A Library Convert: How Much I Saved in 2016 by Breaking Up With Amazon

I cut my book spending by 84 percent.

Photo credit: Andrea López, CC BY 2.0.

Near the end of 2015 my husband and I made some ambitious financial plans. We’d recently become disciples of Mr. Money Mustache, and began to reign in expenses and increase our savings in order to work toward early financial independence. We had no debt besides a mortgage and one extremely low-interest car loan, so we attacked our spending with the gusto and zeal of the newly converted.

Meals out? We cut back from 3–4 times per week to 1–2 times per month.

Clothes? Only when replacements of our current items were truly necessary.

Gifts? We convinced most family members to enjoy giftless holidays. It’s a double-win; lots of money saved, plus zero time spent shopping for stuff that no one really needs.

But I knew one area in which I’d struggle, and that was books. Amazon and I had been in a serious relationship for nearly a decade; I was used to buying books without blinking or sometimes even thinking. A favorite author makes a recommendation on Twitter? Just a few clicks and it’s mine. A friend tells me about the amazing new novel her boyfriend’s therapist’s wife recommended? I want to know what the fuss is about. The New York Times releases one of their 39,734 end-of-year book lists? I must have them all!

The thing is, books cost money. And they take up space. I’m a champion de-clutterer and aspiring minimalist (I totally Kondo-ed before it was a thing) and long ago instituted a “only keep the books I absolutely love” rule. This meant that most of my book purchases would soon be passed on to friends or to some donation box or other. Not exactly an efficient use of my hard-earned dollars.

What if I borrowed my books instead of bought them? “Use the library!” is always near the top of every list of money-saving tips, but how much do we really stand to save by making the switch?

Let’s pause here for some cold, hard data.

In 2015, I bought 51 books for a total of $468.84. It’s not an earth-shattering amount, but it’s still a chunk of change, especially considering the fact that I gave the majority of the books away.

In order to reel in my book spending for 2016 (our first full year of striving toward early financial independence), I made some new rules. Let’s call them The Two Book Commandments. Though I was initially afraid I’d end up feeling book-deprived, the experiment worked even better than expected, and helped me cut book spending by 84 percent.

Book Commandment #1: Thou Shalt Only Buy New Books Written By Thy Most Beloved Authors

There are only a few authors whose new stuff I reliably either really love or am inspired by, and I wanted to allow myself the luxury of buying their new work. For 2016, that meant I bought four new books:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner

(I also happened to win a copy of Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld through a Facebook giveaway, but if not for that stroke of luck it totally would have been in the “must buy!” column)

Pretty short list, right? These represent just a fraction of all books I read this year, but they were the only ones I was confident I wanted to a) lay down good money for and b) add to my permanent collection without having read them first. I also bought one used book, which leads me to…

Book Commandment #2: Thou Is Permitted to Purchase Any Book With Which Thou Truly Falls In Love

At first, I had a mental block about using the library. What if I super-duper love a book and then have to give it back? The horror! So I made a deal with myself: if I truly fell in love with something from the library and absolutely had to have it, I could buy it no problem — as long I tried for a paperback or used copy when possible.

Interestingly, this only happened once, and that leads me to the last book I purchased in 2016 (and the only book I purchased used):

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

I gotta tell you, this book caught me way off guard. It was recommended by a former co-worker who, like me, has a hyper-competent but taciturn husband. I can’t tell you how many times I cried over poor elderly Ove, with his dead wife and forced retirement. He feels useless and unmoored and alone and I couldn’t stop imagining my own husband, some years hence, widowed (widowered?) and transformed into a grouchy old man who scares the neighbors.

Anyway, using The Two Book Commandments, I purchased 46 fewer books in 2016 compared with 2015, and spent $396.04 less on books overall. Interestingly, my average cost per book actually increased (from $9.13 in 2015 to $13.10 in 2016), due to the fact that the few books I did purchase this year were mostly brand new, expensive hardcovers (as opposed to the mish-mash of old/new/used books from last year which often cost only a few dollars).

I realize this is not an stunning amount of money. $396.04 is not going to help us retire a year earlier, or even pay for heat this winter. But it represents so many things: the ability to only spend money on what I truly value, the discipline to stick to my own rules, and the idea that minor-ish trims to many different categories of spending can add up to serious cash. By reducing book purchases I am not only realizing savings now, but also lowering expenses for future years, which means future me will require less money to live my regular life. Double win!

My modest $396.04 in savings also symbolizes the intersection of smart finance and minimalism. I will joyfully spend money on books I love and treasure, and let the rest go. They’ll be waiting at the library whenever I need them.

Amy Wilson is a writer in the Midwest. No matter how many craft cocktails she tries, she only ever likes the ones with apple brandy. She’s new to Twitter.

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