In defense of buying books

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.

ActivityCost 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
InternetPennies?

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.

More about...Books, Frugality

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Brandon
Brandon
11 years ago

It is worth noting that most of the main branches of the Richland County Library system in South Carolina are open until 9PM. I am unsure of the food policy though.

Sorry, I just did not want us to sound completely backwards! 🙂

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
11 years ago

Ann, I really want to agree with you because I love books. I could spend hours at Borders just browsing and browsing and wishing I could buy them all. But it simply does not pay off. If your library just doesn’t cut it, that’s a shame, because it really is the way to go. I’ve bought so many books that I have ended up not liking at all, and at that point it becomes lost money, even if I sell the book afterwards. Giving away books is very noble and all, but not a great financial move. I’ve written about… Read more »

Eric J. Nisall
Eric J. Nisall
11 years ago

@ Writer’s Coin: The library may be the way to go for you, but that doesn’t necessarily make that true for everyone else. I’ve said countless times here, as well as on my own blog: what makes sense and applies for one does not necessarily make sense for all. Just because the library is free, that doesn’t assure you that the book you want will be available at the time you want it. Nor are you able to refer back to it at a later point in time since you would have to travel back to the library to do… Read more »

Tootie
Tootie
11 years ago

I get most of my books from the library, but sometimes I like to splurge on buying a book, too.

I often check sites like half.com, where I can buy books (especially older ones) for a fraction of the original price.

Shanel Yang
Shanel Yang
11 years ago

Definitely if you buy only books that you know you are going to read and then either keep to read again multiple times or pass on to your family or friends who will then read it and so on, it’s worth the purchase price. However, most people don’t fall into that category. Myself included. Now I only buy one desk calendar a year, pocket Moleskines for on-the-go notes, and the occasional book if I know I want it for my permanent personal library for multiple future uses. Works for me! : ) To answer your question about indulgences that I… Read more »

Damsel
Damsel
11 years ago

Oh, I *completely* understand the book thing. I would have rooms full of books, but our life stage just doesn’t allow for it. It’s a combination money thing and space thing, though. My husband is in the Army, and we’ve REALLY simplified our stuff in preparation for moving on a regular basis. Plus, our local library is FANTASTIC. I can only hope that we are stationed in places with that same blessing. I agree with you, Eric, that the “rules for frugality” are very individual – things that work for one person/family may not work for others. My current indulgence… Read more »

Bill M
Bill M
11 years ago

Books are fun, but you can work that hourly rate down by purchasing used books on ebay/amazon or even library for free. so its literary free entertainment.

J.
J.
11 years ago

Bargain books are available everywhere–garage sales, thrift stores, library bookstores, online stores, also check out paperbackswap.com (online book exchange). Average cost of a used book I buy for myself= $1-4. I’m very impressed by the fact that you read every book you buy 😉

Krista
Krista
11 years ago

Thanks for posting this! I love buying books and I always feel guilty that I don’t go to the library. I do try to buy used books online or in thrift stores to keep the price down. It is great you give them away! I keep almost all of my books. They remind me of my life stages and the stories I have read. Each person needs to decide what is important to them and where they are willing to make sacrafices!

Melanie
Melanie
11 years ago

I completely agree. My husband and I have found a way to balance out our use of the library and our book buying addiction. My husband uses our local library to look at Graphic Novels that he just wants to read as a one time thing. It totally makes him happy. I use our local library to rent movies, television shows (on days that they have good deals because it’s much cheaper than renting from blockbuster) or to borrow books on CD to listen to on my commute to work. When it comes to books, however, I have a tendency… Read more »

Ryan
Ryan
11 years ago

You’ve left out video games as a source of cheap entertainment. For cost per hour, even at $60 a pop assuming one hour a day for one month, video games can become extremely cheap at 2 bucks an hour. And even less when they are rented.

