Frugality in Practice: The Library Book Sale

Hi. My name is J.D., and I'm a biblioholic.

I gather and hoard books. I have shelves full of them. I have boxes full of them. One of the high points of my life was the day I saw the marquee in front of a used bookstore: ALL BOOKS FREE. (The store was going out of business.) I believed I had died and gone to heaven.

It used to be that I spent more on books than I did on food. The new frugal J.D. has learned to keep his book habit on a short leash. I still have the urge to buy books, but I rarely indulge it. I've learned the value of money. (I've also run out of space!)

But once every year, I allow my urge to run wild.

Portland's Mulnotmah County Library holds a book sale every autumn. Thousands and thousands of used books are piled into a warehouse, priced at a buck a piece (give or take), and a swarm of readers sets upon the loosely organized mess.

This year I exercised restraint. I budgeted $50 for the trip.

I looked through the pamphlets first. This section contains half a dozen boxes filled with leaflets of various types — religious, political, historical, educational — each priced at 25 cents. A bargain! This time I picked up:

  • How to give Parties with a Theme (from the Amy Vanderbilt Success Program for Women — somebody needs to devote a web site to these books (sample, sample))
  • Three small books on Oregon Historic Landmarks (published in 1973 by the Daughters of the American Revolution)
  • Several gardening books (berries, cold frames, cover crops)
  • Some pamphlets extolling the virtues of trains, perfect for my Thomas-loving nephew
  • A few stocking stuffers

(Last year I found a couple dozen old booklets from opera multi-record sets. That was a jackpot.)

I had hoped to find some good personal finance books. I had really hoped to find some old personal finance books, like the 1903 Orison Swett Marden I picked up in June from the Milwaukie Public Library book sale. (I'm always hoping to find old comic strip compilations, too, but this is the fourth year that hope has gone unfulfilled.)

In past years, I've always found one or two prize books, especially considering the $1.50 price tag. I found no treasures this year, which is just as well. I spent only $30 of my $50 budget. Among the books I bought were:

  • Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips
  • a book on public speaking
  • Money-Making Hobbies by A. Frederick Collins (from 1938 — This book will be a source of endless amusement)
  • The Power of Will by Frank Channing Haddock (from 1907 — another source of amusement)
  • a nice illustrated version of Wuthering Heights

My wife, on the other hand, proved to be a closet capitalist. Kris found seven old Nancy Drew books priced at $1.50 each. After the book sale, we stopped by Powell's so that I could pick up a book I want to review for Get Rich Slowly. Kris took the Nancy Drew books to the bookbuying station, and they paid her $22 for them. In half an hour, she doubled her money. (Maybe she should be posting entries here!)

Don't confuse frugality with depriving yourself. If you know you have a spending weakness, don't try to squash it. Doing so will only lead to guilt and, most likely, to further spending. Instead, allow yourself a small budget. Make it a game to stay within that budget. I came away from the book sale feeling doubly good: I had a stack of new books, and I'd spent less than I'd planned.

More about...Frugality

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
20 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jody
Jody
14 years ago

I’m a biblioholic, too. Seeing a room (or worse: a house – it DOES happen!) without books is like an unfurnished room to me. My biggest headache with this addiction is: where and how to store them? I have thousands of paperbacks, hard-covers, trade paperbacks… I don’t have one library-like room to put them all, and I wouldn’t want to anyway. I wish I had carpentry skills. Back to the topic at hand: I don’t buy as many books as I used to. Maybe a couple a month, and I usually buy used, although I can’t resist Costco prices at… Read more »

Binary Dollar
Binary Dollar
14 years ago

Do you read all your books? I have this problem where I buy tons of books intending to read it through. I probably have a completion rate of 1 in 5 though.

I like audiobooks because it’s a forced progression. Plus I could do laundry or walk the dog while “reading”.

-BD

J.D.
J.D.
14 years ago

BD: I do not read all my books. I’d love to do so, but it just ain’t possible. In fact, the more I write, the less I have time to read. It’s a vicious circle. I’d say that I have a 20% completion rate, too. I, too, have discovered the joy of audiobooks. An iPod and an Audible subscription (and a good public library system) make for a great combination. I listen to about two books per month, and often enjoy it more than if I’d read the books on paper. I’ve listend to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell each… Read more »

EC
EC
14 years ago

I’m with you. I haven’t bought a new book in a year and a half now, and don’t feel deprived at all. And it’s helped the budget a lot!

A tip for finding library booksales:

http://www.booksalefinder.com/

Scroll down, then click on your state for a list of upcoming sales.

Find out if a book is worth much, before buying it at the booksale:

http://www.ringfo.com/
(formerly Amabuddy.com)

Swap books when you’re done with them, if you wouldn’t get much money for them anyway:

http://www.paperbackswap.com/

William Mize
William Mize
14 years ago

Preach brother!
Last year, thanks to my expense tracking spreadsheet, I learned that I spent almost $700 on books, both new and used.
That same year, I spent about $650 in gas for my car.
What the heck?!
Needless to say, I’ve cut back on my habit.
I budget $25 a month, but rarely use it all.

