Reading 101: How to Survive a Trip to the Bookstore

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I am entirely unembarrassed to admit that I have a book buying obsession, and it’s gotten a bit out of hand recently.  Book buying bans are essentially out of the question, so how do I go about restricting the number of books I’m purchasing during my countless trips to the bookstore?  Stretching every last dollar so that I’m getting the greatest possible number of books for the smallest sum of money?  Prioritizing which books I want to purchase immediately versus which can wait a few months?  I’ve amassed a few tips and tricks that have worked well for me in the past with the hopes of helping a few fellow bookworms.


  • pen + paper (to create a pre-written list of potential buys)
  • wallet or endearing parent/friend with wallet
    • Optional: gift cards, if applicable
  • bookstore
  • transportation to said bookstore
  • Optional: snacks/coffee/some form of provisions, depending upon how long you usually spend at the bookstore

Before Heading to the Bookstore

Creating a Spending Budget

Whether this equates to leaving your credit/debit cards at home and only bringing a specific dollar amount of cash with you to the bookstore, try to stick to your initial budget.

If you usually underspend, don’t feel obligated to pick up another book or two, particularly if there’s nothing that immediately catches your eye or that you’re extremely enthusiastic about; you can always put the additional money toward your next trip to the bookstore.  Never purchase anything that you know you won’t read – it’ll only clutter up your shelves and make you feel guilty that you spent good money on it but never actually open it.

Pro Tip: On the other hand, if you’re prone to overspending, try bringing a responsible friend or family member along with you.  Tell them about your budget beforehand, and ask them to force you to stick to it.  They’re not allowed to let you walk out of the bookstore having spent a cent over your spending allotment.

Tracking Books You Want to Read

Most bookworms find it useful to have a running list of books that they are interested in reading at some point in the near or distant future.  For example, I utilize the “To-Read Shelf” feature on Goodreads to track the books and series that have caught my eye or have been recommended by close friends.  If you’re not a fan of Goodreads’ cataloguing method, you can always use an alternate website or create a list of your own on your phone/tablet/computer or on some good old-fashioned paper.

Pro Tip: If you organize your to-read list in the order that you would like to acquire/read the books, it will make it that much easier when you go to purchase books (see our next tip below for more advice).

Fun fact and slight side-note: Barnes and Noble’s website just so happens to purge your cart of all of its contents after several weeks.  And yes, I had to learn this the hard way, hence my switch to using Goodreads to track the books I want to read.  Save yourself the frustration and learn from my mistakes.

Similarly, I also keep a running list of the books that I currently own to avoid purchasing any duplicates.  After all, who can remember with 100% accuracy whether they already own a specific book while staring at said novel while in the bookstore?  Therefore, I created my own shelf on Goodreads entitled “To-Read-Owned” to differentiate the books on my wishlist versus the ones that are already in my possession that I simply haven’t gotten around to yet.

Compiling List of Books to Purchase

Review your to-read list and determine which books you’re most eager to purchase during a given trip to the bookstore.  This step is much easier if your to-read list is organized by decreasing interest, allowing you to easily identify which books to pick up now versus later.

Create a short list composed of solely the books you wish to buy on a given day and bring this with you to the bookstore.  Ensure that your list is reasonable when compared to your predetermined spending budget so that you won’t be disappointed or face any surprises while in the checkout line.

While at the Bookstore

Look for Sales and Exceptionally Low Prices

When you arrive at the bookstore, automatically look for any advertised sales, reduced prices, clearance books, etc.  Even if they aren’t on your list of items to purchase, a lower than expected price may be incentive enough for you to buy one or two additional books.

If a particular vendor usually sends out coupons via email or snail mail (such as Barnes and Noble), you can generally search for these coupons online.  Don’t forget to read the fine print associated with the coupons, or you could be in for a surprise!

Pro Tip: In addition to seeking out any sales or special deals at the bookstore of your choosing, cross reference the prices to those of other stores as well as online vendors such as Amazon and Book Depository.  Trust me, it’s an awful feeling to realize that you were unnecessarily overcharged, particularly as a poor college student with medical school ahead of me.

In short, save money where you can, including at the bookstore.  Even if you’re not financially pressed for funds at the moment and it seems like the extra two or three dollars won’t make a significant difference, you may thank yourself later.  And if financial hardship doesn’t happen to be in your future (you lucky bastard), then think of it as setting aside money to buy even more books moving forward – those small sums of money that you’ve saved start to add up over time.  Either way, it’s a win-win situation.

