My New Rules for Book Buying (+ What I’ve Bought Since Instigating Them)


About a year and some-odd months ago, I wrote a post about our (ahem, mostly my) spending habits when it came to certain discretionary spending categories (such as clothing, books, movies, etc.). In it, I shared that for several years running, I had usually spend upwards of $350-400 every year on purchasing more books (not including our college textbooks, which cost us around $800-1000 a year when both Matt and I were in school).

I also shared that of all those books I’d bought, I still had literally hundreds I hadn’t read (as of the last count, I had over 380 books that we owned that I planned to read someday but hadn’t yet). After that post, I unofficially put myself on a book-buying ban until I’d read much more of our library, unless I bought the book with money I’d received as a gift (and obviously, I still asked to be given books for birthdays and Christmas and such because to me, those holidays just aren’t really as fabulous as they could be until a new book is involved).

This book ban meant that we had to stop our bi-annual trips to the Scholastic Warehouse Book Sale, where we had picked up hundreds of dollars’ worth of YA and children’s books over the years. It meant we had to stop going to bookstores regularly (this resolution was helped when the only real bookstore in town that carried both used and new books shut down…sob). It meant that rather than Amazon being my first web stop when I came across a title I wanted to read, it was the library’s website that I typed in first.

Last year, we spent $147 on books, $67 of which were for gifts for each other, and most of the remaining $80 was bought using money that was given to me as a gift. All in all, I probably only spent about $25 on books last year that fell outside the category of “gift” or “bought with gift money,” which were my original parameters for the so-called “book ban.”

Not too bad, considering how high my numbers were before!

Money talk aside however, I have gotten MUCH more selective in the kinds of books I HAVE allowed myself to buy over the past year and a half or so, mostly just because I do feel guilty that we already own so many that I haven’t read, and just because they DO take up a lot of space (though that thought makes me more happy than frustrated, and it will make me even happier when we actually have our built-in bookshelves up so that they can actually BE on shelves).

Nowadays, if I am to spend ANY money on books (gift money or not), I use the following guidelines:

1) The book is a book I’ve read before that I either plan on re-reading or that’s so good that I want my kids to read it (or at least have easy access to it).

  • Surprisingly, this cuts out a LOT of books for me. Before, ANY book I wanted to read meant it was worthy to buy, but now, I almost always make myself borrow it from the library FIRST, and if the book is good enough to want to own and refer back to, then I might go ahead and buy it (or request it as a gift for my next birthday, more likely).

2) The book is a nonfiction book that I’ve heard such rave reviews about that I feel confident it’s one I’ll want to own and have on hand as a reference.

  • Why nonfiction? Because I’ve found that I very, VERY rarely crack open a fiction book more than once, and so all fiction books tend to go by the guidelines in criteria #1.
  • This criteria includes genres like cookbooks, which I like to allow myself to purchase a new one every year or so.
  • I tend to mark up my nonfiction books a lot (if they’re in the self-help/spiritual/productivity sphere anyway), so if I think I’m really going to enjoy a title and get a lot out of it (going by the reviews it’s gotten from some of my trusted sources for good books), then I go ahead and buy it before reading it because it bothers me to read a really fabulous nonfiction book that I can’t make notes in.

3) The book was written by an author that I really want to support with my dollars.

  • I’ve followed a lot of blogs in my day, and occasionally, one of the bloggers that I love and admire will come out with a book. If that blogger/person has made a noticeable, positive impact on my life, then I come up with the money to support them because I love and appreciate what they’ve done for me. (Same goes for people I know in real life who have published books.)
  • Two recent examples: Cait Flanders from the blog Cait Flanders (formerly Blonde on a Budget) highly inspired me a few years ago when she completed a two-year shopping ban, and I love her blog on simple/slow living. When I heard she was coming out with a book on her first year of drastically spending less, I knew I wanted to show my support by buying it (even though I know I could have requested it from my library). Another blogger I love is Liz from Frugalwoods, who I was THRILLED to hear is coming out with a book next month all about their journey to financial independence (which they reached in their early thirties, no less!). I seriously adore her blog, which is on all things frugal, financial, and homestead living (which I secretly dream about doing), and I just think she’s brilliant. Basically, I’m counting down the days until I get my copy in the mail.
  • Once again, I know that these are books that I could get from the library and that might be books I read only once, but if the author has made enough of an impact on my life through his/her example/blog/whatever, then I’m all for showing support by picking up my own copy.

With only one real exception to these three rules (a fiction title I requested for Christmas that I hadn’t read yet — Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety), I have kept to these guidelines and thus drastically reduced our spending on books in the past year (and the new space we need to find to house more volumes).

The current location of almost all our books (*sob*). Yet another reason to hold off on buying more until we get those shelves in!

But in case you’re curious about what books DID make the cut that we bought over the past year (and whether or not it was actually worth the purchase price)?

