Books for free!

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 first book I read

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.

This is NOT our house, but we had a comparable number of Ikea shelves stuffed with books.

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.

Haverford Township Free Library. This is my old library.

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.

Really Stupid Comic #8

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.

These are all the books I still own. I’m planning on paring down further.

Now that we live downtown, my Personal Library is the Parkway Central Library. Awesome, isn’t it?

Parkway Central Library in downtown Philly – my current awesome library. Try not to be jealous!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Wrap up

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.

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  1. I agree! I used to have shelves and shelves of books. I find it odd that nowadays people are shamed for not having many books on their shelves. I only prefer to keep physical copies of my favorite books as keepsakes more than anything. Books aren’t cheap!

    1. Mrs. Picky Pincher – I do the same thing! I have a 1952 edition of How to Win Friends and Influence People that used to belong to my Dad. I cheerish it because it was his and even has his original highlighting from when he read the book.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Clif – Thanks for stopping by and great question!

      I sold as many books as I could – about 5% – on Amazon Marketplace. I also recycled many out-of-date technical books. The rest I donated to the Haverford Township Free Library and the Aids Thrift Shop in Philly.

      Are you thinking of downsizing your book collection? 🙂

    1. Turning Point Money – Yikes! So probably the last thing you wanted to read about was Go, Dog Go! 🙂

      But I’m really glad that children still appreciate the book since I have such warm memories of reading it myself. Have a good labor day!

  2. Couple of observations…Having put two kids thru college it amazes me how expensive text books are and how fast these same text books “depreciate”….. And I am also struck as to how little one can sell books for …no matter how treasured they are by me. And I would think the public library is one of Benjamin Franklin’s greatest accomplishments….

    1. jestjack – Thanks for brining up the shady College Textbook Racket! The scumbag publishers create new editions with very minor changes just so they can force students to buy the new, “improved” edition.

      My son – I like to think of him as Mr. FF Junior 🙂 – found a few tricks for dealing with insane Textbook prices:

      • He found he could often do an inter-library loan with another university and borrow the textbook for the whole semester with renewals. Sometimes he had to pay a fine for returning the book late, but that was still way cheaper than buying the book.
      • He often just bought or borrowed the old edition and used it. The changes were so minor that it didn’t matter.
      • He sometimes just shared the book with another student. This worked when they didn’t rely on the textbook that much.

      Anyway, all these tricks saved him a bunch of money. Take care.

  3. I’ve still got a bookcase full of books, but they are downstairs at the request of my wife. Then again, I also still have most my CD’s from when I was a teenager (before mp3’s became a thing). Talk about being a junkie and wasting money – I had pretty much every CD you could imagine!

    1. MyMoneyDesign – Yep, been there, done that.

      Have you ever thought about getting rid of the stuff? I found it painful to start and easy to finish. Surprisingly, it just felt like I was lightening the load.

      Thanks for sharing!

  4. When I moved into this place I put my favorite books in the living room and the others (on shelves) in the spare bedroom. I haven’t been in a book reading mood lately, and also realized some of the ones upstairs I don’t reach for to re-read, so I will be donating them.
    I know the library can request them, but if I want to binge through Harry Potter, I want it at my fingertips.

    1. Jacq – Hooray, I’m very glad to hear to are donating some of your books! Most excellent!

      I have an embarrassing confession – I haven’t read Harry Potter. 😮 And I’m beginning to feel like the only person on the planet who hasn’t. It’s odd because I read lots of Science Fiction and some Fantasy. Maybe I’ll try to fix that…

  5. I am by no means a book junkie. I do read every day but I have never been one to devour books. I’m actually amazed that some people can just sit and read for hours without getting sleepy. Anyway, even though I only buy a few books a year it has still added up to be more of a collection than I would like. I think narrowing it down to 25 might be a great goal and upper limit. God knows we have accumulated about 10 cookbooks that I’m pretty sure we have never once used.

    1. Grant – I definitely read everyday, but usually in multiple chunks of 30 minutes or less. I can no longer sit for hours without moving or my lower back starts talking to me and what it has to say isn’t pleasant. It’s a blessing really because sitting for hours isn’t good for my health anyway.

