How to Magically Stop Spending Money on Books

Looking for a way to save money but not curb your reading habit? Here’s how I gained access to millions of books for free.

About 15 years ago, I shipped 12 boxes containing my entire book collection from home to law school. I’ve always liked reading books, looking at books on shelves and buying books. But, recently I gave that up – most of the books have been donated or sold. Now, purchasing books is a rare occurrence.

But I didn’t give up books. Instead, I now employee an army of over 3,000 to manage my entire book collection. These employees rearrange the books to suit my needs, fetch them from far away places and drop them off in one of 90 special locations for me to pick up at my convenience. I have access to the world’s collection of books – over 44,000,000. Often I don’t even read the physical copies, but instead have them send digital copies of the books for reading on my Kindle.

And of course, I do this for free because I use the New York City Public Library.

Replace your Amazon habit with an NYPL habit

Before, when I wanted to read a book, I’d go to Amazon, type in the title and send the free preview to my Kindle. If I liked the book, I bought it. I had (and still have) no problem spending $10 on something as valuable as a book.

But quickly I learned I could do the same thing for free at the NYPL. Now, when I want to read a book, I go to NYPL, type in the title and checkout the book. The library sends the book to my Kindle at no cost to me. If I like the book, I keep reading it. If I don’t like the book, I do nothing and in time the book is automatically returned to the library.

The automatic return for digital items is one of the best features of the library: no late fees. I receive an email the day before the book’s due date. If I want to keep it, I renew it. If I don’t want to keep it, I do nothing.

The key point for me is that absolutely nothing has changed with respect to my reading habits. It’s a classic example of making a spending cut but feeling no pain. I’m saving $500 or more each year buy not buying as many books or renting as many movies.

Oh, what’s that? You didn’t realize the library had over 8,000,000 DVDs, films, videos and CDs, including the latest movies and TV shows? When I hear about a movie I might want to watch, I look it up on the library website and reserve it. When it’s my turn to watch the movie, the library system ships it to the location closest to me, where someone with white gloves lovingly unpacks it, wraps it with a label and then sets it on a specific shelf for me to pick up. It’s pretty fabulous.

Getting a Library Card

New York Public Library Card

Getting a library card is not difficult. You fill out an application and submit your details. Next, you need to go to the physical library to activate your account, receive your card and activate your PIN. You will need proof that you live in NYC. After that, they give you a shiny red card. If you intend to only use it for reading books on your Kindle, you may never step foot in the library again.

Checking out library books on an iPad via Kindle

If you read books on an iPad like I do, you’ll need the Overdrive app. From the app, you log onto the NYPL website, browse the catalog and select the books you want to read. The books almost always come in the Kindle format, although sometimes they are only available in non-Kindle formats.

For a Kindle book, the app takes you straight to Amazon where you download the book as if you were buying it. Once in the Kindle system, the book shows up automatically on all of your Kindle devices. I still get a thrill downloading a book this way. It feels like I found a secret key that allows me to skip the actual part of the book buying experience where Amazon charges you for the book.

As mentioned earlier, there’s nothing for you to do when it comes to returning a digital book. The book expires automatically in your Kindle library when the book is due, so you will never have a late fee.

Joshua Holt is a former private equity M&A lawyer and the creator of Biglaw Investor. Josh couldn’t find a place where lawyers were talking about money, so he created it himself. He spends 10 minutes a month on Empower keeping track of his money and is always negotiating better student loan refinancing bonuses for readers of the site.

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    Two thoughts on How to Magically Stop Spending Money on Books

    1. I used to use the library all the time but now that my income has increased, so has my laziness apparently. I order books off Amazon all of the time. I don’t think I’ll ever become a digital book person (the glare hurts my eyes) and I love the weight of a paper book in my hands. I definitely don’t have to be wasting money on books anymore though. Thanks for the push I needed to get back in the library!

      1. I was slow to adopt the digital books. It was the kindle that really did it for me. Do you find the glare on it hurts your eyes? Eventually I gave the Kindle up and moved to the iPad Air 2 for reading books and love it. It’s amazing to me because ordering from Amazon and ordering from the library is pretty much the same experience. It feels like I’m stealing!

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