Get Rich With: Your Local Public Library

A few years ago, I learned the most shocking fact about public libraries:

Not everybody uses them!

“No!”, you may say, “That’s impossible – how else do people get their books?”

The scary answer that I discovered is that some people have developed a habit of regularly buying books which cost them $10 – $30 each, reading them, and then collecting them on an ever-growing series of bookshelves.

When you talk to a compulsive book collector, you’ll hear things like, “Oh, but I just LOVE books. They are my guilty pleasure. I love the feel of them, the smell of the paper, the beautiful covers and the way they look all lined up on my bookshelf. I love just being able to move slowly along my bookshelf on a Sunday morning, looking at all the titles, picking out books I haven’t read in years and sitting down and re-reading them, and blah blah blah”

I can relate to all these feelings, because I also get pretty excited when I walk past a big collection of books. I read whenever I get a chance, and I am overjoyed that so many books exist to provide me with a lifetime of unlimited learning and entertainment. The only difference is that I have several hundred thousand of them, and a paid staff who roams through my modern curved-glass 20,000 square foot book storage facility, automatically maintaining them and buying more for me constantly. I have so many books that I share them with everyone in my entire city, and we’ve even come to an agreement where we ALL pay just a few dollars per year each for the facility, and yet any one of us can borrow any of the books. By pooling our buying power together like this, everyone wins, and yet none of us have to waste space in our house storing books that we are not currently reading! We love our book sharing facility so much, we decided to call it the “Public Library”.

I know the home-based bookshelf is emotionally attractive to many who fancy themselves to be intellectuals. But if you are really that smart, why are you paying dearly for something that you can get for free?

All of us probably know one of these people, who buys “just a harmless book or two every week or so from Amazon, because hey, it’s only twelve bucks, and I’m a highly paid office worker, and I don’t really have many other vices”.  But unless this person is already completely financially independent, he might eventually wake up and notice over ten thousand dollars leaking from his ‘Stash every ten years from such a habit. A large book collection also amounts to a boat anchor of unnecessary belongings making future moves more difficult for you, not to mention the sizeable amount of natural resources that went into harvesting, printing, and shipping a thousand pounds of dead trees to your house.

But instead of the negatives of book collecting, let’s focus on the positives of library membership. The Money Mustache family can speak from experience here, since we have become enormous fans of the place over the past six years.

My city’s library is an unusually nice building, located in a scenic part of downtown. It’s within a 7-minute bike ride of my house, which has nothing to do with luck – we picked our current location specifically to be close to the library as well as the school, grocery stores, and the rest of the city’s amenities.  Because of this nice proximity, all three of us tend to visit at least once a week on average.

It romances all of us and sucks us in by catering to every one of our interests.

A kid in a library is just as amazed as a kid in Disneyland. The children’s section has thousands of kid-oriented books on all subjects, placed on low shelves encouraging them to dive in. There are also play areas, educational computers and games, and a gigantic model train set that was donated and maintained by a local model railroad club (i.e., friendly old dudes who still like toy trains and kids).

With no experience in turning to broadcast television for his storytelling entertainment (in fact, I’m not sure if he even knows it exists), Junior ‘Stash naturally turns to books. He reads simple ones to us, and we read complicated ones to him. It really seems to add up over time – we’ve read him somewhere over 50 full-sized novels during the normal bedtime reading sessions, including most of the Harry Potter series and more recently Ender’s Game.

Mrs Money Mustache heads upstairs and loads up her backpack with books about gardening, parenting, and intelligent-looking Lady novels with obscurely artsy titles and drawn-out and emotional subject matter.

I’ll usually end up in the non-fiction section and get books about economics, investing, technology, social trends, as well as cheesy self-help books, construction guides, and on a special occasion a little bit of science fiction or action – like Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

Between all of us, we tend to have 30 books checked out at any given time, and we make the most of the generous six-weeks-including-renewal holding period.

What a wonderful place. When you visit the library regularly, you start to notice that it’s not just a local government service that lends you books. It’s a place where the whole community of people interested in learning gathers together, secretly avoiding the TV and the shopping mall that gets the attention of everyone else. Local experts come in and give free talks in the conference rooms. People stop by to donate their recent issues of magazines after reading them. Volunteers raise and donate money and books.  Surplus library books get sold off for a buck each.  Little display tables get set up with currently applicable themes. There was a “peak oil” display recently with some articles, magazines, and books all laid out, free for anyone to sign out and read. And there is free wi-fi access throughout for those who want to just tune in and read on their laptop or phone.

Overall, you can get the equivalent of another complete University education in a different field, every few years,  just by being a regular visitor and letting your curiosity lead you around. You’ll learn new skills even while you enjoy the ultimate free leisure activity. All in a nice building surrounded by relatively cool people.

So your local library is much more than just your well-stocked home bookshelf. It’s really a Temple of Mustachianism, at which you would do well to start worshiping if you are not doing so already.


  • Susan V November 8, 2011, 6:27 am

    One of the newest joys of the library (though not a healthier aspect) is that for e-reader owners (gift) like me, once you have a library card, you can check out tons of digital content right from your own home.

    My husband and I used to be regular book buyers (hardbacks, though we usually waited till they were on clearance for $5-10 vs the regular price). We had boxes of them (waiting for a library in our home that we didn’t have room to build). One day, when we looked around at all the stuff we had and realized how consumerist and cluttered our lives had become, we started purging. We sold a lot on Craigslist or eBay, but all of the books went to a local library that would put desired titles into circulation, others would be sold to support the library. Same with DVDs (of which I am embarrassed to admit how many we had!). Now if we want new music, movies or books, we get them from the library.

    I’m still trying to figure out of I can live without cable TV (I need the internet portion for work). Thanks for the blog- really enjoying it!

    • Kellen November 8, 2011, 9:26 am

      You should be able to purchase cable internet separately from cable TV. Everywhere I’ve lived, these have been sold as separate services.

      There may even be a cheaper internet option through a satellite or wireless internet provider that doesn’t sell any TV.

      • MMM November 8, 2011, 9:45 am

        Yeah, and remember that even if the cable company won’t unbundle the Internet and TV portions, you still don’t have to plug in a TV.

