying them.
    Also, I was given a Kindle as a graduation present. To date, there are over 150 books/other items on there, and I haven’t paid for any of them. Amazon has a lot of the older stuff free and there is also Project Gutenberg. Also, if you’re a sci-fi/fantasy fan like I am, the Baen Free Library is wonderful-about a hundred, modern works completely free, no strings attached.

    • That’s a bummer that they charge for inter library loan. Although it’s hard to begrudge the library the quarter. Good to know about Project Gutenberg – thanks for sharing!

  5. We are huge library fans here too! I laugh when the librarian prints off our list of all items out — it just keeps going and going. Our downfall however is lost books. We seem to lose, and have to pay for, one to two books per year. Still, that is MUCH cheaper than buying books.

    We also have bought a lot of books at garage sales (more when we lived in KC, there don’t seem to be as many here in STL).

    And, don’t forget about the PJ Library for FREE Jewish kids books. You look at the availability for your community at Each kid signed up gets one Jewish book mailed to them per month. Out of the 120 books we received (5 kids x 2 years), a few were duplicates (our kids are very close in age), some were inappropriate for a frum family (we threw them out), but the majority were nice books that our kids enjoy.

    • I am curious. Which PJ library books did you find to be inappropriate for a frum family and why? What made those books inappropriate as compared to the other books?

      • Thanks for mentioning PJ Library. We’ve also found some books that aren’t a good fit. I can’t remember the titles, but there was one about a kid from an intermarried family… and another about being the only Jewish kid when everyone celebrates XMas at school. I can’t point to the specific issue, but it just doesn’t jibe with where we’re at as a family.

      • Yep, what Mara said. While we were still in the program, I did surveys for PJ Library and since it was more recent I think I was able to tell them more specifically what we didn’t like about those books. I remember one that compared Chanuka lights to other lights, including xmas lights.

        I think PJ Library is more geared towards families that are not as involved Jewishly, so I’d expect that some of them wouldn’t fit for frum families.

  6. Dana and Rivka- I don’t know if this would help, but to prevent us from losing library books when we were little, my parents designated a library table. If we weren’t actually reading the books, that was where they went so they would be easy to find. It didn’t always work, obviously, but generally it seemed to help. When I’d go home in college and go to the library, I’d still wind up putting books on the same table.

    • LOL, we have a library bag that hangs on the back of the door. The problem is: We have to remember to return to the books and DVDs to the bag! (The system only works when you work the system!)

  7. Library!!!! I am fairly new convert to the love of the library. Especially the Inter-Library Loan. I am a huge book consumer. And I bought most of mine. Sometimes at full price *gasp*. But when I realized how much money I would have to put into my book budget line I was a little embarrassed. So now when I go to put something in my Amazon cart I click over to my library and do a quick search. If they don’t have it I check the inter-library loans. Two days ago I heard about a great cookbook. I ordered it through inter-library loan and picked it up today. Awesome. Now if I really like it I will purchase it through Amazon with my swagbucks. 🙂

    Like Jackie we have a place for books in our house. We use library book bags. Each child has one. When we aren’t reading the book it goes into the library bag. We still lose/misplace one here and there, but they usually turn up. Also…if you tell the library it has been misplaced they can “Renew” it for you so you aren’t paying the daily fees until you are able to find it.

    • Inter-library loan really is THE best. My husband gets Israeli films all the time. And I just picked up a novel by an Israeli-American about an Israeli family living in Detroit. Can’t imagine that so many Kansas are dying to read it, but how cool that I can get it from the library?!

  8. If you gave me a choice between food or books I would choose books! I go through TONS of books and most of my shelves are stacked two deep. I make it a point to read every night – even when I get home from work at 3am! When I was in law school I practically lived in the branch library closest to me, but now that I am working the library just seems impossible. The branch is open most days only from 10-6. Since my hours are 9-who knows when, it seems I can never make it there.

    In order not to run up a ghastly sum on books I have taken to buying used books on Amazon. My rule is to pay no more than $4 for a book and only order from those retailers whose books will ship free with super saver shipping. ($4 is a good rule of thumb because even if a retailer is selling the book for cheaper you will have to pay $3.99 in shipping). I keep a list of books I want and when I have 6-7 on my list I troll the used books for the cheapest sellers. It is certainly not free, but its the best compromise this book addict can make!

  9. I use the library for lost of nonfiction books I want to check out but not buy – I have gotten lots of knitting pattern, recipes and how to info that way. For fiction I find I just don’t end up reading them fast enough – you can only have books about a month total with my library system. Since I generally don’t feel the need to read the latest right when it comes out I tend to stock up at library or other used book sales. This summer I got two big bags of books for about $8 total. If I don’t like one no big deal since I spent so little per book and I have a selection to choose my next book from. If there is a book I really want I know I will keep I tried used book stores first and have also had some great luck, with

    • I actually recommend for used textbooks, but you’re right — fiction (and non-fiction) is also a good deal there. Thanks, Amy!

  10. Great post Mara, thanks! I signed up to sawgbucks through your referral code, I’m wondering if you have an opinion the surveys they offer, are they worth the time, is the return good?

    • I have heard good things about the surveys, though I haven’t done them myself.

      Can anyone speak from personal experience?

      In general, if you have a few moments and will be online anyway, I figure why not?!

      Enjoy Swabucks – and thanks for using my referral link 🙂

  11. some great ways to find wonderful reads and several money

Leave a Comment