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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money
I Love My Library

Using My Library to Save Money


I love my library!

In case you hadn't noticed, your library offers a lot more than printed books. Recently, I began to realize that I'm benefitting from my library more and more – and saving more money – because of all the various services they provide.

I still occasionally go the library and borrow a printed book. But more often, I'm using my library in different ways:

Electronic books

Most of my reading these days is on a tablet or a book reader. I typically have 4 or 5 books checked out at any given time (five is my library's limit), plus a few more on hold. It took me a while to realize that, by shortening my lending period, I could check out more books. This is partly because of a quirk about me and how I use the book apps. I like to keep track of what I've read. If I return a book early instead of waiting for it to expire and be returned automatically, eh book disappears from my history in that app. I lose track of the fact that I have read it. As a result, I tend not to return books early. (I apologize to those who are waiting for my copy to read!) One of the nice things about electronic books – at least on the system my library uses – is that you don't have to remember to return the book; it happens automatically, thus there are never any late fees. That alone saves me at least several dollars a year.

I keep a couple of physical books on hand to read when I'm waiting for the electronic books I want to read to become available. Depending on the service that your library uses, books could always be available immediately. Or, like printed books, you might have to use a hold to get in line for a copy when someone else returns it.

Audio books

There are certain times of year when I spend a lot of time on the road. I grew up in the mountains, so driving across the flat land of the Midwest is utterly boring for me. My answer: audiobooks. In the past, I regularly visited the library to check out books on cassette tape, then it was CD. Now it's downloaded files on my smart phone. (just don't start to download a book to your phone on a free wifi network, and then leave when the book still has megabytes to go.)

Keeping up with technology

When I worked full time for U of I Extension, I regularly had opportunities to get updates on various technology topics. Plus, there were office mates to go to for help if I couldn't figure something out. As a part time employee who works from home, I don't have access to those formal and informal learning opportunities. One way I have been able to partially replace it is through a "learning resource" (as my library's website describes it) called Lynda.com. It's one of the library's online databases. With my library card, I can access this from home. I choose the subject I want to learn about, and then watch instructional videos.

Your library might provide hands-on computer instruction. For example, Chicago Public Library has a team of CyberNavigators, housed at various branch libraries, who give classes and work one-on-one with people to get them started with computers, learn to use various computer programs, write resumes, etc.

Researching a purchase or consumer decision

If you read my last post about shopping for insurance, you know that I used articles on the Consumer Reports website to get guidance on how to tackle that decision. I'm a subscriber to the print version of Consumer Reports, but for some reason I've always balked at having to pay extra to access their online material. Some of it is free, but most of it requires a subscription. Fortunately, this is one of the "databases" my library subscribes to. Through my library's website, I can access Consumer Reports Online to see their product ratings and other subscriber-only information.

Genealogy research

If you're one of the millions of people who are interested in family history, your library's online databases could be a goldmine. Scrolling through my library's list of databases, I saw at least two major genealogy sources listed. I don't have personal experience with these, but a friend who is a Certified Genealogist said that she would be paying for an individual subscription to at least one of these if she didn't have access through her library.

And much more

For your family, some of the other services provided by your library might be the big money-savers. You might check out movies, CDs, or video games instead of paying to rent them elsewhere. You could take advantage of free educational programs and music events, or access to WiFi, computers, printers, and photocopiers. I once spent the day working at a library when a power outage closed my office. Check your library to see exactly what they offer.

Plus, you'll probably have access to numerous other databases that I haven't mentioned. As I scrolled through the list available from my library, I had no idea what some of them do. That reminded me of one of the greatest resources at our libraries: librarians who can answer our questions! When I was having trouble with my book-reader app, they figured out what was wrong. When I needed to get hold of a particular article in a financial journal, they directed me to the right database where I could find it. The first time I used one of the online databases, a librarian walked me through the process.

I've always been a heavy user of my library. When my annual property tax bill comes each year, I look to see where my money is going. When I see the amount that I pay for my local library, I consider it to be money well-spent.



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