Why Smart Black Girls Don’t Buy Books


I love learning. And I would generally give myself a pass when I splurged on purchasing books because I rationalized that it was an affordable pathway to personal development.  While the logic is reasonable, I noticed a troubling trend with my book buying— my buying: reading ratio was completely out of whack.

I would buy books and never read them before buying, even more making my buying books-personal development argument weak; I realized that personal transformation didn’t come with the purchase of a book, it came with consuming and applying the lessons learned.

From a financial perspective, I was digging an unnecessary hole in my budget under the guise of lifelong learning. Not to mention my “pay it forward” spirit to book giving. Once I finally read a book, I was very quick to give it away…right away.

These two financial behaviors had me spending at least $300 a year for books over the last five years.

Moving from being a book buyer to a book borrower

It’s a no-brainer to start borrowing books from a library or friends as a way to reduce mindless spending (as opposed to buying them), but I resisted making this switch. I didn’t fully understand why I felt such a compulsion to buy books until reading about the various ways Americans spend to mark, express, and solidify their identity in Juliet Schor’s The Overspent American.  Reading this book (which I borrowed from the library and eventually bought as an essential for my personal library) showed me that I didn’t just love learning, I identified as a bibliophile. And to me (and many of us brown girl smarty pants), the number of books on my shelf served as evidence of this.

Recently, though, my competing need for a decluttered space pushed me to rethink how I bought everything—especially books, which I always placed as an essential for joyful living.

How I negotiate book buying now

In the past, wanting a book or reading about a book from a passing hyperlink in an article was enough of a reason to buy it. But now, I intercept this impulse by searching for the book at the local library instead of Amazon. I satisfy my need for instant gratification by requesting the book and like an Amazon purchase, count down the days until the book arrives and is ready for pick-up.

In many instances, reading the book is just what I need. In instances where I feel the book is so powerful and meaningful that I need to keep it, I do two things. I take pictures of the pages that I love the most and I give myself permission to buy the books, and that’s after I give myself a few days to think about the purchase. This cool-off period often reveals this recurring truth: desires are fleeting

Moving forward as a book borrower 

I don’t believe in throwing out books, so I had to come up with a strategy that would make parting with my books meaningful and easy.

Search for the money makers.  One of the ways that I eliminated $65K worth of student loan debt was by seeking new and used books on Amazon and Chegg.com. Neither of these will make you a millionaire if you’re working with a small personal library but it can generate a steady stream of income to put a dent in your debt or for a boost in your savings. In my experience, childhood education, manuals, and preparation guides sell the quickest and for the highest amounts.  You’ll always be able to gauge a competitive price by other sellers’ price point.  Keep in mind, though, that books in good condition can always sell for a little more.


 Reach out to your friends. If you love reading, you probably have friends that do, too.  Each time I did a deep clean of my bookshelves, I thought about which books to gift friends based on their expressed interests or what I thought they would like. These “just because” gifts are always received well.

Think about your work friends. As a team leader, you can engender trust with your team members by this small gesture. For a leadership perspective, it shows your team members that you pay attention, open to sharing, and personally invested in their growth. If you’re not a team lead, giving your coworkers books serves a similar purpose: produces goodwill and builds relationships.

Donate to local community organizations and co-working spaces. Community organizations like YMCA are open to receiving books to support their programming or for their general lending libraries. The same goes for co-working spaces. Co-working spaces like to add value to their returning clientele by having resources to support their creativity, product development, or bottom line.   For example, Zora’s House, an innovative workspace for women of color based in Ohio made requests for gently used books on feminism, entrepreneurship, black history, and marketing.

Borrowing books as an experiment in loving but not owing

 As Americans, we are taught that if you love something, you should own it or buy it. By embracing the concept of borrowing books, though, I’m learning that love and ownership are not one in the same.

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