This is part of an ongoing series about how to trim the budget of the average American. As this series focuses on such broad-based tips, some will work for you and some will not. You’re invited to mention in the comments the tips that you found to be the most useful for inclusion in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of this series.
Reading – $118
The final, smallest category centers on reading materials – books, magazines, and newspapers, in other words. This category has a special place in my heart because reading is not only my primary hobby, but it’s also (in my view) one of the best ways a person can improve themselves. Reading teaches you new things, improves your language skills, and introduces you to new ideas and new modes of thinking.
Plus, it can be a very inexpensive hobby. Here are some ways to do just that.
Use the library! Your local library has thousands of books, CDs, DVDs, and magazines just sitting there, waiting to be checked out, for free. I’m a frequent user of the Ames Public Library – it fuels much of my own reading, plus it has exposed my children to hundreds of books over the years. Total cost? Nothing. Whenever I hear of a book I want to read, the library is the first place I check.
Use PaperBackSwap. The second place I check for a book I want to read is PaperBackSwap. PBS is an online book trading service. When you sign up, you list ten books from your own book collection that you’re willing to mail to someone else, then the system issues you two “credits.” Each credit can be used to request a book from the system, which another user will mail to you for free. When someone requests a book that you’ve listed, just mail it out to them (PBS gives you a sheet to print that works like a mailing label with the address already on it) and, when they receive it, you get another “credit” with which to order any book they have. I love this service and use it almost constantly.
Use secondhand book stores. My third string option for books to read is to visit secondhand book stores, yard sales, and thrift shops to see what books they have on their shelves. Time and time again, I’m surprised at the number of quality titles that can be found if you dig around – and quite often, they can be had for a few nickels.
Trade books with friends. If you have friends with similar reading tastes, swap books freely with them. You can get the ball rolling by simply passing along books you enjoy to your friends – eventually, if they’re heavy readers, they’ll reciprocate. When this starts happening and books get passed around a circle of friends, you’ll often have several free books to read before you ever buy one (and even when you “buy,” it might just be a PaperBackSwap book).
Hit library sales or used book sales. One of our favorite family events is the semiannual used book sale at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. It’s like visiting a giant used book store – you can get lots of surprisingly good books for just a dollar or two. Every year, I walk out with several titles under my arm.
Subscribe to magazines or newspapers you read with any frequency. If you buy a magazine more than once every six months on the newsstand, it’s probably cost-effective for you to start subscribing to that magazine. You can also swap used magazines – for example, my mother swaps her magazines with one of her friends as soon as she’s read them.
Investigate the free newspapers in your area. In my area, Juice, Toons, and Cityview are free newspapers that can be found at the entrance of most local grocery stores. I pick up copies almost every week and they provide excellent reading for free.
Join a book club. How does this save money, you ask? Most book clubs pick a book, buy it in bulk (giving everyone in the club an opportunity to pick it up on the cheap) or at least pointers to where to get it cheaply, then everyone reads it and then discusses it. It’s a really effective way to turn a book reading hobby into something social, enabling you to meet other readers. These other readers often become book swapping buddies, providing you with not only a social opportunity but a source for lots of reading.
I want your help! In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming these costs. I’ll include the top choices in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of the series.
(Note: in a few days, I will be posting a summary entry for this whole series, outlining the top three to five picks for each category, which will give everyone a single page to bookmark for reference’s sake.)