The rule I use for buying books

When I get a little money I buy books, and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.

Desidirus Erasmus, 15th century scholar

I have a simple rule for deciding what books to buy: if I think I might want to read a book, I just buy it.

It’s a rule I shamelessly stole from entrepreneur and author Ramit Sethi. A good book might cost £10, but one or two good ideas from that book will pay it back 100 times over.

Think about it: an author has spent hundreds of hours, over at least a couple of years, thinking, formalising, and distilling what they’ve learnt, then writing it down in easy-to-access form. You can buy this knowledge for less than the price of a round at the pub. There is no better bargain in life.

I’ve followed this book-buying rule for years now, even when I was a poor student. In fact, following this rule led to me being in credit card debt for a few months. It was still totally worth the money because reading all those books meant that I built the knowledge and skills I needed to drastically increase my income later down the line. The ROI on investing in books is immeasurable.

It’s also a rule that another incredible thinker and entrepreneur, Naval Ravikant, follows. Here’s a quote from his podcast with Shane Parrish from Farnam Street:

A really good book costs $10 or $20 and can change your life in a meaningful way. It’s not something I believe in saving money on. This was even back when I was broke and I had no money. I always spent money on books.

–Naval Ravikant

And if that’s not enough, try this quote from author and marketing genius Ryan Holiday, who writes of his physical library:

In my eyes, there is no question that I am able to write as much as I do and have been able to accomplish as much as I have been fortunate to accomplish because of the library I have built. When I do my taxes each year and look at what I’ve earned vs what I’ve spent on books, I see the correlation and think “Sounds about right” and then I push to up it in the following year.

–Ryan Holiday, How to Keep a Library of Physical Books

Here’s another quote from writer and investor Joshua Kennon, and his not-so-subtly titled post The Biggest Advantage You Can Give Yourself In Life Is Reading:

The nurturing of our reading habit is not an accident.  It is deliberate; purposeful.  We fiercely protect our reading time, shutting out the world so we can focus.  We also invest in it financially, making it a clear priority.  Our research and publication budget reaches comfortably into the mid-five-figures per annum with newspapers, magazines, academic journals, trade journals, books, online database access, and nearly every other imaginable source of information showing up either in print or digital format like clockwork.

I hope the message is sinking in. Consistently reading and learning, every day, will slowly compound into an incredible wealth of knowledge. It’s the best investment you can possibly make in yourself.

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