Are you living as “slim” as you think you can? For example, do you limit takeout food orders to almost zero? Do you stay in most weekends or look for free and low-cost activities? Do you watch the household budget and use different apps to try and get cash back, coupon codes, and discounts on everything imaginable? If so, you may still be struggling to get ahead and that’s why I want to introduce you to the ways you can save money using the library. Yes, the local library!
But first, let’s look at the reasons that libraries can serve your budget so well:
- They can help you to eliminate subscription services – In a previous article about the hazards of subscription services and their often-hidden costs, I looked at the many ways we pay for almost nothing.
For instance, we enroll in an online lecture service or some sort of cheap training program ($15-$30 a month), don’t use it and then forget about it. That saps hundreds out of the bank account. We might remember we have a subscription or recurring charge we don’t want, try to cancel, find it is amazingly difficult and let it go for a few more months, too. Again, hundreds might slip away because of it. And it isn’t just online classes. It can be gym memberships, streaming services, add-ons to other memberships (think of the Kindle Unlimited portion of an Amazon account, and so on), and more.
There are also the traps we fall into with free trials that enroll us automatically. You get three or six months for free and then, wham, a hefty monthly charge appears – and then keeps appearing. You must then find out how to cancel and pay any fees or absorb the losses for forgetting to cancel on time.
We also tell ourselves that a handful of the services we sign up for are a compensation for squeezing and pinching pennies elsewhere, but if you do the math you might be surprised to see how much heads out of the balance each month in compensation for skimping elsewhere.
For example, I used the wildly helpful Truebill app and website to look at all of my monthly bills, subscriptions and unnecessary bank fees. It showed me campaign contributions I no longer wanted or needed to make, tallied up how much in subscription services I was paying every month, and then cancelled all of the items I clicked to help me really start to save cash.
Similarly, I have explored other sites and apps, including Trim and Clarity Money, and urge everyone to consider at least one. You’ll also want to look into PriceSlash, which is a mercenary little service that cuts your expenses by auditing standard bills for hidden fees or pricing hikes.
- They can provide all of the same entertainment, information and reading options for free – Here’s the thing, I have long been an Amazon Prime member because it does truly offer some unbeatable savings, deals and conveniences. However, I am also a bit sucker for the many additional features I can add. The extra channels that can be tacked on to the streaming services each month (often for just a few bucks), the Kindle options, the Audible options, and all of the rest. So, that super reasonable annual membership had swollen into a high priced budgetary monster by the time I sat up and paid attention.
Rather than deplete the bank account to watch certain programs, read certain eBooks, and listen to certain narrated stories, I found I could do a lot of it through my library. I’ll itemize them later, but you should realize that all of the opportunities I thought I didn’t want to live without were very easy to say goodbye to once I realized what could be done at the library.
And if you are someone who is struggling to keep up with bills, it is incredibly useful to know that most libraries have computer labs with unlimited and free use of the internet. You may have to register for your hour or two of usage ahead of time, but if you cannot afford internet service at home, or a computer, you don’t have to if you can get to your library during business hours.
- They offer digital and real world benefits – My local library has a huge range of digital and online options that can supply me with an almost endless array of things to do. Yet, the library is a brick and mortar establishment. Because of that, I can head there to borrow (for free) up to three of their many DVDs (including new releases). I can borrow best sellers, books on tape (CD), and participate in their many programs. Free book groups that get me out of the house and meeting up with people of like mind or interest. Activities such as lectures by famous or well-known authors, and of course all of the Big Read activities that seem to be going on a few times per year.
Because of my library, I cancelled my membership in Meetup and just started to use all of the get togethers at the library to build my social circles, meet new people and expand my mind. After all, my library also does broadcasts of things like the Metropolitan Opera, 92nd Street Y programs and other activities.
My library is also great about adult learning opportunities and through them I was able to master Excel, Photoshop, and other computer issues. I am in a free weekly yoga class, study a bit about financial planning and am taking first steps in learning Spanish – again, all for free!
And let’s never forget that libraries have their own vast collections plus can often do the whole interlibrary loan thing. This means I can get on a list for the hottest bestseller and often have it in my hands within days of its release. No costly purchases required, no money invested in something I may or may not like – no waste. If the average household buys just two hot books per month (whether for adults or kids), it is around $30 each month, or close to $400 per year. I just cannot see that it is actually worth it. And because my library also has a used book store attached to one of the branches (selling most books for $1 or less) I can pick up the books I’ve really liked for peanuts, and within a few months of first reading them.
