Why Reading is Frugal

Note: I wrote this as a guest post at a friend’s now-defunct blog, so I’m re-posting it here.

Last year, a horrifying study found that 25% of Americans hadn’t read a book in the last year. This is horrifying for a number of reasons:

  • We’re not reading because we’re choosing other entertainment forms, most of which are mindless
  • We’re not reading because we’ve learned that books are “boring,” which tells me that our education system is failing us (to be fair, I already knew that.)
  • We’re not reading because our parents didn’t demonstrate reading as a worthwhile habit, which again reflects poorly on the values of our culture. Our culture says that TV/movies/sports/shopping are more important than reading.

My Love Affair with Books

I’ve been a lifelong reader. I recall fondly my weekly trips to the library where I would spread the children’s books out on the floor to choose my books for the week. I loved those books with their pretty pictures and slippery plastic library covers. When I opened one, the plastic made a very satisfying crinkle that said I was about to slip into a fascinating world. A trip to the bookstore was a huge treat. Of course, I wanted to buy every book in the store, but my parents would limit me to one or two, so I chose carefully.

Once I got older, I spent much of my own money on books, especially Sweet Valley High romances, but I also nicked books from my Mom’s shelf. I would routinely read three or four different books at once, and have no problem keeping them straight. Some of those books were 5-600 pages long, but I loved them anyway.

Today I try to read at least two books a month, more if I can manage it. I’ve got 19 books on my “to be read” shelf, two on hold at the library, and several more on a list to get from the library once the shelf is clear. If I stay on track to read a book a week, that will take me 21 weeks to get through them before I start the list. If I get really into a book, and I nearly always do, then I try to read as much as I can in just a couple days. I find the time to read by cutting the amount of television I watch.

Why Reading Is Frugal

So now I’ll tell you why reading is frugal. Yes, books can be expensive, but through the wonder of the library, you can get them for free! If you have a large enough system, they may have an online catalog that you can order books through, even novels and bestsellers (fiction and non-fiction), and be notified when the books arrive at your nearest library. If the book isn’t available in your system, ask the library about intralibrary loan. You’d be surprised what books a librarian can get his or her hands on.

You can also get free, or low-priced, books through places like Paperback Swap. http://www.paperbackswap.com/ I love Half.com http://www.half.com for books I want to keep. Sadly, keeping books isn’t always frugal because you have to buy more bookcases when the old ones get full. I know a person who bought a larger house to hold all his books, but that’s an extreme.

But beyond getting books free or cheap, reading is frugal because it doesn’t feature advertising. When you watch TV or movies, your brain slips into a meditative state where you’re more susceptible to advertising. Seeing the same ads repeatedly encourages a need to own those things, so you spend more money. When you read, you avoid the consumer culture.

Reading is also frugal because it makes you smarter and healthier:

Better mental health:

Studies have shown that people who read or do puzzles are less likely to experience dementia and other mental disorders later in life, which vastly reduces your healthcare costs.

Higher incomes:

Readers are also more likely to have higher incomes, although this may be because people who read tend to be better educated.

Improved communication skills:

Reading, even fiction, improves your communication skills by expanding your vocabulary and demonstrating proper writing, which can only help your career.

Exposure to new ideas:

Reading also educates you, even if it’s fiction, because you’re exposed to perspectives and experiences that are different from yours.

Better school performance:

Children who read definitely do better in school because reading helps train you to learn. You subconsciously absorb facts, vocabulary, and grammar. Later in life, homework isn’t necessarily a chore and even a biology book can be fascinating if you enjoy reading. (Okay, minor admission, I was the kid who read the back of the cereal box at breakfast because it was in front of me and I needed something to read.)

If you have children, make the trip to the library a regular event so they get used to reading. If you don’t have children, try to stop by every couple weeks to see what’s new. Once you get into the habit of reading, you’d be amazed how addictive it becomes.

How often do you read? Tell me what you think of reading books in the comments.

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