Frugal Hobbies – Reading

This post will highlight one of my favorite frugal hobbies – reading. I’ll highlight my take on why reading is essential and share six tips to read countless books for free.

Reading is great because, for a few dollars, you’re able to get hours and hours of entertainment. Depending on the book, you might even take away valuable life lessons.

If you’re not one to spend money on books, there are a lot of other options available to you.

If you’re concerned your book budget will weigh you down, here a few tips I’ve used to cut back on my reading expenses:

1) Free audiobooks from audible or on youtube. Many people can’t handle audiobooks because they read too slow, but you can actually play a video from youtube and increase the speed to 1.5x, 2x, or sometimes even 3x the speed.

2) Buy used books for a dollar. If you’ve seen my latest book review of Smart Women Finish Rich, you might have noticed the cover photo of that article contains the price tag. From $14.99 to $7.99 to $2.00. Many of the books I physically were purchased for a $1.00 or less.

3) Grab a coffee at a bookstore and read for 4-5 hours. I used to do this all the time after summer classes in college. I even would buy tea because it was cheaper for $1.50-$2.50 and relax for 5 or 6 hours.

4) Amazon. Often, you can find a book for $0.01 and the only price you need to pay is the shipping and handling. The cost will end up at around $4.00, but for 3+ hours of reading, I find it to be a great deal.

5) Borrow and lend books. Let’s be honest, once you read a book, it unlikely that you’ll re-read.  I have a list of books I try to reread every year or so, but even those books I’ve given away. I sometimes find myself learning more about a book when I hand it to someone else to read. I find the conversation we have about the topics might result in a deeper level understanding of the topics.

6) Public library. These still exist.

Personally, I was never a reader growing up. I never took away any value from books because I didn’t see a clear path between my own life  experiences and the experiences I was learning from other people’s lives.

As time went on, I began to connect more with other stories. Near the end of high school and at the start of college, I dove deep into history and, specifically, the recounts of soldiers during war. Everyone is drawn to different types of books, but these specific texts fascinated me.. I wanted to know more about what went on in the mind of a warrior while miles away from home.

There’s an old saying; you’re the average of the 5 people you hang around with the most AND the books that you read.

Most people leave out the last part when they recite the quote. I find it makes sense. I might spend more time in a single book than I do talking with a very close friend over the course of an entire year.

When I read Snowball, a biography of Warren Buffett, by Alice Schroeder, for example, that easily consumed 40 hours of actual reading time. That is A LOT of time diving into the decision making process of one man. I probably spent just as much time since then discussing the book with other people or thinking through some of the same topics in my own mind.

I fell out of reading for a few years because of my time in public accounting. Not only was I working 70-80 hour weeks, but I was also studying to pass my CPA exams. There wasn’t much time for reading, or ANY hobbies. (insert sad accountant picture)

This is one of the reason I love to swim, bike, & run for triathlons is because I can listen to an iPod filled with audiobooks while training.

And, yes, they do make waterproof iPods/headphones!

I love to combine activities, such as another habit I picked up earlier this year where I iron my clothes while going through 2-3 hours of an audiobook.

Lastly, I’ll mention I find two types of readers.

The first type are people who dive deep into books and explore any topics that they want to learn more about. This is me.

I’m not sure other people would refer to the second type as readers, but I do. For me, a reader, is someone who is searching for knowledge from other people.

The second type are people who prefer to discuss ideas with expert people they know and trust. I wish this was me, but frankly, I don’t know many hyper successful millionaires with a great family life and who do fun activities on the side… So, I read about them from books or blogs instead.

I’ll never have a face to face conversation  with Charlie Munger. Lucky for me, he’s already spent countless hours writing, rewriting, and distilling down his personal best pieces of personal knowledge and advice. AND THEN, he invited a group of skilled editors to refine it even more. After ALL THAT TIME, I can sit in the comfort of my home and absorb the lessons at my OWN, turtle-like pace, by reading the only book he’s ever published. That’s why I LOVE reading!

Would you consider yourself the first type or second type of reader? Are you an avid book collector? Do you hate audiobooks because they’re too slow but now you might reconsider after learning you can speed them up? Know any other tips on how to read books for free?

Master Distiller

11 comments… add one
  • Loved the turtle-paced comment! That is so…me. I read slow but dig deep too. If I commit, I might as well – really commit! I love audio-books too. It’s a great way to multi-task and mix things up when exercising or doing housework! We have bookshelves in our community, in addition to an awesome public library. We always have a focus on getting books into kids hands too! Gotta teach them the power of reading when they are little!

  • The Green Swan Sep 9, 2016, 6:04 am

    Good tips, Matt. I’ve enjoyed a number of audiobooks while mowing, driving to work, doing miscellaneous tasks, etc. Lately I’ve been getting into podcasts and have a number that I listen to regularly. Also a big fan of the library…free books! And usually a great selection.

