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Here's How a Library Card Can Save You Over $500 Per Year

Lyle Daly, The Motley Fool

You won't believe all you can access with a library card.

Smiling Young Woman Using Tablet In Library

Image source: Getty Images.

If you haven't paid a visit to your local library since grade school, then you probably don't realize just how valuable a library card is.

Until recently, I figured I wouldn't get much use out of a library card. I didn't want to trek to the library every time I wanted to borrow a book, and I definitely didn't want to worry about returning anything on time.

Oh, how wrong I was. I've since learned that libraries offer all kinds of free media, including an impressive amount of digital content. For anyone looking to cut down on their entertainment spending, a library card could be exactly what you need.

What kind of content and services libraries offer

Library cards are free to anyone who lives in the area, and through your library, you can borrow:

  • Books
  • Audiobooks
  • Magazines
  • Movies
  • TV shows

The best part is that you don't even need to visit the library to borrow anything. Libraries now offer content digitally, allowing you to borrow whatever's available without leaving home. You can then access the content through your browser or, in the case of e-books, through an e-reader.

Not only is it convenient to access digital content, but it also gets returned automatically on the due date, so you'll never end up with a late fee.

Besides the content you can access with a library card, many libraries also offer other useful services periodically in the way of classes and events. Your local library could have classes that teach helpful skills, author visits, and story time for kids. And if you're ever without internet access, you can go to the library and use a computer there.

How much money can you save with a library card?

Depending on how much you typically spend on entertainment and how much of that you can replace with content from the library, you could easily save $40 to $50 per month or more. Over a year, that could be just what you need to help boost the balances in your bank accounts or bolster your emergency fund.

The two types of people who will save the most from a library card are avid readers and those who want to have entertainment at their fingertips for free. I fall into the first category, as I usually read for hours every day. After adding up the Kindle prices of all the books I've borrowed, I found that I've saved $145.70 on 14 books from the beginning of January to the end of March. Over a full year, that would average out to $582.80.

Even if you don't read that much, you could also save money by replacing your cable and/or streaming services with video content from the library. The selection won't be as vast, but there's still plenty to watch.

How to get a library card

To get a library card, visit your local library's website and fill out an online application. After completing the application, you can visit any branch of that library to pick up your card.

When you pick up your card, remember to bring a photo ID. If your ID doesn't have your current address on it, then you should also bring a bill addressed to you to prove that you meet the library's residency requirements.

Residency requirements vary by library. You'll usually need to be a resident of the city to get a card with its library, but this isn't always the case, as some libraries have more relaxed requirements.

Accessing digital library content

There are two services you should know about to access digital library content: Overdrive and Kanopy. Although these services aren’t universal to all libraries, most popular libraries have chosen to offer digital content this way.

Overdrive

Overdrive is where you'll find your library's e-books, audiobooks, magazines, and videos. You can find your library's specific Overdrive page by going to the Overdrive homepage and clicking "Find a library," or by simply searching for the name of the library plus the word "Overdrive."

You'll find a fantastic selection of e-book and audiobook content on Overdrive. Popular titles tend to get snatched up quickly, so you'll sometimes need to place holds on the books you want and wait until they're available.

The TV and movie selection on Overdrive isn't exactly going to give Netflix a run for its money, but there are some good options available. And when you want more, you can head over to the next free service your library offers.

Kanopy

Kanopy is a video streaming service offering movies and television series. From the Kanopy homepage, click "Watch Now" and then select your library using the search function. This will bring you to your library's Kanopy page, where you can register for an account with your library card number and PIN.

There's plenty of content on Kanopy, and its movies are where it really shines. You can find everything from Criterion Collection classics to modern movies, and the service is well-known for its documentaries. It is lacking when it comes to series, though. For TV shows, your best option is reserving DVD box sets at the library.

With Kanopy, you receive monthly play credits through your library, and each credit lets you play one title for up to 72 hours. The standard amount is 10 play credits per month.

An easy way to cut your spending

There are all kinds of ways to save money out there, but getting a library card is without a doubt one of the easiest options, and it doesn't require you to make any crazy lifestyle changes.

If you want to, you could eliminate your entertainment spending entirely and elect to get all your movies and shows courtesy of your library card. Or you could just borrow books instead of buying them and still potentially save a couple hundred bucks per year.

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