Killing My “Sacred Cow” Spending: Books

Disclaimer: This is no longer something I actively prioritize in my financial life! This post is one of the first ones I wrote on Half Banked, and it’s pretty outdated. I’m leaving the post here to show how things can change and evolve, and how something that fits your life and goals at one point won’t always be the case (I’m back to budgeting for some books every month!)

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!