How would you like a cool $850 every month in your pocket tax-free? Invested in the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund you should be booking around a million dollars in 30 years, assuming historical averages of 7% returns compounded per year after inflation. Okay, I lied. $850 invested every month for 30 years at 7% comes to $1,049,923.39.
But 30 years is a long time to wait for your million dollars. Well, I didn’t say you couldn’t take a bit out of your paycheck and drop it into your retirement account to supercharge your wealth building (and tax savings). Regardless, a free $850 every month in the First National Bank of Wallet is nothing to sneeze at. And anybody can get the free stuff and the money. In fact, the folks handing out the goodies want you to have the money. Who are these crazy people?
Librarians! Yeah, those people you haven’t visited since your junior year of high school have made some changes to the place while you were gone and you might want to check it out.
You know how some businesses can be rude to paying customers. Well, at the library I have never had that experience. These people are happy to see me and allow me to walk out of the place with stuff you would not believe. Sometimes they actually let me keep it forever! And they still have the regular goods you would expect at a library, like books; you know, those thing made of paper, held together with glue, and have pages. The library likes those back after three or four weeks, however.
Setting the Stage
By far, this is my favorite blog post to-date on The Wealthy Accountant. The research was not only fun, but took me places I didn’t expect. As a long time library lover (since I was about this tall) I learned more about my library in the past week than ever before.
It started when one of my junior accountants in the family noticed a free Wi-Fi hotspot at the Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha Wisconsin and checked it out. The thing is the size of a business card and not much thicker and only requires plugging into the wall. It automatically set up the hotspot in our home. We live in the boondocks and have an antenna on the roof to get wireless internet. It is slow and clunky, especially when the four of us are streaming something. The backup Wi-Fi made everyone happy until we returned it.
I started thinking about all the other things libraries have. A cursory look piqued my interest and started this article on the path to publication. As I started gathering information it was obvious I could cut my personal spending hundreds of dollars per month. This money, funneled into an investment, could catapult me to financial independence faster than ever without sacrificing anything.
I will now share with you some of the awesome finds I made checking out massive libraries like the ones in Los Angeles and the surprising values available at libraries in towns as small as 725 people. As I started to add the savings up I could not resist calculating the value of this money invested over a working career. I know most readers here work 10-15 years and then retire. But think of it. If you could lop off up to $1,000 each month from your spending, how fast could you retire then? Once the house is mortgage free, the library pretty much ends any real spending needs. The cost to live is microscopic then! If you want to scale back to part-time work or engage a hobby or small business idea you are now able to do so with only a modest nest egg.
Picking a Library
I anticipated the complaint that this might only work in large cities with massive libraries. Wrong! My research tossed that idea out the window in about twelve seconds. Another thing to consider is that libraries usually take anyone as member. I live in a rural area where our local library is small. Inter-library loans are common, expanding the services and items available without a long drive. I also belong to three library systems. None of them turned me down. I use the Menasha library most often because it is close to my office and the fireplace is to die for. I also belong to the Chilton library (my local library) and Appleton’s public library.
If one of my three libraries and their network don’t have what I am looking for I can always break down and buy it, but it ain’t too often.
Before we start counting our money, let’s take a look at what we can find at the library. I will not mention the books, movies, music CDs, magazines, and newspapers. But since I did anyway, let me just add that the movies of the latest hits are free and available before Netflix or HBO have them and you can keep the 20 bucks Wally World or Amazon want for the movie. Same with music CDs. (Stick around. There is a lot more free music at the library than you ever imagined.) I like to own books, but most are read once and never looked at again. Some books are used as reference for my writing. Then, after I kick the tires by borrowing the book from the library to see if it fits my needs, I ring up Amazon and have the book delivered to my doorstep.
A while back I talked about cutting your electric bill. I encouraged the use of a Kill-a Watt meter to help determine the energy hogs around the house. Since you only need the meter for a short period of time the library is the perfect place to get one without a penny of cost.
But now it gets really weird. The Neenah Public Library and the Patterson Memorial Library in Wild Rose, Wisconsin (Population: 725. (Salute! as they used to say on Hee Haw. Kids, Google it or check it out on YouTube.)) have ukuleles. Ukuleles! Neenah has 8 and they are all lent out with a waiting list of 20 people. This is where I usually let a cuss word slip, but I’m speechless.
Neenah and Wild Rose have cake tins; Green Lake Public Library in Wisconsin lends fishing equipment, a telescope, and backpacks; the small Wild Rose library has early literacy kits, a seed library, rubber stamps, card making kits, a movie screen, and slide projectors; Neenah has knitting needles; and Menasha has free legal services (excluding criminal), Gale Courses for free, Roku, Kindle readers with an ungodly amount of books loaded on it (great for vacations/plane trips), and Amazon Prime movies. And this is just a sampling!