        I feel you wouldn’t be wasting your money by making this choice, since the TV portion actually has a negative net value. Imagine you order some nice grilled fish over rice in a restaurant and it comes with a little side dish of rat poison – you just skip the poisonous part, right? :-)

        • Susan V November 8, 2011, 11:29 am

          Cable and internet could come separately, but the cost for internet alone is about half the bill with the “package” deal we have. I more meant that if I could learn to live without cable TV.

          We do some other things that help maximize the value (if it can be called that). My dad watches shows via computer with our account.

          Sure there’s a lot we could be doing with our time, but we enjoy the shows we watch, don’t go out to movies, etc. We have a Netflix subscription, so may try to switch over to that for our entertainment ‘needs’. Strangely, I think we could get along fine without cable, but I miss the news channels the most when services are down. Reading the news on a website just isn’t the same.

          • Jeh November 8, 2011, 11:32 am

            “Sure there’s a lot we could be doing with our time, but we enjoy the shows we watch, don’t go out to movies, etc.”

            I totally understand. I don’t personally feel like some do that all TV is a waste of time. There is a lot of intelligent programming out there, it’s just a matter of being VERY choosy and limiting your viewing time (even of the smart stuff!) so that it doesn’t take over your life. That said, I still cancelled my cable when I moved (can’t get cable out here anyway) and don’t intend on picking up any kind of paid programming.

          • Kimberly V January 15, 2013, 10:32 pm

            Take a look around the web and see what of your regular viewing habits are available to stream online. Many networks offer their most popular shows a day or two after they air. News I suppose could be a little harder to find streaming and have it still be valid, I haven’t really looked for real time news streams. This method doesn’t take away the time suck of tv, but it can remove the $$ suck.

            • ANZ December 4, 2013, 9:35 am

              When I was in college, I used podcasts to stay up to date with news, politics and sports. I didn’t own a TV, so I would download free podcasts and listen to them on my computer or phone when I walked to class. I loved it because I could filter out a lot of things I didn’t like and focus on new things I did like. The downsides were that it made me feel more one sided on a lot of political issues because the podcasts I liked had a strong bias. I also don’t use podcasts for local news, but I now listen to ~15 minutes of news on the radio every morning and evening instead.

              I really love the podcast “How Stuff Works” which gives simple unbiased overviews of almost any topic. I would recommend this podcast for people who like audiobooks, and it’s free!

          • Joe Average April 22, 2015, 9:10 am

            Check with the phone company too. We have DSL and have no problem streaming TV live via overseas outlets and also the typical domestic options. At first glance it looks like DSL is cheaper here than cable internet.

        • Scott November 8, 2011, 3:33 pm

          TV rules. Don’t try to deny it. Well, it would rule if anything good ever came on.

    • C40 November 8, 2011, 9:31 pm

      AT&T DSL. $15 per month. Available in your area?

    • Jane November 10, 2011, 12:18 pm

      Consider hooking your computer up to your tv with a $20 HDMI cord and watch (nearly) everything you could want to online via services like Hulu for a tiny fraction of your monthly cable bill!

      • MMM November 10, 2011, 8:16 pm

        Yeah.. except use a $1.72 HDMI Cable (with free shipping): http://www.amazon.com/HDMI-Cable-2M-6-Feet/dp/B0002L5R78/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320981323&sr=8-1

        There is no difference in quality with these cables (in fact, I am using a $2 amazon HDMI cable for my monitor right now!). 2 bucks is about what a 6-foot piece of computer wire SHOULD cost, it’s just that local stores like Worst Buy mark them up 1000% or so.

        • Jane November 11, 2011, 6:16 am

          Duly noted! Oh well, even though I got hosed (cabled?) it was still a great investment. :)

        • cgc007 January 29, 2014, 2:16 am

          I realize this post is two years old, but have you looked into Monoprice.com? I’ve always found that their cables come in whatever length you could wish (and color too, sometimes) and they’re EXTREMELY reasonable.

          Granted, free shipping can be had with amazon if you’re a prime member, but I’ve always found that monoprice’s prices are low enough to counter the shipping costs.

    • vr September 11, 2014, 3:26 am

      Depending on where you live and what network operators you have available, there is always the option to ditch the cable completely and use the internet through your mobile phones 3G/4G connection. Modern Android-phones can create a wifi-network that is then accessible on your laptop and other platforms, they only need to have a wifi-adapter in them and laptops almost always come with them from the factory.

      Usually the unlimited data transfer at 2mb/s is sufficient enough for ordinary net usage and is very much cheaper than cable. My 100/10mb cable net (no TV portion on the deal) costs me 30€/month, but a 2mb unlimited 3G connection through the mobile phone network operator costs only 5€/month, 10mb connection would be 15€ and 21mb connection 20€/month so they are still cheaper than the one I now have. Going to get rid of the cable as soon as the contract expires next january :)

    • FrugalIndianGuy April 9, 2018, 11:40 am

      I know it’s very old, its for if someone happen to read comments:
      Cutting cable choices:
      1. Amplified Indoor Antenna (after seeing ours all our friends got it)
      2. YouTube TV ($35 and you can share, multiple email ids can be logged simultaneously), you need chromecast or smart tv for it
      3. Negotiate providers every time upon lease end, bundle up, visa cash back ( still a loss, but for those who cant live without it).

  • Matt November 8, 2011, 6:36 am

    I use the library for extra books that might not be enjoyable to me. Projects, research, topics of interests are all there in the library. Books on linguistics, fantasy, (leisure readings) I purchase from the used book stores. It’s only rarely that a book would cost be $10 or more dollars (unless they’re school books..) I think that overall I read half of my readings from the library and half from my indulged purchases. It’s not as expensive as buying from a source like Amazon (for 5 dollar shipping I can get 3 other books), but it’s not free like the library.

  • Katy November 8, 2011, 6:47 am

    While I share your love of public libraries (we live in Pittsburgh, where Andrew Carnegie built elegant libraries all around our town, with fancy marble stairs and beautiful arched ceilings…and oh, the books! the magazines! the free wifi! the window seats!), I would suggest that libraries are not a “free” resource. In fact, they are a publicly supported. That means some of the money you are saving by not buying books, should perhaps be donated to the library.

    Today, in Pittsburgh, we voted on a referendum to put a small tax in place to support our public library system, which has lost a tremendous amount of state money in recent years.

