Book Budgeting

Shopping Cart filled with booksIn recent discussions, especially in the comments for some of the Books on Sale posts, a few of you have mentioned your book budgets. Sometimes it's howls of agony that the monthly budget has been exceeded by yet another tempting $1.99 deal – I feel your pain, as I'm equally susceptible. 

But a few have mentioned interesting solutions, such as Tam and Dora on 11 April. Dora mentioned how tempting some of the sales are, and that she needed to come up with a book buying rule. 

Tam replied: 

I try and budget (note the use of the word try), by using gift cards.  I send them to myself each month as my book budget spending.  It mostly works.

I've seen other readers mention this strategy in passing, too – especially when the gift card can often be purchased at a grocery store checkout along with all the other necessities (of course books are a necessity, right?). 

I limit my book purchases by attempting to budget my time – or by forcing myself to recognize that my reading time, alas, is not infinite. I started listing what I've bought and when its “read by” date is on an evolving spreadsheet. (I know you can use a “to-read” shelf on Goodreads, but I prefer to use the spreadsheet.) That way I can track what book, what genre, when it releases (if it's not out yet), where I heard about it (blog? Twitter? eavesdropping on the train?), and whether I've read, DNFd, or written a review. Often looking at what I have on the list for April, May, June, etc. stops me from buying one more, because if I know I'm not going to get to it soon, I'm better off skipping that one. 

But I'm just as susceptible to the .99 and $1.99 temptations, so I repeatedly try to stop myself from buying more books without first looking at my Reality Check Spreadsheet. For example, the Linda Lael Miller sale this week was hugely tempting, so I bought one and started it – and as I mentioned yesterday, I want to slack off and keep reading instead of getting things done. 

So I budget my time, while some readers use a financial limit to curb book buying. What about you? How do you budget your book purchases? Any strategies that work really well?


Random Musings

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  1. 1

    Even though I received my Kindle for Christmas in 2011, I didn’t start using it for library books until just a couple months ago. Though the Fairfax County (Virginia) library system is surprisingly limited, my mom has a library card through the Columbus (Ohio) Metro system and lets me use her log-in. Shhhh, don’t tell on me! Between those two systems, I have 50-60k books to choose from across all genres.

    If there’s a book I know I want to keep forever and read multiple times – Milan, McKenna, Dare, Dahl, Bill Bryson – I’ll go ahead and buy it. But if it’s a new author or something I’m not sure of, I save the title to my Wish List on Amazon then check the library sites to see if it’s available there first.

    Since I’ve only been checking the libraries for a few months, I sometimes forget and get one-click happy, but I’ve probably gotten more than ten books from the libraries lately, which means I’ve saved anywhere from $20-$70.

    Though I’m still not in love with audio, I do get those from the library as well when I have a long road trip coming up.

  2. 2
    Algae says:

    The library!  As soon as I see a book that looks like something I want to read, I check the my library’s collection first.  Since my local library syncs with the state libraries, I can check to see if a book is available anywhere in the state and ask for it to be sent to me.  I can usually find it.

    If it’s not, I usually mark it as To-Read in Goodreads and once a month or so, go through that list and see if it’s now at the library.

    After a couple of months of that, if I still want to read it, I give in and buy it.

    I do have a couple of authors I buy automatically and most sales are for something I’ve read several times (I have no shame about checking a book out again from the library just because I’m in the mood to read it again).  Before Kindle, I probably spent several hundred dollars on books every year. I’m probably down to about $75 a year, because I either get them from the library or wait for it to be on sale for less than $5.

  3. 3
    Liz says:

    You may not realize it, but libraries only get X many uses out of e-book leases. Your cost savings is hurting readers (and tax payers) in Central Ohio.

  4. 4

    It took me a long time to figure out a workable book budget. I would tell myself, “I’m making a book budget. I read X books in a month, and spend on average $Y on books, so I should not need to have more than $X*Y in my book budget!” And then I’d always buy 2*X books the next month.

    At some point, I figured out that I was not just buying books to read them. Buying books is an emotional thing—if I’m feeling uncertain or sad, what’s better than flipping through books and deciding which one to buy? And how better to make sure that life will be okay than to ensure that whatever happens next, I will definitely not run out of books? And then I just started getting mad at myself. “STOP BEING RIDICULOUS, COURTNEY, WHY ARE YOU BUYING BOOKS YOU DON’T NEED?” I would mutter, as I passed a stack of books to the clerk.

    It took me a really, embarrassingly long time to figure out that emotional needs are also needs, and it made more sense to change my budget to accommodate my emotional needs than to change myself to accommodate my budget.

