This article is by staff writer Honey Smith.

I have always been a big reader. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m introverted — so introverted, in fact, that I almost lost my fourth grade reading challenge.

  • First, you had to go up to the teacher and tell her that you’d read something.

  • Second, after you told her, she gave you a big sticker and you had to go up to your name on the wall in the cafeteria — in front of everyone! — and put the sticker by your name. No way, Jose!

When my teacher contacted my mom and said that she was worried I wasn’t reading enough, my mom burst out laughing.

By the time I was in middle school, I had graduated to the grown-ups’ section of the library. In the summer, when we didn’t have access to our school libraries, my mom, sister and I used to go and check out the maximum number of books each (I think it was five apiece) from the public library. I’d read all 15 before we went back two weeks later.

In other words, all my life it’s been a challenge to keep me in books. As a result, I have also always been on the lookout for sources of cheap or free reading material — especially during long, lazy summers. Here are three dealers sources I’ve found that don’t require you to dip into your online high-yield savings account to quench your thirst!

1. The public library

First we’ll go with the gimme mentioned above: your public library. The library is an especially great place to discover books you wouldn’t have read otherwise. After I found the science fiction section in middle school, I started picking authors at random. A couple of tips:

  • You can spend the afternoon in the library, which gives you time to read a bit of a new book to see if it hooks you before checking it out.

  • Once you find an author or book you like, see which authors are providing the reviews on the cover/dust jacket/front matter. That can give you ideas for whom to try next.

Other library resources

Most libraries these days offer an online selection that you can “check out” and download onto an e-reader from the comfort of your own home. You can also download audio books. And anything you check out automatically deletes itself when your time is up, so you don’t have to worry about late fees. If you are far away from your library — or it’s been 110+ degrees where you live (ahem) — then this is pure luxury.

For those who don’t have e-readers or who enjoy spending time at the library in person, many libraries have a store where they sell books they don’t plan to keep. They’re usually insanely cheap to begin with too, and even go on sale whenever the library curates its collection.

Some library downsides

The library does have some downsides, though. First, you don’t get to select which books they have, though lots of libraries have focus groups or steering committees if you want to get involved in the decision-making process. Second, if you have popular tastes in books, there can be long waits for the books you want, which can be quite frustrating.

2. Online libraries

In addition to regular public libraries, there are a number of online libraries that allow you to check out e-books. If you’ve got an e-reader or tablet, this may be a great option for you. Online libraries include:

Some online library downsides

Most of the free online libraries only carry books whose copyright protections have expired (because those works are in the public domain and can be used for free, without obtaining special permission). This means that most so-called “classic works” are in the public domain.

On the one hand, this means that some of the most highly-regarded works in human history are also the most readily available. However, if your taste runs more toward the current New York Times Bestseller List, you’ll likely have to either join a pay/subscription service, like Amazon, or get on the waiting list at your local library.

And of course, online libraries deal in e-books, so you need to have access to an e-reader and a reliable Internet connection to get in the game at all. While e-books can be cost-effective, there is an initial outlay in terms of equipment. Additionally, some people prefer the look and feel of actual books.

3. Used bookstores

For “real” book fans, a used bookstore is a great source of reading material. While cheap isn’t the same as free, if you’re a slow reader (or you’re just busy) and can’t guarantee you’ll finish a book within a library’s two-week checkout period, buying books used may be easier. Alternatively, if you’re a collector and know you’ll reread something, then it makes sense to buy used if you can. There are other benefits to used bookstores:

  • Used bookstores are often overstocked with bestsellers, since lots of people buy them even though they never intend to keep them. Many times you can get recent hardbacks at paperback prices.

  • Lots of used bookstores offer trade credit for books you bring in. So purge your shelves and, while the store employees determine what they’ll take, you can browse their shelves. I have so much trade credit at my local store that I haven’t paid for a book there in years.

Some used bookstore downsides

First, as mentioned above, these books are cheap, not free. Even if you have trade credit, buying books also means that you have to find room for them in your house. If you are an acquisitive type, you may end up buying books you won’t read, just because they are available.

Second, because used bookstores rely on people bringing in books, there is no way to guarantee that what you want will be available. And because many times they don’t track their inventory, there’s no waiting list like there is at the library. It’s first-come, first-served.

Finally, they only accept books in trade if they believe they can sell them. If they are overstocked on what you bring in, they might not offer you anything, in which case you’re stuck with your original stuff as well as whatever you found while your potential trades were being evaluated.

What’s your favorite genre? I’m a sci-fi/fantasy girl myself. But I can’t imagine a better way to get the books you need to read for your personal finance journey.

Are you a reader? How do you get your book fix for free or on the cheap? Let us know in the comments below!

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