Back in our young and foolish days, Kris and I bought an encyclopedia set from a door-to-door salesman. This was in 1995, at the very cusp of the digital age. We had been on the internet for about a year, but we had no way to know that one day very soon the World Wide Web might make printed encyclopedias obsolete.

So we bought an encyclopedia set. Naturally I charged the $500 to my credit card.

We used the encyclopedia for several years. Then in 1999 we discovered Google. The leather-bound volumes began to gather dust.

Even so, when we moved to a new house in 2004, we took the books with us. We installed them prominently in the living room. But we never used them. Eventually we moved them to storage. For two years, we tried to sell them at our neighborhood garage sale. The first year, we priced them at $50. Last year we priced them at $20. Nobody wanted them.

On the final day of last year’s sale, a man stopped by and sorted through our book collection. He was rather particular about his selections, so I struck up a conversation with him. (Bibliophiles are happy to meet kindred souls.) He told me he owned a used book store. “You’ve got some good stuff here,” he said, patting his stack of books.

“Thanks,” I said.

He turned to leave, but then paused. “You know,” he said. “These encyclopedias are worthless. I have a dozen sets in my store. They used to sell pretty regularly, but nowadays I can’t even give them away.” He waved good-bye and left.

It hurt to think that our $500 encyclopedia set was worthless, but I had to admit it was true. I posted it in the “free” section on Craigslist.

The next day a man stopped by to pick up the books. He was ecstatic to find them. “We don’t have a computer,” he said. “And my daughter is in the fifth grade. She loves to learn. She’ll use these all the time. Thank you.”

I helped him load the encyclopedia into his car, a mid-80s Honda Accord. The rear of the vehicle sagged beneath the weight. Before he left, he fished out his wallet. “Do you have a Blockbuster Video around here?” he asked. I said that we did. “Here,” he said, handing me a Blockbuster gift card. “Take this. I mean it. You don’t know how much I appreciate this.” I thanked him and took the card, which I tucked in my wallet and then forgot.

A few weeks ago, I found the Blockbuster gift card. “I wonder how much credit is on this?” I said to myself, scanning the fine print. I tried to call the toll-free number, and to check the web site, but neither would give me the balance. To obtain the balance on a Blockbuster card, you have to actually go to the store. So I did.

The card had $16.50 on it. I thought maybe I could pay for part of a game for my Nintendo Wii, but nothing looked appealing. I scoured the DVDs, but couldn’t find anything I wanted. At last I spied The Godfather. Aha! Hadn’t I been wanting to purchase that for a long time? It’s been three or four years since I last watched it. I bought The Godfather and a pack of Red Vines and headed home.

But when I went to put the DVD away, I was dismayed to find that I already owned a copy. When did I buy it? Why hadn’t I remembered purchasing it?

The Godfather sold last night for $7.02. After fees are settled, I will have netted $7.16.

And that, my friends, is how I managed to turn $500 worth of encyclopedias into $7.16 in Amazon credit. That is personal finance at its finest.

There’s no profound moral to this story. Each of us makes the best financial choices we can. But sometimes our information is imperfect. We have no way to predict what the future holds, and sometimes what we think is smart (charging encyclopedias to a credit card) is actually rather foolish.

This story first appeared at Consumerism Commentary in a slightly different format.

89 Replies to “How to Turn $500 into $7 the Hard Way”

  1. Damsel says:

    LOL… great post. We ALL have stories like that. Thanks for sharing yours. 🙂

  2. Kate says:

    Great story, thanks for sharing. Aside from the obvious point (and I don’t even want to know how much the books really cost you when you add the CC interest) I’d like to comment on the DVD you bought and later realized you already had: It pays off to keep track of what you own. I’ve made it a habit to organize/clean out my pantry every 2 months and it’s amazing how much food I find that I didn’t know I still had. During my last “raid” I found that I had two opened jars of a certain, not quite so cheap seasoning that I don’t even use all that often. $5 I could have saved right there!

  3. Sam says:

    But you did use the encyclopedia set for several years, so I would take the $500 plus any interest charges and divide it by the number of time you used the set and figure out your per use charge.

    Anywho, I love a good encyclopedia set and I think kids lose something these days now that they can just google something (of couse they also gain something).

  4. mikemc says:

    Makes me feel better about the 5 280CD/DVD Case Logic Wallets I purchased to “better organize” my CD collection. After a few weeks of carefully moving from the original CD jewel cases to the case logic wallets, I realized that I preferred how I had it originally w/ all the CDs on a media self. Easier to find what I want to listen to.