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

I definitely agree on books, though you read a LOT faster than I do if it only takes 6 hours! I love our library here though. Same hours, I think (6 on Fridays), but a county-wide network, up to 8 weeks’ checkout, and no late fees! So when I find a title, I’ll hit the library site first and go from there. I found 3 of J.D.’s ‘which should I review next?’ books at the library, and am working on my second now… I’ll consider buying a book if it’s not at the library, if it’s so good I’ll want… Read more »

Eric
Eric
11 years ago

Two more reasons that I many times choose to buy books instead of checking them out of the library are 1. When you spend your money on a book you are supporting the publishing industry and ensuring that quality authors will have the opportunity to continue to write good books. 2. When I buy a book I’m more selective about what I read. If I get a book from the library it may be one that I’m not truly interested in and wouldn’t have spent my own money on. And if I’m not that interested in it, why would I… Read more »

Fish Finder
Fish Finder
11 years ago

Hey Brandon, commenter #1, accross the river here in Lexington County, our library is open until 8 PM most of the week. No food.

Thanks for taking up for the Palmetto State!
Shorts & tee shirts over Christmas while out on the lake.

CW
CW
11 years ago

I think the most important thing about this post is that you said books can be bought with “out-of budget-money”. Obviously part of personal finance is that it’s personal. You decide what matters to you and what doesn’t. As Ramit Sethi often says, and I paraphrase, ‘cut costs mercilessly on things you don’t care about and spend guilt free on the things you do’. I don’t think you have to deprive yourself completely, as long as you are meeting your savings goals it’s okay to indulge in a passion. For me I’d rather get books from the library or a… Read more »

Harl Delos
Harl Delos
11 years ago

Your mathematics are WAY off. The cost of buying books needs to include the cost of the bookshelves the end up on (admittedly, not the end of the world), and the cost of a bigger house to hold all those bookshelves (which makes the $40 cost of an O’Reilly & Associates book look cheap.) Worst of all, there’s the cost of the divorce, when one’s wife says, “I’m tired of dusting ’em – either they go or I do.” Unfortunately, I live in Pennsylvania at this point, a state that doesn’t realize that communities with third-rate schools cannot afford second-rate… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
11 years ago

* Movies = ($10.50 per ticket x 2 tickets) / 2 hours = $10.50 / hour
* Netflix = $15 per month = CHEAP, especially if you average 2 movies or more per week
* XBox360 = $60 per game / 20 hours = $3/hr. And many games give me 40 – 60 hours of gameplay and then can be re-sold for $20-$45.
* Gamefly – pricing model similar to Netflix but I play games too long to make Gamefly worth doing.

Mushroom104
Mushroom104
11 years ago

I agree that buying a book to celebrate special occasions is a wonderful treat. On our anniversary this year my boyfriend and I went out to dinner and then went to Borders to browse. I had some gift cards so we used those to treat ourselves. It was the perfect way to celebrate our anniversary since we are both book lovers. When we don’t have gift cards we do our browsing at used bookstores. Most of the time, however, I prefer using the local library to buying books. I live in a fairly large city with a great library system.… Read more »

the weakonomist
the weakonomist
11 years ago

The writer makes a decent argument. Especially for me because I read SLOOOOOW I’m new to the whole “reading” thing, having only really gotten into it in the last 18 months. I’ve developed a good system: Most of my fiction I can get at the library (Star Wars, James Bond, etc), and I can get some of the non-fiction books too. Whatever I can’t find, I ask for as gifts or buy and re-sell them on Amazon. The books I do keep, I keep because I want someone close to me to read it. For example, my brother just borrowed… Read more »

Chris
Chris
11 years ago

All this and the fact that you can buy books to educate yourself on topics of interest and enhance your knowledge and understanding of important topics (i.e. personal finance).

One thing I do recommend to everyone who really loves reading books, but also finds themselves wanting to read far more books than they ever have time to read, is speed reading. I got a book called “Breakthrough Rapid Reading” which definitely helped me read fast and retain more.

