The Library is EVIL

Yes that is right, the library is just plain EVIL.  They stock just about every movie I could ever want to watch and they have books on every conceivable topic.  Then to top it off if they don’t have the book they will borrow it from another library for me or even just buy a copy.  Then they don’t even charge you anything for all these services except a small fee on my property taxes or a tiny penalty if you return something late.

For a book lover and movie buff like me it’s like handing out free samples of drugs and as long as I keep coming back.  No wonder my family always seems to be going there once a week.  The boys get some books and a movie or two (which is great since you can’t get too sick of a movie that they want to watch over and over when you know it’s going back in one week). My wife and I pick up are holds for the week and return the finished pile of last weeks books and movies.  The addiction is so bad that my wife recently has just recently finished reading the small pile of books she bought after last Christmas with gift cards.  It took her so long because she kept finding other books to read at the library each time we went.

So if the library is just so damn EVIL, why isn’t everyone using it?  I have a theory on that one, it’s one of two things:

  1. They don’t realize what the library can do.  They somehow haven’t been in one in years and don’t get all the services and items you can use there.  It’s not just old books, often the library is getting copies of books shortly after their publication and new DVD releases are in the system in a month or so.
  2. They can’t stand waiting for things.  That is the major issue with the library system.  After all it’s all about sharing the same book or DVD with the entire population of the city.  So if there is a new DVD that everyone wants and there is only 10 copies in the system you will be waiting a month or two or even longer to get it.

Waiting strangely doesn’t bother me at all.  I’ve just accepted that’s the trade of for being the low cost way to feed my book and movie habit.  It’s actually sort of fun to stop in and see what came in this week.  I just keep a list of holds in the system of items I would like to borrow and eventually they show up.  It’s sort of like Netflix, but without fees or postage and you have return dates (typically a week for a DVD and three weeks for a book).

So how much is it really saving me?  Well out of 52 weeks in a year we are likely there about 45 of them (give or take).  They boys usually borrow at least one movie and I usually get one as well.  Then my wife and I at least get a book a week on average (mostly hardcovers), then my wife borrows back issues of magazines.

A rough cost breakdown would be:

  • 2 DVD rentals at $4 each (I have no idea the cost I haven’t paid for one in years) = $360
  • 2 hardcover books per week at $25 each (I’ve averaging this down to cover the odd soft cover) = $2250
  • 2 magazine subscriptions per year at $25 each = $50

Total savings are about $2660 annually.  I would that amount is a minimum it’s likely much higher over the course of a year.  Since that doesn’t include me pulling out a pile for reasearch once in a while or any of the boy’s books.  So what does all this cost me on my property tax bill?  $185.  So the library is saving me over $55 a week that I use it and it feeds my book and movie habits.  And people wonder why I think the library is EVIL?

Microsaving – Where Do You Stop?

Being frugal in the beginning is easy.  You raise the deductible on your insurance and save a few hundred a year.  You start taking lunch a few times a week and save another few hundred a year.  Yet as the easy big dollars start falling off you are left with progressively smaller amounts of savings to go after in your life.  Perhaps a good term for these small amounts of savings are microsavings.

Now in reality some microsavings are the result of things you don’t just change purely for the money. For example, you start to walk to the store when the weather is nice instead of driving for your health and the gas savings is just a bonus.  Some microsavings are about not spending money on things you don’t care about.  For example, you stop leaving on the lights when you leave a room.  Just small habit changes really.

Other microsavings are about saving the money since a death from a thousand paper cuts is still a death.  Why pay bank fees when you don’t have to or why pay for book when you just want to read it once?  So in those cases the changes are on purpose and primary about the money.  So the question becomes is there an amount that is too small to bother saving?  Or perhaps another way to view it is where does frugal change into being a cheap bastard?

There is a line in the sand somewhere.  The problem with it is often you are not aware you have crossed it until you did it and where the line is various from person to person.  Do you take extra napkins home from the fast food restaurant to avoid buying your own?  Do you leave a smaller tip than you should because you don’t want to break a $20 bill?  Have you ever got too much change back but didn’t tell the clerk?

That line is there and if you ever cross it you will know.  Why?  Because you will feel bad afterwards.  You will think to yourself “What am I doing?!?”  Or someone else will give you a look or outright call you “cheap” with a tone of disgust.  You will realize that yes there are thousands of ways to save money, but some of them are not right for me.  You are not required to save every possible dime, nickle or cent possible in your life.

In the end the money is only just one means to keep a score in life.  Other ways include having people who love you, or freedom to do what you want.  Don’t get so tied up in saving every last dime that you forget to actually enjoy your own life.  So beware of microsavings, if you dig too deep into them you might find a monster looking back at you in the mirror one day and realize you have become a cheap bastard.

Savings and Debt Feedback

Well one of the little mentioned things that I do to help keep me on track with my savings goals are doing some feedback.  It’s part of the reason I calculate my net worth every two months and periodically check my account balances in between those updates.  The positive feedback keeps reinforcing my goals and keeps me on track even when I feel I’m watching a mountain slowly shift a millimeter.

So how do you create feedback?  Well some people can get by with just looking at the numbers, but I’m a bit of a visual person so I like to do graphs or charts.  So depending on the data I have available I will track my progress over a period of time so I can see that I’m actually going somewhere.  I keep calculating my investment net worth to show progress separate from the mortgage and house value changes which at times seriously outweigh my investments.

That was likely the most frustrating thing about the downturn last year.  I had to keep reminding myself to keep saving and eventually I will see progress since I felt like I was shoveling the money into a pit never to be seen again based on my account balances.

I think that is why I’ve been happy to switch over to paying down the mortgage for a goal.  It’s instant feedback and it always makes progress regardless of the market.  When you put in $400 for an extra payment, the balance goes down $400.  Simple and straight forward.

Do you suppose that is why debt repayment blogs are so common?  Debt repayment is sort of instant gratification for personal finance while wealth building takes time and can feel like your moving backwards depending on the market.  In the end both are required so even if people avoid investing at the start they are still going to have to learn how to do it.

In the end it doesn’t matter how you do it, but some sort of tracking mechanism is useful to help keep up with your goals.  It doesn’t have to be fancy for debt, but you might consider doing some accounting tricks on your investments like keeping track of your contributions rather than you account balance to help you see your progress even in a down market.  The how isn’t so important, it is the feedback that matters.

How do you use feedback on your savings goals or debt repayment?  If you want to share leave a comment.