Without dropping $200 - $500 for a Pantone book that I don't plan to use very often, is there a better option to get one?
You could always buy them by the chips if you only need them temporary:
Another option would be to see if someone is selling them used (local sign shop/print shop). Some shops do believe that a rotation of 2 years is standard to purchase and stay up to date with Pantone Books. If you are only needing a few colors you could always consult a local FedEx/Kinkos and ask if they have a Pantone Book on hand to see some colors for some work you may want to get printed. I have seen some go for sale if you are not in a hurry from sign shops on Craigslist going out of business, too.
After realizing you are near me I remembered that there is a search option on Pantone to find a local dealer:
results: Pantone Store Locator
If you want to have real colors you will have to buy a new one. Ebay has some relatively inexpensive coated / uncoated books.
You could contact a local printer and ask them for a copy. They probably have older ones they can sell you (yep, go in and ask!).
The problem with used books is that they fade, the paper absorbs moisture and that makes the hue change. You can get an old book for reference (not too old, as the numbers changed), but keep in mind they are probably not exactly the colors.
Or as Matt mentions you can get collections of paint chips from large DIY stores or in car catalogs.