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How to Buy Used Books at Yard Sales

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for May, 2005

Summer's almost upon us (for us Northern hemispheroids), and that means both yard sales and time at the beach. In other words, time to acquire more books.

Fortunately, yard sales are a really good place to pick up the reading matter you'll consume on your vacation. Also, look for quantities of books at church, library, and school sales. And if you live in a college town, drift through campus this week and see what's being tossed.

But there are good ways and bad ways to buy used books.

First of all, how will you use the book? If it's really to read on the beach, its condition doesn't matter much, as long as the pages don't fall out or crumble. You'll probably read and toss (or pass on), so buy books that are already pretty beat. Sun, sand, and water will pretty much kill them anyway.

Pay 10, 25, or even 50 cents (for a book of several hundred pages). Or get lucky and fill up a bag for a dollar. If the book smells musty or moldy, keep it away far from your regular bookshelves; the rot can spread quickly.

For books that are "keepers," especially classy art books, be fussier. First thing, hold it up and give it a sniff. With any whiff of mold, pass it by. Then look the book over for damage, stains, warped covers, torn or marked-up pages. You may still decide to buy, but at least you have some price leverage.

At yard sales, the range for books in good shape should be no more than $2, unless they're art books, collectible, or something you've been wanting for years. Even used bookstores usually charge no more than half the cover price, so that should be your top limit.

More on this subject in my e-book, The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook. Happy bargaining!

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