Ask Employees for Recommendations

Employees are usually well-versed in the most popular books within a specific genre at any given time and can often provide you with excellent recommendations based upon books that you’ve recently enjoyed.  This can be particularly useful if you’re trying to decide between two or three books, so don’t forget to utilize the resources that are readily available to you.

Resisting Impulse Purchases

Everyone has impulsively purchased a book or ten on the way to the checkout line.  Even though you know you’ll dread the purchase the second you leave the store, you simply can’t stop yourself.  We’ve all been there.  This is one of those instances that your responsible friend/adult can step in and prevent you from buying something you’ll inevitably regret.

Pro Tip: If you’re alone at the bookstore and without a voice of reason to advise you against your purchase, you have a few choices:

a) Call a trusted friend to be that commanding voice that instructs you to put the book down and walk away.

b) Establish set criteria for purchasing books (this applies to all books, not just impulse buys).  In the past, I’ve found that in refusing to purchase books that have not been recommended to me by word of mouth or that I have failed to read a majority of positive reviews for (or any reviews, for that matter), I can avoid these impulsive transactions.  Instead of picking up these books and thinking nothing of it, I won’t even consider the purchase unless I’ve met the above criteria.  Haven’t read or watched any reviews?  Haven’t heard of it in the booktube or blogging community?  Haven’t had it personally recommended to me by a teacher family member, friend, etc?  Too bad, it can continue sitting on that shelf.

How do you navigate bookstores?  Tackle impulse buys?  Restrict the number of books you end up buying in a single sitting?  What general advice would you share?

If you would like to read more of our Reading 101 posts, you can view the rest of the series here.
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I am a freshman in college and an avid reader/reviewer, horseback rider, and graphic designer.  Since a young age, I have fostered a love of reading, beginning with my forays into the Nancy Drew series.  I’ve branched out significantly in my reading tastes since then, and my favorite genres include young adult, romance, mystery, and thriller.  I’m constantly trying to expand my horizons, however, so I do dabble in other genres.  While I’m not reading, I volunteer at a hippotherapy center and a veterinary clinic, practice agility with my dogs, play piano and guitar, and sketch.
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12 thoughts on “Reading 101: How to Survive a Trip to the Bookstore

  1. This is so incredibly helpful! I never thought to create a budget or a list of stuff to try to limit what I walk out of the store with, because it’s gotten insane recently! My last trip had me out almost $200 😁😁😁


  2. My credit card was my worst decision ever, because I don’t actually have to do the action of handing over money when I’m at the bookstore…which leads to a lot of overspending… my wallet starts hurting every time I’m within a 5 mi radius of a bookseller.


    • I understand exactly how you feel – I generally have to leave my credit and debit cards at home to completely eradicate the temptation. Otherwise, I tend to get a little too swipe-happy 😁


    • It works every time! Unless, of course, said friend also happens to be a bookworm with equally minimal self-control, in which case both of you are screwed in the finance department for the next five months. Perhaps I should have specified the personality of said friend that one should drag to the bookstore, because it can make quite the difference…


  3. Those dang impulse buys get me every single time!!! I swear I need to be like blindfolded as I’m headed out because I pick up so much extraneous crap. I literally have no self control ever and it’s the worst thing.


    • To think that there are people whose entire jobs revolve around marketing these books and ensuring that they snag the attentions of poor, financially unstable bookworms. Why do they have to be so dang good at their jobs?!?


  4. I just saw this immediately after getting home from a $300 trip that really tore a hole in my wallet, and I really wish I hadn’t seen this beforehand. I feel like the list of books before you go would really help me reign it in a bit because it’s gotten so excess recently and I don’t know what to do because the. I have ABSOLUTELY no money for anything else and it’s so annoying. Emptying out my wallet might help too, now that I think about it. Like only bringing the money I plan to spend at the bookstores…


    • That’s always a good plan – I usually end up spending whatever’s in my wallet to begin with, so there’s usually a cash dump at the house beforehand. Whenever I well-overspend my budget, I like to rationalize it with the excuse that there are worse addictions out there. And spending large amounts of money while in the bookstore always equates to large piles of books after the fact, so at least some good can come of it 😄


  5. These are such good trips for those who want to browse a bookstore and not buy the whole shop, or just buy a little bit of things. I can never really do that >.> Honestly, the best method for me is to just not go in. If I can even manage that.


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