How I Save $430 a Year on Books

Yep…the library. Borrowing instead of buying books is one of the most obvious, painless ways to save a ton of money.

It hurts me a little to say this, because I used to be in the book publishing industry and made my living from people buying books. Plus, I was an English major in college and have always thought of books as sacred, special things to be protected and collected at all costs. But the truth is, those costs add up.

The fact that books are made from a precious natural resource (trees) doesn’t help their cause either. Way too many books are read once and then sent to their final resting place—the bookshelf—to gather dust and never be touched by human hands again.

Now I love the idea of book collections, in theory. Mahogany-paneled libraries filled to the ceiling with leather-bound tombs (some of which you need one of those cool rolling ladders to reach). Or even a sparse apartment featuring nothing but bookshelves made from plywood and cinderblocks, filled to the brim with poetry and obscure, contemporary fiction. A unique or sprawling collection of books says something about its owner: that he or she values the written word immensely, perhaps at the expense of comfortable furniture. You have to respect someone who builds up a home library and actually uses it (instead of, say, flicking on the television each night).

But I’ve always been way too much of a clutter-control freak to have disheveled stacks of books lying around. And being in the book publishing industry, I ironically couldn’t afford loads of books. So now, I’m left with a couple of shelves lined with classics I read in high school and college, and the occasional purchase of a popular book I know I’ll want to pass around to friends (like the Twilight series hardcover box set…don’t judge). Outside of these exceptions, I almost always borrow instead of buy.

I love the library because:

  1. It’s free. The only plastic needed here is a library card.
  2. You can view your account online. Most library systems have an easy online interface that allows you to place a request for almost any book out there (though expect a wait for the current popular reads).
  3. More than just books. The library offers other media, too, like audiobooks, DVDs, and magazines. I’ve recently gotten into the habit of checking out Books on DVD to listen to in my car. Way better than mindless radio that’s riddled with annoying ads.
  4. It’s close. My local branch is closer to my house than a bookstore. On nice days I usually walk there.
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I also love that the library is all about community, not consumerism. All kinds of people are inside, whether it’s the kids not quite adhering to the “silence is golden” rule, the homeless guy who needs a warm, dry place to sit for awhile, or those who come in solely for the free internet.

The more you read, the more you save

While I don’t want the book publishing industry to suffer anymore, and I don’t want to see more bookstores go out of business, I personally don’t spend my money on books. By borrowing from the library, I calculate that I save around $430 a year. This is in addition to the square footage I save by not having to find a spot to store the books once I’m done reading them. True, electronic devices like the Kindle solve the physical storage problem, but they’re expensive. I don’t want to buy one for $299 just to have the technology skip ahead, quickly rendering my model obsolete. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to turn actual paper pages, not digitally simulated ones.

The more time you spend as a bookworm, the more money you save. Think of the cost of some other popular forms of entertainment: movie tickets, premium cable stations, Netflix, etc. While I’m not suggesting giving up all of these, choosing to read a book instead of going out to the movies every once in awhile can save big bucks. Getting lost in a good read you borrowed from the library costs you nothing, and can be far more enjoyable / life-changing / mind-opening than watching the latest episode of a favorite reality TV show.

The library and your credit

In my opinion, the library is still the best, most frugal way to enjoy books. Just take care to return what you borrow to avoid a collection account from popping up on your credit report (check out #4 on the Obscure Credit Facts list from Liz Pulliam Weston). The good news is that the new FICO scoring model won’t ding you for collections under $100 (like unpaid library fines). So borrow fearlessly and borrow often from your local library, and give your credit card a much-needed break!

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