The Frugal Reader

February 6, 2009 at 10:39 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 5 Comments

Our recent discussion on buying books has got me intrigued.  I suspect that there’s a significant overlap in the Venn diagram between voracious readers and frugal spenders.  I thought I’d ask my readers: what do you think?

Have you ever bought books with your food money?

Do you spend more on books than on utilities?

Do you have more books than furniture, by weight?  By cost?

Frugality is a question of spending intentionally so as to be able to afford a particular lifestyle on limited resources.  For instance, I choose to live without a car so that I can pay off my student loans early.  If I stay on track I should be done ten years early (consolidated with a 15-year term), so to me, it’s worth it.  My brother, on the other hand, values cars more, so for many years he worked two jobs to afford his dream car and all the trimmings.  (Custom chrome gas pedal, anyone?)  He plays offense; I play defense.  We are both careful spenders.

If you’re frugal, you have a sort of seventh sense for the tradeoffs involved in spending or earning money one way over another.  You can take one look at something like a sixpack-size mini-fridge, avoid laughing so hard you spray your drink everywhere, and walk on by without even thinking about taking out your wallet.  You have methods for squeezing the last dregs out of every jar and tube.  You can automatically calculate the per-year cost of your friend’s daily spending habits, like lattes or *gasp* cigarettes.  You have a formal philosophy about things like spatulas and duct tape.

If you’re as frugal as me, you often can’t figure out where to buy something because you’re so rarely in any store for anything other than groceries, so you wind up doing without.  Your holiday wish list includes items like baking pans and postage stamps.  You accidentally touch your emergency credit card and start breaking into hives.  You’ve made the Abe Lincoln on the penny weep tiny copper tears.

I think frugality and reading go hand in hand for many reasons.  For one, people who have expensive habits might not have the patience to be heavy readers.  People who do read understand that reading is more than just an inexpensive habit, though.  We know that reading enriches us, teaching us new things, expanding our vocabularies, and raising our IQs.  (It also doesn’t hurt when your boss catches you reading a history book in the lunch room and confesses that he’s writing a book about the same period).  A book can do more than smash a spider or insulate a room.  It can take you to the kingdom of the mind, where material possessions fade to insignificance.

Does frugality make a reader, or does reading tend to make one frugal?  Do we lean toward reading because it’s one of the best and cheapest ways to spend our free time?  Or do we gain some kind of perspective from reading that makes us less interested in shopping?

Frugal readers, weigh in and let me know what you think.


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  1. How perplexing that no one has replied to this post! I am a very, very frugal person, but I am also a book hoarder. I do NOT like to give them up. Besides that, things like Bookmooch and PBS cost money for shipping. My solution is to pretty much always buy my books for less than £1 or $2 depending on the country I’m in at the time. So I’m always buying used. I know that this is detrimental to my favorite authors and even the publishers who are putting books out, but I like to think I’m giving back a little by reviewing every book I read, so I might get someone else to go out and buy it. And I do buy new books when I have a little extra money or just can’t wait, so I’m still probably in the upper echelon of book buyers. And I do have vastly more books than furniture that I have purchased and will buy cheap food so that I have more money to spend on books in my budget.

    I’m not sure how much my frugality goes hand-in-hand with my reading though. It’s true that I’m astonished by how much it costs to participate in other hobbies. For example, golfing is ridiculously expensive (my fiance is a wannabe golfer because we can’t afford for him to be on at the moment) and even though I love crocheting, the yarn for each project costs more than buying it at the store so it’s hard for me to justify going in and purchasing it. I think the solution to that is buying in bulk, but you see my point. My last hobby is video games, but I get around the cost of that by getting a ton of games for Christmas and my birthday and playing them throughout the year since no one can figure out which books to buy me.

    In addition, reading would still be my favorite hobby even if books cost the same as everything else. I do think we may be less inclined to give in to consumerism because we have a richer experience than perhaps the people who constantly watch TV. There isn’t anything wrong with TV but it certainly isn’t a good book. It’s also true that we’re not bombarded with commercials so we don’t know what’s out there to buy. My mom sometimes tells me she got this brand of coat or this type of food or this bag and I have no idea what she’s talking about because I’ve missed all the advertising.

    Hope that makes sense. =) I think reading is part of it, but I think it’s also my nature.

  2. I’m not actually sure there’s a real connection between the two. I have a tight book budget mostly because I have no good local bookstores and books I order online take forever to get to me. Plus, there’s the issue of how amazingly expensive books are. I’ll set boundaries just as I do for everything else. I’ll find ways around paying (borrow books for friends/family, abuse the public library system, scour used bookstores for surprisingly new yet cheap books I want…), but it’s nothing particularly amazing.

    On the other hand, I am pretty frugal. Still, I probably spend more money on books per year than on anything else. I think that says something too. It’s an interesting topic. I’ll need to think about it some more and get back to you.

  3. I’m pretty frugal EXCEPT when it comes to books. Around $3000 a year on books in the last 2 years 😮 Yikes!

  4. Yeah. I’m not a book frugalist. I usually buy a couple of books a week, new, at Borders. (I almost always have a coupon, though.) I moved last week and still haven’t heard the end of the complaints about the 47 boxes of books. Compare that to the two suitcases of clothes and the two boxes of CDs, and you know where my passion is. I must add, too, that I get books wherever I can; usually a couple free in the mail as ARCs or giveaways, and usually a few from the library. I’m an addict.

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