Find books for cheap or free reads

If you love to read, you know the cost of books can really add up. A tempting new hardback can run $25 or more. It’s a small price to pay for hours of enjoyment — and sometimes, years of memories, a new skill or a new perspective on life. But when times are tight, books are an area where you can trim costs.

Not so cheap

As a writer myself, with writer friends, I find the idea of not supporting authors to be really sad. And yet, in the interest of both money and decluttering, I know all too well that books take up a lot of room — and very few get read again, even for a household of avid readers like ours.

Books are collectible, you say? Perhaps a signed first edition. But my grandmother died with a house full of thousands of books — many of them collected intentionally — and more than 500 are still in my garage, listed online for sale but unsold. And we kept only the best.

I also like to support my wonderful local bookstore. Unfortunately, the nature of expanding information means they very frequently don’t have the title I want — so supporting them means planning ahead and having them order the title, which they happily do.

As a solution, I buy books of friends, and I often buy and have autographed a copy of a book when I attend an author’s reading. This isn’t a huge expenditure; I attend a reading every year or so, sometimes a few times a year. These books are special to me. If a book is not so special (like the reading where the author acted put upon to be there, insulted our city, and then the book wasn’t even good), I resell it.

Cheaper

New books are available at a discount on Amazon.com (where, for instance, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day costs $16.77 instead of the cover price of $27.95). Discounts on bestsellers and classics are available at Barnes & Noble online (where AAA members save an additional 5% and get free shipping) and Borders.

Used books are available online aplenty, and they add the benefit of re-use to that of saving money.

Used books on Amazon are even cheaper than new ones (usually  — but do double check). And Alibris and ABEBooks have millions of used books, from inexpensive paperbacks to valuable collectibles — including textbooks. Do a search online and you’ll find services comparing prices for the book you need. Be sure to check shipping costs for the total cost to receive a book.

Cheapest

Thrift stores typically have a motherlode of books. In our area, prices range from 50 cents for children’s paperbacks to $10 for special volumes. On a half-price day, those prices are cut in half. Also, stores now assign their colored stickers to books, too, and those tags are featured on sale for half off on certain days.

During garage sale season, books can be found even cheaper — sometimes 10 cents each or whatever you can bargain the seller down to. Face it — they’re just glad to get those dusty tomes out of the basement, so your gain is their gain.

Local used book exchanges can be a great deal. My grandfather, who is far cheaper than I, made a science out of getting cheap reads when he and my grandmother traveled the country in their fifth-wheel trailer. He would take a grocery sack of paperbacks to a used bookstore in any location and trade them the sack for a sack full of different books. Grandma didn’t get to pick and choose what she read — but she had a plentiful supply to carry her to their next stop, without cluttering up their tiny portable living space.

Online book swaps serve the same function, but you do get to pick and choose. PaperBackSwap.com currently has over 3 million books available; BookMooch.com has some 500,000 and has ways to share books with charity. The books themselves are free: You list what you have to give away, and then you earn points to claim others’ books. The only cost is postage for shipping. Use the U.S. Postal Service’s “media mail” option to save significantly on shipping costs, although transit will take a bit longer.

Free books

If you like the idea of book swapping with a “random acts of kindness” angle, a nod to “Where’s George,” and a dash of geocaching, check out BookCrossing.com. On this site, you give your book a tracking number, “release” it somewhere in your community, and note on the site where you left it. Other participants can “catch” the book, log it at the site, read it and pass it on.

Many communities have places where books are available for free. Check your work lunchroom, your local coffee shop, sushi restaurant or bar for a discreet stash of books. You can read while you sit, and in some places, you can take a book, leave a book.

Have similar-minded friends over for brunch and a book swap. Everyone can bring books they no longer want and go home with a few good reads, prescreened by friends.

The library is, of course, the queen of free reads (well, funded by your tax dollars). If your library’s collection leaves something to be desired, learn your way around Interlibrary Loan. Even in rural areas with small libraries, readers can access the world’s collections this way.

And I just found this great service — if you’ve always wanted to read War and Peace, but you just never found the room on your nightstand, you can now do so, one day at a time. DailyLit.com will deliver a manageable chunk of a book to your e-mail every day. In just 663 installments, you’ll be done with War and Peace — and you can read it guilt- and back-pain free on your smart phone while waiting for the kids at soccer, or have it arrive for a fast pick-me-up at work in the afternoon.

What have I missed?

What are your secrets for finding great values on books?

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Green office ideas & $10 OfficeMax card giveaway

Read on for the chance to win one of two $10 off a $10 purchase at OfficeMax cards!

For the new year, many of us probably established a green resolution at home. Did you take that resolve to work?

Most offices and schools have a long way to go to improve their environmental awareness. The basics might be in place — recycling and using lower-energy lights and heating/cooling options — or they might not.

