How To Program Your Mind To Stop Buying Books You Don’t Need

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Just so you know, I have self-consciously adapted this from a Lifehacker article. With that out of the way, let’s be honest. If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent way more money on books than you could ever justify. This is a safe place. You can admit it. You’ve made poor financial choices involving book purchases. The first step is admitting you have a problem. Now, if you’re ready to change, follow these steps.

Step 1: Make A List of All Your Books and De-Clutter

Take stock of all your books. If you’re advanced, just look at your spreadsheet. Add a column and in that column, categorize each book into one of the following:

  • Need
  • Sometimes Need
  • Want
  • Crap

Now, using the sort feature, alphabetize that column. All the books that just rose to the top are crap by your own assessment and you should act accordingly. No, don’t sell them so you can just buy more books. Sell them, and use the money for something else. I know. It hurts at first, but you can get through this.

As for the other three categories, focus on the “sometimes need” and “want” categories. Ask yourself these three questions:

  • When was the last time I read this?
  • When will I read or reference this again?
  • Did I legitimately enjoy reading it and plan to do again in the future?

Depending on how you answer these questions, a new category will emerge: “Don’t Really Need.” Act accordingly, and then move on to step 2.

Step 2: See How Much Money You Spent on Books

Look at all the books you just realized you don’t really need and should get rid of. How much money could you have saved had you never bought those books in the first place? I know you probably got some free as review copies. For those, think back to how long you spent reading and reviewing the book. Let’s say it’s you spent 5 hours reading and preparing the review. Had you been working a real job during that time, how much would you have made? I won’t tell you how that works out for me, but let’s just say every book I review is a loss compared to if I had actually just bought the book in the first place.

A second part of this step is to go to Amazon and pull up a list of your digital orders. Take a good look at all the Kindle purchases. Filter those books through the above grid, and note that any “cheap” eBook you bought that you don’t really plan to read any time soon was a waste of money. At $3 a pop, that can actually add up over time. What’s worse, you can’t re-sell those books. You’re just stuck with them.

This leads to the need for step 3:

Step 3: Develop a Personal Should I Buy This Test

This may look different for every person, but it’s something you should put into place sooner rather than later. The “Should I Buy This Test” is essentially several questions to ask yourself in between realizing you want a book you just discovered and actually doing anything to acquire it. Personalize the questions to your own historical book buying (or review copy requesting) habits. If you’re stuck, here’s some example questions:

  • Have I been planning to get this book?
  • Will it end up in the crap list one day?
  • Do I actually have space for it (i.e. are my current shelves running over?)
  • Did I budget for this? (also, do you have a book budget?)
  • Why do I want/need it?

Ask they explain on Lifehacker:

Custom build your test to hit all of your weaknesses. If you make a lot of impulse buys, include questions that address that. If you experience a lot of buyer’s remorse, include a lot of questions that make you think about the use of item after you buy it.

For me, the last question about is where most things can be eliminated. I’ll maybe explain more in a separate post how I make buying decisions, but let’s just say it’s something that has evolved over the years and has taken a more restrictive turn in the last 6 months or so.

Having the categories in mind from step 1, the profit and loss margins from step 2, and now the “Should I Buy This” test from step 3, you are hopefully almost re-programmed. The last step though is perhaps the most important.

Step 4: Learn To Delay Gratification and Destroy the Impulse to Buy

As far as nuts and bolts on this last step, Lifehacker gets it, and in explaining it’s ok to wait for gratification, goes on to offer this advice for doing so:

Look at whatever you’re thinking of buying, go through your personal “should I buy this?” test, and then walk away for a little while. Planning your purchases ahead is ideal, so the longer you can hold off, the better. Set yourself a reminder to check on the item a week or month down the line. When you come back to it, you may find that you don’t even want it, just the gratification that would come with it. If you’re shopping online, you can do the same thing. Walk away from your desk or put your phone in your pocket and do something else for a little while.

You can also avoid online impulse purchases by making it harder to do. Block shopping web sites during time periods you know you’re at your weakest, or remove all of your saved credit card or Paypal information. You can also practice the “HALT” method when you’re shopping online or in a store. Try not to buy things when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired because you’re at your weakest state mentally. Last, but not least, the “stranger test” can help you weed out bad purchases too.

While at the end of the day you may realize that books don’t really make you happy, it’s more important to get your book lust itself under control. This may involve taking a reading sabbatical, which is, lest there be confusion, not a sabbatical to read but a sabbatical from reading. The horror! But at the end of the day, some of us need it.

Learning to delay gratification is important, and even though it might feel like you need this book because hey, it’s about theology, you probably don’t need it as much as you want it. And though wanting things is fine, being unable to delay gratification is not. A little self-discipline is actually much better in the long run. We should be good stewards of our time and money, and often, buying books makes us neither.

Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

1 thought on “How To Program Your Mind To Stop Buying Books You Don’t Need”

  1. Great thoughts here, Nate. Another few are – if you want to *read* the book, but don’t need to own it for the rest of your life (and carry it from apartment to apartment! lol), check the local library/bible seminary library. Even if you’re not an alumni, you can pay a very nominal annual fee and check out books to your heart’s content.

    There are also many books that have made it into the public domain and are found free online on sites like monergism.com, ccel.org, and others.

    Overall your last point is most critical as it is a “heart change” and can be applied to ALL things we feel an impulse toward.

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