  • A Year With Six Sisters’ Stuff: 52 Menu Plans, Recipes, and Ideas to Bring Families Together
    • About once a year, I indulge myself by buying a new cookbook since I like perusing them for fun (yes, really!), and I actually make new recipes from my cookbooks all the time. I was particularly drawn to this one because for quite a spell, I followed this blog. (I have since stopped subscribing to almost all cooking blogs because I found that it overwhelmed my inbox. Now, if I’m looking for a good recipe online, I usually just hop around a few of my favorite cooking blogs and find things that way.) For me, almost all cookbooks are worth the investment, with the exception of a few that I bought without really stopping to consider first if the types of recipes described fit my overall food preferences.
  • A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
    • This one came so highly recommended on Modern Mrs. Darcy and it seemed to fit a genre that I’ve historically loved in the past (that of the personal, reflective journal), that I didn’t hesitate too much to purchase it for myself. Now having read it, I could have done without buying it, simply because while there were sections I LOVED and marked up, there were also a ton of sections I just slogged through and that held no interest for me.
  • New Slow City: Living Simply in the World’s Fastest City
    • I heard about this one on the What Should I Read Next? podcast, and as it dealt with one of my favorite subjects (slow living, minimalism, simple lifestyle, etc.), I thought it sounded perfect. Let’s just say that I’m donating this one to my favorite used bookstore for tradeout credit as soon as possible–this one just did not resonate with me at all, and I wish I would have checked around a lot more first before making the purchase. (Lesson learned, though! Now I always at least check Goodreads for the overall rating and some of the reviews, especially the ones done by the people that I follow whose tastes most mirror my own.)
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It
    • This was a gift I bought for Matt for Father’s Day, and from everything he’s said about it, I think I chose a winner. Written by a former hostage negotiations expert, this book is all about the best ways to negotiate for what you want.
  • The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered that Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store
    • This firmly falls under the book-buying rule of wanting to support a blogger that’s made a big impact on me, and–bonus for me–I really enjoyed this book, too! While I knew about some of the stuff the blogger mentioned during her year-long shopping ban (just because she posted it to her blog), there were a lot of surprising revelations in the book that had never been mentioned online. I loved that I came away from this one inspired to continue paring down the unnecessary from my own life, which is exactly how I want to feel after reading a book like this.
  • How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul
    • When I decided to try monetizing my blog a bit, I picked this one up hoping to get some solid tips on how to go about doing just that. I haven’t finished it quite yet, but I have gleaned a lot of useful information from what I’ve read so far, even though not all of it applies to me yet (and some never will). Overall, not sorry I picked this one up–it opened my eyes to a lot of things I was totally unfamiliar with before about blogging. (I’m glad I have my own copy, as it’s one I’ll be returning to as a reference over and over again for certain sections.)
  • How Will You Measure Your Life?
    • When one of your favorite bookish kindred spirits publishes a post about five books she reads over and over again (ideally every year), you sit up and pay attention (and, if you’re like me, you immediately earmark your birthday money to buy some of those titles for yourself). This is one I’m currently reading, and it’s been pretty fascinating to see how this Harvard business professor applies the strategies of good business management to good LIFE management. Some awesome stuff in here, and I’ve been highlighting passages in pretty much every chapter.
  • A Heart Like His: Making Space for God’s Love in Your Life
  • Dinosaur Dance, Giraffes Can’t Dance, Dear Zoo
    • These were all board books we picked up for Raven for Christmas, all of which we’d tested out first by checking them out from the library (to make sure that Matt and I, as much as Raven, liked them enough to want to read them again and again). As we regularly read all of these, I’d say these were a successful purchase.
  • The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
    • One of Matt’s Christmas gifts to me that I haven’t had a chance to pick up, though I’m eager to. From what I’ve skimmed through, this will be a game-changer of a book.
  • Crossing to Safety
    • The only fictional title on the list and one that I actually haven’t read, but once again, because a few of the people I follow online highly recommended this one as one of their very favorites of all time, I was willing to bet that I would love it too and that it would be one I’d want to have around. We shall see, though! (I’ve told myself I need to finish Wild–my book club’s pick for this month–before I start this one.)
  • Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living
    • Another blogger I’m only too happy to support by buying her book. This one isn’t *quite* out yet (it’s still got a couple weeks), but I kind of can’t wait—I’ve loved almost everything this blogger has put out, and I find her incredibly inspiring.
  • A title I’m not disclosing here, as it’s a gift for Matt (but I trust him not to click into the link, so if you’re curious about what it is, click here)
    • This is a title I heard recommended over and over and over again, and based on the types of nonfiction books Matt’s been enjoying lately, I think this one should fit right in.

Fellow book lovers, what are your own personal rules for which books you allow yourself to purchase? Do you have any?