TosaJen
TosaJen
11 years ago

I don’t see a lot of point in arguing why I choose using the library for short-term book use over purchasing most books right now, while you don’t. I have my reasons and you have yours.

More than likely, my life-enhancing expense is your waste of money, too. Everyone has their own activity, hobby, or lifestyle enhancement they value more than other people do. I could write a similar entry about why we pay to attend professional live theater. Or why I pay for a good haircut. Or why I pay for voice lessons.

dogatemyfinances
dogatemyfinances
11 years ago

Books keep costing you money because you have to STORE them. There’s no Netflix-type service for books.

Most book lovers waste their space on books. Maybe that works in a McMansion, but not in my frugal place.

RitaB
RitaB
11 years ago

I can go through 2+ books a week. On my single mom budget there’s no way I could justify buying 8 new books a month, as convenient as that would be.

I do feel a little bad about the effect the used book market has on new book sales though…

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

kind of @Melanie In ‘It’s Not About the Money’ by Brent Kessel (probably going to be reviewed here soon…), the author states that our moment of highest satisfaction with a new possession is when we have the means and are going to get it. That culmination of anticipation, knowing you’re buying wisely (planned and saved), and knowing you’ll hold it shortly trumps instant gratification or not getting it at all. For me, that means waiting through the waiting list at the library, and then getting an email that the book is sitting there with my name on it – I’ve… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
11 years ago

@dogatemyfinances – Actually, there is a Netflix-like service for books — http://www.bookswim.com. I don’t have any experience with them, but I ran across the site the other day. Has anyone used this service?

wyche128
wyche128
11 years ago

For those on a budget a library is the way to go. I am personally a TV guy so I get the luxury of spending pennies a day.

As a recent commentator mentioned you are supporting the author by buying the book. Don’t forget the library pays a fee to get the book. The author actually keeps more royalties by selling to libraries.

mythago
mythago
11 years ago

I say this as a fellow book-lover who’s not trying to talk Ann out of buying books – the real point of the post seems to be that books are an indulgence that is not as expensive as one might initially think. It doesn’t really make a good argument that buying books, in general, is a frugal choice, and to the degree the post attempts to make that argument I think it fails. Before the angry “90% of the available space in my house is filled with books” crowds descends, of course one of the goals of frugality is to… Read more »

La BellaDonna
La BellaDonna
11 years ago

Most of the time I’m a book BUYER. My health isn’t up to frequent trips to the library; the bookstore is on my way home from work. I try to be careful about which books I buy, though; most of my keepers are texts, and the library system in this city doesn’t have anything to compare with what I own. I’m in a bind, though, for “entertainment” books – the very few I buy I reread until they fall apart. I usually expect to keep history books, and have been disappointed by a couple of really biased horrors (I’m looking… Read more »

Dustin Brown
Dustin Brown
11 years ago

I also like to buy books. It has very rarely backfired for me because I never buy books on impulse. If I’m buying a book on finance, I read reviews to see what are considered the top shelf finance books first. If I’m in the mood for fiction, I’ll usually get an author recommendation from a friend, then I’ll do some research to find out which title is generally considered his or her “best” title, and I’ll buy that one. The point is I try to insure I’m getting the most bang for my buck. Also, I have a http://www.paperbackswap.com… Read more »

KC
KC
11 years ago

You don’t have to convince me of the entertainment value of books. I’m a librarian so obviously I’m a supporter of libraries. But I also enjoy owning certain books. There are things I know I’m going to want to keep when I buy them, but the majority are new titles that the library doesn’t have yet or isn’t going to get. Generally those are bought and then resold on half.com. If you include the resale of books into your financial equation it will reduce the cost of the books greatly. And I read a lot of non-fiction and it takes… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