    So like you, $150 poorer, I posted on both Craigslist and Amazon. No nibbles yet… 🙂

  5. Dangger says:

    My family bought a set of used encyclopedias in the 90’s for 2 bucks… it was a church tent sale that spans 3 days…. on the last day, anything you can fit into one grocery size paper bag is 1 dollar. I managed to find all of the books scattered all over the tent. It filled up two paper bags. Though you had to carry it lovingly or else it’ll rip through the bags. I used it for many years throughout highschool.

  6. Hannah says:

    Hahah great story, and very true! Think of the people who spent a huge amount of money on CDs and walkmans, only to have ipods come out a few years later…

  7. MITBeta @ Don't Feed the Alligators says:

    Keep in mind that anything you buy, short of a few things (like a house, hopefully) is eventually going to be worth next to nothing. The thing that I think you are beating yourself up over is the fact that the internet came along so quickly after your purchase. I have a Bowflex in my basement that I’d love to get $7…

    @Hannah: Anyone who rebought all of their CDs from iTunes is a fool. I still very much enjoy my CDs (not the least of which because they sound better than the compressed MP3s and iTunes files).

  8. Steve says:

    I think that guy’s daughter will get more than $500 worth of education out of those books. Your investment will pay off for her.

  9. Mike says:

    That’s a great anecdote. I’ll think of this every time I sell yet another hopelessly outdated computer book for peanuts. Just think about the interest you could’ve earned on the $500, too, if it had been sitting in a savings account! 🙂

    Then again, I imagine that during the years you did use it, you easily gained >$493 worth of knowledge. So was there a true loss?

  10. Jon @ The Money Mythos says:

    That was a great story, though for your sake it’s too bad it didn’t work the other way around. I think my parents still have their encyclopedias upstairs, from the 1970’s. It’s always fun to browse through the computer section, which is just a page or two, in those.

  11. The Weakonomist says:

    My parents are sitting on a set of encyclopedias. Its best used for a cat perch. I got a lot of use out of them growing up. Didn’t know about the free section of Craigslist. Maybe I’ll put them up there.

    Has anyone read “The know it all”? Its a great book in journal format written by a guy as he reads the entire encyclopedia set.

  12. Mister E says:

    Heck, I would have taken them if they were in good shape.

    @Hannah : And think of the people that spent a huge amount of money on iPods that will need to replace them with whatever the next format they force on us is.

  13. Daniel says:

    Wow – it’s sad to hear about your bad purchase, but it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about how much you helped that man and his 5th-grade daughter.

    What a great story!

  14. d^2 says:

    april fools! no one wants a hardcopy encyclopedia! you almost had me, though. 🙂

  15. guinness416 says:

    Heh, well told story! You know, at least someone is using them. I have a feeling lots of encyclopediae just get ditched. So that’s a good thing.

  16. Sara A. says:

    If you put it on your credit card you probably paid more than $500 for with the interest.

  17. Heather says:

    I sometimes hang onto things because I don’t like to face the “mistake” inherent in giving them away or selling them. There’s got to be a more positive way to view this loss of money! Obviously you made somebody’s life a lot better… that’s a start…

  18. Not an Artist says:

    I kind of miss Encyclopedias. I would always came across interesting subjects while flipping through the pages looking for a specific topic. I suppose you could say the same for the internet and Google searches; but at least in the Encyclopedia it was much less likely to be porn or celebrity gossip.

    Besides, I have fond memories of using the ancient set my family owned as key elements in the construction of elaborate blanket forts — how else would you weight down the corners?

  19. RTPEric says:

    I’m confused… it seemed like the 16.50 Blockbuster credit is worth more than 7.16 in Amazon credit… did I miss something???

  20. icup says:

    I never understood the need to actually have encyclopedias in your home, even when I was in high school, pre-internet. Maybe that’s just the poor kid in me coming to the fore. The public library always maintained a perfectly up-to-date set in my town.

    But even beyond that, its a bizarre concept, if you stop to really think about it. There was once a time (not too long ago I might add) when all of mankind’s knowledge was peddled door to door in handsome leatherbound 30 volume sets for the unbelievably low price of $499.99!

    That is right up there with buggy whips, outhouses and ice harvesting.

  21. Will says:

    Only $7.16? You forgot about the red vines!
    So add .55 to that.

  22. J.D. says:

    HA! Will has an excellent point. 🙂

  23. katey says:

    I’m real glad the encyclopedia were at least given to a 5th grade girl who loves to learn.

