Most of the questions I receive from readers are about their specific financial situations. But occasionally somebody writes with something a little different. Yesterday, for example, Joshua wrote to ask my advice on shopping for books. He wants to know how to find personal finance books for cheap. He writes:

I’m big book fan, mostly financial, entrepreneur, leadership, personal development, etc. Sometimes I buy books off Amazon, but I visit the local library first to see if they have books I want in stock. If they are, I borrow and read them usually within few weeks.

But some books are so good that I want to buy a copy to keep as reference. I just don’t want to pay full price for a book I’ve already read. Do you have any tips on how to find books for low prices? Someone mentioned a library book sale, but I have never seen one. Does they really exist? Can you provide some tips for me?

Yes, Joshua, I can provide some tips for you. If there’s one thing I know about, it’s shopping for books.

I am a biblioholic. I’m a book addict. My love for books contributed to my spending problems in the 1990s. At one time, I spent over $200 a month on books. Now I spend less than $40. When we bought this house in 2004, my friends helped me move over 2500 books in nearly 50 boxes. I mention all of this to establish my credentials as a book geek.

But with my new-found frugality, I’ve learned to feed my book habit without breaking the bank. Here are my top tips for saving money on books of all kinds — but especially personal finance books:

  • Library book sales do exist, and they’re a great way to find used books for cheap. If you live in a city with a large public library, find out when they hold their annual book sale. At my library’s sale, I can generally pick up financial and personal development books for a buck or two each. Best of all, I’m able to find odd and unusual books that most bookstores won’t touch, such as Money-Making Hobbies, which cost me $1.50 in 2006.
  • Garage sales are an even better way to find used books — but the selection is entirely in the hands of fate. Personal finance and self-help books aren’t big sellers at most yard sales, so you can usually haggle for a better price. Much of my personal development library (Anthony Robbins, Dale Carnegie, etc.) has been built from garage sale finds.
  • Perhaps my favorite way to find used books is to browse at local thrift stores. As most of you know, Kris and I embrace the thrift-store ethic, and try to hit the local shops a few times each year. We just made a trip to Goodwill last weekend, in fact, where I picked up copies of Good to Great, Built to Last, Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow, and Earn What You Deserve. Thrift stores are excellent places to find cheap copies of popular bestsellers from Suze Orman, David Bach, and Robert Kiyosaki. Last weekend, I saw three copies of The 4-Hour Workweek, for example.
  • Trent from The Simple Dollar is a huge fan of Paperback Swap, but I’ve never used it myself. It seems like too much hassle, and I’m not convinced I’d save money over my current methods. But I know that many people love the site, and I encourage you to try it if you think it might fit your style.
  • Finally — and perhaps most obviously — you can sometimes find used book stores that carry personal finance and self-development books at reasonable prices. There’s one such store not far from me, and I try to check their stock once or twice a year to see if anything new has come in.

These tips should help Joshua begin to build a low-cost library of finance and personal-development books. The key is to be patient, and to be open to serendipity. Know the sorts of books you’d like to purchase, and buy them when you see them.

These are the strategies I use to find great deals on books. How do you find cheap books? We’re all fans of the public library, I know, but how do you save money on the books you want to add to your personal library?

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