    • MMM November 8, 2011, 9:47 am

      That’s a good point. I still like to say “FREE!” because the value delivered by a library is so great compared to its cost, that the cost per person is negligible. But I also like to support the public services that I use, with donations and volunteer time. This includes library, schools, and parks.

  • Adrienne November 8, 2011, 6:48 am

    I love the library! 2 additional reasons:
    Inter-library lending: My local branch is tiny but I can have any book in the state sent there! I think of it as my netflix for books.
    Library events: Our local library is a hub of free events. The baby group there was my lifeline as a new mom. Now we attend arts and crafts, Lego club, free concerts etc.
    For a while I used to have the kids estimate how much it would have cost to buy the 20 books and 5 dvds we were walking with most days. Then I would turn to them and say “can you believe some people pay that much money for this and we get it for FREE! Plus we’ll do it again next week.”
    Libraries are awesome.

    • Janie July 20, 2014, 4:18 pm

      I actually use it as “Netflix” for DVDs — many of which are available free at my great library. Those that aren’t can be sent via ILL, for a small fee ($1-2). I am happy to do this to support the additional cost. Given how much I use it it’s still cheaper to me than Netflix.

  • Jeh November 8, 2011, 6:55 am

    Libraries are indeed wonderful. I spent many, many hours of my youth in them randomly searching the aisles with wonderment (I was the kind of kid who spent recess in the library rather than out on the playground). And libraries are certainly the most ‘stachian way of life for a dedicated bookworm if you can find one nearby (I live in a rural area and am about 9 miles from my closest public library. I haven’t checked it out, but I would imagine it has a very, very small collection of books considering the town consists of basically one street…lol).

    But that doesn’t mean one should never buy a single book, ever. I personally love my home book collection and would never give it up completely no matter how many times I’ve had to move it. But I tend to buy and keep only those books that for me are “reference” books that I’ve read at least twice and intend to peruse/read many more times in my life.

    One way to keep your book costs down is to buy used from sites like Alibris.com and BetterWorldBooks.com (advertised right here on the MMM blog). Another way to keep the costs AND the clutter down is to buy eBooks as they tend to be cheaper than physical books (another bonus is that you’re still supporting the writers, whereas libraries cut deeply into a writers pocketbook). And if you’re a Kindle owner and Amazon Prime member like myself, you can now also borrow (for free) one book a month from their <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=amb_link_357575542_1?ie=UTF8&docId=1000739811&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=gateway-center-column&pf_rd_r=0Z18SKE4MZR8JMYJS7AC&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1328879142&pf_rd_i=507846%5Dlenders library" of over 5,000 titles and growing.

    On a side note: you seem to have great taste in books. Titles like Ender’s Game and Snowcrash are dear to my heart.

    • MMM November 8, 2011, 9:11 am

      Yeah, used books and book exchanges are a nice subsitute for those unfortunate people who are not close to a library :-)… One note on paying the authors – sometimes you can simply find their website and send them a donation through tiptheweb.org, or perhaps a paypal donation.

      For bigger authors who only have paper publishing as their source of revenue, this might not work – but then again, those are probably not be the ones that need your support. Smaller authors nowadays probably have a website and/or blog, and may even end up self-publishing their books. After learning from Jacob/Early Retirement Extreme about the book publishing process, it seems like using a publisher that keeps most of the book sale profits is silly these days. Their function is now obsolete, and it is a better world for authors because of it.

      Now if you self-publish your book as an e-book, and get say $10 per copy, you can support an entire family on selling only a few hundred books per month. In the olden days, the sales would have to be many times higher than that to get a living wage, and because of that, there was room for a much smaller number of high-grossing authors in the publishing game.

      • Jeh November 8, 2011, 9:18 am

        Thanks for the recommend for TipTheWeb…hadn’t heard of that!!

        “After learning from Jacob/Early Retirement Extreme about the book publishing process, it seems like using a publisher that keeps most of the book sale profits is silly these days. Their function is now obsolete, and it is a better world for authors because of it.”

        Yes, this! Same as with the music industry, the publishing industry of old is going down and the world will be so much better for it.

  • Jason November 8, 2011, 6:57 am

    We use the library a lot. Not only does our library lend books but DVD’s, Video Games as well as electronic books. Just like MMM we typically have 20 -30 things checked out at a time. Movies and video games are great as you can set up your ‘queue’ similar to Netflix’s and you get an email when they are available. We do the same with newly released books. Also because our library is part of a consortium of libraries we are not limited to whats on hand at just our local library, but we have access to all the videos, games, and books from over 40 libraries.

    As others have stated, ours is also the hub of many community activities, and has meeting rooms that can be utilized for things like cub scouts, etc.

  • Mrs. Money Mustache November 8, 2011, 7:02 am

    When I asked my local library how best to support them, here’s what they said: first and foremost, come visit! Other ways are to volunteer time, books, magazines, media, and to donate money. We try to do all these things and it’s still much cheaper than buying books.

    Also, a librarian friend sent me the following note at one point when I asked about renewing books (I hope she won’t mind me copying it here). I found it very interesting:

    Good question. It’s the opposite of bad. You are actively *helping* your library every time you choose to renew a book or check out a book. Both are counted the same way statistically, and those circulation statistics are what library directors furnish to the city or county in order to justify what they have requested for an annual budget. Let’s say you have 3 books out for 3 weeks and then renew for another 3 weeks. You’ve just given your library the statistical number of 6 checkouts when you only made 3. We can’t ask for operations money, hours, and staffing, much less money to buy books and other materials if we can’t prove that people use the library– not only the physical gate count of bodies but the much more accurate number reflecting each and every discharge (check out or renewal). Additionally, these numbers reflect interest in the subject– multiple renewals on a book about American polititcs, for example, refect an interest in politics and that will help the collection development specialist know that it’s an area of interest. An example of this would be the big budgetary changes made in the cartoon/comic books in recent years, simply because the graphic novel genre took off. Consumers really do have power in public libraries– it’s really owned by taxpayers and is wholly nonpartisan. If you want your tax money to go to the library, use your card!

    She wrote a bunch more stuff, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

    • Alex November 8, 2011, 7:15 am

      That is really great to know. I always feel guilty renewing a book from my library, thinking that I was taking it from another library user. Now I know I’m just helping the library!

