J.D. is on vacation. This is a guest post from Ann Zerkle, a Get Rich Slowly lurker, and the founder of Heroes of Capitalism.

I know J.D. has posted many times about how going to the library saves money, but I personally love to buy books. Even after reading the arguments about saving money over the year, going to the library and everything else, I still think buying some books is good for me. This is my defense of buying books.

Cheap entertainment
First and foremost, the average cost of an hour of entertainment is pretty low for books. For instance, here’s a chart of entertainment options, and their financial cost per hour.

Activity Cost per Hour
Movie ($7.00 Ticket, 2 Hour Movie)   $3.50
Cable TV ($40.00 per month, 2 Hours a day)   $0.67
Book ($15.00, 6 Hours)   $2.5
Baseball Game ($40.00, 3 Hours)   $13.34
Concert ($50.00, 2 Hours)   $25.00
Night Out ($50.00, 4 Hours)   $12.50
Internet   Pennies?

These numbers are based on an informal survey of my co-workers. I suggest you try it with your own values. Also, I assumed that I only read the book once and paid a pretty high price for it (usually, I buy paperbacks). If I really love a book, I keep it forever. I have books that I’ve read over and over and over and over again. I imagine the average per hour on some of my books is reaching mere cents per hour.

Often when I buy books, I pass them to my mother or sister and expect them continue handing the books around. I rarely balk at letting someone borrow a book (or three or four). I like that I can read something and then “release it into the wild”. This method of circulation has taken hold among my family, and I would guess one out of every three books is something that was given to me. This year I’ve given away over 20 books.

This pay-it-forward book network relieves the pressure of having tons of books around the house and makes me feel connected to my loved ones through shared reading experiences.

Books as an experience
Even with all this cost benefit analysis, ultimately, I am not buying books — I am buying an experience. One of my favorite date nights with my husband is going to Books-A-Million, drinking coffee, reading a big pile of trashy magazines (which I rarely buy), and browsing the books. Sometimes we walk away buying nothing. Other times we’ll spend $30. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty cheap date considering that we are there for sometimes up to five hours (yes, we are true book-store junkies!). We could do this at the library, but in South Carolina, the libraries don’t allow food and don’t stay open past 6pm on Fridays.

Along with the book-store experience, I flat out enjoy the hunt. Once I searched for an out-of-print book for over a year. When I finally found it at a used book store, it was absolutely exhilarating.

I enjoy searching the piles of books at the bargain tables. Sometimes this means getting books I would not have read otherwise, like the teenybopper fiction, which was really hot earlier this year. Other times, I go to a used book store to find things I know have been out for a while. Also, there are some books that I willingly pay full price for because I don’t want to be left behind.

For instance, when the last Twilight book was released, I bought it immediately. I did this because I did not want someone ruining it for me. It was worth the money to make sure I got a fresh experience. There is no way I could have gotten that book from the library the first day it was released.

Books as indulgence
Even if the previous logic isn’t convincing, consider that books are my reward. Instead of a big fancy meal or a special treat, I often get a book to celebrate things. A book is usually much cheaper than a meal at a fancy restaurant or a concert, is fewer calories than ice cream and lasts a lot longer than both!

Plus, like any indulgence, books can be bought with out-of-budget money. My husband and I have coin jar where we collect our loose change. We take it to the Coinstar machines, and get our return as an Amazon gift card, for which there is no conversion fee. This is a once a year reward that we blow on all the books we wanted to buy. Don’t underestimate the power of the coin jar. Last time we went we had over $70 in coins!

The benefits of buying
Beyond of all of this, sometimes there are specific benefits from buying. For instance, I do a decent amount of traveling, which can be quite overwhelming. I’ve spent two summers in Europe, surrounded by a language other than English. I cannot tell you how comforting it is dive into a good English book.

Even during domestic travel I find that a book can be a great distraction. I could take a library book with me on these trips, but the risk of losing a book is pretty high for me when I travel.

But the main reason I don’t like to check out library books is that I am not nice to my books. I like to read in the bathtub (more than one book has met its demise there). I like to bend my paperbacks in half. I like to write my thoughts in the margins. I like to highlight quotes I enjoy. I generally keep books in my bag, and often find a unique set of stains and dings from this. Just for the record: librarians do not like when you do this to their books!

All purchase decisions come down to one question: “What is the alternative?” For me, the alternative to purchasing a book is pretty lame. This may change if I end up near a quality library, but for living in the middle of Nowhere, South Carolina, buying is the way to go for me.

Have you ever thought of your purchases in terms of “average cost per hour”? What sorts of indulgences are worth the cost to you? And if you’re looking for something to buy, you might want to consider the GRS list of 25 of the Best Books on Money.

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