    Once I gave myself permission to buy books emotionally, I figured out how to differentiate between the books I was buying to read and the books I was buying because damn it, I deserved to buy a book. When I’m in the latter mood, I try to get books that are free/0.99. My emotional side doesn’t care how much I spend, so I’m still meeting that emotional need. So now I spend less money AND don’t feel guilty about emotional book buying. But I had to give myself permission to buy books I wasn’t going to read first—otherwise, I’d be really good for three weeks and then I’d have a bad day and I’d go and buy five books at $9.99 that I would never read.

    Now I have a prepaid reloadable card that automatically loads my book budget every month. When I’m out of money, Amazon sends me the e-mail of shame and I gnash my teeth and wail.

    Unless I really need to buy a book, and then I cheat and switch to my debit card.

  5. 5
    LILinda says:

    I use a combination of ‘all of the above’. I find it frustrating to find a specific title in the E Library, so use that more as a browsing tool.  (seriously,I still don’t think they have the last Nora from the Inn Boonsboro series and no Greenway at all). I have found some treasures and found some new authors.

    I semi use the gift card system- my cc is on file if I go over, but doesn’t happen often. I’m a sale buyer- no $10 e books for me. I go the gift card one better. Way back when I had a Borders credit card and I charged groceries each week to magically get gift certificates in the mall. I replaced it with a reward card that lets me buy gift cards with points- full gift cards, not the silly ‘$5 off a card’ reward.

    About once a month I hit the shelves and wander around the library,and always manage to come with an armful.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:


    So true about book buying meeting emotional needs. I hadn’t thought about it like that, but you’re totally right.

  7. 7

    I don’t have a set-in-stone book budget, but I do try to read a book or two out of my TBR pile before I buy a new one. So maybe that way I am slowly whittling it down. That doesn’t always work, though, especially with all the e-book deals out there. LOL.

  8. 8
    Kristin says:

    This sounds embarrassing, but when my husband gave me my Kindle a few years ago for my birthday, he also gave me a book allowance. Otherwise, I would be completely bankrupt. We have built in bookcases in our home that are filled entirely with my books. We donated a very large box of books to the public library last year and still, every single shelf is still filled.

    He had to give me a book allowance for our little one, too. Our son, who is not yet five, has so many books we have to stack them on the floor because we ran out of bookcase space.

    At first, I was like, “grown woman, here, I can manage my own book spending,” but honestly, having that limit from him was a good way to keep myself in check.

    That and the two library cards I have. My town library allows me to take out 5 ebooks at a time and I’ve never hit the limit on physical books. I also have a library card for Boston (any Mass. resident can get it) that allows me to take out 10 ebooks at a time. I can read to my heart’s content and still keep under my allowance. (or spend my allowance on my son so he gets more books)

  9. 9
    blodeuedd says:

    I am really really strict and buy only a few books a year, I can count them on my fingers. The rest I wish for at xmas and my bday. Cos else I would buy SO much.  And luckily I do not have a credit card so I can’t buy ebooks ;)

  10. 10
    Make Kay says:

    All my presents from family for holidays and birthdays is book money. I check out a book from the library if it’s available, and I buy a Gold Key membership from so I can have 300 books on my wish list instead of only 200. Try to only buy books if they’re on sale or if library doesn’t have them and it will be over a year until I can get it on I read a book a day, so if I bought them all I would be so broke.

  11. 11
    LenoreJ says:

    I link my Discovercard refund to my Amazon account and use that to buy books. I also have a visa that will let me turn points into Barnes & Noble gift cards at an attractive rate. I use those to buy books, too. Since I try to charge everything and pay it off at month’s end, I usually have 30-50 reward bucks a month to spend on books….yay!

  12. 12
    Kim W says:

    I don’t set any kind of a budget and I buy A LOT of books.  But I have gotten much better at only buying books that I genuinely want to read so I’m pretty resistant to spur of the moment purchases and sales unless it is a sale on a book in my carefully maintained WL.  I’m much more worried about wasting my time on a book I don’t like than wasting my money.  I have enough money but I don’t have enough time.

  13. 13
    kkw says:

    Starting when I was in junior high I would spend my lunch money at the used book store (mmm so delicious) and thus my habit was limited to a book a day, and not a popular or attractive book at that. The library was happy to fill other needs. But then used book stores started going out of business, and you could get everything in the universe online. It rapidly became clear that I had to be banned from internet purchases or I’d be skipping all my meals and still wind up in debtor’s prison.

    So I use the library, but am really super impressed with people who have a more finely regulated self control than all or nothing.

  14. 14
    Amanda says:

    I haven’t really put a budget down but that sounds like such a good idea.  However I usually keep in mind the must buys that are releasing that month and if there are several I cut back on my extra buying.
    I use to love eBook sales but no longer spend on them like I once did.  If I am only vaguely interested and really don’t see myself reading the eBook in the near future than I skip it.