This is where we all sit back and take a deep breath. From now on you have to promise me before you spend a penny you will give your library a call and see if they will lend it to you. You see, the library is like this really friendly neighbor who is always happy to lend you any of his stuff without question, cost, or requiring a return favor. In fact, the library is such a friendly neighbor they want you to borrow their stuff. You hurt their feelings when you buy stuff you could have borrowed from them. Now I know you. You are good people. You are not the kind of person to hurt the feelings of a kind, gentle soul of a librarian.
Okay. Now we can start counting our money. We will start with the LA libraries and then move to smaller libraries.
Money, Money, Money
Los Angeles has two library systems: County of Los Angles Library and Los Angeles Public Library. (I don’t visit California often so locals should feel free to correct me.) There are so many perks in these large libraries it would be impossible to include them all here. Here are a few free subscription services available from these two library systems:
Zinio: The library portal has over 360 magazine titles without any limits or return dates. In case you are worried they only offer Turnip Greens Quarterly, think again. Think: National Geographic, Vogue, and Rolling Stone. Value: $50/month and up.
Hoopla: More books and comic books than you can ever read. Value: $50/month or more depending on how many books you read.
Tutor.com: Live one-on-one help for academic courses and resume preparation/review. If you or your children need help studying or getting your resume right for the perfect job, this benefit is worth: $4,080 per year.
Freegal: Like music? Library patrons can download three free songs per week at no cost. They have a pretty good selection too. At a buck and a quarter per song that adds up to a value of: $195 a year.
Lynda.com: Lynda.com has a massive library of instructional videos on every topic known to man. When you need to understand a project yourself, this is the place to go. Value: $420/year
These few benefits to patrons of LA’s two libraries add up to serious savings. There are many more opportunities in such large library systems you can easily cut your personal spending by a thousand or more per month. The short list above adds to $5,895 in annual value if fully used. Add a few more services and you have $10,000 in annual benefits. Even modest readers will find greater value than I list with Zinio or Hoopla. Add the books, audio books, movies, and magazines you are up to $10,000 real fast.
If you are lucky enough to live in a large city your library can provide you with a life of luxury. Smaller communities are not out of luck, however. Some of the benefits are hard to value so I will approximate. Remember, the things I list here is only a short list of things available at your local library.
Neenah/Menasha: These two city libraries are part of the same network. If you can’t inter-library loan the items I list you can drive five minutes and pick it up yourself.
Legal Services: Have a legal question? Ask an attorney without cost at the Menasha library on select days. You might also qualify for free legal representation. Menasha also plays a movie on the big screen periodically with free popcorn. (So does Appleton.) Jobseeker Advice is provided from time to time with one-on-one assistance in your job search and review of your resume. Values: Legal Shield is comparable to the legal help at the library and costs $60-$80 per month; the movie for a family of four, including popcorn: $50, at least; Jobseeker Advice is worth, let’s say: $100.
Knitting Needles: What is the value of this? I don’t know, but it sure is a unique item to find at the library and Neenah has it.
Gale Courses: There are hundreds of free six week courses available from Gale Courses. They are not crappy courses either. They are taught by professionals. Choices include Starting Your Own Business, Healthcare, Accounting (hint, hint), and hundreds more. Value: At least $100 per month. Other online courses frequently go for several hundred dollars per course so the value is really worth a lot more.
Projectors: Have a business meeting, school presentation, or a family gathering where a projector is needed? Menasha has a projector with your name on it; a screen, too. Value: $300 to purchase.
Kindle: Heading out on vacation or a business trip? No need to lug heavy books through the airport and have the airline nickel and dollar you to death. Drop all the reading you will ever need on a Kindle from the Menasha library and you are good to go. Value: Oh, let’s say: $50 per use. Tell me what you think of my assessed value in the comments section. Just leave my parents out of it.
Now we will finish up with two small libraries: Green Lake Library and Patterson Memorial Library in Wild Rose.
Green Lake Library: This small library lends fishing equipment, backpacks, and a telescope. What do you expect from a rural library? It’s what we do out here in the backwoods of Wisconsin. Don’t knock it until you try it. Value: Fishing equipment can get pricey so I will say $50 per use; backpacks are reasonably cheap so we will go with $15 per use; and that telescope has me salivating. How about $25 a use for the telescope. No peeking in the neighbor’s window. We have police around these parts.
Wild Rose: Joseph Bongers, the Adult Services Supervisor at the Menasha Public Library, connected me with the director of the Wild Rose library, Kent Barnard. I am indebted to Mister Bongers for the referral and his advice in writing this article. What Barnard did for the public library in Wild Rose is beyond words. Here is a town of 725 people with a public library that has two ukuleles (like Neenah), slide projectors, computer projectors, a seed library, and cake pans galore! Even in this very rural area, the people of Wild Rose could easily keep several hundred dollars a month in their pocket by visiting their library rather than Wal-Mart. I stand in awe at what Kent Barnard has done. Never before has one person done so much with so little, if I can twist Churchill’s words.
