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Public Libraries: Check Out Books, Big Savings

Since I write for a living, I work from home. But the other day as I was sitting in my favorite comfy chair at my local library, typing away on an article for the Savings Challenge, it occurred to me that I spend almost as much time working at libraries as I spend working from home. That's in addition to all the time I spend reading for pleasure and relaxing at the library.

My local library is a gorgeous, purpose-built facility, and just a refreshing, three-mile bicycle ride from my house. It's an incredibly peaceful place to read, write, and do research. And when I travel, which is often, libraries are my home away from home. They are a place where I can check my e-mail, catch up on my work, and kick back to do a little light reading.

As Benjamin Franklin might have planned it, America's nearly 17,000 public libraries are an important part of our local communities. And if you avail yourself of all the resources and services that local libraries have to offer, they can save you a bookshelf full of money. Consider the following facts:

  •  Computer Access: Many people, including my parents, find that they need access to a computer so infrequently that they just use one of the desktops available at their local library for free rather than purchase their own. And on my last business trip, I saved the $9.99 Internet-access fee my hotel wanted to charge me (for each day of a five-day stay) by going down the street to the public library and using their free wireless service.
  •  Books—Of Course: My book publisher hates me for always saying this, but please don't buy my book. You already bought a copy of it with your tax dollars, since it and tens of thousands of other titles are available through most public libraries. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, each American spends an average of about $200 on books every year. Think of the savings possible by borrowing instead of buying books! But please don't tell my publisher I said that.
  •  Newspapers and Magazines: When I rediscovered my local library a couple of years ago, I was able to cancel most of my magazine subscriptions—and even my daily newspaper subscription—and read periodicals at the library instead. I save more than $250 a year by doing so, and I feel good about the trees I'm saving, too.
  •  DVDs, CDs, and Other Media: Save on movie rentals, music, audiobooks, and more by borrowing them from the library for free. If you haven't visited your local library for a while, I bet you'd be surprised by its multimedia collections.
  •  Programs and Events: Most libraries offer exciting series of free events, including everything from author-led book discussions and music recitals to playtime programs for children. And if you're looking for a free or inexpensive place to hold a community event, check with your library, as many have meeting rooms or spaces available.
  •  Specialty Items Galore: More and more libraries are branching out, so to speak. Some even loan everything from complimentary passes for local museums, zoos, and other facilities to toys and games for the kids to loaner artwork for your walls.
  •  Save on Utilities: I make it a point to spend the coldest days in the winter and the warmest in the summer working and relaxing at the library. That way I can turn down the heat or AC at home and save even more. 
  •  Volunteer Opportunities and Tax-Deductible Donations: Most local libraries have their own "friends" groups (see www.folusa.org) that organize volunteer involvement in and support for library activities. Volunteering at a library can be a fun way to meet new people. Donations to most friends groups—of either used books or money or both—are usually tax-deductible.


For a nationwide directory of public libraries, see www.publiclibraries.com. Tell them the Ultimate Cheapskate sent you.

Jeff Yeager is the author of the book, "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches." His Web site is www.UltimateCheapskate.com.

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