  15. 15
    laj says:

    Back when Borders was in business my book budget was seriously out of control… not so much. These days I always check the library before buying……I have access to four libraries, so I rarely buy print books and the Seattle and L.A. Libraries have enormous e-media catalogs. I do buy a lot of the $1.99 and under daily deals, or back lists from my go to authors, but usually those come to Overdrive if I wait a bit. I check the library catalogs religiously every morning and I rarely have to wait long in the holds line.

    @TaylorReynolds@CourtneyMilan: I do the gift card route with coffee. I was spending way too much, using a reloadable gift card keeps me on a budget and from eating to many pastries.

  16. 16
    Cathy KJ says:

    I didn’t previously have a book budget, and never felt like I was spending an excessive amount, but at the end of last year I realized I had a lot of unread books.  I’ve also been exercising regularly and losing weight, so for 2014 I decided to tie my book budget and weight loss together – every time I lose a pound I get $15 to spend on books.  There are some books that are exceptions – I will get the new Kate Daniel’s book on release day come hell or high water – but so far I’ve stuck with it and it’s forced me to be a bit more thoughtful about some of my purchases.

  17. 17
    laj says:

    @Kristin: That’s the thing! Why buy when the LAPL allows me 20 e-media checkouts and the SPL 25! It’s easy to get carried away…..between audios and e-books I have 20 books on my Kindle waiting to be read. My husband can’t grouse at me anymore because he buys way more from Amazon than I did back when Borders was around. I feel very superior about that too. :)

  18. 18
    Phyl says:

    Like many others, I go the gift card route. I allow myself one $25 card per month for my kindle purchases. I am also very fortunate to be an Ohio resident where we have some of the best library systems in the country. I can’t afford to buy everything I read, so I supplement my buying with my library. I am also very proactive in asking my library to buy books I want to read. I figure that a sale is a sale, whether it’s to me or to the library. My library has never failed to buy a book I’ve requested. And it’s automatically reserved for me so I’m first in line to borrow it when it comes in. Bonus!

  19. 19
    LauraL says:

    Timely question as Mr. L said I am killing our Amazon credit card $1.99 at a time! This is the guy who buys everything from Amazon ….

    I’ve only had a Kindle a few months, so I think I am still learning tricks around eBooks. I try to buy Kindle books on sale or get them through the local library. I’ve actually bought only two or three books at full price in the past few months because I just couldn’t wait!

    For paper books, I buy the really popular titles at Target with my 5% RedCard and trade them in at our local used bookstore if they aren’t keepers. I also check the used book store for the older titles, especially some of the books mentioned here on SBTB. I pre-order some of my authors’ favorite books, paper or eBook, as I’ve noticed a lot of times the price drops right before publication day.

    I don’t really have a budget for books/reading, but I try to be careful. My husband and I have a goal of early retirement and are getting close. The thought of spending time reading and writing instead of being a techie is like a carrot in front of me and I really think through purchases.

    @ Phyl – my goddaughter is a librarian in Ohio. She showed me the eBook selection from her library and it was awesome. In my area, the eBooks are just catching on at our local library.

  20. 20
    Heather S says:

    I rarely buy an ebook that costs more than $3. I put items I want on my Amazon wishlist and import them to my eReader IQ watch list, and keep an eye out for notifications of price drops. I racked up a TON of books between Thanksgiving and the New Year that way (thank you, Sourcebooks, for putting all the Kearsleys in your repetoire on sale soooo cheap!). –

    Some months I don’t buy very many at all – or I go for the freebies – so I feel like it balances out.

  21. 21
    MissB2U says:

    I use my local library.  I’m lucky to have one of the best volunteer jobs ever with the local Friends of the Library group. I’m part of the team that sorts through all the book donations that come in – and we get a metric crapton of them!  The books go one of four places.  To the online team, of which I am one, to be researched, priced and sold; to the bookstore, to the quarterly sale or to be donated to women’s shelters throughout the county.  I spend a lot of time in the workroom surrounded by boxes and bags of donated books all of which I am allowed to read for free.  It’s so great I can’t even tell you.  We have the most generous patrons around and get some truly wonderful donations.  I’m proud to say we donated almost 50K to our library last year!

    If I can’t find a book in the library system or the workroom I’ll put it on my list to buy.  I won’t spend more than eight dollars on an ebook unless it’s one of my few autobuy authors.  I totally agree with Courtney about the emotional aspect of book buying.  I used to always make sure I had three of four books over the weekend, but with now with my tablet and my volunteer job I can always get a book if I need one and I spend much less.

  22. 22
    Hannah says:

    I spend a lot less than when I first got an e-reader in 2010-2011. Back then I had only one child, a lot more disposable income, and let’s just say a month where I spent $200 on books wasn’t uncommon. I am way beyond SABLE (stash acquisition beyond life expectancy or some such thing) with my ebook library. Of course many of those books were cheapies or freebies.
    This is in spite of the fact that I have access to some e-galleys and ebooks from the library. Needless to say, I spend much more judiciously now, and try to buy from Kobo with a coupon whenever possible. Now I also have more than $100 in my settlement credit from Amazon to spend (the result of my previous spending habits!) which should last many months.

