saving money on books

Buying a book is expensive. Books come in various shapes and sizes, so I will make some over-generalizations about the price of a book in this analysis. I found this 2005 report:

The average price of a hardcover children’s and young adult book [in 2005 is] now at $20.52 [and] the average hardcover price for 2005 has increased by six percent, a gain of $1.21 over the 2004 average.

…from 1990 to 1995, average book prices jumped by 9.5 percent; from 1995 to 2000, they increased by 12.3 percent; and from 2000 to 2005, the increase was even steeper, 14.4 percent. Overall, we have seen book prices increase by more than 35 percent in the last 20 years.

My best guess is that a typical non-discounted hardback book is probably in that same range. I base that simply on my experience looking around bookstores and amazon.com. So if we assume a book in 2005 cost $20.52 and continued to increase at a rate of 14.4 percent per year, the average book is now approximately $26.86.

Occasionally I buy a hardback. After re-reading one of my favorite fantasy series from my youth recently, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, I am excited to buy the next book in the series. I am also a huge fan of A Song of Ice and Fire and would be sorely tempted to get the next installment the day it comes out. (Full disclosure: all of the links to books in this article are affiliate links).

So how can you save money on your reading? You might suggest going to the library. I have an even simpler way: re-read.

While visiting my parents this summer I picked up the Chronicles and re-read them. The books are complicated, long and full of amazing imagery, so I had forgotten much of the detail while remembering the overall story. It was like reading the books for the first time again. I was so inspired by the experience that Bubelah and I (with my parents’ permission) packed up four boxes of books to be shipped to our home. Each box held maybe 20-25 books, and only one or two were “old friends” that I can almost recite from memory. Most of the rest were new or ones I have read and forgotten. Forgetting these books does not mean they were bad or not worthy of being read – I simply read them too long ago or too quickly or while too distracted by the rest of my life.

We got 4 boxes with 25 books per box, and each would have cost $27 to buy in a bookstore today – so we just saved almost $2600 (shipping was about $80). I was thrilled, since reading a book is one of the best ways to make my commute time fly by and the gentle enjoyment of fiction is something well savored in-between personal finance and personal productivity tomes. In order to make room for the books we will sell some on eBay and give others away, but I only have a dozen or so books I am deeply attached to and would not give away. My special edition of The Lord of the Rings is one such book; my battered and barely-clinging-to-life copies of The Stand and Battlefield Earth are two others.

One lesson, deeply held, from my childhood is that you can never waste money on books as long as they continue to encourage a love of reading. So go drag out some old book that you read as a teenager or even one you skimmed through too quickly and enjoy. You will even save some money in the process.

Here are some books I’ve recently re-read about personal finance, and plan to re-read again and again! In particular in the case of Think and Grow Rich I have a heavily dog-eared and marked-up copy that I read over and over again. I can’t think of a more inspirational book.

[Edit - based on some of the comments, I'd like to encourage everyone to leave the name of a book they read in childhood or early adulthood or whatever that they fondly remember!]