While this may seem counterintuitive, buying books is more frugal than borrowing them from the library. At least that’s true in my situation. And that’s why I never go to the library.
So if you’re interested in buying a condo, for example, buy a great book on it – don’t borrow it from the library. Buying a book is more frugal.
That’s right. You heard me.
Of course, it really depends on how you define frugality. What does “frugality” mean to you? To me, it means I should try to avoid wasting resources.
Money is an important resource. But time is a more valuable one to me, and I hope to you too. Books and libraries illustrate what real frugality is and isn’t. I never borrow books from the library. I always buy the books I want to read instead. (Of course, I buy them used if that’s any consolation.)
Most of the books I buy are about business, finance or self-development. I rarely read novels. I love to read, but I don’t have a great deal of time to do it. I’m picky about what I read, and if I decide I want to read a book, I really want to dive in. I want to learn everything I can. I want to underline. I want to reference. I want to get in there and suck all the value I can out of it.
If you want to learn about IRAs and IRA beneficiary rules, don’t you think you’d be better by owning a book and making notes? I do.
But I can’t do that if I have to return the book to the library. If I read a book without marking it up and coming back to it to reference, I won’t learn anything. In my case, it would be a complete waste of time. The complete opposite of frugality.
Maybe you can read a book once and absorb the material, but not me. Maybe that’s just the way I learn. But if I do get in there and get my hands – and the pages – dirty, I usually learn a great deal.
I love to ask myself how I can apply the lessons of the book I’m reading to my own situation.
This takes time. I have to ponder it. I have to write about it. I have to come back to it. It usually doesn’t come to me immediately. I’m just not that quick.
Maybe I’ve got a wiring problem in my head, but if I don’t take a pen and mark up those pages, most of the material just slips through my mind like a Barry Manilow song. It was somewhat pleasant while it lasted, but once it’s gone, it’s forgotten. Sorry, Barry.
A great example is The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. This book talks about how to run a successful small business. I bought it several years ago, and it entirely changed the way I do business. As a result of what I learned from Gerber, my business runs smoother, my clients are happier and my life is much simpler.
In order to get that much value, I had to really wrestle with the material in the book. I had to come back and re-study it. I had to quote Gerber to the people who work with me. I bought copies for them and made sure we talked about it so the lessons would sink in for them too.
You might be like me and have fear of criticism. After all, the book cost me $20 – that’s true. But it’s saved me a fortune and thousands of hours of work since I started implementing the lessons a few years ago. Had I borrowed that book from the library, I would not have benefited at all from it.
Again, this is just the way I learn and it happens to be a good example of what I think of when I talk about frugality. Respecting resources. I can spend $20 and possibly save thousands and thousands or I can save the $20 and almost certainly learn nothing.
The truth is, even if I buy a book and it doesn’t give me all that much value, the risk/reward trade-off makes it an easy decision. I can always sell used books. The potential benefit of new ideas is so powerful that it’s foolish for me not to take the risk. If I bought a hundred books and only one gave me a great business idea, it would still be a good investment.
What does this have to do with you? How can you benefit by this?
Frugality is very personal. It’s not absolute. What is wasteful to me might be resourceful to you. It’s not just about saving money. It’s about respecting your resources. Granted, you actually could be the kind of person who would be wasting money by buying books. But I think the conversation about buying versus borrowing books can be applied widely.
When you act frugally, are you just focused on saving money? Do you consider all of your resources? Do you have an example of a time when spending more money than you absolutely had to was more resourceful than not spending the money? Do you disagree with me? Should I go get a library card? (I won’t…)
I pretty much do what Kirk does. I read books borrowed from the library and then I take notes from the books. After reading and I realize that I have actually gained a lot from the book, I buy it.
The added advantage here is that if it’s a really good book, then the second (or third) read-around will expose new concepts.
Debbie M says
Another way to learn from books is to take notes on them. But if it’s a book you would return to again and again, finding something new each time, just taking notes isn’t good enough. I know very, very few books that are that awesome, though.
I also start at the library to help me eliminate the duds.
I’m torn. Books are a bargain compared to so much else we can buy, if costed at an hourly rate – let alone that business books and similar can deliver a return on investment in them.
On the other hand, despite giving away books to friends I still lug van fulls from house to house like so much dead wood.
I guess an eBook reader would be the perfect solution (and would enable me to refer back and re-read) but then I love the smell of paper.
We humans were not meant to be 100% content, eh?!
I love your comments for two reasons:
a. It illustrates the point that My Journey makes in his comment- one size does not fit all.
b. We all learn from each other.
Both your approaches are great ideas for the right person.
I love it. Thanks.
Kirk Kinder says
I take a deviation on your habit. I read a book in the library first. If I get done, and it is a book I must have to reflect, highlight, etc. then I buy it.
I have bought books in the past expecting to learn quite a bit and found them to be very basic or poorly written. And, these were highly recommended books.
So, I would go to the library first. That way, I can avoid paying for the dud books.
I love libraries because I read a lot of fiction, and my limited budget (and shelf space!) would make it impossible for me to buy everything I want to read. However, books I want to learn from, art books and graphic novels are definitely things I’d rather buy. I guess it all depends on your interests!
Neal — I read a lot on line, and found that making a PDF or copying the text into a word processing document allows me to add comments and highlighting. It’s not quite as good as print, but it saves a lot of trees… 🙂
Cool. I find it tough to read book on internet. Are you able to absorb? Do you print the material? Maybe I’m too old school but I just have to write on the doc to make it sink in.
Coming from you….that’s a huge compliment.
My Journey says
THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST POSTS I HAVE SEEN IN A LONG TIME! It has nothing to do with your book reading habits (which I kind of, but don’t fully understand lol).
Rather it has to do with you making an intentional decision with logic as to why you are doing it. It may go against the grain, but it doesn’t matter as long as you know WHY you are going against the grain.
Great post Neal! I haven’t been to the library in years — I prefer to read books & articles on the internet instead.