Libraries are passe. Or so prevailing wisdom goes. After all, in the Internet era, where practically every American has a computer (or tablet or a Web-enabled smartphone), there's no need to trek to the library to do research. And books? Who checks out, or even reads, physical books in the age of the Kindle, Nook and iPad?
That all sounds logical, except for one thing: The facts contradict the theory.
Half of America has visited a library in the past 12 months, Pew Research found in a poll of 6,224 Americans ages 16 and older. And a mere 4 percent say they've moved exclusively to e-books.
What's more, while the millennial generation is widely understood to be more wired than their elders, it turns out that the younger you are, the more likely you are to frequent the library:
59 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds say they've visited a library at least once in the past year. (And to be clear, we're talking about full-service, separately housed public libraries -- not just the school media center.)
The same holds true for 48 percent of millennials ages 18 to 29, and 52 percent of folks ages 30 to 49 (moving into Gen X territory here).
In contrast, those ages 65 and up, whom you'd expect to be most hidebound in their devotion to clothbound books, are the least frequent users of public libraries. Only 39 percent of this group says they've visited a library in the past year.
Get a Library Card -- It's a Bargain
Why do libraries retain their popularity in the digital age? In part, it's probably economics.
According to a Huffington Post poll last year, about 68 percent of Americans read at least one book last year. Breaking that number down further, "25 percent read between one and five books, 15 percent read between six and 10 books, 20 percent read between 11 and 50, and 8 percent read more than 50" books. That works out to an average of about 12 books read per reader.
The "official" estimate of the American Library Association is that library patrons check out about 8.1 books per person per year -- suggesting that the majority of books that Americans read are checked out of libraries. In fact, the numbers suggest that Americans borrow twice as many books from libraries as they buy from bookstores.
And why not? The School Library Journal in 2013 figured the average cost of a book (excluding reference books) is $15.32. Multiply that by the 8.1 books checked out of a library, and you have $124 that library patrons -- including you? -- save in book-buying costs annually.
A confirmed cheapskate, Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith rarely passes on a bargain -- and thinks free reading material from the library is one of the best bargains out there.
6 Little Changes You Can Make to Save Big Bucks
Get a Read on How Much You Can Save Using Your Library
Most of us spend a ton of time researching our options when we first sign up for a plan or policy, then forget all about it and make monthly payments like a robot. But this can cost you.
If you've been on the same cell phone plan for a while, or you haven't looked at the terms of your insurance policies (home, life, auto) since you got them, it's time to do a review. Your circumstances may have changed, and new plans or deductions may have come out since you first signed up. Call up customer service (or your agent) and have them walk you through your options if you're having trouble comparing things on your own.
One of the biggest budget sucks is our own forgetfulness. We miss payments and incur late fees because we've misplaced our statement or didn't manage to get our mail out in time. We fail to save as much as we'd like because we just never remember to do it.
The easiest way to save yourself some money (and hassle and stress) is to set it and forget it. Sign up for auto-pay so your monthly bills are automatically deducted from your checking account. Have a certain amount automatically transferred each month from your checking to your savings account. Remove the human error factor, and your budget will be better for it.
We charge so much nowadays -- whether on credit cards or debit cards -- that it's easy to spend a lot of money without really registering it. When you have a set amount of bills in your wallet, however, it's extremely easy to see how much you've spent so far this month and how much is left.
Take those budget categories of yours -- groceries, entertainment, etc. -- and turn them into real, physical envelopes. At the beginning of each month, put that month's allotment of cash into each envelope. When you're running low, you'll know you need to be careful with your purchases. When you're out, you're done spending on that category till next month.
If you're prone to impulse purchases, imposing a waiting period on yourself is an easy way to break the cycle.
For large purchases, a 30-day waiting list is best. Write down the item that's calling to you, then wait 30 days before allowing yourself to buy it. You may realize in that time that you don't need it after all. Or you may forget why it called to you in the first place.
For smaller impulse buys, like that fancy new product you spotted in the grocery aisle, follow a 10-second rule. Before the item can go into your cart, spend 10 full seconds asking yourself if you really need it and how you will use it. Simply analyzing why you're getting something can disrupt the siren call of a product.
It's all too easy to blow $5, $10, even $20 on something, whether it's an extra meal out or a coffee on the run. In the grand scheme of things, it "doesn't seem like much" to us. But if you start thinking of your money in terms of the time it took you to earn that money, suddenly you find yourself evaluating your spending choices a little closer.
Figure out what you make per hour if you're salaried (if you're hourly, this will be easy). Let's say you make $15 per hour. For every $15 you spend, you'll have to spend another hour of your time at work to pay for that item. A coffee a day for a week can cost you an hour or two. And bigger items, like that flat screen TV you're eyeing? You get the drift. Framing purchases in light of time spent can help you make sure something is worth it.
In the end, a budget is simply a means of making sure your money is working for you. It allows you to see how much you're brining in and allocate it towards the things that are most important to you. If you can hold those bigger goals in mind, everyday budgeting becomes easier.
If you're wondering whether or not to buy something, ask yourself if that money would be better spent towards your big goal. Put a visual reminder in your wallet to keep you on task-like a photo of a sandy beach if you're trying to save up money for a trip. Viewing your budget in terms of what it will allow you accomplish-not the things it won't allow you to buy, can revolutionize your spending.