How to Find More Money for Book Buying: Five Practical Ideas

Stretching the bibliophile’s budget


Melissa Gouty

3 years ago | 6 min read

If you’re a bibliophile with a limited budget, you know how hard it is to cover your book purchases when you have to have a place to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear….not to mention insurance, internet, transportation, utilities, appliances, cleaning products, and home maintenance.

I’m not where Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus was yet, but I understand where he was coming from when he said,

“When I get a little money, I buy books; if any is left, I buy food and clothes.”

If books are your passion and you have a limited income, you have to find ways to buy them without breaking your bank.

Here are five methods I’ve used to get my next “hit,” because, as Franz Kafka noted,

“Books are a narcotic.”

1) Book of the Month Subscription

Back in the 1980s when I was a young adult who loved to read and was just starting out as a writer, I got giddy when my Book-of-the-Month catalog arrived in the mail. I would spend hours carefully combing through the pages reading the seductive blurbs describing each of the wondrous books I could buy.

Imagine my delight when my daughter gifted me with a Book-of-the-Month subscription. She might not have known about my past history with B.O.M., but she KNEW her mom, an avid reader with a limited budget, and she acted on that. Now, I am guaranteed at least one book a month for roughly half the price that I would pay at the bookstore.

While the format has changed, the concept still works. Every month, I get a digital listing of five trendy books that I could choose to be delivered to my doorstep. Some people criticize Book-of-the-Month for having “lightweight” reads, but I haven’t found this to be the case. Yes, there are books that are fast reads, but there are also more academic ones as well, including The Flight Portfolio and A Gentleman in Moscow.

I enjoy this easy-to-accept format with reviews and blurbs in one place. If you don’t like any of the five choices, you can also choose from a list of Member Favorites. If you don’t like any of those, you can skip the month altogether.

The best thing about Book of the Month is that it’s $15.00 per month, and if you get one book, you can choose an add-on for $10. That’s $25 for two hardcover, new books, half the price I would pay at the bookstore.

Now, no one loves bookstores more than I do, (and I am very sad that our town does not have one,) and I continue to support the bookstore I drive 35 miles to get to,) but my monthly book subscription helps to lessen the budget burden of my habit.

If you’re interested in a book-box subscription, check out this article from the New York Times.

2) Gift Cards Whenever Possible

Everyone has a birthday. Many of us have anniversaries. Then there’s Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, and Hanukah.

If anyone asks you what you want as a gift, tell them you want a gift card from your local bookstore. Not only will you get more of what your heart desires, but you’ll be supporting the businesses that deal in what you need. (Not to mention that they’re bringing tax dollars to your town!)

For my birthday and Mother’s Day, my husband and my sister sent me bookstore gift cards. Yesterday, I had a memorable afternoon with a dear friend, browsing through books, then culling through my tall stack of choices to decide which ones I wanted to come home with me.

When I left with my bag full of books, I had spent $80 in gift cards and only $18.00 of our household money. 😊

3) Use Rewards from Credit Cards, Cell Phone Companies, and Grocery Rebates

My cell phone provider gives me a monthly reward, and I always choose a $5.00 Barnes & Noble gift card — because there’s nothing I’d rather buy than a book.

I’ve also earned grocery rebates through Ibotta, and that money is “extra” cash that I earmark for books.

You might earn cashback, reward points, or discounts from certain retailers through your credit card company. Don’t forget to check those options because you may have funds for fun (and necessary) book purchases that you’d overlooked.

4) Buy Older Books and Classics at a Used Bookstore

I am an author, and I understand that the only way an author can make money is when someone buys a copy of her book. While I’m thrilled the people share copies of my book with their friends and family, I am also aware that “sharing” means that I don’t make any money.

The hope is that in the future, people who have read my book — whether they purchased it or borrowed it from a friend — will know my name and be ready to buy my next book, but that’s a long-term view for a short-term cash flow.

Rachel Kramer Bussel argues in an article in Salon, that

“those buying books in a used bookstore may not be able to afford a new copy. They also may not know that new copy exists because they’ve never heard of a given author before. Used bookstores can afford to be more varied in what they stock, thereby giving customers plenty of options, while shelf space is in higher demand in new bookstores. I’ve discovered plenty of series mysteries in used bookstores, then gone on to buy more in that same series at full price.”

Buying It’s a dilemma for a book-lover AND an author:

I could buy more books at a used bookstore, but other authors won’t earn one penny from my purchase.

So what’s a writer to do?

Here’s my compromise:

I only buy classics and books that were released MORE than two years ago at used bookstores. My rationale is twofold:

  1. the “classic” author’s family didn’t create the work and don’t necessarily need or deserve the royalties, or that the work is in the public domain and the only people making money are the publishers who were lucky enough to see the value of a manuscript they purchased years ago.
  2. Two years is ample time for any book buyer who chooses to and can afford to purchase a new book. Sales of fiction books peak 1–2 weeks after their release, and nonfiction books spike within the first 15 weeks after release, so twenty-four months is a reasonable time before I look for bargain prices.

Another factor that makes me feel better about buying used books is when I purchase them from a business with a cause. Better World Books donates books, gives funds to literacy, and keeps track of the number of books they’ve recycled.

Screenshot of Better World Books home page: Enhanced screenshot by Melissa Gouty
Screenshot of Better World Books home page: Enhanced screenshot by Melissa Gouty

5) Pennies, Pocketbooks, Jars, and Envelopes

After my mother died and my sisters and I were cleaning her house, we found a dozen different “savings.” In one jar, she’d been collecting loose change. In an old purse, she had stashed single dollar bills. Several jars and envelopes had been filled with varying amounts of cash in small bills, accumulated from $1s, $5s, and $10s.

She always talked about being a Depression-era child and how important it is to make use of everything you had and save your resources. Those little cash-caches were my mother’s way of saving for special things she wanted…(and those things were usually for gifts for someone else.)

Me? I’ve never been a very good saver, but I now have a little jar in my underwear jar filled only with $5.00 bills. Whenever I have a spare “five,” I take it out of my wallet and put it into my jar…my secret (well, now not-so-secret) stash for book-buying and writing-related luxuries.

Book-buying money: Photo via Shutterstock
Book-buying money: Photo via Shutterstock

Here’s to book-buying and the funds to do it with!


Created by

Melissa Gouty

Award-winning teacher, entrepreneur, and writer. Marketing manager in the HVAC and Plumbing industries. Author of The Magic of Ordinary, a memoir of a "Daddy," his daughters, and the power of one good man to change the world.







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