My Secret Strategies for Finding Inexpensive Used Books

I have a couple of friends (I won't name names), who are just as crazy about books as I am. None of us have elaborate budgets for buying books, so we have to get creative. We love going on used book hunts together, although sometimes we fight over the one copy of a book we all want, but that's also part of the fun. In the end, we all like finding a deal, and a penny saved means I can buy another book!

Inexpensive used books

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Finding Inexpensive Used Books

* I almost always start with Amazon

If it's a book I really want fast, Amazon is the place to look. With millions of $.01 books, I can always find a good deal on a used book...but buyer beware. I always start here because I'm an Amazon Prime member which gets me fast shipping on so many things. If I need something in a hurry, Amazon delivers. There are several things within the Amazon buying system that you need to consider.

  • If you find a book you're really wanting that seems more expensive than it ought to be, try looking for a different version or year of that book. Sometimes sellers raise the price for "rare" copies, when there is a penny. See the example below:
Used Books

Yeah...who would pay $9,999.97 for an Audio CD? Especially when you can get the Audible version for $2.95.

  • Check the condition and notes for the used books.  If the condition notes look really generic, I am usually leary of purchasing the book because I don't know if the seller actually looked inside it. I have only received a couple of books that were unusable (in my opinion), so it's not terribly dangerous (as far as used book sales can be dangerous), but I try to pay attention to the condition before I buy.
  • The other thing to keep in mind is that a book that costs $.01 really costs $4 because shipping is $3.99.  There are times when a book I want isn't even really worth that much. Especially if you can find it somewhere else cheaper...

* Next, I look at Abe Books

Abe Books is an online shop exclusively devoted to used books. They also have many titles that are available with free shipping, and you can find them cheaper than $4!

Abe Used Books

You also have to check condition of these, but they're pretty good about disclosing.

*If I can't find it online, I head to my local Half Price Books

Honestly, if I need something fast, I always find it online. However, not every book on my book hunt list is something I need right now. So I like to go scour the local Half Price Books, and I always start by looking in the clearance section.

If you find what you're looking for for $1 without shipping, I'd say it's a successful day. The only downside to this is when you find more copies of a great book you like (but already have) and decide to buy extras to give away. Your friends might love you, but your budget might not!!

Half Price Books also does clearance sale events (coming up at the Arlington Convetion Center June 3-5 in Texas) where everything in the massive convention center is under $2. This is serious fun for a book hunter.

*Get Your Elbows Ready for Library Book Sales

Library sales are one of the best sources of inventory for people who sell books used online. If you can beat the buyers to the books, you can get some great deals. People are always donating books to the local library, who then turns around and sells the used books to help fund their endeavors. This is a great place to find inexpensive used books as paperbacks are typically $.50 and hardbacks $1-2. If you go on the last day of the sale, they might also have extra incentives for getting rid of all of the books, like a box/bag of books for a flat rate. You can really come out with a good stash of books from a Library sale.

*Garage Sales Rock

So if you're patient and persistent, there is no better place to find inexpensive used books than a garage sale. I once found the entire set of Boxcar Children books for $7 at a garage sale.

The downside to garage sale shopping is that they are hit and miss, and sometimes you find other "treasures" that you didn't know you always wanted to have. People are ready to get rid of things at garage sales, so be prepared to rake in the goods if you find the right goods to rake!

Keeping Track of Your Inventory

It doesn't help you to find an inexpensive book if you've already bought it five times! There are some great apps out there that help you keep track of what books are on your shelves at home. Most of them have a barcode scanner for easy input. Here's my favorites:

I have had the trouble on occasion of being at a book sale without phone service, thus unable to quickly access my inventory digitally. So I also keep a written list with me...I'm totally an old-school geek. I especially like to track books I'll be using in our homeschool curriculum. If I'm good about keeping an eye out for them, I can find so many of the readers at a great price.

I keep up with my books in this cute little notebook:

Keeping up with my home library

I love books, what can I say! But I also love a good deal.

Do you have secret book finding knowledge to share?




  1. Karen @ Living Unabridged on May 2, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    Great tips!

    Some of my other favorite strategies:

    – Always accept book “hand me downs”. If someone at church says, “I know you love books and I’m cleaning some out, do you want them?” ALWAYS say yes. Even if you don’t end up keeping them and donate them to someone (or something) else, accepting books helps people to know that you are an option. And sometimes people give away books that are hidden treasures. 😉
    – Antique Malls / Flea Market type vendors often have books. They are usually priced competitively. I found a great set of Winston Churchill books for under $10 this way. Once again, you never know what you’ll find.
    – Paperback Swap is still an option. There is a small fee now, but I’ve still swapped (giving and receiving) some great books here recently.
    – Homeschool group. Our co-op has a “free box” where you can donate whatever you want to whomever wants / needs it. And homeschool groups usually sponsor curriculum sales at least once a year.
    – Facebook Swap / Yard Sale groups and Craigslist. You just never know what people might be trying to sell.

    There’s just no such thing as too many books. 😀

    • Betsy on May 2, 2016 at 8:35 pm

      I never say no to people offering books! Great ideas! Thanks for sharing.

  2. lauren on May 11, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    You have some great ideas here! I am a ebook gal, so I get all my books free from the library! 😉

    • Betsy on May 11, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      Free ebooks are awesome. I like to write in my books, so that doesn’t always work for me!

  3. Karen on July 17, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    I had never heard of Abe books! I got great deals on some books to finish out my literature for next year. Thank you for the tip.

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