      Thanks Mrs. MM!

    • Sarah November 8, 2011, 12:00 pm

      I’ve been a librarian (I even have a Master’s Degree in it, no joke) for 8 years and want to reiterate what MMM’s Librarian friend pointed out, one of the best ways to support your local library is check out items. Library budgets are often based on their circulation. The more items checked out, the more money the library gets to buy new stuff.
      And here’s a little inside tip. Most onine library catalogs will allow you to place holds on items that have been ordered but haven’t yet arrived to be placed on the library shelf. So, I often take a look at Amazon to see what upcoming books and DVDs about to be released, search for it on the library’s catalog and if it’s been ordered (ususally the item’s status will say “On Order”), I place a hold on it and am usually first or second on the waiting list. I always get to see newly released books and DVDs, sometimes even before they are available on Netflix or Red Box.

    • EarningAndLearning April 12, 2017, 12:28 pm

      Thank u for that Mrs MMM, so good to know, as I usually check out more books than I can read in 3 weeks and I LOVE the renew-via-the-online-app-from-home feature; tap tap and I have another 3 weeks! And now to know that this checking out & renewing HELPS the library, wonderful. I was told by a librarian that if someone else requests the book & puts a Hold on it while I’ve got it checked out, it won’t renew for me, so I’m not taking it away from anyone else by renewing from home. Also good to know!

      And PS, something I share with everyone, BEST FEATURE EVER OF THE LIBRARY: if you read a book review of a new book in a magazine or online, and want to read it, ask your librarian (or check online) to see if your library has it AND if it doesn’t, you can fill out a paper form (or online, or the librarian can do it for u) REQUESTING THAT THE LIBRARY BUY THIS BOOK! Most of the time, they will, as a card-carrying member has asked for it, and they have a budget to buy new books every year! You get notified when the book has been bought and you are the first to read this brand new book! Essentially a free, new hard-cover of your choice (with a little waiting), that others can also read after you.

      I just LOVE this feature, I’ve use it 3 times in the past few years, and it’s nice to think I’ve made a small contribution to the growing content of my local library (and saved $$).

      I heart the library and will share this post with many, for all the comments & for that hilarious intro by MMM! :)

  • Mr. Frugal Toque November 8, 2011, 7:31 am

    Is there a place you can rent books?

    Kids these days. Honestly.

  • SteveW November 8, 2011, 7:47 am

    If you have kids, another thing to look for at the library is a free story time. Our library has this and it is great fun. Similar group activities for toddlers cost $20 or more per session.

  • oskar November 8, 2011, 8:21 am

    Hi MMM,

    We live in Sweden but things are not that different here, we have a small public library in our town but it is connected in the same computer system with the librarys in the towns around and as such we have access to a lot of books. Our two sons 1.5 and 3 years old love going to the library. We also have the possiblity to give suggestions on what the library should buy, i have done that 3-4 times and all but once they purchased the book I wanted the time they did not I purchased the book read it and donated it to the library for everyone else to enjoy….at times you have to give back to such a great place!

    • rjack November 8, 2011, 10:34 am

      I have something similar (inter-library loan) in my hometown outside of Philadelphia. I can go to my library’s website and reserve books that are part of a library system of about 10 libraries. I often troll Amazon for books I want to read and then reserve them online. In a few days, the books are transferred to my local library for easy pickup. Sweet!!!

  • Jacq November 8, 2011, 8:23 am

    I’m an extremely heavy library user, but we also have a freebie book swap at the recycling center in our community. It’s a great place to find the older, more obscure books which the regular library tends to eliminate over time. Gutenberg.org is great too.

  • Jenny November 8, 2011, 8:24 am

    our local library is exactly one block from our house. Combined with the online request/renewal system, it’s one of our favorite places to go, adults and kids alike. I cannot even imagine how much money I have saved in the last 6-7 years (since we’ve lived here) by using it. I honestly do not understand why people buy books. (we do own a lot of kids books, mostly because they eventually get destroyed)

  • Melanie November 8, 2011, 9:02 am

    We live only a 5 minute ride from our library too, and we’ve been going since my 14 year olds started with toddler storytime when they were 2. Some of the librarians remember us from then, which makes it feel even more like home! I “test drive” books from the library, especially cookbooks or knitting books. If I find that it is something I would use on a regular basis for reference, or that I would enjoy re-reading often, then I consider purchasing it. Even then, I try to locate a used copy. It has really cut down on my personal library. I hate to see books languishing on my shelves when they could be loved and enjoyed by others. We were big into audiobooks for awhile, and wanted to listen to the last Lemony Snicket book as soon as it came out. So we purchased it, listened to it, and then donated it so other fans could listen sooner too. If we want to listen again, we can check it out; it’s like you said– free storage! I love books, and I agree that the library is the best way to manage a collection :)

    • Melanie November 8, 2011, 9:17 am

      Oh, and the other thing I use the library for is printing. I don’t use a printer very often, and the expensive ink cartridges kept drying out in mine from lack of use. So I ditched it, and now if I need to print something, I email it to myself and print it at the library, from their computers. It costs me .10 a page (black and white only). If I were to purchase a $70 printer, I’d have to print 700 pages to bring the cost down to .10/page, more if I add in the cost of wasted, dried up ink. It’s a little more inconvenient, but it has worked out well so far.

      • EarningAndLearning April 12, 2017, 12:44 pm

        Good tip on the printing!

  • Chris November 8, 2011, 9:16 am

    I checked out my local library recently and wow, I can’t believe I never tapped into this resource before. I’m still a bit of a recovering consumerist and the idea of the library where I can checkout books/magazines and dvd’s for free just blew me away. It also turns out, the library in my town is incredibly nice! I’ve been such a consumerist snob for such a long time.

  • Geek November 8, 2011, 9:23 am

    Kindle + the library is going to save me lots of money. That’s not why I bought it (I just wanted to read digital books) but that’s how it is turning out.

    I bought a kindle for faster library checkouts and for ease of traveling. But the ability to checkout random books after browsing online is the biggest benefit. I’m reading Septimus Heap now (I know, kids books, whatever :) ) and having a ball. I would have gone to the bookstore and bought a random paperback if I didn’t have the option to get any (slightly less popular) book at any time at all.
    I think I’ll save the price of the Kindle in 6-10 months (reduced library trips, reduced impulse buying, cheaper than hardcover for books I just can’t wait to read) and after that it’s all gravy. :)

    Oh library!

