An avid reader, I often spent hours at a time scouring the shelves at the local book store; I was on a first name basis with the stocking clerk at my nearby used book shop; the librarian and I were comfortable not only trading book recommendations, but fashion, travel, and recipe tips as well. For months, I’d scoffed at the Amazon Kindle commercials on TV, laughed at the flashy song-and-dance spots by Barnes & Noble advertising the Nook. I chafed at the idea that a small electronic device could replace the weathered spine of a well-worn Jane Austen novel. I abhorred the idea of giving up the crispness of the fresh pages of a never-before-opened book.

Books: My Budget-Breaker

But, as I tallied up my book store receipts last fall, I realized that my obsession with books was taking a toll on my bottom line. In August, I’d spent $32.73 at Borders (they were going out of business! it was the sale of a lifetime!). In September, I’d charged $28.95 at the used book store (I’d finally found the complete Disney Princess anthology, plus a used copy of “The Little Mermaid” on DVD, for my daughter, and it was her birthday, after all). In October, I’d bought $21.16 in trashy romance novels to read at the beach.

The grand total: $82.84 in just three months.

I needed help.

I needed an eReader.

How I Thought An eReader Would Save Me Money

I’d never actually seen an eReader in person until one day last fall at Starbucks. The woman ahead of me in line was busy rifling through her purse when it slipped off her shoulder and on to the floor, its contents spilling out on the tile. As I crouched down to help her retrieve her possessions, I spied an eReader case.

“Is that a Nook?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “Nope,” she said, flipping open the case for me to see inside, “it’s a Kindle.”

As we waited for the barista to make frappucinnos and chai tea lattes, she gave me a quick tutorial. It was light weight. The screen was crystal clear and had minimal glare, despite the sharp overhead lights in the store.

“And the best part,” she said as she picked up her venti coffee and headed out the door, “is how much money it’s saved me. No more spending full price for the latest bestseller at the store!”

Saving money? I was intrigued, so I went home and started looking up the various money-saving ways of the Kindle and the Nook. Because the Amazon Kindle was the less expensive in terms of initial cost, I focused my research there. At just $79, it wouldn’t break the bank to purchase – heck, I’d spent more than that in three months at the book store. Plus, Amazon offered hundreds of free books – publications whose copyrights had expired, or had never been copyrighted at all – in its online book store; it advertised hundreds more for under $3.99 each. Additionally, if you subscribed to Amazon Prime, you could borrow the hottest bestsellers from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library for absolutely nothing.

I put a Kindle on my Christmas list.

My Kindle, My Money Pit

On Christmas morning, I wasn’t surprised to see a Kindle waiting for me underneath the tree. I had, after all, purchased and wrapped it myself (yeah, my husband and I stopped buying gifts for each other years ago after I got him what he calls “the ugliest pair of shoes in history” and he bought me lacy underpants that have sat in my drawer – unworn – for years). Later that night, I synced the eReader to my Amazon account and started downloading all the free books I could find.

Ever the thrifty frugalista, I was determined to read everything I could for as little money as possible, so I signed up for an Amazon Prime membership. Cost: $79/year. But it would give me access to more free books! It would be soooo worth it.

I was doing well. Two weeks into my life with an eReader, I’d spent just the $79 for the Amazon Prime membership… well, and the additional $79 for the Kindle itself. But still, the $158 I’d spent up front would be sure to save me money down the road. Maybe I’d make it through all of 2012 without spending a single dime on a book!

I know what you’re thinking: the bigger they come, the harder they fall. Or in this case, the more they buy.

My problems started when my book club chose to read “The Kitchen House” by Kathleen Grissom for our January meeting. The local library’s copy had mysteriously gone missing, and there were no copies for sale at the used book store, so I turned to my Kindle. I planned to use the lending library to get an electronic copy, but I’d already reached my monthly quota of bestseller borrowing, meaning I’d be unable to get it for free. Instead, I ended up buying my digital copy for $12.99 on Amazon – even though I could have saved 33 percent by purchasing a used (physical) copy from Amazon instead. No matter – I had an eReader!

Is It Worth It?

I quickly realized that the way some people feel about credit cards – that they allow them to mindlessly spend money without thinking about the consequences – was the way I felt about my eReader. After that first purchase, I quickly found myself downloading book after book to my Kindle. The device’s push-button buying option absolutely eliminated my ability to rein in my spending. By the end of January, I’d downloaded three books for a grand total of $35.97. In February, I realized I could have the New York Times and Wall Street Journal (plus any number of periodicals) delivered automatically to my Kindle every morning. As a result, I spent another $38.28 in February… and March…

Through March, I’ve spent a total of $232.25 on my Kindle, subscriptions, and publications. In all of 2011, I spent just over $200 on books, magazines, and newspapers.

So, is my Amazon Kindle worth it?

In terms of convenience, it’s absolutely worth it. I can read what I want, when I want, no matter where I am. It has an incredible batter life and the screen’s quality is second to none. But in terms of cost… well, you do the math. I’m spending more a month to load up my Kindle than I ever did at the book store. If I could figure out how to incorporate some impulse control, maybe I’d be able to call this cost comparison a success. But as for right now, it’s an epic money saving fail.

Libby Balke

Libby Balke