Book Worms…on a Budget

This morning, I am doing one of my favourite things: reading to the children at my daughter’s nursery. Reading is a large part of our family. I and each of my children are book worms with huge collections of books that are at times divested and then re-built. Actually, I have fewer books now than at any time in my recent life: only three small book shelves worth, about two hundred or so. But at the retail price of about five pounds for paperback and over twenty for hardback, being a book worm on a budget can be a challenged. My secret is that I have paid that full retail price for less than a handful of my books.

Today, I want to share with you some of my ideas for loving and adoring the written word…without breaking the bank. But let’s first look at how reading and books rate against some of our Frugal Fam core values:

Family first. Besides talking to and with your children, there is no single gift I think you can give them that is better than a love of reading. Studies have consistently shown that children, whose parents read to them at home and from an early age, perform better in school. But it is not just about reading to them, it is also about them seeing you read. My husband almost always reads the newspaper over his bowl of celery on the weekend. Our daughter at three now has to have her own ‘paper.’ We usually purchase one of the children’s magazines for her at the grocery story or newsstand. Of course, we can then re-use of magazines with various art projects.

Healthier. It may not seem obvious how reading would apply to health, but it is wonderful form of stress relief and lower stress can improve your health significantly. This may sound funny, but one of the biggest differences in my library now and the ones I have had in the past is the absence of a significant number of romance novels. When I was unhappy in previous relationships, I would escape into romance novels as a means of dealing with those stressful situations. Now that I am happily married, my reading habits have changed somewhat. Oh I still read, but it is not as much fiction and escape.

As for the core values of saving money and environmentally friendly, let’s examine each of those in terms of the specific ways I have found for being a book worm on a budget.

1) Your local library is of course the first thing that comes to mind. While most communities still offer free library cards to their residents and free loan of books, this one has always been frustrating for me. If I love a book, it is virtually impossible for me to give it back. Of course, it is a great chance to road test books if you will before purchasing. It may also be a great alternative for time and situation specific material such as pregnancy, holidays and health topics. Since we will likely not need to repeatedly refer to the material, checking it out from the library, reading and returning it is a great alternative. It is also a free family adventure for our children, especially if we coincide our visit with reading aloud times offered in most libraries.  But in terms of our core values of saving money and environmentally friendly, the library is a great option, especially if you walk there and back.

2) The Internet is an excellent alternative to purchasing books. I have been able to find research on various topics as well as quality fiction posted on the ‘information super highway.’ Obviously this alternative ranks very high on both saving money and environmentally friendly, because it is FREE and paperless. Although of course running our computers does use up energy so this source is not completely free or green, but it is a viable option for most people.

3) Charity and resale shops have always been one of my favourite options for building a library. I could spend hours in those looking for books I might like. The wonderful thing about this option is that like the library options you can skim the book before purchase to make certain it is what you are looking for. While the books may not be free, this option does allow us to save money by purchasing the books we want at a fraction of the retail price. In terms of environmentally friendly, it ranks very high because it offers the option of re-homing/re-using and saving them from ending up in landfills. Other related alternatives to this one include yard/car boot sales, library clearances and nearly new sales run by community groups.

4) EBay and Amazon offer an excellent option if you are looking for a specific or hard-to-find book. A tad of warning in terms of saving money, be very careful to make certain that the shipping costs when added to the sales price does not actually exceed the full retail price. Examining the environmental impacts of this option, please also consider the cost of shipping on our planet, especially when making international purchases. Having said all that, I have used this alternative for most of my doula and childbirth education textbooks.

5) Freecycle and other swap services often list books and magazines. The disadvantage of this option is that usually you have little choice in terms of selection. The people, who advertise, usually prefer someone to take everything at once. So out of a large box or bag of books, you may only find a couple that you really want. Of course, you can always donate the rest to the charity shop and help other book worms stay within their budgets. Likewise, you can with limited success advertise for books you want. This is unlikely to be successful in terms of specific books, but if you just want pregnancy or birth books then you may have a great deal more success. This option, like the library, ranks high in both saving money and environmentally friendly since the books are FREE and you are re-using an existing resource, but unlike the library you get to keep them…forever.

6) E-books are an emerging option for being more environmentally friendly, but they do not necessarily save money as they may cost almost as much as full retail. Having said that, I am committed that when I reach the point of becoming published, this is the option I will prefer. My older daughter adores this option though, especially as it has allowed her to access her favourite romance author from the states.

7) Friends and family are an excellent option for those books that you simply must have new. By letting them know either specific books, authors you like, topics of interest or asking for gift cards, you can enjoy the pleasure of that new book smell and save money. Of course, this option is not very environmentally friendly because it uses up trees to produce the books. But if you reserve this option for those well-loved books, which you will keep and read over and over and over again or lend to others then it is not so bad.

Of course in addition to these ways to be a book worm on a budget, we also must learn to be stewards of our libraries. One of the things I learned long ago was how to repair most books using scotch tape and patience. We can also be certain to gift others with this pleasure. For instance, one of the hardest parts of moving to the UK for my oldest son was that he could not bring all his science fiction and fantasy books. Mind you ALL of his books was a six foot tall shelf with many of the books double stacked. But the eyes of the librarian at his old high school lit up when we arrived with boxes and boxes of some of the most popular titles in those genres. She was ecstatic that the small library, which always struggled to purchase more books, would virtually double its selection of sci-fi and fantasy through his generosity. Of course, in the two and a half years since he moved to the UK he has begun to re-build his library…using the same techniques I have shared with you and so have I.

It is time for me to rush off to read to my daughter and her twenty young friends…about growing.

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