bargain books

Bargain books are everywhere. But how can you get them the absolutely cheapest and fastest way possible? I run a little experiment and show you.

My husband and I love to read so much that we turned one of the rooms in our home into a library. Even though we have a passion for the written word, we do not want to pay full price for books and rarely do. Instead, we buy used books ($1 for paperbacks, $2 for hardbacks) from our local JCC’s awesome used book sale each year, borrow from the library, borrow from family and friends (as well as lend), etc.

There are many other ways to obtain books besides paying full-price for them right off of the shelves of a Barnes & Noble. For an experiment (because I’m geeky like that), I decided to try out lots of different avenues out there in order to find out how to get one specific book the cheapest way possible. I also wanted to keep speed in mind, as I am patient enough to wait several months for results, but sometimes it’s nice to get what we want when we want it.

The book I chose was recommended to me by a reader several years ago: Stop Acting Rich by Thomas Stanley. On Saturday, January 26, 2013 I set out to find out how much this book would cost me, availability, and speed of getting it from as many places as possible. Please note: some places only sold the hardback version; where this occurred, I’ve noted it.

Here’s what I found (Starting with the Most Expensive Option)

  • Purchase as a Paperback through This would be the most expensive option, unless you cut out the shipping costs by being a prime member or ordering this book with $35 worth of other items. Total Cost: $19.04 ($15.05 without shipping).
  • Purchase Hardback from Barnes and Noble: I called our nearest Barnes & Noble to find that while they normally carry 1 copy of this book (hardback only), someone had purchased it just a few days earlier. The woman let me know that it would be a few days before I could purchase the replenished copy. Cost: $18.95.
  • Purchase Hardback from Half Price Books: When I checked our local Half Price Books store, this particular book was not in stock. The person at the counter let me know that if/when it is available (in hardback only), it would cost $13.49.
  • Obtain through This one is difficult to price because in order to join this website you need to list 10 books that you can swap with others. Each book costs approximately $2.38 to ship, so your initial cost (if you have really popular books) could be a total of $23.80. With each shipment, you receive 1 credit (2 credits per audio book) that you can then use to obtain the books that you want from other people (they pay to ship them to you). You also receive two ‘startup' Book Credits good toward the selection of any other club member's books just for listing your 10 books. Each bound (hardcover or paperback) book costs 1 Book Credit and each audio book costs 2 Book Credits. As soon as I culled through our bookshelves, listed the ISBN for 10 books, and clicked “submit”, two books were already requested and I was asked if I could mail within 2 days. With the 2 credits I received just for posting the books, I was free to find the book that I wanted. I added it to my wishlist on January 26th, 2013. Since then, I have been called upon to ship five books for a total cost of $11.90. While I did receive two hardback books in great condition that I have been wanting to read, as well as have 4 banked credits to get other books I would like, I have yet to find the book we are discussing in this article. Total Cost: $11.90 (could vary significantly).
  • Order Hardback on eBay in “Like New” Condition: I found a used copy of this book with a “Buy Now” price of $5.99 + $5.23 shipping. I would assume up to 5 days on the delivery time (this depends, of course, on how quickly the seller gets it in the mail). Total Cost: $11.22.
  • Purchase as an eBook through Lots of eBooks are free (here’s more information on how to score free eBooks). But if you’re looking for a specific one at a specific time, then you generally need to pay. This eBook is delivered instantaneously to a device upon purchase. Cost: $10.49.
  • Purchase from Someone on Craigslist: I was unable to find this book on Craigslist (searched several different times throughout 2013). Total Cost: Unknown, and will Vary.
  • Borrow from a Friend: I asked around, and no one that I know owns a copy.
  • Borrow from the Library: I was pleasantly surprised that in the same day that I looked for this book at our small, local library, they had it available! If they hadn’t had it, I was going to order it on their Interlibrary Loan System (ILL), which typically takes between 2-6 weeks for a book to arrive. Cost: Free.
  • Borrow eBook from a Library through Free Kindle App: A neat development as libraries attempt to acclimate to the age of digital books has been the availability of eBook lending (you do not need to own a Kindle reader for this to work; you can simply download a free Kindle reading app onto your computer or smartphone if you have one). If your library is linked to Overdrive then you can check out titles virtually using your library card number and PIN. This eBook is also not available to borrow at Cost: Free.

As someone who used to work at a library during college, it’s nice to know that libraries are holding their own in terms of cost, book availability, and speed of procuring. True, you will not find every book that you want sitting on the shelf at your local library like I did, but Interlibrary Loan (ILL) services and the internet enable you to “order” the book online and be notified when it is in stock. And with eBook lending from libraries, you may not even need to leave the comfort of your home in order to read what you want.

What are your favorite ways of getting a book? Any services not mentioned above that the rest of us could benefit from?   

16 replies
  1. Momma J
    Momma J says:

    Hi Mandy girl!

    Two things:
    1. If you use a Discover card on a regular basis and get a cashback bonus, you can set it up on to use your cashback bonus towards any purchase. If I have a bonus available, Amazon asks me at checkout if I want to use it.
    2. I’m surprised you didn’t mention That’s were I pick up a lot of books that I need for ‘research’ for the book I hope to write someday.

    Good post!
    Momma J

    [email protected] says:

    I’ve been a faithful Overdrive user since discovering it when I got my library card in my ‘new’ town 4 years ago. I have never been disappointed with the selection, or time it has taken for something I’ve been waiting for to be available.

  3. Bryce @ Save and Conquer
    Bryce @ Save and Conquer says:

    I use to search, well, all bookstores. It came up with used hardcover copies for $9.52 (shipping included) from two vendors. It also came up with the $10.49 for the eBook from Amazon, and the book in mp3 format on CD for $8.73 (shipping included). Of course, if you don’t want to add another volume to your collection, borrowing it for free from your local library is the obvious choice.

  4. Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions
    Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions says:

    You have hit up all my book sources in your breakdown, except my source of $1 paperbacks is my library booksale.

    When someone tells me about a good book, I first search the library and request it if it’s available, then put it on my Paperback Swap wishlist, and then my Amazon wishlist. Then I see which one (library or PBS) becomes available first, and if it’s something I really want to read and the wait is long, I’ll eventually ask for it for my birthday or something.

  5. Jack @ Enwealthen
    Jack @ Enwealthen says:

    Love the detailed investigation.

    Thanks for the tip on Paperback Swap! I love to read and have used Half, eBay, and Amazon used books before, but hadn’t heard of them.

    The used book sale at my library is still my favorite place to stock up for light reading, and then donate them back afterwards for a tax break.

  6. Sierra
    Sierra says: is an online subscription service for $8.99/month where you can read as many books as you want! You can download an app for your phone or read directly from the web. They have an extensive library of books and since I read about 10 books per month, it has saved me a TON of money!


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