    • Melanie November 10, 2011, 5:04 am

      I also read “kids'” books. I love them because they’re just good stories, often complex, but not complicated. The Septimus Heap series was one of our faves. We also liked the Chronicles of Prydain. The kids’ tastes have changed, but I’ll still pick up a “kid” book now and then if it strikes my fancy. My latest favorite series is the Kronos Chronicles, by Marie Rutkoski. They’re a little young, but the story is wonderful anyway. :)

  • Gypsy Geek November 8, 2011, 9:24 am

    My library provides lots of e-books, even some available on my Kindle. I click on the book I want to check out, turn my Kindle on, and it is wirelessly delivered to it for a loan period of 3 weeks. At $99, the Kindle was the best buy I’ve made in a long time, especially now that I can lazily check out books from the comfort of my own home– for free.

  • Geek November 8, 2011, 9:27 am

    By the way, does anyone use Goodreads?
    I’m a big SF/Fantasy reader and always looking for recommendations. My account is nonskanse.

    Goodreads+Library = perfection.

  • Heidi November 8, 2011, 10:24 am

    Superb. We chose between 2 towns with excellent libraries when moving and that was a great priority. My kids are as comfortable in the library as at home and are developing great relationships with the librarians.

    I’m a library volunteer which gives me a great reason to leave the house and gets us out of fines for any late books. I used to feel bad about taking advantage of that but our awesome librarians are just so happy we use the library.
    Geek, my husband is avid at Goodreads, I’ll pass on your info.

    • Ben November 8, 2011, 6:49 pm

      I’m Heidi’s husband. Geek, I’ll send you an invite on Goodreads. For everyone else, I have to echo Geek’s opinion of Goodreads. All the Mustachian readers here would be a cool group on Goodreads. I’d like to know what everyone’s reading… I’m Ben on GR, too.

  • Anna November 8, 2011, 10:51 am

    We love our library, and visit it weekly.

    When I want a book, I check with the library to see if they have it- usually they do. When they don’t, I usually don’t get it. The one or two books I’ve bought new have been from the local book store, which were practically free because of the store credit we have there from de-clutterifying our lives.

    The one book case we have has my old text books from college, plus a few reference books, and a small section from our childhood that we’re saving for our children.

  • Michael Keel November 8, 2011, 11:31 am

    I can’t agree with you more. I have a friend who is moving his library of 4 or 5000 books to LA fro NY and it is costing him about 8000.00
    That’s a lot of money to move them across country. I use the library
    now instead of buying books. Its a big savings!
    Anyway great post!

  • The Frugal Townie November 8, 2011, 11:47 am

    I just wrote over the weekend about remembering to use your library. Most libraries have lots of things besides books too- movies, music, ebooks, videogames, etc. http://frugaltownie.blogspot.com/2011/11/remember-library.html

  • Canadian Dream November 8, 2011, 11:57 am

    Yes, libraries are not ‘free’, but given my last property tax bill had a $330 charge for a year.. I’m still coming out on top. I estimate we easily save more than $2000/year by using it. Not to mention every library in my province (aka: Canadian version of state) are now linked and I can requests books from any city I want just like my regular system. It’s evil as my old system had about 100,000 titles just expanded to about 400,000. I not sure if I have died, but this feels like heaven.

  • Jeremy November 8, 2011, 12:20 pm

    I love the library, but unfortunately, not all library systems are created equal. I find that only a small fraction of the books I want to read are available through my local library system. I’m not talking about just the nearest branch, but the entire system of branches.

    The mismatch got so frustrating that I whipped up a script to take an Amazon wishlist, search the library’s holdings for items from that list, and report any matches it found. Out of 39 titles, only 9 had matches, and only 1 was an actual match. The rest were false positives due to common words like “Civilian” in the media’s title.

    Anyway, others might have more luck. See “Amazon-enhancing your library” at http://jeremywsherman.com/blog/amazon-enhancing-your-library-112 for more about the script, and see https://github.com/jeremy-w/Dekazon if you are interested in adapting the script for your local library.

    • Ben November 8, 2011, 6:58 pm

      Our librarian is always willing to order more books. Perhaps not all librarians are like this, but it can’t hurt to ask.
      Also, this is another good way to help the library. Our library gets brownie points (and more money) by filling inter-library requests. So if our branch has books that other branches don’t, we get a bigger budget for next year (or quarter, however it works).

      • Jeremy November 8, 2011, 7:37 pm

        I never ask the library to order a book I want. I frequently find myself looking for textbooks, unusual non-fiction books, and foreign-language material, so I figure that most of those requests would be denied as outside the scope of a general-purpose public library. Most of them belong in a university library, not a public library.

        Sadly, inter-library loan is a bum deal, at least in my city: fees are “$3.00 per item plus any [UNDISCLOSED] additional charges imposed by the lending library, due upon pickup of the item.” For that price, you can probably order the book online and have it sooner than ILL could get it to you.

        • Steve December 8, 2011, 7:48 pm

          “I never ask the library to order a book I want. I frequently find myself looking for textbooks, unusual non-fiction books, and foreign-language material, so I figure that most of those requests would be denied as outside the scope of a general-purpose public library.”

          That’s because they are saving the money for all of those romance novels.

        • Platypus February 18, 2012, 3:50 pm

          Jeremy, you could check out the possibility of joining your local university library. There may be larger fees involved (I think a couple of hundred dollars at one institution I looked at), but it’s still easier and cheaper than buying everything.

          I’m not sure where you are, but also check out whether there are different tiers of libraries that might have what you’re looking for. I worked in a local government library that had foreign titles and unusual non-fiction (though not texts, for the reasons you described). More obscure titles were held at our state library.

  • Stashette November 8, 2011, 1:24 pm

    I LOVE my library! I am there every week getting books, magazines, audiobooks, CDs, DVDs, and more! For a short time I was without the internet, I used their free wi-fi, too.

    I’d rather donate $50 a month to my library to buy books that to purchase $50 of book to sit around my house. If I do buy books, I purchase used whenever possible, and share them with others to enjoy.