Individuals can make a difference by using a glass or reusable water bottle instead of disposables, minimizing lunch time waste and choosing responsible transportation options.

Here are a few more ways to help:

Although bright and neon papers are eye-catching, these papers are no longer accepted for recycling by most paper mills. The dyes in bright papers are made with toxic heavy metals (cadmium, arsenic, and others), making these papers much more resource intensive and costly to recycle. The toxic dyes contaminate the environment by leaching into watersources. (Source: University of Colorado)

  • If your school’s kids drink a lot of Capri Sun or Kool-Aid beverages in juice pouches, sign up for the TerraCycle Drink Pouch Brigade. They will upcycle pouches into another product rather than throwing them away.  (It would be best to go reusable … but kudos to them for doing something.)
  • Buy recycled office products where you can. At OfficeMax I recently found some of these products, also from TerraCycle. They also now carry eco-packing material to stuff envelopes (although they did not have paper shipping tape).

Want an OfficeMax card?

Leave a comment stating something you have done or want to do to green your office or school. Be sure to leave an e-mail address with your comment. I’ll randomly choose two winners and contact you to mail you the gift card for $10 off a $10 purchase — cards expire Feb. 21, 2009.

This giveaway ends on Feb. 2.

Free Coffee, Free Samples at Panera Bread in Colorado

This is from Food Bank of the Rockies, for Colorado readers. Help a good cause and enjoy some free goodies.

WHO: You! Everyone is welcome!

WHAT: Share the Warmth

WHERE: All Panera Bread locations in Colorado (as well as many Panera Bread bakery-cafes across the country). For a complete list of Colorado locations, please visit panera-colorado.com and click “Locations.”

WHEN: All Day Wednesday, January 28, 2009 (bakery-café hours vary)

WHY: Enjoy a FREE cup of Panera’s New Brewed Coffee, sample breakfast items such as Panera’s Grilled Breakfast Sandwiches and New Yogurt Granola Parfaits, and support Panera’s Denver-metro Operation Dough Nation Partner, Food Bank of the Rockies. Panera Bread will match customer cash donations on Jan. 28 up to $250 per bakery-café. Panera’s national goal is to raise a quarter of a million dollars in one day for Operation Dough Nation Partners. All funds raised in our community will assist our community.

Free ways to get in the holiday spirit

Things are very busy around the Cheap house as we get ready for the holidays. But here are a couple of free and eco-friendly ways to help bolster your holiday spirit:

  • Amazon.com is offering a free holiday song download every day through Christmas. I’m late onto this boat … but that’s OK, because the previous downloads are still available here.
  • If you are itching to do something crafty, whip up some origami reindeer. Or save the instructions and cut some squares out of used wrapping paper, envelopes, etc., so that you can turn the rejects into gift cards or ornaments next year, as Green Daily suggests.

I do store holiday “projects” in a box with our Christmas decorations — things like cards with slots for photos, purchased on clearance for 90% off, or glass ornaments for which I intend to someday crochet covers.

Now, I’m off to finish up the week’s work and stitch up some reusable holiday gift bags with materials I picked up at Goodwill last week. What are you up to? Share your ideas here.

Quick tip: Cheapest gift bags ever

The holidays are here, and it is time to wrap those gifts.

So start eating cereal!

And save the empty bags. Wrap your gift in colored tissue paper, insert it in the plastic bag and tie with a bow. You could customize with Sunday funnies, draw on the outside and use any kind of ribbon — maybe a reusable hair band for a child, a headband for an athlete … you get the idea.

Goldfish crackers have a beautiful silver bag (just wash it out and/or wrap up your gift to avoid any leftover grease rubbing off on your present inside).

The possibilities are endless … and oh so frugal.

Make a free photo book this weekend!

Oprah is on a decluttering kick, and Snapfish is partnering with her to offer viewers a free photo book. These are 8 1/2 by 11 photo albums you make online, with up to 20 pages.

Today is the last day to sign up, and you must make the book by midnight on Sunday, Nov. 16.

But the holidays are just around the corner, and a book would be a great gift!

I actually used this service last year to put my family’s photos from the past few years into books, one volume per year. They make great coffee table volumes … without all the cutting and pasting of scrapbooking.

Vote for coffee

There’s so much in the media and blogosphere about voting for mavericks and voting for change. But hopefully the cheapskates among us have also seen the call to Vote for Joe.

If you stop by Starbucks and say, “I voted,” you can walk away with a free tall cup of coffee. Now there’s a way to warm up America on Tuesday. (Or of course, you can go to your local coffee shop, buy a cup of coffee and tell them you’re voting there with your wallet.)

** Update: Now you can just have a free cup of coffee for election day — and a free scoop of ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s, and a free Krispy Kreme doughnut (although there, they want to see your “I Voted” sticker). **

If you’d like to watch a commercial that says the same thing, but with music, here it is: