Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reading - Improving Myself, for Cheap

Article restored from original posting at within-my-means on Aug-15 2008


Regardless of where I am at life, I always feel humbled and a need to know more and seek better and greater success. I am quite proud of my achievements thus far but I know that life is a journey, and through that journey I strive for more. The obvious path to acquire more knowledge is to seek what others have discovered through reading. And reading a lot is what I want to do. I wish I did read a lot more. Most of the time, when I plan to read, I stack up a queue – and set myself up for failure by doing time wasting things. Things like watching TV, playing computer games and reading news and commentary on the web. Having a family (I love you guys) doesn’t help that goal. Kids require our attention as parents and my wife rightfully expect us to communicate at our leisure time, not to bury our faces in books (or blogs) most of the time. Getting tired or unmotivated at times can also be a challenge.

Since books are our window to further improve ourselves, we like to cheaply possess more and more, to give us a chance to know more. Buying new books all the time at the store as soon as they arrive is only good if you can’t wait. You might HAVE to buy right now – if you are boarding a long flight and have not stocked up in advance with entertainment or books for the flight.

Here are a few ways we reduce the cost of books we read:

  • Join the local Library and borrow. You already finance it through your taxes – make use of it. You can usually order new books you want and are unavailable yet. You might also be able to reserve a book online as well.
  • Sign up for a book club. I would especially recommend a paperback book club.
  • Buy paperback editions, or wait until the paperback is out. It’s usually cheaper
  • Buy used at Amazon’s marketplace (or Ebay’s half.com)
  • Buy on special sales at the library. Our library makes such a sale once a month and we stack up with many excellent classics and children literature at those sales.
  • Buy at Amazon discount sales and have it ship for free – still much cheaper than the store.
  • I don't know about you - I don't like reading e-books although I do have a laptop. There are many free e-books sites out there...
  • When you are in college, consider swapping books with other students. Also, try ScratchWork.org - it seems to provide a lot of benefits for students beyond books exchange.

Being frugal and enjoying visits to the book store gets tricky. My wife and I, as well as the kids, enjoy the occasional visit to the book store to browse through the new selections. We sometimes do indulge our selves – when the budgeting is right – and buy something.

I wanted to write a post about buying books on the cheap, but when I began my preamble – I got carried away with my personal story. If you are still interested, the following was written subsequently after the first paragraph.

More about reading and striving for knowledge…

When I studied for my graduate degree online I was married and already had our first child. I was working full time and I dedicated the night hours to studying. Usually between 10:30pm to 2am. It was a fully packed day and only because I was driven by a schedule and homework deadlines did I read and finish my tasks. As graduation approached, I felt a void in my time was forming – such voids are easy to fill with nonsense – but combined with a New Year resolution I expressed a desire to fill that void with a desire for knowledge.

At first I set my sights on learning a new language - French. There’s something romantic and exciting about new languages. I bought a book, some CD-s and began learning without restriction of a framework pressuring me to reach results. I played the Fifa soccer game on my laptop while listening to “learn French” audio content daily for about 20 minutes each day. I put a CD in the car and listened at the car for a while. I peeked and read about 3 of the first chapters of the French for dummies book (I find the name of the book series insulting, but the content superb). I wouldn’t call that experience a success or a failure – it’s a work in progress, and after about 3 years of studying I think my ability is akin to studying in class for the second year.

Next, came my desire to understand money better. As it was for many others, the need to understand how to manage your own money comes out of immediate necessity. We earn money, we spend money, I wanted to save some of it as well and reach a balance together as a family. We bought two books together and have been following a plan for 2 years now which should take us to where we want to reach together.

Starting to accumulate savings in different forms (retirement, college fund for kids, money market account and others) is what drove my next big curiosity. Now that we will have taken charge of our financial destiny – where should we steer our funds? Should we just stuff it under a mattress? Just let it lay there in a bank (in a dark cold safe, all alone without a hug from crusty crab)? What would be a risky choice or a safe choice? Budgeting and savings is only the first step – the next step relies on making money management decisions.

I began watching CNBC. I think that at some point in life in America, most people do. I took interest in Cramer. His show was loud and he tried very hard to grab attention by joking around. I bought his books too. Two of them. I’ve also finished reading those two books. Because of the time of day the show is on, I gradually watched less and less of that show. All the while, I did not take his advice – and did not invest in stocks. I assumed (correctly) that I don’t know enough – and jumping in the water head first is dangerous (especially when the pool is half empty).

As mentioned in my post about not watching CNBC (soon to be restored) – Cramer is a complicated man (link to Overstock.com CEO’s thoughts on Cramer). I assumed that much way before it was proven. I still respect his advice – but I take the CNBC disclaimer very seriously. It’s an entertainment/educational show. It’s not the gospel – and for investments it is only the starting point of a research.

I moved on. I might watch CNBC, but I just have enough reasons not to. Right now I have a queue of books on investments, options, trading and self improvement (a book from the 60-s!). The hard part is finding the time to delve in. And once that time is found and dedicated, staying focused. As my wife says – how can you read that? It sounds so boring? Well it might be, and sometimes it is and I take breaks. The problem might be what I do with these breaks (guitar, PC games, TV, movies, family time – anything but return to what I dedicated the time for).

Since we discovered the book sales at the local library, we have accumulated quite a bit of classical literature as well. At some point I do intend on enriching my culture and not just my knowledge. I still intend to finish reading our O’Henry stories collection. It seems we will probably won’t buy a new book for a while… we do need to buy some new bookshelves though.

L’Chaim! (Cheers!)

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