    I’m on the fence about getting an e-reader. Even with ebooks at the library, I don’t know if I can justify the cost. The only time I’d really use it is when traveling, which is not that frequently.

  • Amanda November 8, 2011, 1:58 pm

    Extra bonus: if the book sucks (and some do) you can just return that bad boy and you haven’t lost a bit of money. Find me a book store that will let me do that.

    I have a teeny bookshelf for my absolute favorites that I want to re-read (and annotate, because I’m a huge nerd), and even that collection gets edited regularly. Most of my reading material comes from the library, as well as a lot of my DVDs and even some CDs. Hey, if taxes are paying for it I may as well use it. Plus my library system is baller and will send materials from anywhere in the region to your local brand within a few days, so I don’t even have to drive to pick books up. I can just bike to the nearest branch.

    • Diana L May 10, 2013, 11:35 am

      “Extra bonus: if the book sucks (and some do) you can just return that bad boy and you haven’t lost a bit of money. Find me a book store that will let me do that.”
      My bookstore of choice, Goodwill or Salvation Army, comes very close to that: I buy a book for $0.75 and then I return it for a tax write-off donation of $0.75.

  • Becca November 8, 2011, 4:27 pm

    I love the library. SOMETIMES I have to wait a few days to get a popular book, and I inevitably complain to a coworker or friend that I’m anxiously awaiting a certain book. Usually people ask, “WHY don’t you just BUY it??” But I think that’s silly. Why would I buy something I’m not sure is any good?? Especially when I can get it for free. Kudos, MMM. You are not that person.

    Forget netflix! I recently checked out every season of The Wire.

  • KETRN November 8, 2011, 6:25 pm

    I am one of those non-financially independent “yet” people who love their books and have bought many, many over the years. However, I’ve gotten a bit smarter (i.e., cheaper). Now I almost never buy a new book. I can’t even remember how many I have bought from Amazon.com resellers. Lots. Often they are as little as a penny each, although shipping is always $3.99. One new way I have found to help avoid cluttering my house and saving money is to search for books on Amazon and read reviews. Then I log onto my library website to see if they have that book. If so, I request it from interbranch loan and it is usually available within 1-2 weeks. If I really want to read the book and it’s not available from my library (this is rare), then I decide if it’s worth the money to buy it. Usually I buy reference books, especially cookbooks, but I am addicted to mysteries and those are the ones I hate to buy since I never read them again.

    I am envious of your library’s 6wk check out policy. Ours is only 3 weeks (w/up to 2 renewals), but I still seem to end up paying fines every few months. E-mail reminders and on-line renewal have helped a lot. I tell myself I’m supporting the library system whenever I have to pay a fine….

    • Jeremy November 8, 2011, 8:01 pm

      An awesome site for looking for the cheapest deal on a mess of books is http://bigwords.com. This saved me ridiculous amounts of coin while at university. A neat feature is you build up a “bookbag” of books to buy/rent, and then it minimizes the cost of purchasing all those items together, including shipping and fees. Big Words also knows about many deals and coupon codes.

      Also, hit up http://retailmenot.com/ before you buy anything online; you can save $5 for 30 seconds of typing and clicking.

  • Petra November 9, 2011, 8:39 am

    “we decided to call it the “Public Library” ” I had to laugh at this; very nicely written. Must be all those books you consumed so far…

    I hadn’t realized that e-books could be borrowed. So I’m now actively looking for that – currently the library in my town doesn’t offer that, but the library in an adjacent town does – maybe it’s time to find out how much it would cost me…

    • Petra November 9, 2011, 8:43 am

      Cool… I found out it costs only 5 euros per year to become a member of that other library – e-renting the books is free. This is because I’m already a member of my local library and there’s a collaboration in our region of all libraries. I’m off to the library now to get that new membership and e-book access :-)

  • LBPL Librarian November 9, 2011, 12:06 pm

    MMM, we love your blog post so much. In fact, we shared it on our Facebook page.

  • Marianna November 9, 2011, 12:57 pm

    Don’t forget about public domain books! Project Gutenburg has free e-texts, and Librivox.org has free, volunteer-recorded public domain audiobooks. I can go through 2 audiobooks a week at my lab bench, so I love it!

    • Amonymous July 19, 2016, 12:38 am

      THANK YOU SO MUCH for the info on Project Gutenburg this is awesome!!!

  • steveinfl November 10, 2011, 4:39 am

    I used to go to the library as a kid AND spend my biweekly alowance on a book. Then I grew up and stopped going to the library and went to goodwill or the used bookstore a lot. Then I became middle class and purhased $1000s per year from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

    Then I read Dave Ramsey. I stopped buying books (with rare exceptions), started using the library extensively and paid off 60k in debt in 3 years. Did this all happen because of the book savings? No. But using the library was like growing another hair on my ‘stache helping me move from clean shaven to stubble on my way to financial independence.

    I like that i can get 10 books a week. If I start to read one and it sucks, then I just return i next week – with no regrets or hard dollar cost to me.

    Using the library has vastly increased my reading list as well. Instead of murder mysteries and best sellers I’ve read nonfiction books in categories like: business, psycology, simplicity, ecology, finance, history, essays, and occasiionally fiction. I evenearn something once in a while.

    Cheap, Effective, Thought provoking, continually updated Entertainment and education. Without commercials every 12 minutes.

    What could be better?

  • Katy G November 10, 2011, 6:33 am

    I agree about all of it, but have recently been reminded about the sense of community a library provides. We recently moved from a small town to a large metro area. The metro area offers great parks, museums, shopping. Almost everything is better. The only thing (other than friends) I find myself missing is the library. The libraries in this area are great, award winning even, but I’d give up the larger selection of books for the community atmosphere of the old library. The children’s librarian knew my kids and what they liked to read. The free story hour and special programs were the highlight of our week. For me, there was one librarian who always gave me great suggestions of what book to try next. She has even e-mailed me since we moved with ideas of new books.

    The library was a place to play and be a part of something cool. The libraries in our new area are top notch, but I think with the larger size, a lot of that personal connection is lost.

  • Christopher O'Neill November 16, 2011, 7:27 am

    One of the great things about my library is that after a certian time on the shelf the books get sent across the street to the friends of the libarary shop. Where they can be purchased and they usually run from .10 – 2.50! We can also donate our used books to friends of the library and all profit goes to the library for new books! What a great bunch of articles you have MMM.

