Is Your Book Budget in the Red?

There are few things I like more than an indie bookstore. I love their character, the atmosphere, usually I love the staff, and it’s always fun to browse the not-book things there too.

For the privilege of having such a place, you pay a little extra. Okay, a lot extra. Let’s be honest, most of those titles you can get for half their price or less online. Sometimes it’s worth it. Other times my book budget is not only small, it’s in the red.

When it’s a thrifty reader month, I get creative. For people looking for free reads, here are just a couple of things to consider for your search.

Stating the Obvious

I’m just going to say, your local library is an obvious choice. That’s why they’re there. They deserve patronage, funding, and good publicity. I could go on forever, but that’s a whole series of posts waiting to happen.

Thrift stores are another choice, though I’m looking more at free (as in not even pennies to spend) reading options. Thrift stores get close, as do clearance book sales, but the only thing in my wallet is a dried out moth down in the corner.

Many people love to read new. Great, go looking for the freebies, sign up for discount groups and email lists of authors with work coming out. I am not so much a fan of those. The emails pile up in my inbox to where it’s not even worth going through them. The idea of passing up those freebies (even though the titles don’t interest me at all) is tough. Eventually I end up mass unsubscribing just to get some peace from the flood.

Another option I won’t be going more in depth with here is fanfiction. You can read more about that completely free (though slightly risky) option here: Unlimited Free Reading – Consider Fanfiction.

Jump the Gun

Beta reading can be an exciting avenue for getting to read for free. If you get on social media, you can search beta reading groups. Aspiring authors (and sometimes seasoned writers) often look for people to test read their work and give feedback – a bit like a cereal company pulling in kids to have a bowl and say what they think before the company takes it to full production. You, as a beta reader, are not an editor or expert. You are a sample audience. If you didn’t enjoy it, say so and say why. If you did enjoy it, say so and say why. It’s very helpful!

A note or two about this – there are a lot of unethical temptations to being a beta reader. The copy/file you get to read (this wouldn’t be a good fit for someone who likes physical books) is not the final, and you should never share this with anyone without asking the author first. And if they say no, respect their wishes. Never share the document online – it is not yours. Plagiarism is rampant and causes serious financial damage to the creators.

This brings me to my personal favorite method of handing a book budget drought:


The golden rule of book borrowing is a bit different than the golden rule for how to treat people (though not really, if you think about it).

Do unto this book as its owner would have you do unto it.

No, I did not phrase it wrong.

It is not: do unto this book as you would have them do unto yours.

When someone says “take good care of my book”, our definitions of “good care” can vary widely. Typically, take far better care of a borrowed book than you would your own books. If there’s any question as to whether that person is comfortable with this arrangement, ask them how they want you to treat the book. As a rule of thumb:

  1. Use clean bookmarks always.
  2. Do not eat while reading the book (beware smudges and spills).
  3. Do not write or highlight unless instructed to do so by the owner.
  4. If you must note, use sticky notes and remove them before returning the book.
  5. Protect the book with cloth, plastic bag, or other books if carrying it around with you. – Ex. Don’t just toss it in your backpack/bag where it gets bent all funny, the cover gets scuffed, or (God forbid) it gets torn when you drop something heavy in there.

Check Your Connections

Make good friends and you’ll never want for something to read. Teachers are the best for this. I’m lucky to have a variety of friends in that profession and that’s where I turned when I found myself in need.

Meet Savannah. This is her attic. She called me over to hang out and we ended up loading up her IKEA shelves with her four massive bins of books gathered from the shelves of retiring teachers, Scholastic book catalogs, gifts from friends and family, and the treasured ones she has three or more copies of just in case.

Get friends like Savannah. I believe just about everyone needs one. I say just about because I don’t know that there aren’t hermits out there who are genuinely just giddy at only their own company. A Savannah might be a bit much for them.

This Savannah is mine, and she likes to recommend books for me to read from her extensive middle-grade book collection.

On months like these, I am especially glad for that.

It’s because of Amy and the Book Owls that I read this one, and plan to read the next. Click the picture for the post about that marvelous/scarring experience.

Nerdy friends are also excellent for book borrowing. I have Amy, who brings books and movies to work because she thinks I’ll like them, and when I don’t know if I believe I’ll like them she sticks with it and follows up and she’s usually right – her recommendations are excellent and she knows my taste in stories. She also knows I’m a hesitant little beast with things I don’t know yet.

Get in with a book club, whether it’s really reading-centric or not. This can also mean freebies if people are generous. The Book Owls, one such group I’m lucky to have a place in, has a few members who trek out to SDCC and bring back advance copies of books, promotional copies from upcoming series, and a few event-specific novellas. These are FREE! And, thanks to the eternal law of bookshelves never having enough space for all books, a few of those copies end up at my house, sometimes for keeps. Score!


So, as long as you’re not picky, you do not have to spend money to read. If you’re courteous and friendly, you will also get insightful recommendations on top of free reads.

Don’t forget to return the favor! Loan out the books you do have. Pay it forward. Reading, these days, is not a wholly solitary activity.

Happy budget-friendly reading!


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