A Tight Knit Group
Libraries and their directors and supervisors are a small and tight knit group. They meet at conferences and talk, sharing ideas. They are a great bunch to know. They have their finger on the pulse of knowledge. If you have a librarian for a friend you don’t need any more. Your library must be your first stop whenever you consider a purchase. If they don’t have what you are looking for they might get it. They get book ideas from you, too.
What I want you to do now is close your computer and visit your local library. Walk to the reference desk and ask them about all the stuff they have available for lending. Many libraries have a newsletter or a catalog of all the services, classes, book discussion groups, and other services they have. Don’t be a stranger. Visit your library often. Join two or three if you can and if it makes sense.
There are good people at the library. They tend to be a quiet group with a warm, friendly smile at the ready. Don’t leave them waiting.
Update 1: Linda DeNell, director of the Caestecker Public Library in Green Lake Wisconsin, contacted me with additional information. In her own words:
Thank you for being interested in the “unusual” items we check out to patrons. Like Kent in Wild Rose, we also have a seed library every spring. The backpacks he mentioned are for kids – we call them outdoor adventure backpacks, because they contain binoculars, compass, bug catcher, magnifying glass, and guide books to critters, tracks, wildflowers, and other things children can discover when they get outside.
We also have two disc golf sets, trekking poles, a spotting scope for bird watching, binoculars, and the portable telescope. And six sets of fishing gear.
Remember, Green Lake has a population under 1,000. Small libraries are just as powerful wealth generators for the community as large libraries.
Update 2: After I published this article I asked the Menasha Library who they take as patrons. They told me it did not matter where you lived, all were welcome. Wow! Do you understand the ramifications of this? That means you can use all those goodies mentioned above about the LA library and benefit from them. Join the LA library and get free Tutor.com and 3 free songs per week.
When you travel you should visit the local library. Rather than pack the whole house, plan ahead by contacting the library and see how much you can just borrow from them when you get there. The ideas are endless. This stuff really has me excited.
Tuesday 24th of May 2022
What are you referring to here: "The thing is the size of a business card and not much thicker and only requires plugging into the wall."
Keith Taxguy, EA
Tuesday 24th of May 2022
Mo, I am describing the size of the mobile wi-fi hotspot my library offers.
Tuesday 24th of May 2022
Love the libraries here in Massachusetts. Kanopy is another library streaming service with tons of movies, extensive courses and documentaries. endless content available. Boston Public Library has tons of resources. As an extensive borrower of books I once apologized to the librarian for my ridiculous stack of materials that I was returning. She filled me in that libraries are measured on throughput at that my numbers help in their funding - which funds materials, staff and offerings. Thanks for shining a light on our libraries. Peace to all, -j
Andrea & Jim Skweres
Monday 23rd of May 2022
Our family of 10 recently came across your article and enjoyed reading about Kent Barnard (our local librarian). We are beyond blessed to have his dedication, ambition, creative ideas, and openess in our small community of Wild Rose. He brings so much to the table. He is always looking for ways to improve the way people visit the library. Hosting family big-screen movie nights, sing-a-longs, an amazing summer reading program with an end of the summer picnic and prizes, host to many summer activites for families, as well as activities for all ages throughout the entire year. If the library doesn't have something in-house that you are looking for, he will search EVERYWHERE to find it or purchase it to add to the library collection for future readers. He is an amazing asset to the community and we are proud to know him well. Thank you for this incredibly written article showcasing how valuable libraries can truly be.
Monday 23rd of May 2022
Also, in my state, most libraries lend out the "good" stuff to residents only. I tried to get library cards in many other towns and states to have more access to e-books and none provide them. Which libraries allow other town residents to get library cards to access all these freebies?
Wednesday 1st of June 2022
@Anthony, I've found several libraries that give library cards to any in-person applicant, even when their websites don't make that option available. It's not a restricted non-resident library card or anything. I assume this policy prevents an exponential increase in workload in the event of a library being mentioned in a viral blog post, while still making library services available to those who are new in town or homeless.
Also, check for reciprocal agreements with your current library. Use those exact words: reciprocal agreement. This means you can go to the library in a nearby community and use it just like a local.
Monday 23rd of May 2022
Menasha's website requires a WI address to get a card per their website. Also, LA only gives cards out to CA residents.
Keith Taxguy, EA
Monday 23rd of May 2022
Anthony, each library may have a published policy, but still ask. When I talked with Menasha they verbally told me they would accept anyone in the U.S. L.A didn't seem to have a problem when I said I was from Wisconsin.
Still, almost everything is available in all states. The small libraries sometimes have the most interesting things: knitting needles, sewing machine, fishing gear, etc.