Reading books can quickly become an expensive pastime, but it doesn't have to be that way.

There are many ways that you can greatly decrease the cost of reading -- sometimes to literally nothing -- without compromising the breadth of literature available.

Here are five ways to get your fix for the written word for free:

1. Test-Read at the Library

You would never purchase a car before you took it out for a test drive. You can approach purchasing books the same way -- and save a lot of money.

If you are going to read or reference a book again and again, then it is worth purchasing and adding to your home library. But if you'll never crack it open again after the first read, it probably is not worth purchasing. The library offers you a chance to test-read books before you purchase them.

You should be able to get almost any book you want from your library. Even if your branch doesn't carry it, it can most likely be secured through the inter-library loan system, where libraries lend books to one another. This way you can see if the book is worth adding to your collection before spending money for it.

If you live near a university or college, getting a membership to the campus library can have great benefits, especially if your local library system isn't up to par. While there will likely be a yearly fee, it will give you access to more scientific and specialty literature than may be available at your local library.

2. Read Online

You can read many books online for free. Project Gutenberg has thousands of public-domain books that that are free to download and read. You can also check out Google Books to see the full text of books they have already scanned into their system.

For those who enjoy audio books, you can go to LibriVox , which offers free audio book downloads.

3. Become a Book Reviewer

Most people never consider this option, but if you enjoy a particular genre of books, you can get the latest releases for free if you become a book reviewer.

The easiest way is to write a review for your local newspaper (offer to write one for free, and your offer will almost always be accepted), but if you blog about a certain subject, you can often get review copies of related books simply by asking. Contact the publisher and ask for a review copy of the book for the blog or newspaper that you write for.

4. Read What You Already Have

Chances are that you have a number of books on your bookshelves that you have never read for one reason or another. Take a look and read those that you have been meaning to read before purchasing new books.

5. Share

If you have family, friends, co-workers or members of social networks who have similar reading tastes as yourself, you can start a book exchange. You lend your books and borrow books from others, and everyone gets new reading material without having to buy it.

Not every option is free, but there are plenty of ways to get new books that are cheaper than a bookstore. Here a few:

1. Trade

Chances are that you have bookshelves full of books that you haven't looked at in years and likely aren't going to. You can use these as trading material for books that you do want and will use in the future.

The following sites offer book swapping capabilities:

  • Bookins
  • Book Mooch
  • Paperback Swap
  • Title Trader

While there is the cost of shipping involved, it is a less-expensive way to get books you're interested in reading if you have books on your current bookshelves you are willing to trade.

2. Secondhand

For those who are willing to do a bit of hunting, quality books can be picked up for pennies on the dollar at garage sales, flea markets, library book sales and charity resale stores such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. While the selection is often very limited, it's a great place to pick up new reading material for next to nothing.

3. Used Book Stores

Another place to pick up discounted books is at a used book store. The quality of these stores varies, but if you can find one that stocks books that appeal to your interests, these can be excellent places to pick up books at bargain prices.

4. Rent

If you are a voracious reader or someone who likes to read the latest titles, Book Swim may be an alternative worth considering. It works much like a Netflix for books, where you pay a monthly fee to have the books you want sent to your house, then return them for a new book when you're finished. While this won't save most people money, in certain circumstances it may be worth considering.

5. Online

If you know that you want a book, getting it online can often be cheaper than purchasing it at a bookstore. The key to making sure you're getting a good deal is to calculate the shipping costs, since this can greatly inflate the price of the book. Online bookstores such as AbeBooks.com and Amazon.com also offer numerous reviews that can help you determine if the book is truly something you want to read. You can also checks sites such as eBay and Half.com to find books. If you are willing to purchase used from these venues, you can save even more.

6. Comparison Web Sites

If you don't want to do all the searching yourself online to find which site has the best price on the book you're looking for, there are a number of book aggregators that will pull the best prices from the popular bookselling sites.

Here are a few worth considering:

  • BooksPrice
  • Compare Book
  • CampusI
  • AddAll

On any of these sites, enter the title of the book, the author's name or some other identifying information, and the aggregators will search for the best price around. This can save you quite a bit of time locating the best price on the books you are interested in while saving you money.

7. Buy What You Need

It sounds ridiculous, but most people buy far more books than they ever read. Many times you pick up a book with the intentions of reading it, but for various reasons it never gets read. Taking the time to consider whether or not you will really have the time to read a book before purchasing it can go a long way toward saving money.

By choosing the saving ideas that work with your reading habits, you should be able to read all the books you want at a fraction of the price you're currently spending.
Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.

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