The library is your friend.

William Mize
William Mize
14 years ago

Oh, and allow me to turn you and your readers on to Paperback Swap.
People have books that you want.
You have books that people want.
Swap ’em.
For just the cost of media mail postage.

I just started using it to get some churn on my bookshelves, and it bloody well rocks.

Apologies if I actually found out about it here.

Emily H.
Emily H.
14 years ago

At my library system, if you volunteer to help sort the books and put them out, you can get first pick of the books. Your best bet is usually to go on the first day and on the last day: on the first day you can have your pick of the widest selection, and on the last day the prices are sometimes dramatically reduced; at my library system, you can fill a box for $5. (These days I very rarely buy books, even at the library book sale. You know what’s more expensive than books? Bookcases. You know what’s more… Read more »

tylerwillis
tylerwillis
14 years ago

There is a danger to library book sales – it can make you not want to ever spend more than a dollar for a hardback again.

I’m not a heavy book buyer, but I have one genre that I absolutely love to read, so I use the library sale to try out new authors – authors who have multiple upon multiple series out – without having to outlay for a series that I might not like.

VinTek
VinTek
14 years ago

Here’s the part I don’t understand. I totally understand the part of not depriving yourself. No one I know would ever accuse me of that. What I don’t understand is why you would buy more books than you can read. There will *always* be another book sale. Buying more than you can use of anything just seems to be antithical of being frugal.

J.D.
J.D.
14 years ago

I’m addicted!

My bookbuying obsession has contributed to my money woes over the years. It’s still a problem — no question — but because I’ve taken control of my finances, and because I’ve reduced my book spending, it’s not nearly so bad. My book habit (and, especially, comic book habit) is definitely something I can improve upon.

Careo
Careo
14 years ago

Also in the Portland area is Booktique in Lake Oswego. It’s run by the friends of the Lake Oswego library. It’s a small bookstore that’s part library sale (all of the library’s retired books go there), and part used book shop (they take donations). All of the proceeds go to support the library.

It’s like a mini version of the Multnomah County sale that goes on all year.

RJ
RJ
14 years ago

I also have collected lots of books over the years, but in the past few years I’ve cut down my purchases tremendously and have relied on libraries a lot more. I’m sure this has saved me hundreds of dollars! On the rare occasions that I do buy a book, it’s usually from a library deacquisition sale or from my nearby Half-Priced Books. What a great store!

João Miguel Neves
João Miguel Neves
14 years ago

As another biblioholic, what saves me are:

http://www.bookcrossing.com/ – the main idea is too free books around, but users also lend, do bookrings and bookrelays (where a person receives, reads, and passes the book on to the next person on the list).

http://www.bookmooch.com/ – swap of used books. You pay for the postal expenses and has a point system to keep it working.

Melissa A.
Melissa A.
14 years ago

I usually avoid the giant book sales because I don’t have a lot of room and I find I don’t have time to read all those books. But, I think this year I will go to the library’s giant book sale, which is in two weeks. Maybe I’ll luck out with some knitting books. It’s also a goal of mine to read every Agatha Christie novel ever written.

Melissa A.
Melissa A.
14 years ago

Oh, I guess should also mention that I rarely buy books, unless if they’re knitting books. Even then it’s only if I like most of the patterns or it contains a lot of helpful information. The library has most of the books I would want anyway.

Savvy Samurai
Savvy Samurai
14 years ago

J.D. How much do you budget for the year for books? For me its about $400. I try to find bargains at library sales like you mentioned but sometimes I can’t resist getting a new release on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

NHR
NHR
14 years ago

I also have accumulated a household full of books. Lately I have started to sell some of them on eBay. Books are fairly easy to post on eBay since stock photos are usually avaialble. Normally I buy books on eBay, Amazon Marketplace or half.com (part of eBay) to keep acquisition costs down.

I also agree with the comments about utilizing the library – I’ve slipped a bit on this.

James Kew
James Kew
14 years ago

FWIW, it’s when it comes to moving house that the mountains of books start to look like a big liability. An international move focuses the mind even more: when I moved from the UK to the US I realized that most of the books I had bought had been read once only. I ended up selling or giving away 80% of them. (And even then, I’ve found that 2 years later I have reread very few of the books I brought with me.) It seems to me that often the pleasure of collecting is more in the ownership than in… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
14 years ago

Our library has a book sale a few times a year. (We don’t buy many books b/c of space.) It is always hard for me to look b/c I have the kids with me, bu the last sale I saw some books I know I could double my $ with on Half.com. I think I will make the time to do it next time.

Beth
Beth
14 years ago

GREAT post. And of course, the money you spend on those $1 hardbacks goes back to the library! It gets spent on a wide variety of things, depending on the library (where I work, it mostly gets spent on materials we just would not be able to get out of our basic budget – DVD’s, audiobooks, special reference items. Also furniture, computer equipment, the catering for Patron Appreciation Day, Summer Reading prizes, just all sorts of stuff.) The average homeowning American pays about the equivalent of ONE hardback book ($25.50, in 2004) in taxes to support library services. If you’re… Read more »

shares