  • Chris November 22, 2011, 8:46 pm

    I’m in the midst of sorting, categorizing and storing 100’s (if not 1,000s) of books for my local library fundraising sale. Please check your library’s Friends group website. You can buy books for less than pennies on the dollars, read and donate back 6 months later at any library book sale! And if you volunteer, you probably get first pick of the best as the books come in. Really, help me out here people!!

  • Chris December 15, 2011, 7:48 pm

    I thought of you when I read this…


    It’s nice to belong to such an exclusive book club, where all the titles are completely FREE *and* they store them for me!

  • Kerry January 1, 2012, 10:17 pm

    MMM, are there any books you DO have on your bookshelf that are worth always having around? Reference books, cookbooks, classics to read every couple of years? Anyone else?

    • victoria July 11, 2012, 12:41 pm

      I have a flowchart I use, partly when deciding to buy new (to me) books and partly when deciding to sell books I already own:

      1. Is this book of very high or unique value in terms of aesthetics or personal history? (Very few books should fall into this category!)
      If YES, go to #5.
      If NO, go to #2.

      2. Is the book a how-to or other practical nonfiction book?
      If YES, go to #3
      If NO, go to #7

      3. Does the book describe something (a project, recipe, etc.) I’ll want to do in the foreseeable future?
      If YES, go to #4
      If NO, go to #6

      4. If I wanted to do that activity, would I want to go to this book, or would I be equally happy using the Internet or a resource easily available at a library I have access to?
      If YES, go to #5
      If NO, go to #6

      5. Keep it (or acceptable purchase)

      6. Sell it to the used bookstore or donate to charity (or don’t buy it, if it’s a purchase I’m considering)

      7. Do I want to read this book (again), or is this one of the very few books I consider mandatory reading for a literate person and therefore want to have around for the kiddo?
      If YES, go to #8
      If NO, go to #6

      8. Is the book available through Project Gutenberg or another free e-book service?
      If YES, download the book and go to #5.
      If NO, go to #6

      In practice, this means that we keep novels and nonfiction books we love and like to come back to, a small selection of excellent cookbooks (because we love to cook), some beautiful antiquarian books passed down through the family that we read to the kiddo, and a fair amount of books that are reference for my main hobby (knitting) and a shelf for my husband’s (software engineering). We’re about to the point that the stash of books — which had been pretty overwhelming! — is now a thing that give us joy.

  • ike9898 March 6, 2012, 7:45 am

    Paperbackswap is a goodun for low cost used book trading (not just paperbacks). You just pay shipping, often the low Media Mail rate. They have sister sites for movies and music (which I’ve never used but are probably just as good). These might be especially good for people who live in remote areas but can still get US mail.

  • Sarah July 18, 2012, 10:58 am

    Something no one mentioned, but I used to love to check out as a kid are jig-saw puzzles. When I got older people would buy them for me for my birthday, but most aren’t much fun once you’ve put them together once, and there is no point in storing them.

    • Sofie November 8, 2013, 6:55 am

      When we visited San Fransisco, we bought a giant puzzle (1000 pieces or more, don’t remember), and after we finished it, dad framed it and put it on the wall, like a picture. I really liked that :)

  • hands2work September 27, 2012, 9:52 am

    I got my first library card when I was 5 years old. (I still have it.) I currently have active cards in3 different systems and I use them all. My favorite thing is that nowadays you can put things on hold and then just go pick them up, so when I see something on goodreads or elsewhere online that I want to read I just put it on my library list and then they email me when it is available. I still have a commute, but I make excellent use of my commute by listening to recorded books and turning my car into a university classroom. I have never bought books, unless it was a gift of a favorite book to someone else. God Bless Ben Franklin for bringing the Free Library System to our lives!!!

  • Corinne September 29, 2012, 2:00 am

    I haven’t seen a lot of posts about ebook readers yet. They are fantastic. Still around $100 nowdays… But this is for years of then free reading. When you read at least 2-3 books a week, like me, it is really worth the initial cost. Libraries are good for new books (as new ebooks are still expensive), but for classics, using an ebook reader and the project gutenberg website makes more sense. You download any book you want in seconds for free.
    Also, as another poster noted, It seems US libraries have a significant collection of ebooks to check out. Sounds good to me.
    Australian libraries do not provide many ebooks yet, but this may happen soon too.

  • SisterX October 14, 2012, 2:35 pm

    For those who do have an emotional attachment to books (like I do) it’s worthwhile to figure out which books are worth buying and which really aren’t. I try to look at a cost-per-use basis. For instance, series which I know i’m going to read over and over are worth buying. Anything which is going to get read more than twice is worth buying. I have friends who come over to “shop” my shelves, just as I do with theirs. I have one book which I just got back which has now been read by 8 people, and I’m going to loan it out again the next time I meet up with a particular friend who would enjoy it. That, to me, is worth the purchase price. In all, I’ve only spent about $50 on books in the last year and they’ve all been read and enjoyed more than once.
    However, I do also work in a library. (I know, MMM, you’re going to shake your head at me for spending anything at all on books!) Don’t forget interlibary loan! It’s seriously underutilized. You might even be able to get DVDs and CDs that way. (Some libraries don’t ILL their DVD collection, ours does.) For college students: check your library’s lending program for textbooks. We put all of ours on reserve and have specific lending periods so that everyone can have access to those texts. Most of them sit unused on the shelf all semester, presumably because everyone in the class has opted to buy the expensive text instead. It’s silly. Most of the students we loan books to are foreign, I’ve noticed. Apparently frugality is taught in other countries, just not ours.

  • Di January 2, 2013, 9:43 am

    I have been one of those book collecting people. My OH doesn’t understand it, and with some gentle encouragement I have already done a first edit, but after reading this blog I have (a) joined my local library (only 2 years after moving a 5 minute walk away from it … doh!) and (b) decided that my existing collection can definitely be edited further. I do like to have a good selection of factual books at home on cooking, gardening, history etc. and some poetry and classic literature, and can’t imagine ever getting rid of those – but there are a lot of novels I am keeping because I liked them (even though I will never read them again) or because I haven’t yet read them (even though in some cases that means I wont ever read them…) I will need to have a good look through and see what can go.

