Once upon a time reading was a pastime reserved primarily for the elite and privileged, but thankfully today reading is accessible to everyone regardless of background or bank balance. However, like most hobbies, reading can still be pretty bloody expensive. Whether it’s buying a shiny copy of a new release, a pretty and rare edition of your favourite book or a well-narrated audiobook, readers can potentially fork out hundreds or thousands of pounds a year on books.
As a postgraduate student working part-time finding affordable ways to read has been a priority for me ever since I started reading regularly in 2019. With an average price of around £10 for a standard paperback book, if I’d have bought a physical copy of every book I read in 2020 (110 books in total), I would’ve spent a whopping £1,100! Fortunately, by using some savvy tricks I ended up spending actually spent a fraction of that in 2020 at around £100.
Disclaimer: Since I live in the U.K. some of the tips I share in this post may not directly apply to those living outside of the U.K.
Use your local library
Libraries are every reader’s best friend and a true blessing. They provide us with access to hundreds of books, comics, magazines and archives for free. It’s the ideal solution for books that you only plan to read once or if you’re unsure whether you’ll like a book. Going to the library not only saves you money but also helps to support local libraries. If you don’t already have a library card, I’d highly reccommend getting one. Unfortunately, due to current COVID-19 restrictions you may not be able to physically browse your library, but you can place holds on books online and use the click and collect service or access the library catalogue online (if your library has one).
Download the Overdrive or Libby app
A fantastic alternative to the click and collect service is to access your library’s resources online. Overdrive and Libby are apps that can be downloaded on Android and iOS that provide access to your library’s collection of e-books and audiobooks. You’ll have to check which app you’ll need to access your local library, but as long as you have a library card you should be eligible to register. You can then borrow books for 7-14 days and place holds on books that are unavailable.
Using Libby has completely changed my life and I cannot give it enough praise. I have two library cards – one for the area I live in and one for the area I work in – so have access to thousands of e-books and audiobooks. Since audiobooks tend to be pricey, this is a very cost-effective way of listening to audiobooks.
Sign-up for subcriptions to book platforms
Platforms like Audible and Scribd offer monthly subsciptions in exchange for access to their libraries. Personally, I’ve tried both platforms and didn’t find either to be particularly cost effective since I can access a majority of what’s on offer on Audible or Scribd via Libby for free. However, if your local library doesn’t have an online library or isn’t available on Overdrive or Libby, this is a good alternative. Both offer free trials, so I’d reccommend that you try before you buy.
Buy second-hand books
A pretty simple solution, but why buy a book brand new when you can get it second-hand for a fraction of the price? You can buy second-hand books on a variety of sites such as eBay, Amazon and Abebooks. Personally, my favourite place to buy second-hand books are charity shops. This scratches my book shopping itch by allowing me to browse the shelves and physically plough through books. Generally, charity shops will rarely charge anything above £2 for a book, so it’s a real bargain!
Borrow from friends and family
Some readers can be very protective of their books and reluctant to lend them out to others (understandably so), but it’s always worth asking people, particularly if they plan to pass it on in the future. If you know a friend or relative has a book that’s on your TBR and they’ve read it once and don’t plan to read it again, ask if you can have it. Over the years, I’ve acquired a lot of books from friends and family who were going to donate them to charity shops or local libraries. Taking those books on yourself saves them a trip and you some pennies, so it’s a win-win situation.
Ask for book vouchers and gift cards as gifts
Now, this one is definitely cheating, but when it comes to reading on a budget it’s very handy 😂 Instead of spending £10 on a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine (both good gift choices, but not as good as books!), ask your loved ones to buy you a simple book gift card or voucher for birthday’s and other special ocassions. If you have a particular book in mind, it’s also worth asking for it, but book vouchers provide more flexibility and give you time to decide which books to invest in.
Take advantage of copyright-free classics
If you’re a classics reader, even physical copies will be cheap and cheerful, but there’s little point in wasting your money when they’re available for free. Many classic novels are copyright-free due to the authors having been dead for 70 years or more, so there are lots of free copies of them online. My favourite apps for reading free classics are iBooks on iOS and LibriVox which has access to hundreds of classic audiobooks. No Fear Shakespeare is also a great website and resource for reading Shakespeare’s plays.
Don’t be afraid of e-books
Ask any reader what their preferred format of book is and I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that physical copies (paperback or hardback) would come out on top. Admittedly, the old-school way of reading provides a unique and satisfactory reading experience, but when it comes to reading on a budget e-books are where it’s at.
As a Kindle user, I primarily buy e-books from Amazon and it’s very easy to save money by keeping up to date with daily and weekly deals. If you’re interested in a book, add it to your wish list and wait until it goes on sale. By doing this, I’ve bought books on sale for 99p that were originally £10!
P.S. Amazon Prime members can access a selection of audiobooks for free via Prime Reading.
Be selective about what you buy & avoid hauls!
This is probably one of the most important tips in this post, because being conscious of when, where and how you’re spending on books allows you to make cut backs. When you’re looking at your TBR and deciding what to pick up next, it can be very tempting to buy a physical copy of every single book you plan to read in the next couple of months. We’re inundated with book hauls and readers showing us their lovely new books, giving us book envy and the urge to go out and buy like crazy. Admittedly, it feels good at the time and gives us a rush of dopamine, but in my experience, it leads to excessive and unnecessary spending and a house full of books that you’ll never get around to reading or will read once and never again.
I have a rule that I can only purchase a physical copy of a book if I’m 99.9% confident I’ll love it or if I’ve already read it and it’s a favourite. There’s very little point in spending money on a book that I’m only going to read once and is then going to sit on my shelf gathering dust. I want to spend my money on books that are going to be read over and over and give me joy for years to come.
Also, consider when is the right time to buy new books. If you’re drowning in books at home and your physical TBR is in the hundreds, it’s probably wiser to go to the library or purchase an e-book rather than add to the ever-growing pile!
I hope you found these tips about how to read on a budget useful. Using these methods has been a god-send for me and enabled me to cut down the costs of my reading to pittance. Consequently, I’ve been able to read more books in a variety of formats that I wouldn’t have been able to if I was buying all/most of my books.
For any readers that are students like myself and/or working with a tighter budget, just know that you can still find lots of cheap ways to read whether that’s physical books, e-books, audiobooks, comics, graphic novels or magazines 😊
Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.