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!]

  • http://www.moneysmartsblog.com/ FourPillars

    I’m with you on The Stand and LOTR – I used to be a huge King fan. Battlefield Earth? It started out ok but I hated it by the end.

    Mike

  • http://fecundity1.blogspot.com Fecundity

    I’ve never been fond of LOTR, which is odd as I’m a big fantasy buff. My husband loves it. I did love the Stand. I’ve always preferred Koontz to King, but that one was fantastic. Haven’t read Battlefield Earth. I trust it was better than the movie…pretty much had to be.

    When I’m visiting my parents for Christmas this year I have every intention of rummaging through their basement in search of my old books, mostly with an eye on what will be handy for our kid-to-be, but also to find some beloved favourites. I’ve already salvaged The King with Six Friends, which I can clearly remember my father (repeatedly) reading to me. It seems to be out of print, so I’m grateful they still had it. I’ll be looking for The Velveteen Rabbit, the Anne of Green Gables series, Where the Wild Things Are, The Secret Garden, Thirteen O’Clock, and one that I can’t remember the name of but it had a bunch of bakers with some amazing illustrations in it.

    I’m sure I’ll run into a lot of forgotten friends too.

    Great post. Now I’m all nostalgic.

  • Ruth

    Fecundity: I think you are remembering “In the Night Kitchen.” It is indeed a neat book!
    There’s a sappy little Mary Engelbreit poster that says,”A book is a gift you can open over and over again.” Sappy, but in this case, true!

  • Bubelah

    One of my favorite series that I just re-read (13 books) are by French authors called “Angelique”. It’s about 17th century France and Canada. They are hard to find in English language though. I read them once when I was a teenager and re-read them again now.
    Another favorite that I re-read is “Gone with the Wind” in English. I read it maybe about 5 times in Russian when I was a teenager. It was one of my favorite books.
    I really loved “Master and Margarita” by M.Bulgakov in Russian (also back in teenhood), now I am planning to re-read in English.

  • http://plonkee.com/ plonkee

    My books are keepers if and only if I have/am/will be rereading them.

    In practice this means that I have and read a lot of children’s books and genre fiction. Not very highbrow I imagine, but then I’m not studying literature, I’m reading for pleasure.

  • http://apennycloser.com Eric

    When I was a teenager (around age 13 or so), I read a series of books that I thought was just fantastic called Bio of a Space Tyrant by Piers Anthony. I was a big Piers Anthony fan because of his Xanth series.

    I’ve read most of the PF books on your list as well. The one I haven’t read that I think I’m gonna pick up at the library is Think and Grow Rich. They actually have a pretty recent updated copy of it.

  • http://www.gatherlittlebylittle.com glblguy

    Great article. I’ve kept all of my favorite novels and now enjoy watching my children read them and talking to them about them.

    Favorites from childhood I still have: Stephen King novels (Cujo, Christine, etc.), Sword of Shannara series by Terry Brooks, The Hobbit and LOTR, Xanth series by Piers Anothony, anything by R.A. Salvatore. I also fondly remember the three investigator series

    Obviously I’m a big fantasy buff too :-)

  • http://www.guinness416.com guinness416

    I grew up in a house filled with books (literally – there were and are always piles of them on the floor in most rooms), which probably is why I’ve always been a huge reader. I do understand the comfort that comes with being surrounded by volumes. However, at some point (and I think it was driven by moving around a lot) I stopped buying books altogether, although a core of non-fiction has remained with me through all my travels. The Toronto library system is genuinely great and at this point I’d much rather send a few bucks their way every so often when they have their fundraisers. We have several well thumbed through Korans and Bibles of various flavours which for two very lapsed individuals of different faiths is kinda silly. The books I loved most in my childhood were the Richard Scarry ones, although I went through a weird and obsessive Agatha Christie phase for a longish while. “Busy Busy World” was my first indication that not everyone was white and Catholic.

    “The Testament of Gideon Mack” is probably the book I enjoyed most this year.

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  • Jon

    One of my favorites from my childhood was Where the Red Fern Grows

  • http://fecundity1.blogspot.com Fecundity

    “In the Night Kitchen.” That was it! Excellent. Thanks Ruth.

    And having Bibles and Korans in the house of two lapsed individuals isn’t so strange, Guiness416. Even if you don’t believe in the books in a religious way, they are still literature and still an important part of world culture that it helps to be educated about.

  • SavingDiva

    I read a lot growing up. However, I have to admit that the first book that I read over and over again was Gone with the Wind! In high school, I thought it was one of the greatest romance stories of all time. Plus, I was mesmorized by Scarlett’s glamour.

  • http://www.bripblap.com Steve

    @Eric, glblguy: Piers Anthony was a huge favorite of mine in my teen years: Bio of a Space Tyrant and Xanth were great, but I also really liked the Apprentice Adept series, the Tarot series, Incarnations of Immortality series and the Cluster books. I can pretty easily say I liked everything of his I ever read with one exception (Firefly – I imagine if you’ve read it you know why, it’s very creepy and not in a good way).

    @Fecundity: Battlefield Earth (the book) was a lot, lot, lot better than the movie (at least in my opinion)!

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