Even as a Librarian, I still buy books. Through a co-op system I have access to 20 million titles. I get many titles from the library, however I buy to add to my own collection (new, usually on sale) or buy for a quick read when we have a book fair. When I travel I will take a purchased book, so I can leave it and not pack it on the way home. The Kindle is a cheaper way to purchase books and easier than older versions of e-book readers, but for me still not the comfort feel of a… Read more »

Momma
Momma
11 years ago

Okay, as a librarian, I think it is great to use libraries AND also great to buy books. There are certainly times when it makes sense to buy books, particularly those that you will refer to over and over, such as reference books or cookbooks. After all, you can’t keep library books forever…. (unless you catch the used book sale at the library). 🙂

Great post!

Momma
Feature blogger (and stay at home librarian) 🙂 at Engineer a Debt Free Life (lots of freebies, bargains, and money saving tips)
http://www.engineeradebtfreelife.com/

akamarkman
akamarkman
11 years ago

Eric, your first reason stays true for the library as well. Libraries still pay publishers for books, and publishers have plenty of support from consumers: http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/261706.html

The more patrons a library sees, the more it will be able to justify increased spending on acquisitions.

Sandi Kahn Shelton
Sandi Kahn Shelton
11 years ago

I’m an author, and I was so delighted to see somebody standing up for buying books! 🙂 What a great post–and such good comments, too. With the publishing industry always declaring itself just about to go under, authors like me (I write fiction about relationships) are very mindful of what a tough time it is for people who want to buy our work but may not be able to afford the prices. We love libraries, too, but I have to agree with you that sometimes you just want to own a book–and yes, take it with you into the bathtub–or… Read more »

Julie
Julie
11 years ago

I generally read 50+ books a year, and for the most part I like reading recently-published non-fiction books. I have neither the space nor the money for 50+ new books in my collection every year. Consequently, I find the library a great help for me. It generally has the latest books, and if it doesn’t, I can always request them through interlibrary loans. Once I find a book I really like (generally less than 10 a year), I put it on my list of “to buy” books. That way, I know I’m buying only books that I like and I’m… Read more »

Nav
Nav
11 years ago

Audio books?

Melanie
Melanie
11 years ago

@Jeremy – I can totally see how that would work with some people. I think I was just more frustrated at the prospect of how long it would take and the possible outcomes that would change that length of time. It became more of a frustration than anticipation. In the end, it was worth it because I’ve enjoyed reading the book over and over again (making my average cost per hour about fifty cents.) But I will definitely try it out the next time… At our library, you can rent television shows for free (7 day loan period) and for… Read more »

lorrwill
lorrwill
11 years ago

I buy mostly technical manuals/how to, etc. So the library really isn’t an option in many cases. Either they do not have the book altogether or if they do it is checked out. Not to mention the short time limit you can use it if you can check it out. Just not viable when you are trying to make, build, or learn something complex. I rarely buy story books. The library is an excellent resource for them. When I get to a certain point (meaning I run out of room), I sell some of my purchased books back to half… Read more »

Emily H.
Emily H.
11 years ago

Getting most of my books at the library means I save enough money so that when there’s a reference book, obscure older book, or foreign-language book I really want, I don’t have to feel guilty about buying it. It’s not an either/or thing – it’s BOTH.

Aman
Aman
11 years ago

Any tax paying citizen knows that they are surely paying for the library services. Might as well utilize this program to get some books. The library in my area contains the latest DVD’s and books. I know the popular titles can be checked out then and now, but its worth a shot before driving to a bookstore to pay for a book you may or may not like. Personally, if I truly enjoyed a book, I may purchase it either for myself or as a gift for another person. But beyond that, the only books I purchase and medical books.… Read more »

Johnny Kuo
Johnny Kuo
11 years ago

I fall squarely into the non-buyer camp since I don’t usually have much time to read a book. The avid readers may find it appalling, but I only read two leisure books a year (maybe 4 if you count audio books). The few times I do buy books, it’s usually specialized how-to books. I do agree that books can be a relatively inexpensive entertainment indulgence. My wife is an avid reader, and even with the vast numbers of books she reads, the book expenses are still a lot cheaper than going for a night on the town. IMO, the only… Read more »