  23. 23
    Vicki says:

    When I looked at how much the 1.99 books added up to, I started putting them on my wish list and looking at them a day later. I also would remind myself that five of those would let me get a 9.99 book that I would rather read. So I try to avoid the bargain books unless I really want them and have been waiting for them to go on sale. The other thing I do is read all the one star reviews. I find that cools my ardor very well.

  24. 24
    MJones says:

    I don’t have a budget. I buy books every day, usually. I do have a limit on his much I spend on a book and try to limit it to $X a day but for the most part I buy what looks good. Eventually I’ll read it. Or not… But the option to read it there and that’s what I like.

    If a book is pricy I wait till used copies are available and buy that. I only buy $8 ebooks from authors I know and love.

  25. 25
    chacha1 says:

    I have a $50-per-paycheck Amazon allowance, and have gotten pretty good at sticking to it.  But occasionally I will be driven over the edge, because of:
    Grumpy Rumblings
    Brain Pickings
    Casual Kitchen
    All of which talk about books and tend to point me to things I think would be interesting and/or useful.

    Case in point, I just got a copy of selected journals by Hans Christian Andersen thanks to Brain Pickings.  Something I needed? No.  But I’ve done very little primary-source reading on 19th-c. Europe and he sounds like an interesting guy.  So, you know.  And I did actually find it via Amazon even though it is out of print.

    I use my Amazon wishlist religiously.  Almost never buy a book the first time I look at it, unless it is 1.99 or less.

    Vacations tend to result in at least one physical book, as we tend to go to museums etc and we always visit their shops.  :-)

    One day I would love to volunter at my library.  Right now there is no time.  I don’t think they would even recognize my card, it’s been so long since I checked anything out.  I donate books there a couple of times a year.

  26. 26
    Joan Helbacka says:

    And that’s what we pay taxes for, but if any of us feel we’ve been over-using our local libraries are happy to accept donations. I’ve noticed that my libraries now have fewer copies of eBooks so new releases always have waiting lists and I can’t be the only one trolling the “new releases” list on a daily basis. They also have waiting lists for corporal books so not much difference

  27. 27
    LML says:

    My idea of heaven on earth would be a monthly book budget of $760.00.

  28. 28
    Blossom says:

    I am also someone who buys books when I need to feel better. Everything Courtney says is true about emotional book buying. It makes me feel better getting a new shiny book when life just isn’t going my way.

    I don’t have a set book budget but I do try to limit my buying but I feel odd if I go a few days without buying a ebook. I have a hard time paying for a book over $4 these days so it’s not like I am splurging as much as I use to. As others here, I do check my libraries first. I have memberships to two local and two out of state that I pay for that carry alot of the more pricey ebooks.

    I also do Swagbucks (Rewards Program) everyday just so I can buy books with gift cards and as I work hard earning those daily pennies, I have spent alot less on books than when I pay for them out of our income. My husband no longer complains about my books because I am paying for them with my own spare time. I would say I spend about $12 a week on books and that usually averages about 5 to 6 books.

  29. 29
    Kate Person says:

    @ Courtney Milan – I know the feeling, “I deserve to buy this book.”  And I enjoy that more than the feeling of: “I deserve this decadent baklava shake.” A book helps my emotional coping much better than another desert does! (FYI- you are one of my auto-buy authors, love your work.)

    @ Make Kay – That’s the first I’ve heard of PaperBackSwap, very interesting. Do you have a budget for postage when people request your listed swap?

    @ Hannah – That’s also the first I’ve heard of Kobo, pretty cool to hear of solid Amazon alternative. Their website looks nice too. (Not that I have anything against Amazon, but it’s nice to share the love.)

    @Vicki – I used to avoid the reviews, so many give spoilers, but I’ve started reading them on the impulse buys. It really does help. Sometimes it’s a plotline I don’t prefer and it makes it easier to pass. 

    As for me, I don’t have a conscious budget. I buy and read the same way I write, in waves.  If I’m burnt out on my WIP then I’ll switch to reading and devour two or three books. Reading usually spikes my motivation to get back to my own work.  I’ll buy my favorite authors at full-price, impulse buy on ebooks, and seriously underuse the library near me.

  30. 30
    Karenmc says:

    I’m a sucker for ebooks on sale, but last year I figured something out: if I put a title on my private Amazon book wishlist, I get some satisfaction just from knowing it’s there. My purchased TBR pile is already too big, so it’s not like I’m short-changing my reading, and I’m saving money at the same time. Must be that emotional thing Courtney Milan is talking about.

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