My library also has meeting rooms…free meeting rooms. This means that the sewing circle I see packing in there a few times a week doesn’t have to pay. Neither does the poetry group, the senior memoir writing group, the at-home parents of toddlers group, and all the rest. If you are looking to create some sort of meetup group, and you just cannot find or afford a space, your library could save your group hundreds on rental fees.
- They are an ideal resource for families – Story hour, weekly play groups, and programs for kids and families (such as summer reading competitions) can provide your family with a mountain of free entertainment. My library has a teen summer program that awards kids with vouchers for a nearby theme park and coupons for a local pizza place. The toddler story time is hosted by a retired school teacher and the kids do crafts for free following the reading portion.
It is important to consider the value of these activities if you have kids. After all, keeping them home to play with the same toys and puzzles can lead to boredom, disinterest and more. The library has something new for your youngest kids to your teens all of the time. And because many libraries are in nicer areas with gardens and lawns or close to parks, you can actually make a real day of it by packing up a picnic or light dinner and heading to the library where you eat outdoors and enjoy all of the activities inside.
As you can see, I’m not over playing the value of the local library, and yet I still haven’t dug into the different digital and online services that many libraries offer. These are the aspects of the library that you and your household can enjoy even if you can’t all pile into the car and head in for a visit or an activity.
NOTE: Not all libraries have such digital programs, but many do and I found that the library branch nearest to me did not have a lot of the programs or online options, but by heading to the larger library in the neighboring county I was able to get a card and use the services. It never hurts to explore the options and find out if you can register for a card even if you are out of town or just across state lines. Most libraries allow this is you have a valid ID.
Now, about those online options…
Once you have an official library card and can keep your account in good standing, you can dig into their huge array of free eBooks, recorded books, electronic versions of the hottest magazines and periodicals, learning and language courses, and even more. Note that some of the options require you to make an account and use your library card’s bar code or your library login information to gain access. If you have difficulty logging into a particular service, get in touch with your library and have them walk you through it.
Here’s what you might find at your library’s website:
- Freading – I call it the “rest of the library” because it is an eBook tool that has an almost endless number of titles available at any time (no waiting lists) and which you can download to a mobile device.
- Freegal – I ended my Pandora subscription because of this app. It has more than 12 million songs available, and more than 40k videos. It is only the Sony Music catalog, but it does not feel like you are all that limited once you start to dig around and look for your favorites.
- OverDrive – This is like an online library – you have to checkout the materials, and they are automatically returned if you do not renew before the return date. You can borrow items such as eBooks and audio books and listen to them on mobile devices and laptops. Waiting lists are relatively common for the latest items, and you can also download and borrow some of the latest movies and TV shows through the Lynda feature of the Overdrive site.
- Hoopla – If you cannot find something to watch, read or listen to on OverDrive, Hoopla is your next good choice. I love it because I can find digital graphic novels and comics in addition to audio books, movies, music selections and eBooks.
- Qello – As a music fan, I love to hear the differences between live and studio recordings. This freebie lets you watch those concerts, and even has live streaming functions.NOTE: Not all libraries have this one.
- RBdigital – I ended subscriptions to my favorite magazines and newspapers once I saw what I could get for free here. It has back issues, operates without waiting lists and doesn’t even have a return date on most of the library.
- Consumer Reports – I cannot tell you how often I have used this to comparison shop and find recommendations for everything from air conditioners to blenders. NOTE: This is another one that not every library has, but it saves you a ton as you would usually have to purchase reports from Consumer Reports at a pretty hefty cost.You should be able to use of any Consumer Report publication available online if it is an option at your library.
I did a sort of estimate about the sums that using the library has saved me, and with the end of many subscriptions (I did keep Amazon Prime, Netflix and a $5 monthly subscription for my local PBS station) I tucked almost $2k back in the bank this year. That includes saving on going out to shows or paid events and opting for the library’s many freebies instead. Even if you just use it preview before you buy books, movies, music and other items, it will save you big time.
If you are tired of scraping to get by and still find a way to have some fun, look to your local library and use the tips provided. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.