I’m not ashamed to admit it – I’m a book junkie. It started when I was 7 and I read an entire book on my own for the very first time. It’s a vivid memory…
Early one Sunday morning In late fall, I rise before my parents, quietly tiptoe past their bedroom door to the thermostat, reach up, and use my child-sized hand to minutely twist the tiny knob up to 70 degrees. I want the heat to kick on.
I continue tiptoeing out to our living room and pick up my book from the small, dark brown, side table its resting on. On the same table is a large, highly ornamented, vase-shaped lamp. I turn it on.
I kneel in front of a wall vent bracketed by two upholstered chairs. The chairs – one yellow gold and one burnt orange – are as soft as a fuzzy blanket. The floor is covered in short, dark green carpet with an embossed pattern.
I lower myself down further onto my stomach, press my bare feet against the cold vent, and prop myself up on my elbows. The furnace turns on. The warm air gradually starts flowing out the vent and up my sides gently inflating the legs of my pajama bottoms. It feels nice to warm up. Only then do I crack open the book.
The book is Go, Dog Go! by P.D. Eastman – a classic. I stumble through the first page. Some words easy. Some words hard. I continue crawling through page after page even long after the heat turns off. That dog is busy – riding skis and scooters and never liking the poor girl’s hats. What’s wrong with that dog?
It feels like many hours pass before I finally read the last page. Whew, I’m exhausted, dazed, hungry, and elated – I just finished my first book!
My parents finally get up. I tell them I read a whole book that morning. They act – as only parents can – impressed and proud. It’s a defining moment for me and just like that, I’m hooked on books for life! And thus, a book junkie is born.
My book buying binge begins
As a tweenie, I used to hang out in bookstores whenever I went to the mall with my Mom. I loved to browse and, of course, I started buying a few books with my limited allowance.
In high-school I have fond memories of working in an independent bookstore to make spending money. I couldn’t believe my luck – I actually got paid to hang out in a bookstore all day! Plus I got a 30% discount on all books so I could put some of that spending money to good use by buying more books.
After I matriculated at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, I’d spend countless hours in the original Borders – there was only one Borders back then. They had an “automated” inventory system that relied on business-card-sized punch cards stuck in each book. So advanced! And of course the crazy-vast selection MADE ME buy even more books.
And then came the miracle of Amazon – Earth’s Biggest Bookstore was Amazon’s original slogan. The selection was damn near unlimited and everything was up to 40% off! And shipping was free if your order was big enough. And my orders were always plenty big enough. I was in book consumer heaven.
So not a surprise that I collected a huuuge pile of books. Every time Mrs. FF and I moved, we’d pack up countless boxes of books, haul them to our new place, and then unpack and arrange them into an ever growing number of bookshelves.
At one point, Mrs. FF and I had about 20 built-in shelves of books and 5 large Ikea bookcases that were crammed full. We even had books on the floor next to the bookcases. I’d occasionally browse the bookshelves and feel a nostalgic joy for certain books. Like the jolt of happiness you have while remembering the great times you had with your best childhood friend. It was a real indulgence.
My book buying binge ends
This started to change in 2000 when we moved to our new house which was about a mile from the Haverford Township Free Library. I started taking regular walks for exercise and the library was on my route. I’d stop by the library to read magazines, newspapers, and use the bathroom.
Finally it dawned on me – the library has an unlimited supply of free books! If my library didn’t have the book, the librarians could usually get the book for free from other libraries in the county. If no library in the county had the books, they could get the book for free from any library in the state! If no library in the state had the book – well, that actually never happened. I started checking out lots of books.
And I bought fewer and fewer books. Why buy ebooks or paper books when I can get them for free? I still loved going to Barnes and Noble (B&N) but I used it like a showroom of books.* I’d surreptitiously take a picture of a book I wanted – I feel like a cross between James Bond and a Pick Pocket whenever I do this – and then go to the library website to reserve the book online. The book would arrive at the library and – shazaam – I had a free book.
In 2011 the great Mr. Money Mustache wrote Get Rich With: Your Local Public Library.** That’s when I realized something else – my own Personal Library IS the public library. I have a bigger Personal Library than I could’ve ever possibly imagined.
I stopped buying books. Not only that but I started selling and donating my giant book collection. Why do I need to store all these books when my new Personal Library stores those books and so many more for free?
By the time Mrs. FF and I were negotiating rent on a Philly apartment, I had reduced the number of books I had down to 25. Most of those were Zen-buddhism books that referred to when I wrote and gave talks at Soji Zen Center.
Now that we live downtown, my Personal Library is the Parkway Central Library. Awesome, isn’t it?
What does any of this have to do with being Freaky Frugal?
Good question and – jeez – get to the point already! Alrighty then – there are three things this has to do with being Freaky Frugal:
- Even book junkies can stop buying books. Short of a fancy certificate on my wall, I hope the stories above convince you I’m a 100% certifiable book junkie. And just maybe you’re a book junkie like me. It’s pretty common. But if I can stop buying books, you can too! All it takes is the right mindset.
- Buying books can be a REALLY expensive habit. Let’s say you spend just $50 per month on books or $600 per year. After 10 years, you’ve spent $6,000 on books! That’s a decent chunk of money you could have put towards financial independence. And if you want to keep the book-buying habit going during retirement, the Rule of 25 says you need an extra $15,000 ($600 * 25) to support it. Ouch! If for some no-good, completely-indefensible reason you just can’t stop buying books, at least create a detailed budget to control your spending.
- Even book junkies can get rid of books. I did it when we downsized and you can do it too. Books can take up a lot of space and space costs money. You can downsize into a smaller house or apartment if you don’t collect tons of paper books. Or you can put the space you already use to store books to much better use. Not many people complain that their house is too empty, but I’ve heard plenty of the opposite.
A book can be a beautiful thing – a source of knowledge, entertainment and even joy. But if you want to be Freak Frugal, with rare exceptions you have to resist the temptation to buy and collect books.
And if you already have a collection of books, ask yourself how often you actually open the books you’ve already read. If you haven’t opened a book in a year or two, wouldn’t it be better if somebody else could read and appreciate it? A beautiful thing is meant to be used.
Thanks for reading! Do you know any book junkies? Have you seen one in the mirror lately? 🙂
*There’s a B&N within walking distance of our apartment. As I already mentioned, I secretly take pictures of books I want to read and then check them out of the library. I realize if everybody did this, there would be no B&Ns around. So every once in awhile I tell Mrs. FF “I’m going out to make a donation to Barnes & Noble.” This translates into me walking to the B&N cafe, buying a piece of Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake, and savoring it while studying personal finance magazines.
** If you search for “rjack”, you’ll see my original comment in Mr. Money Mustache’s post.