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?

4 comments:

  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.

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

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  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..

    cheers

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