Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Year, New Budget

At the beginning of every year, I negotiate an annual book budget with my wife. Wait, let me rephrase that - last year, I negotiated a book budget with my wife (for the first time). I will admit that I was sceptical about the benefits of such a budget. But as in most matters domestic, the spousal position has been vindicated.

Working within a budget makes me think about what books to buy, where, and (in my case most importantly) when. In years past, I would wander into a book shop on a lazy weekend, spend hours browsing, and when I came out, would carry out ten or twelve books of interest. A friend of Brick and Rope has a similar approach to book buying on Amazon. The moment I started working within a budget, I realized that this was utterly wasteful. Books vary in price over time. Not just because of going to paperback (because there are many books I would only like to read in hardcover). The very same book goes for different prices over time. .

Take the book Einstein by Walter Isaacson for instance. I first got interested in this book right after it was published, in spring 2007. I added it to the 'books to buy' list I carry around on my Blackberry. The next time I was at the local Barnes and Noble, I checked it out, and it was selling for close to the list price of $32. That seemed a bit steep at the time and I gave it a pass. Since then, I have been looking at the book at various points and the price has been dramatically different over time. There was a period (I think in Nov-Dec 09) when the book was on what Barnes and Noble calls the 'Red Dot sale'. At that time, the book was available for (no kidding) $3.95! Right now, it is selling on bn.com for $8.98. The same book!

The other advantage of working within a budget is the incentive to wait for coupons. I am a member of Barnes and Noble, and they send out occasional coupons over email. These can be varying in size too - from the standard 15% (on top of all other membership discounts already available in store) to a handsome 50%. I currently have a 40% coupon in my mailbox, offered by B&N to incent me to renew my membership, which ends in Jan. So, because I am working on a budget, I never go to the store with the intent of buying unless I have a discount coupon in hand. I can't remember now the last time I bought a book at B&N without discounts. Of course this means no more binges, where I buy tens of book in a day. It is a measured one or two books a visit, depending on the number of discounts I have.

Which gets me to the story of 2010 so far, and the 'web log' part of this blog.

As we did last year, my wife and I decided on a budget for this year early last month. I had one coupon carried over from last year, which I used to buy Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw. A couple of weeks back, I went back to the store and bought three books - Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill; Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, by Katrina Firlik; and Sway by Ori Brafman. I had one coupon and these books were on a 'Buy Two Get the Third Free' sale on top of that. All together, I spent $27 on these three books. The Gladwell cost me $13. Total so far - $40. So that's where we end month 1 of the year in book buying. 4 books, $40.

Question for readers of Brick and Rope - How can I get more book for the buck? Any ideas?


  1. The local library?

    Then buy only those books that are worth adding to you own library, which you can wait to be "red dotted" at B&N.

  2. second-hand books ? they are often more fun because of comments scribbled in margins by readers.

  3. If you reflect and think, you might realise that most books that are on our book shelves are never re-read. We tend to to buy the book for a one time reading and an occasional referencing.

    Besides the strain it is putting ou our budgets, it is also a collosal waste to have interesting books sitting all by themselves on our book shelves and occupying precious real estate !

    As you have asked for ideas, I would suggest buy only those books that you must read time and again. Rent out all others from the local library.

    Otherwise, consider a periodic sale to bring in cash..