Centsible Saver

Centsible Saver: Bargains go beyond books at the public library

adunn@newsobserver.comJanuary 18, 2014 

Editor’s note: For daily tips on saving money, check out the Centsible Saver blog on newsobserver.com. Amy Dunn writes every day about coupons, saving money and frugal living.

My favorite bookstore is the public library.

Over the years, I figure I’ve saved hundreds of dollars by borrowing rather than buying.

Worst-case scenario, I pay the fine – 10 cents a day, up to $2, the maximum fine for an overdue book in Wake County, where I live.

A steal of a deal.

But the bargains at the public library go beyond books these days – everything from DVD rentals to SAT prep classes to trivia nights to nail painting.

“If you want to live a frugal lifestyle, the public library is a great way to do it,” said Wake County librarian Andrea Pearlstein, a manager at the East Regional Library in Knightdale. “It’s the best free thing out there.”

It’s difficult to put a price tag on just how much you might save using the library, but the Chatham County Library has a calculator on its website that estimates the value of its services if you were to purchase them on your own. You’d be surprised how quickly the money adds up.

I plugged in the numbers for a family of four that visits the library once per month, borrowing eight books (two per person), four movies and participating in two programs. The monthly benefit: $191.80. The annual price tag was more than $2,300. A pretty nice return on your tax dollars, which help finance public libraries.

Here’s a rundown of some of the best library freebies I found. (Keep in mind, many of these are available at all North Carolina libraries, while others vary by county so check your local library website.)

• Not only are books in print free to borrow, but you also can borrow audiobooks and e-books at most Triangle public libraries. The e-books can be downloaded at home, saving you time and gas money.

• Save money on best-sellers and new releases by requesting them before they hit store shelves. Most Triangle libraries allow patrons to make online requests. The same day the book is released in stores, the library copies start circulating, Pearlstein said.

• How do free movie nights at home sound? Many Triangle libraries have large collections of DVDs for free rental. Durham, Orange and Chatham counties all offer free movie rentals. Wake County does not have a DVD collection.

• Skip the pricey classes and store-based programs and keep the kids entertained for free. Story times for toddlers have been a mainstay of libraries for decades, but programs have expanded to include older kids and teens. Lego building, nail painting, cupcake decorating, theater improv and origami are all on the calendars of Triangle libraries. At many Durham County libraries, teens are invited to play Xbox and Wii games onsite. And many library branches across the Triangle offer leadership classes and volunteer opportunities for older children.

• Before you sign up your high school student for private ACT and SAT prep sessions, try the free sessions offered at many Triangle libraries.

• Some libraries offer tutoring for school-age children. Durham County Library spokeswoman Gina Rozier said most Durham branches offer after-school help by appointment. With private tutoring sessions costing $20 to $30 per session, this is a huge money-saver.

• Free access to Consumer Reports, where you can read product reviews and rankings before making a major purchase. The fee for an annual online subscription of your own is $30. This freebie is one of many online resources offered through NC Live, a statewide consortium of public libraries.

• For folks interested in researching their family trees, many Triangle libraries provide free access to Ancestry.com, a collection of census records, birth, death and marriage records, newspaper articles, photos and historical maps. You must use a computer at a participating public library to take advantage of this freebie. A private monthly membership to the genealogy service starts at $19.99.

• Free wireless Internet. According to Pearlstein, this perk is especially popular with business people who are either on the road or want to save themselves the cost of setting up a home office. Instead, they set up shop at the library. And unlike fast-food restaurants, Pearlstein said, “there’s no obligation to buy anything.” It’s also a life-saver for folks who don’t have Internet access at home.

• Most Triangle libraries have a bank of computers available for public use. The regional libraries in Wake County have as many as 60 computers for the public, Pearlstein said. This is a great option for households where family members compete for computer time. And it’s a lifeline for residents who don’t own a computer. Many branches also offer computer-training classes so be sure to ask.

• Before you commit to a subscription to a magazine or newspaper, read a few issues free at the library. Most Triangle libraries have quiet reading rooms filled with current issues of magazines and national newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today.

• Free concerts, lectures and classes. The selection is wide-ranging and varies by location so it pays to check your library branch calendar. Coming up in Wake County, for example, you can listen to dulcimer and harp music, get tips on signing up for Social Security or join a chair yoga class. And that’s just for starters.

• Most libraries allow you to reserve a room for your group to meet at no charge.

• Finally, be on the look out for new programs being added to keep up with trends and popular culture. In Durham County, for instance, library patrons will be able to pick up free seed packets this spring to grow their own vegetables. You’ll find them filed in the old card catalog cabinets, which are being repurposed for the seed giveaway.

And in Wake County, six regional libraries recently added trivia nights modeled after those at local bars. Players are quizzed on their literary knowledge. Root beer and pretzels are on the house.

Dunn: 919-829-4522 or adunn@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @amygdunn

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