I’ve always been an enthusiastic reader. As a child I liked to scarf down a book a day. I distinctly remember a conversation with my dad. I’m not sure how old I was, but I was certainly literate. My apartment was full of books, including my room, my parents room and my aunt’s room. I was allowed certain books, while others I was told I could read later. Both maturity and word count were a factor. I looked forward to getting new books and talking about them with my family. After a particularly exciting read, I came to my dad and told him “I’m going to read every book in this apartment. And then I’m going to read every book ever written”. For some reason, potentially because he’s a fact based scientist by day (and by night, he loves science and facts), my dad decided to tell me that this would not happen. He explained to me the sheer volume of work that existed, as well as the fact that new works are created every day. I did the only reasonable thing: I cried.
I still kind of feel like crying when I think about it. I’m a giant nerd who really loves to read. I read mostly everything. If you exclude paperback romances, westerns… and well, any mass produced genre designed to just churn things out, there is a chance I read it. I checked the statistics and the average American has read 4 books in the last year. I’m sad if I average 52.
I used to feed this habit with money. Shopping for books and buying books was a source of great joy for me. I enjoyed my diverse bookshelves and the knowledge and adventures contained within. I loved looking at the covers and organizing them in different ways. And then we moved… and then we moved again. I imagine there are more burdensome things to move with. Like a piano or a five piece sectional sofa. For us, the books were it. They were 90% mine and I only re-read maybe 5% of them the whole time. That is a lot of pounds of printed words to carry around.
At our latest place, we decided to simplify. As we were walking around our new city we discovered a downtown bookstore. Of course I had to peak in, and to no surprise they had Steven King’s newest novel “Under the Dome”. Obviously I had to buy that. I’ve been a Steven King fan since the 6th grade! But I noticed the store had a discount on Kobo readers. For those unfamiliar (don’t feel bad, this is literally everybody) Kobo is a ereader company based out of Canada. You know, the Kindle, but half the price and really nice, eh? Since the purchase included a free download (aka the Steven King novel for $27.99) the device itself rang in at about $25. Don’t regret it at all, it had a great battery life (like days to weeks) and did everything I needed it to do.
Unfortunately, that included making the process of buying books really, really easy. If you are a minimalist, an ereader is a fantastic solution. You can stop reading here. If however, you are concerned with frugality as well, then read on. In 2016, I spent more than $1,200 on ebooks. That is not a typo. My 2016 ebook collection was worth the same as my car. That seemed crazy. When we decided to go down the frugal path, I knew this is an area where I’d have to cut back, or eliminate completely. I felt the immediate push-back of “I could NEVER do THAT”. In spite of it, I decided to give a book buying ban a try.
If you’ve never owned an ereader, a few things to keep in mind. If you buy the model without a backlight, it feels pretty much like reading a book. Classics run about $0.99-$2.99, which is very cheap. New releases will be 2-3 dollars cheaper than the hardcovers. This, in turn, seems crazy to me. You own no physical item, why is the discount so low?! But I could have a new release at 12.01 am, so naturally I bought it! All my favorite authors, Entertainment Weekly recommendations, New York Time bestsellers list. It had to stop. I was averaging over $100 per month, ten times the cost of a Netflix subscription.
I reflected back to a time when I had no money, but did have a love of reading- my childhood. Every week I made one or two trips to the nearby libraries, and I remembered them fondly. I decided to give it a go, and now I have a new addiction. I mostly use the college library (I am a faculty member).
Some fun facts about libraries:
- The books are free!
I mean, duh! However, if you’re a fast reader, this is worth mentioning. Even if we look at the statistic of 4 books per year, if we assume they are new releases in hardcover, that is circa $110 savings per year. If you were to invest that with compound interest, in ten years you’d have $1,842. In my instance, averaging around $100 a month, the math equaled $20,100. That’s reason enough, but I’ll continue with the list 😉
- Benjamin Franklin founded the first American library.
This really is just a fun fact. If you’re wondering how I know this, it’s not my bookworm nature and library obsession. This is, in fact, one of the questions asked on the citizenship test for those who want to become a US citizen. Poll your friends, see who’s worthy of the red white and blue, and earn a natural segue to more library trivia.
- Interlibrary Loan
The world is big, round and connected. If your library doesn’t have a book you want to read, they can get it for you. At my institution, you can get up to $200 of interlibrary loans a year at no cost to you, and I’ve never exceeded that.
Not sure what the header should be here, but if the library can’t find the book in the interlibrary collection, they will purchase it. And you will get to be the first person to check it out! Enjoy that new book smell, baby!
- Digital check outs
Yes, you can also check out books for your e-reader. Full disclosure, I have not had much luck with my Kobo, as it is very rare and Ben Franklin librarians can’t trouble shoot devices from across the pond. But I’ve had plenty of luck with my computer, and Mr. Sweetspot has checked out quite a few audio-books using aps like OverDrive.
- Additional programming
Fun fact about our county. To legally engage in falconry, you have to go through hunter safety training… AKA a firearms course. How do I know this? From a falconry presentation at the library. Libraries offer diverse, free programming. From Photoshop classes, to tax return preparation to reading with dogs for kids.
“But certainly there must be disadvantages,” you say. Why of course. Let’s call these:
Some sad facts about libraries:
- You can’t get the newest releases
Yes, you can’t get the book the day it is published. But you will get it for free, in 3-4 months. As we’ve talked about before, delaying the marshmallow is a key concept of frugality. For the savings, I’m willing to wait. Additionally, in my experience, book worms make for horrible gossips, so spoilers are few and far between.
- Late fees
If you don’t return the books, you will pay late fees. Before you panic, at my library at least, I can borrow a book for a minimum of 3 weeks and renew up to three times for a total of 9 weeks, some libraries are even longer. Additionally, fees are typically around $0.05 a day. Additionally, most libraries have a fee forgiveness date, where you can donate a can of food for each dollar in fines. The cans go to feed the hungry in the local community, and you can pay your debts for half the cost and a good cause.
As you see, for me the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. If you haven’t checked out your local library, I encourage you to do so.
“Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.” ― Anne Herbert