My adult children are big on borrowing stuff from their parents. And, from time to time, they may fail (you know who you are, son) to mention having borrowed something like a Milwaukee Sawzall reciprocating saw in its big, bright red case, prompting that son’s father to assume said tool had been stolen after searching the garage high and low for it on a day he had an urgent need for it — further prompting said father to reluctantly make a trip to Home Depot to buy a replacement.

This little blast from my past illustrates, in an odd way, how not everyone needs to own the same things. My husband uses his Sawzall so frequently he’s replacing the blade with abandon. But Jeremy? Hardly ever — maybe once a decade. Harold needs to own this tool. Jeremy is better off borrowing (all is forgiven, by the way).

Many public libraries are becoming fantastic sources for borrowing unusual items you may need only once a year, or even less frequently. Why buy when you can borrow for free?

Mobile Hotspots

Most public libraries offer free internet access while you’re in the library, but many have taken that free service even further by making mobile hotspots available for lending to their patrons, too. Checkout periods are typically limited to a few days, but that could be all you need if you are traveling or otherwise find yourself in a bind.

Tools and Equipment

Many libraries now feature tools, equipment and other items that library cardholders can borrow without charge. Take the Ann Arbor District Library, for example, where you can borrow all kinds of tools, including a thermal camera, telescope, sewing machine, Sizzix Big Shot die-cutting kit, energy meter and thermal leak detector.

Character Cake Pans

The Marvin Memorial Library in Shelby, Ohio, lends its vast collection of character cake pans. With a library card, a patron can borrow a pan for one full week, no charge. That should be plenty of time to have a couple of practice runs for the best birthday cake ever — and keep the $25 it would cost to own (and store) a cake pan you may never use again.


Some libraries, such as Arizona’s Pima County Public Library, have seeds for hundreds of types of vegetables, herbs and flowers that patrons can take home and plant in their gardens. You can’t return them like books, of course, but the library encourages borrowers to save and donate seeds from their grown plants.

Local Admission

Check with your local library to see if it has admission or tickets for local museums or even state and national parks. It sounds weird, perhaps, but many libraries are now offering their patrons this kind of free access to local culture that would otherwise cost you an admission fee.

Discover More

The next time you’re in the neighborhood, drop into your local public library. Ask a librarian what nonbook items and services the library offers. Prepare to be amazed to learn about the many ways your library can help you save money!

Would you like more information? Go to for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”

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