Anita
Anita
11 years ago

I would suggest checking out PaperBackswap.com. This website you can post your books, order books and the cost is only the price of shipping a book, under $3.00 even for hardback books. I get old releases, new releases, New York best sellers. You can even trade books on tape. I have been able to read over 45 books in a year that I normally wouldn’t have been able to afford. I still purchase a new one here and there when I want something now that may not be available yet. It’s an extremely wonderful site, easy to use and helps… Read more »

JD
JD
11 years ago

I love reading books, and there are some that I’d like to hand on to, either because I’d like to read the book again, share it with a friend or because I’ve gotten distracted and take a year to finish it! Unfortunately these habits don’t jive well with borrowing from the library. My solution is a great website called Book Mooch (bookmooch.com) Its a website where you can trade books with other people all over the world. Its free for you to receive a book. If someone requests one of the books you’re willing to trade, you pay for the… Read more »

Julie
Julie
11 years ago

@ J, Dustin, and Anita (re: Paperbackswap)

Alas, PaperBack Swap doesn’t accept Canadian membership! I found out about the service, only to have my hopes dashed because I live on the wrong side of the 49th parallel. I’ve been searching for a Canadian equivalent, but I haven’t found one yet. Do any of you guys know of one?

GrannyAnnie
GrannyAnnie
11 years ago

I have one foot in each world – library and bookstore. I live in a very small town, with a very small library. I spend hours there, and have introduced my grandchildren to the wonderful worlds of books and library services in this small community library. I also LOVE bookstores. My favorite self treat is going to the Books-A-Million or Barnes and Noble in a nearby town, get a specialty coffee and browse or read. I love the excitement I feel at the sheer POSSIBILITIES available to me in a bookstore. And I love sinking into one of the chairs… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

I think that, as with all things, it’s a matter of balance. Make no mistake: I, too, love books. Even though my book-buying expenses have dropped (a new low in 2008!), I still have not read everything in my library. (Nor will I for a decade, even if I start today.) I’m a bibliophile. I love books. I love the way they look, the way they feel, and even the way they smell. Some of my most prized possessions are books. But for me, they can be a compulsive money sink. I’ve learned to restrain my unfettered spending. Get Rich… Read more »

PizzaForADream.com
PizzaForADream.com
11 years ago

Personally, I always buy my books. I like to them as they come out and not have to wait behind 500 other people who have requested them at the library. I’ve always got 3 or 4 books going at any one time (some fiction and some non-fiction) and enjoy the freedom of jumping from one book to another depending on my mood. Currently reading histories of both the Great Depression and Texas as well as Ted Bell’s latest thriller, Tsar. In addition, I’m reading on gardening and composting and just finished a book on gold and silver investing. Nothing better… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
11 years ago

We buy books all the time. For ourselves, and for gifts — I think a lot of people are somewhat intimidated by bookstores and the idea of buying books for themselves, so don’t particiate in an activity that has a lot of benefits — keeps the brain supple, is environmentally friendly (less energy for a light bulb than a tv or computer I think?), and often can feed the soul, too. There are books of poetry I reread often, especially when I need support to understand the world (two poets I especially love: Wislawa Symborska and George Seferis). And, I… Read more »

PizzaForADream.com
PizzaForADream.com
11 years ago

When talking about non-fiction books, I would actually argue that there is no cost for purchase if the knowledge is put to good use. I can think back to several books I’ve purchased and read in the last couple of years that have increased my income $1000’s of dollars annually. These books cost nothing and were good investments instead.

partgypsy
partgypsy
11 years ago

OK, now does anyone want to do a post on the pros and cons of buying comic books? (she who purchased more prince valiant anthology comics for Christmas)

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