    Not directly mustachian I guess (no money saved) – but the last couple of years I have been on a bit of a crusade to have less stuff, and have found it is a good incentive to buy less stuff too! There’s nothing so effective to slap you out of a bit of new shopping than see some old shopping make its way out of the door in a perfectly shiny state for resale, rather than in happy tatters…

  • Alex in Virginia March 1, 2013, 3:32 pm

    Well, I guess one could say that I swing both ways.

    I read lots of fiction (mostly mysteries) but I would never consider buying a mystery novel, except maybe at a garage sale for 25 cents (if then). My fiction books come from the library.

    BUT… I am also one of those nefarious book COLLECTORS. (OMG!!). I am an avid student/reader of history, and more particularly military history. And I love reading AND having the books. So I buy them. Constantly.

    I have several hundreds of them — all organized into categories such as: biography, american civil war, american history, world war 1, world war 2, korean war, vietnam war, british history, european history, ancient history (with special subsections for greek and for roman history), medieval history, government and politics, and outliers such as architecture, investing, personal finance, etc.

    WHEW!! But there’s more. After all, I have to have SOMEWHERE to keep all these books. So I’ve paid to have built-in bookcases constructed in 2 rooms to display my books, along with my other guilty collecting pleasure: horse sculptures and figurines.

    Man, think of all that “wasted” money, right?. Bullshit! You see, I’m already financially independent. And I honestly, honestly struggle to find things or activities on which to spend my surplus funds. I just don’t want much.

    But I WANT my books! :O

    Alex in Virginia

  • Nina July 2, 2013, 10:59 pm

    My local library in Frankfurt, Germany, is within walking distance and charges 12 EUR (= 15 USD) per year. They offer at 19 branches (all interconnected), over 90 school libraries and two book bus lines the following media (2012):

    652,270 total
    139,500 fiction
    197,500 educational
    150,000 children’s books
    41,500 music-CD
    36,500 audiobooks
    31,000 DVDs
    14,000 eMedia
    10,000 CD-ROM and video games
    850 newspaper and magazines subscriptions

    Considering that I go through over 100 pieces a year (without even counting DVDs and CDs), it’s free after the first book because German hardcovers are around 22 EUR and paperbacks are 10-12 EUR if you buy them without being on sale. They do offer ebooks on loan but that system is not compatible to the Kindle reader, yet.
    You can pre-order pretty much everything and have it send to your favorite branch for pick-up.

    So go to your local library NOW!

  • The Librarian July 30, 2013, 2:39 pm

    Thank you sooooo much for plugging the library. I am a librarian, so naturally I’m always talking up the library….but your piece here was fantastic!

  • Trevor October 8, 2013, 10:15 am

    For some strange reason I just realized this prior to reading this article. I calculated my Amazon wishlist of books and realized I had over $2,000 just sitting there ready to be bought. After organizing my personal bookshelf due to my daughter’s birth, I got rid of “all the books I probably wouldn’t read again” and it ended up being a lot. So I finally went down to the main library in New Orleans which is within walking distance of my office (and another branch is within a bike ride of my house) and got my first library card since college. I’ve put myself on a challenge to read and review a book a week for the foreseeable future.

    Great post ‘stache!

  • Lori February 9, 2014, 11:02 pm

    Another librarian here, love this post of course! I recently started reading your blog in my personal life (love my job, but I’m working toward a point at which I can work halftime) but I have a question for you for my library life. I’m toying around with ideas for a grant for a “Library of Things.” I’ve been researching the sharing economy and collaborative consumption (always shocked how rarely public libraries are mentioned) and thinking about items our public library could circulate to extend our usefulness in the community. We already circ seeds, e-readers, Kill-a-watt machines and a few other fun things. I have a long list of ideas from other systems (tools, cake pans, art, guitars, etc.) but what sorts of things would you, MMM, like to see in a public library to help people become more, well, mustachian? Thank you!

    • Stephanie August 30, 2014, 4:25 pm

      Great idea! Our libraries here in Australia often have a ‘toy library’ section. These are very popular, as parents (and their kids!) have access to a wide selection of wonderful toys that can be played with for a few weeks, then returned and swapped for something new, saving both money and space.

  • SpeedReader February 16, 2014, 10:07 am

    I’ve always considered the twin pinnacles of civilization to be public libraries and indoor plumbing.

  • David May 28, 2014, 7:25 pm

    I’m a big fan of the library. I use it for almost all of my fictional reading.

    However, you can’t highlight or take notes on library books. I believe the point of reading a non-fiction book is to learn. I’m not going to learn it unless I’m able to highlight, take notes, review those highlights and notes, and then take notes on those highlights and notes a few weeks after reading it. Very difficult to do with library books (with the exception nowadays with ebooks). I look at it like this – for $10 I can get in a lot of cases someone’s life work – advice that is more often than not life changing (especially on a cumulative basis). It’s worth every penny to me.

    If a book is for entertainment, I get it at the library. If not and it’s not worth $10-20 to buy, then why am I reading it in the first place?

  • Janeen June 3, 2014, 11:45 am

    I live in Iowa and if we’re like other states, all of our public libraries are all part of the State Library of Library. This means that I can walk into any library in the state and get a card. I have used this privilege (as a good tax-paying citizen) to check out books and DVDs at libraries when I visit family around the state.

    In very “selfish” terms the library helps in other ways. Whenever I am hit by the “consumption” bug I go to the library and check out all kinds of stuff — it satisfies the need to acquire. Also, although I love my dear family, sometimes having the library as an outlet when visiting over a long holiday is a nice oasis and break from the madness. Plus, I can always rent DVD’s to keep me occupied.

    I must also speak in favor of interlibrary loan, which allows most libraries to request whatever you want (although sometimes with a small fee that’s still worth it). I’m friends with an interlibrary loan librarian (at the college where my husband works — giving me access to two FREE libraries) and when I expressed concern that I was exploiting the system by requesting leisure reading books she scoffed and said, “Nonsense. You’re helping us with our circulation statistics.”

    I’m much freer of my previously horrible book-buying habit. Non-reference books that are worth something I sell on Amazon. Otherwise, I just donate my surplus books to my favorite libraries’ book sales each year as a way of paying it forward. And, I also make a donation to the “Friends of the Public Library.” I feel like it’s an important community asset that makes our town a great place to live.


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