The Library Card: The Most Powerful Tool in Your Frugal Toolbox
Whether you’re trying to save money, go easier on the environment, or just reduce the amount of stuff you buy and bring into your home, a library card is the best tool available. Why, you might ask, is a library so great? Aren’t they out of date, dinosaurs in a digital world? Nope. A well-funded, well-run library is a gold mine for the frugal-minded among us. They offer books, of course, but so much more.
Granted, there are some libraries that have not kept up with the times (or have no operating budget) and are likely useless for all but acquiring books. If this is your library, look around and see if you can join one in another county or perhaps a university library. Most libraries are free to join for residents and are paid for by your tax dollars, making them not only a bargain but something you should use to get your tax money’s worth. Even if you have to pay to join an out-of-area or university library, the fee is likely to be minimal compared to all the resources that are available to you.
So why is a library card so important? What can you borrow, use, or do that will save you money, reduce the amount of stuff you need to own, and possibly improve your quality of life? Read on.
Obviously, this is the main thing libraries are known for. Books, books, books. But these days, it’s not just print books. Most libraries offer audiobooks and ebooks, as well. Whether you want to escape into fiction or learn some new skills, you can likely find a book for you. And if your library doesn’t have a book, most libraries have arrangements with other libraries to borrow from each other, so they can probably get what you need.
As with books, libraries are known for carrying magazines and newspapers. There’s no need to subscribe to periodicals that will clutter your house and drain your funds. Schedule an evening to head to the library every week and catch up on new issues. Many also offer on- or offsite access to digital papers like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times so you can read without hitting the paywall. You need your library card to create a log in.
Aside from the things you can learn from books, many libraries offer classes in various things. There may be craft classes, business how-to, programming, basic computer application use, game design, languages, DIY or repair, writing, test prep and many other things. Check the programming guide to see what’s on offer.
You don’t need to subscribe to professional or educational databases, Consumer Reports, or even genealogy sites. Many libraries offer hundreds of databases for all types of research. Bonus: Many now allow you to access them from home with your library card as a login.
You can use the library if you don’t want/need or can’t afford a dedicated computer and internet connection at your house. Most offer computers, printers, and high-speed internet access. (There may be a small fee for printing, but if you only print a page or two every few months, it’s far cheaper than owning a printer.)
If books alone aren’t enough entertainment for you, there’s plenty more on offer at the library. Many offer DVDs or access to streaming services like Hoopla or Kanopy. Some offer CDs or access to music streaming services. There may also be live music performances, author talks, art festivals, presentations from locally famous folks, and other options.
If you have kids or teens, there’s tons of free stuff for them to do. Of course, there are the books, but there are also story hours, puppet shows, scavenger hunts, crafts, overnight “lock-ins,” movie time, summer day camps, contests, clubs to join, game nights, open mic nights, and more.
Libraries are a great place to go if you need extra tutoring. Many have tutors on staff to help with everything from math to history. And if you homeschool, many libraries offer homeschool groups to help with socialization and resources or kits to complement the coursework. Many libraries are also making a push to support STEM or STEAM education with extra programming in these areas.
Job Search Help
If you’re looking for a job, a library can often help with resume preparation, creating a LinkedIn account, and help you use various job sites and databases. They may have volunteers who can help you with things like interview preparation and creating a work wardrobe, as well.
Libraries are not just for introverts. There are generally plenty of groups to join. Book clubs, board gaming groups, D&D clubs, craft groups, fandoms, writing groups, cinema clubs, and others. You don’t have to sit around bored every night or resort to expensive outings. You can probably find something fun at the library.
Loans of Stuff (Not Books)
Many libraries loan out more than books. Tools, toys, games, computers, printers, yard tools, and other things may be available. Some even give away things like seeds for gardeners. If they don’t outright loan it, some will give you access to expensive gadgetry like 3D printers, high-end cameras for filmmaking, light-cutting equipment, laser cutters, sewing machines, and poster printers.
Small Business Resources
Check out the library if you’re trying to start a business on a budget. Many offer meeting rooms with access to all the bells and whistles, such as electronic whiteboards and presentation equipment. They may offer low-cost copying and printing. There are probably also how-to classes on taxes, marketing, building a brand, navigating local laws, hiring, and other useful topics. Some libraries even run full-blown incubator labs where you can basically run an entire startup out of the library.
Lest the older among us feel left out by this list, never fear. Libraries have much to offer older citizens, as well. They offer tech help and can teach you the basics of computers, phones, or e-readers. Many offer classes on retirement (how to save, how to manage what you’ve saved, and what to do with your life in retirement), help navigating government programs like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, movement classes, and other classes of interest. Of course, there are usually large print books and audiobooks for the visually impaired, and some libraries offer bookmobiles or deliveries to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Does your library offer fun or interesting things not listed here? Share with us in the comments.
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