    Agree completely with Vicki’s comment above about getting books into our kids’ hands. So far, I think that is one thing we’ve done well with our two year old. Reading before naps and bedtime is our quiet-time activity that gets him ready and he’s really embraced it. So much so that he keeps asking for more books to read, but we just have to cut him off otherwise we’d be up forever!

  • Jon @ Be Net Worthy Sep 9, 2016, 6:20 am

    I’m a big reader as well. At least in frequency, if not in duration. I read each night before bed, but sometimes I only last :15 ! If it’s a good book and I’m not too exhausted it may go :45.

    I haven’t gotten into audiobooks, but it’s on my proverbial list of things to try. My commute is :25 and I usually spend it listening to NPR.

    Speaking of kids though, we have used audio books with our kids on long summer road trips for years. We listen as a family and they are great for killing time because they are so long and can go for 8 to 12 hours or even more. Plus, it gives us all something to talk about later. Our local library has a bunch of family friendly fiction audiobooks that you can checkout for free.

  • Jax Sep 9, 2016, 6:31 am

    A lot of kids don’t grow up as readers because, though the adults in their life mean well, they often push fiction and fantasy on children, when the kids want to read about facts and real things. That was one of the harder things to remember when working at the Children’s desk at the library-don’t automatically suggest fiction.

    You mention the library for books, but libraries also carry audiobooks. There is the “old-fashioned” book on cd, but also many libraries carry Playaways-self contained MP3 players containing a single book. There are also downloadable audio books too.

    If you couldn’t tell, I am one of the libraries biggest advocates but there are other ways I get books for free. One is If you are willing to write a review on your website, they will send you a book for free. That might take the fun out of reading for some, though. Netgalley gives advanced reading copies (in ebook form) of new books. I’ve read new books by major authors months before they were published. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, they do Kindle Firsts the first week of the month. You get to choose one free ebook from a selection of usually 6. You don’t need a Kindle to read it, just the reading app.

    Goodwill, other thrift stores, yard sales, Friends of the Library sales- those are all great places to get cheap books if you want to own them. I’ve moved too many times to want to have a collection of books again, especially since I started working in libraries.

  • Financial Coach Brad Sep 9, 2016, 7:09 am

    Our local library supports Kindle books, so I can borrow books without ever setting foot in the actual library and have them downloaded right to my Kindle. Borrow time is for two weeks, but can be extended if no one else has the book set for Hold. I love this option and it saves me many hundreds of dollars per year (I read several books each month).

  • Miss Mazuma Sep 9, 2016, 7:28 am

    I spent most of my childhood in the branches of our magnolia tree reading for hours on end. When it got dark I would move to my upper bunk with my sister yelling at me from down below to turn off the light. I would argue that I had to finish the book or my teacher would fail me out of school…not true. I was reading for pleasure! 🙂

    I’m a big fan of the library. Though I don’t often read there, I love the feeling I get when I walk through the door to pick up my books. It’s hard to describe…opportunity? Excitement? I don’t know. But I know it makes me happy to know that knowledge is all around me – I just have to decide what I want to learn that day.

    • Matt @ Optimize Your Life Sep 9, 2016, 8:40 am

      I am with you on all of this. From reading in a tree to being the annoying reader in a bunk bed to that feeling when you walk into the library. 🙂

  • Matt @ Optimize Your Life Sep 9, 2016, 8:38 am

    Agree 100% on the importance of reading and I am completely in the public library camp for frugal reading! (I even dedicated a post to my love of the library!) The library also has audio books that you can download to your phone or tablet, which I have found to be super convenient.

    And Snowball is a great book. It is lengthy, but doesn’t ever feel dry, which is an amazing feat by the author.

  • Financial Panther Sep 9, 2016, 9:23 am

    I grab all of my books from the library. I’m too cheap to buy them. Most modern library systems now let you search for books online and have them delivered right to your closest library, so you don’t even need to travel very far to get the books you want to read.

    The only issue is that some books are super popular, and can take weeks or even months to get to you, so if you have a book you want to read, just put in a request for it and read other books until its your turn.

  • Life we learn Sep 20, 2016, 2:46 am

    Nice post! I haven’t tried audio books but I should give them a try one day.

    I like reading on the kindle and I’ve managed to get several free books by signing up to the bookbub website. If you like ebooks I would recommend signing up to bookbub to get daily notifications on free and discounted books.

    I don’t collect physical books which is probably why I like the Kindle as everything is electronic so hence reduces clutter.

    • Distilled Dollar Sep 20, 2016, 5:16 am

      Nice! I have a kindle as well and it makes things much easier when on the road. Audiobooks are my main source for reading – but I still enjoy reading a physical copy (either kindle or the book) over listening to it.

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