Our Reading Lives

Becoming a Book Lover on a Budget

Beth O'Brien

Staff Writer

Beth is an east coast Canadian, born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is (unsurprisingly) obsessed with books and is a public library assistant and book blogger. When she’s not convincing all her friends to be friends with each other, she’s trying to convince them to read YA. She likes poetry and coffee and the ocean, but her true love is her cat Edith.

This is a guest post from Beth O’Brien. Beth is a library assistant and book blogger from Atlantic Canada. She’s a Gilly, a Hufflepuff, a Jesus feminist, and a coffee-lover. When not geeking out over books, she’s obsessing over her favourite TV shows, listening to the Avett Brothers, and collecting mugs. Follow her on Twitter @fuelldbyfiction.

Before I began blogging, I had a few books in my basement and one bookshelf in my room. I was happy with my collection, generally only bringing home a few books here and there, mostly from used bookstores.

When I started regularly reading blogs and watching booktube videos, I became more aware of what was going on in the book world. I was constantly finding out about new releases, award winners, bloggers’ recommended reads, bookish merchandise, etc. The more knowledge I had of what was out there, the more I wanted to buy. The more I wanted to buy, the more time I spent in bookstores. The more time I spent in bookstores, the even more I wanted to buy.

For a while, I was okay with all of this. It was just the plight of a booklover, right? I just couldn’t help myself? At least I wasn’t spending all my money on illegal drugs? And I could think this way—I was lucky enough to be living at home with all my needs met. I basically only had to pay for my phone bill.

This summer, I finally made the plunge. I moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment in the city. Even though I “knew” things would change and I’d have more bills, I didn’t think they would really change that much.

Cut to five months later, and reality has settled in. My naivety is wearing off and I’m fully realizing that I can’t keep living like I’m still at home.

There are two key factors here: money and space.

I have way more bills to pay now that I live on my own. I totally underestimated how much disposable income I would have. By that I mean I never took the time to estimate in the first place—I just assumed there would be some. Well, there is, but it’s not much. I have to seriously think about what I’m going to spend it on and not just throw it around like I did before.

My parents live in a house. When I lived with them, I always had room for my books. But now I live in an apartment with a roommate. The reality is that I don’t have enough space to have a sprawling library just yet. Maybe when I don’t have a roommate or when I live in a bigger place I can have the library of my dreams. But right now, it’s just not possible.

When these realities sunk in, I knew I was going to have to cut down on my book buying. Self-control, especially when it comes to books, may not be my strong suit, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. Here’s how:

1) I banned myself from Book Outlet. Until I can curb my impulse shopping, I need to stay away from temptations. The same goes for the bargain section of the bookstore.

2) I stopped buying bookish merchandise for the time being. I don’t need it and I just can’t afford it right now.

3) I gave myself a monthly book allowance. Basically, I can buy one book a month. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hardcover, paperback, comic, new, or used—one book.

4) I purged. I went through all my books in a Marie Kondo fashion and donated the ones that didn’t bring me joy. In doing this, I also got more of an understanding of my buying habits. There were tons of books from Book Outlet that were a “good deal” but ultimately not something I ever got around to reading. There were books from used bookstores that, again, I couldn’t pass up because of the price. There were many of the latest YA titles that I just wasn’t interested in anymore. There were review copies I too hastily accepted.

5) I thought about the information I gleaned from my purge and how I could apply it to my book buying attitude going forward. After considering this new information, I came up with questions to ask myself before a book comes home with me. Do I have the money for this right now? Why do I want it? Is it something I’m willing to make space for on my shelves, potentially having to get rid of something else? Is it a book I’d be fine borrowing from the library? Is it something I see myself reading soon?

This experience has been making me more intentional in my spending. The benefits of this are twofold—I’m saving money by becoming less impulsive, and my love for my books has evolved. While I still struggle with my desire to collect books, I have more appreciation for the ones that I do have. My collection is no longer a mindless array of books that I love simply because they are books. These particular books have my love because they have all been carefully chosen.

Being a book lover looks different for everyone. Some people have all the latest bookish mugs, bookmarks, socks, jewelry, and knickknacks. Some people have wall to wall bookshelves filled to the brim. Some people have a worn copy of their favourite book and a library card. I’m learning that I need to do what I love and what works for me, but do it within my means.