Killing My “Sacred Cow” Spending: Books


I’ve always been a big reader, and I mean big.

I remember leaving the library when I was seven or eight and carrying a stack of books I could barely manage. A library run of fifteen books might have lasted me a week during the summer, and that’s not even the start of it. My mom’s favourite embarrassing anecdote to pull out is that before I could read, I would slam a book down on someone’s lap and scream “READ IT” at them until they read it to me. Even if I was just meeting them.

I was a delightful child.

The point is, reading is in my blood, and I’ve done a lot of it.

When I graduated from university and started working full time, this led to pretty regular $50+ orders that I “totally deserved.” There was a regular mix of work-related books and fiction books, and a few years later, cookbooks when I got more interested in being a grown-up and cooking for myself. All of them would show up in those classic brown boxes, and as I posted multiple times on social media at the time, book-arrival days were the best days ever.

Books were my sacred cow of spending, even when I was living in what could generously be called a student apartment, and scrimping on just about everything to make ends meet on my entry-level salary while still saving something. But give up my $50-ish a month Amazon habit? Never. Not even as the unread books started to accumulate.

So it took me longer than I, in retrospect, would have liked to curb my monthly book habit. It was just so easy. So easy to justify the spending, because I loved books, and so easy to make it happen, because I had one-click ordering enabled on Amazon. Once I knew I wanted one book, that free-shipping limit was good enough reason to top up the order with something from my wishlist.

But here’s the thing.

Owning books isn’t the same as loving reading.

It sounds so obvious when I say it like that, but it’s true. And those libraries I used to frequent as a kid? They’re still full of books, just waiting to be read. And they’re free.

So about a week ago, I signed up for my first grown-up library card, and you know what?

It’s amazing.

The books are free, you guys! FREE!

You can go, and take them off the shelves, and as long as you check them out, you can just leave with them! Without paying! Because they’re free!

I’ve already torn through two personal finance books in the past week, and my first hold came in yesterday. When I was reading about a new fiction book this week, instead of running to Amazon, I ran to add it to my library’s hold list. Sure, I’m about the 50th person in line to read it, but when I do get my hands on it, I’ll have a great afternoon of reading ahead of me, for free.

Here’s the thing: I’m not saying I’ll never buy books again. I will, because I’m also the kind of weirdo who reads books over and over again when I love them (my Harry Potter books will never leave my bookshelf, ever.)

But by getting over my belief that owning books somehow makes me “more of a reader” or is the only way I can truly love books and reading, I’m getting a whole lot more conscious about my spending on books. I’ve also found a pretty easily accessible way to get the same experience of devouring multiple books, but for free.

It’s this kind of approach that I want to apply to every line item in my budget. If I can do it to books, I can do it to everything else, too.

PS. This approach was the perfect way for me to challenge my ingrained habits. These days, I do buy books sometimes, but the real test I apply now to whether I can buy (or request from the library) a book is if I can clearly identify when I’m going to read it, and why I want to read it. If I’m swamped with projects and have no spare time, no books for me! If I’m going on vacation and want to bring a few books? … Different story. Same goes for books that I consider investments in myself because I’ll learn something from them!

11 Comments on “Killing My “Sacred Cow” Spending: Books”

  1. TidyTraveler

    Way to go! One of the rooms in my house is full of bookshelves and for a while I gobbled up those beauties left and right (at least they were used); then I rediscovered the library and it’s been a love affair ever since. Now I only buy classics or any book that is too great a deal to let go. Oh the wonders of frugality!

    1. Des

      Hahaha I’m totally guilty of the giant bookcases full of books too! The nice thing now is that almost half of the books I’ve taken out from the library fall into the “Ugh, not what I thought this would be at all” category, but instead of just putting them away half-read, I send them back! When I find the really good books that I want to read again and again I’m sure they’ll find a place in the house 🙂

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  3. Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless

    I was basically jumping out of my seat while reading this. I love your line, Owning books isn’t the same as loving reading. So, so, so true, and something that I too only discovered very recently. (I was actually thinking of doing a post about it too at some point.)
    I think that for most of my life I viewed my bookshelf as a sort of extension of my identity — I spent hours arranging and rearranging the books, making sure the really impressive ones (ha!) had a good spot, etc., so that I could look at the bookshelf and think, yes, this is me, this collection of spines represents who I truly am. And, truth be told, I was always hoping that visitors would look at my bookshelf and think the same thing. But I stopped buying books cold turkey earlier this year, inspired by Cait’s shopping ban, and I haven’t looked back.
    Thanks for the super-relatable post!

    1. Des

      Oh my gosh, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a book lover who *doesn’t* see their bookshelf as an extension of themselves! I’m right there with you on that – to the sad point of having some books that I didn’t even really like, but keep on my shelf because they’re impressive or popular or something like that. When people come over and notice my books, I’m always like “oh hey, you GET me!” As long as they don’t pick out Anna Karenina to talk about, because uh… I never made it all the way through and there is going to be some serious bluffing on my part. Or Start With Why. That book really should have remained a 20-minute TED talk.

      I would love to read your take on all this in a post, since it sounds like we basically have identical book histories!

  4. Kate@GoodnightDebt

    Congrats on making the shift! I love the library! If anything, checking out stacks of books from the library makes you an even more hard core reader, because you are commiting to read them in a short period of time. Anyone can buy a book and never read it.

    1. Des

      Oh my goodness, I LOVE that – it definitely makes us more hardcore readers! It’s basically like the time trials of the bookworm world, especially when you find a book you love on the “Express” shelf. That might only be A Thing at my library, but they have some very popular books that you can’t put on hold, and you’re only allowed to check them out for a week – no renewals either. It’s like a super-fun race (although with really good fiction, I’m not one to put a book down, so it’s usually not a problem, haha.)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Kate! Have an awesome day 🙂

  5. Maryse

    Hi Des! I’m loving reading through your blog! You’re kinda inspiring me. ;). I wanted to chime in and mention that libraries often have museum passes that you can borrow for a few days. We’ve managed to drag the kids to most of the Ottawa ones for free! It’s a nice way to save money but still get out of the house and do something fun.

    1. Desirae

      Thank you SO much Maryse! It means a lot, thank you for taking the time to comment! I’ve heard that the library does that, and I’ve also been meaning to check out their e-book rentals, which I’ve heard are great and super-convenient. If only I had planned that better to coincide with the 3 heavy books I brought to Vegas with me on a business trip, lol. Oh well – live and learn!

  6. Barb

    I love the thought of checking books out of the library. But I recently put two books on hold, ran down and got them and was SO dismayed at frankly grimy and generally poor condition of them. The germ-a-phobe in me could barely stand to hold them for a few minutes let alone hold them for hours to read them. I thought I was being a wuss (I was) but hubby walked in and noticed them on the table and asked where the nasty books came from and why on earth were they in our house. He assured me I should just buy the new, clean books that I want and then donate them to the library so they gave better copies. That’s what I did too.

    I decided buying books at the used book store was even preferable because they are likely to have been handled less. I know, I know….not frugal and probably weird. ????

    1. Desirae

      Oh no, not weird at all! Trust me when I say that I still more than understand the allure of shiny new books, haha – and to be totally fair those books sound downright gross. I think I’m just lucky to have dodged the bullet on truly gross books so far! Used books are my jam, too. I’m bringing a wagon to the biggest garage sale we have in Ottawa this coming spring, and I plan on stocking up on as many cheap books as I can pull behind me 🙂

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