      Narrowing down your book collection to just 25 is an awesome goal! Get started already! 🙂

      Mrs. FF had a massive collection of cookbooks but she now only keeps the ones she uses regularly.

  6. My 18-month-old LOVES Go, Dog, Go. We read it at least once a day.

    It has been hard for me to embrace the library (as I am bad about scribbling in books), but I’ve picked up taking notes/thoughts in a little notebook as I read non-fiction and have been trying to get into the habit of bringing my son to the library at least once a week. He’s already a book junkie and I know we don’t actually NEED any more children’s books. He loves that the children’s section has puzzles and crayons and always comes home with a handful of books. So fun!

    1. Chelsea – Happy to hear your 18-month-old loves the same books I loved as a child! It’s nice that some children books are popular generation after generation.

      One of our sons used to have us read Goodnight Moon every day for months. Mrs. FF and I both got tired of that book, but he loved it so we kept reading it.

      That’s awesome that your son is already a book junkie who likes using the library. Good habits start young! And since your already at the library and using notebooks for notes, it also sounds like a great opportunity for you. 🙂

      Thank you for sharing!

  7. I usually get about one book (on CD) per month from the library. It’s easy to listen to going and coming back from work. Sometimes I’ll renew it (if someone else has not requested it) so I can take my time and rewind and listen as much as I want. Definitely beats the radio most of the time 🙂

    1. SMM – That’s really smart! Free learning and entertainment with no commercials!

      When I was still working I used to listen to books or podcasts. Sometimes I’d listen to the radio too, but I couldn’t stand the large number of crappy commercials for very long.

      Thanks for sharing!

  8. I stopped buying books too. My husband told me to use the library and to my amazement a lot of the books I wanted to read (personal finance books on my hitlist for the year) were available at the library. There’s also these nice ‘neighbourhood book libraries’ in the community where you can take a book or leave a book. Books can really add up!

    1. Nicely done!!!

      You’re husband is a good man. Libraries are were all the Freaky Frugal people go – it’s an infinite source of free knowledge.

  9. The problem with books for me is once I read the story, I don’t necessarily want to read them again. I think that eventually though I will buy the non-fiction books I like just so I can mark them up with underlines, circles, and little notes. This used to be off-limits for me, but why not live a little bit! I have read books through the app reader offered through the local library and it’s very handy!

    1. HP – You have some great points! If you really do refer to a book weekly or monthly or you need to mark up the book, it’s probably worth owning.

      I still prefer the touch and smell of paper books, but the library reader app is mighty convenient. I can read stuff on my computer, tablet or phone. And you don’t have to physically go to the library to checkout and return the book!

      I buy very few books anymore, but when I do I buy e-books. At least they don’t take up any storage space.

      Thanks for sharing!

  10. I used to buy a whole bunch of books as well and received a few more as Christmas gifts. Then it dawned on me that our library has an unlimited amount of books that I could read for FREE!! It also helped that we moved to an area a few years ago where the library is only a ten minute walk.
    I should of been aware of the library sooner because it could have saved me money from the book collection I have. The only good thing about buy books is that I can go back and reread some of the books I owned to refresh my memory or I could donate most of them to Goodwill or Salvation Army.
    From now on, libraries are the place to be!!

    1. Kris – Yep, having a library within walking or at least biking distance is key for me. It’s just so easy to regularly stop by and browse.

      I found that there were VERY few books that I actually reread. I read Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance twice and think that’s about it. I did like looking at the books I’d read and reminisce about how I felt when I read them.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

    1. EvoInvestor – Well, I definitely used to think that way! 😀

      I don’t buy books anymore because I found I only read them once and rarely referred to them again. Plus I could almost always get them at the library again if I really needed it.

      Thanks for sharing the nice list of books!

        1. Good questions! I probably save a few hundred dollars per year by not buying books.

          I don’t worry much about the opportunity cost. I’ve read many of the books that are on Ramit’s list already and I’ve always been able to get any new book I want from the library or through inter-library loan. It may take up to a couple of months, but that extra time doesn’t really matter to me in the overall scheme of things.

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