Thursday, April 26, 2007

Treasure Hunting: How to Find Good Books for Less

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

Every bibliophile wants to find new books to add to their collection. However, this could easily become an expensive hobby. For someone with a limited income, it is nice to know that good quality books can be found for much less that the retail price!

My dad is a great bargain hunter. He’s one of those people who can find amazing deals in the most unexpected places. (Of course, it helps that he can talk to almost anyone. I’ve always said that even if he went to the moon, he’d find someone he knew!) Growing up with him has been one long adventure. Early on, daddy began filling our house with books and helping each of us to begin building our own libraries.

Here are some of the places we’ve been:

Garage Sales

Garage sales are one of the cheapest places to buy used books. A very large portion of my personal library came from garage sales. The selection is totally unpredictable, so if you want something specific this is probably not the best way to find it—unless you don’t mind looking forever! But if you like surprises, going to garage sales can be great fun.

One of my favorite parts of the shopping is bargaining. If I don’t like the price, then I’ll ask the owner if they will take less. How to do this takes a bit of discerning guesswork: some people are very firm in wanting what is marked, and may even take offense if you offer less. But I’ve found that most simply want to get rid of their excess stuff. It’s not unusual for sellers to accept 50% of their original price. I usually buy books for $1 or less.


Libraries are always trimming their selection to make room for new acquisitions. The “unpopular” books that are discarded are very often just the ones I like. The bad thing about discarded books is that they are often in very poor condition. The best books I’ve found are donations that never made it to the shelves.
Many times the books are sold by donation, instead of a fixed price. Our local library recently had a special “Fill a bag for $1” sale.

My favorite library find: A lovely copy of Nearby!

Thrift Stores

The selection at thrift stores such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army is usually very slim, and limited to paperback novels and dated self-help books. I have found the occasional treasure, such as my nearly-new hardback copy of Lord Peter. Prices range from 29 cents to a dollar.

Used Book Shops

If I ever make a trip across the U.S., I want to browse as many bookshops as I can. Each one is unique and, (hurrah!) most have some semblance of order. I have found decent hardbacks for as little as $4.

Antique Stores

Most books at antique shops are pricey. ($10 and up) I don’t like to pay more than $7 unless it’s a book I really want. The real reason I frequent these stores is to window-shop: so many old books have beautiful, unusual covers.


E-Bay is a great place to find specific books. I don’t care for bidding, however, and tend to look for “Buy it now” listings.

I’m sure there are many other good places to find used books. Would anyone care to share his or her favorites? I’m curious to know if anyone has used Internet swap sites? (like Bookins or Titletrader)


Unknown said...

My husband and I designed and maintain Book Sale Finder, the online guide to used book sales. Here you'll find the dates, locations, number of books, price ranges, etc. of book sales across the nation. These are the fundraising events run by library Friends and other charitable groups. Please check our site. And we welcome comments!


Helen Oram

Lydia H. said...

Great ideas, Kara!

I think I told you this before, but I purchased my own copies of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy at a garage sale for less than $10. They were paperback, but in fairly good condition. I think they were maybe around $2-3 per book.

Now, if I can just get myself to read through all of them... ;-)

I, too, have found that thrift stores seem to bring the lest success in book buying. Who would buy hundreds of cheap, paperback romance novels anyway?

Thanks for the helpful tips. If you know of a good source for Debbie Maken's book I would appreciate the info. I would like to purchase my own copy soon so I can underline and make my own index. I mean to return it to you this next week. :)