  24. Lily says:

    Hannah: uhm, you can add music from CDs to the iTunes library. I hope nobody ever RE-BUYS their CDs!

  25. Cory says:

    Textbooks also seem to become pretty obsolete, pretty fast with the current information they hold. Not just because of the latest edition being released either. In science, the information gap between a lot of science textbooks and the forefront of scientific research is about 30-50 years. It makes it kind of unnerving when you have to pay $100-$200/textbook for this content.

    CDs, like records, will never go out of style for some generes of music (i.e. Jazz). For the Britney Spears generation of music listeners, these types of media may very well be obsolete.

  26. Dave says:

    All PF morals of the story aside, I just liked the story … It was like a micro fiction by Raymond Carver or something.

  27. Steph says:

    I thought this was going to be an April Fools joke. Thanks for the real post.

  28. No Debt Plan says:

    At least you got some use out of them. Like you said, there was no way to tell Google and Wikipedia and the WWW was going to explode like it did. I’d guess you aren’t alone.

    Also, could you not have gotten a better return for donating the encyclopedias to a school or something along those lines?

  29. Wayne Mulligan says:

    Funny story, but what’s the lesson to be learned here? Don’t buy books? Hold off a few years on making any purchases over $100 because it might be worth pennies one day?

    I think the real lesson here is that information of all kinds is trending towards FREE. If anybody on this blog has it in them go read “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson (Editor in Chief at Wired Magazine). Then go to or buy the magazine and read Anderson’s latest take on the “free” economy.

    It’s not that he thinks everything will eventually be free, but when the cost of creating and distributing content continues to fall, so will the cost. So when a site like Wikipedia costs $0 to create and pennies per person to distribute, it’ll remain free — as will other forms of digital content (music, movies for the PC (one day), etc.).


  30. Frugal Dad says:

    Hey, at least you got some use of them! My Funk & Wagnalls are still collecting dust and taking up a row and a half on our book shelf. I like your free Craigslist idea – I might even check into giving them to a shelter for some reading material. Of course, any current topic is dated, but there are some things that stand the test of time.

  31. jtimberman says:

    JD – Funny thing about this story, it happened to my wife. Before we met, she had bought a set of encyclopedias. We were going to keep them around for the kids, but we’re realistic. We have computers and internet access and always will. We couldn’t even donate them to a library, but a used book store took them for about $20… in store credit. Only to be used on half a purchase of a used book.

    Oh well, they were heavy and I was tired of moving them :-).

  32. Von says:

    You know,just 2 weekends ago I hauled a set of Encyclopedia Brittanicas around to 4 different thrift shops and they all refused them. The reason cited was the same thing your book buyer gave….the WWW has replaced them. I was so very surprised. Like you, I’m going to try Craig’s List and Freecycle and see what happens. If nothing else maybe a recycle center will take them?

  33. Darren Meyer says:

    Others have said something along these lines, I know, but I want to share something a good friend said years ago when I found myself in a somewhat similar situation:

    “Return on investment isn’t all about money — it’s also about the intangible values you gain from what you spend.”

    In my case, I was worried because I tend to buy video games, play the snot out of them, then sell them for 30-40% of what I paid for them. My friend helped me realize that the entertainment value (and memories, etc.) was worth the investment.

    You spent $500 on books that you used for *4 years*. That has to have value.

  34. Get a Grip Girl says:

    This article took me back to time of fond memories!
    When I was small my parents did get us a copy of the encyclopedia. I remember reading/using them as a reference point. It had a lot of information and to this day, we still have them. However the information is outdated and I now refer to the online version.

  35. JACK says:

    I think that’s the absolute wrong way to look at it. Did you buy the encyclopedia because you planned to make a profit on it? Probably not. You probably didn’t even plan on selling it. Now you may question whether you got a full 500 dollars of value out of them, but you did get value out of them. That you got anything for them after you decided they were no longer of value to you, frankly, should be seen positively. I’ve got a trike that I plan to sell that I know I won’t get anywhere near back what I paid for it, despite its condition. But there’s such a thing as sunk cost and mitigating your losses. If you were putting the encyclopedias to no productive use, hanging on to them merely because you paid money for them previously is silly.

  36. jim says:

    You need to calculate the rate of return… that’d be funny. 🙂

  37. Andrea >> Become a Consultant says:

    JD, I hate to argue with you, but your original mistake wasn’t that you charged the encyclopedias to a credit card. The mistake was that you didn’t pay the bill in full before the end of the grace period. 🙂

  38. April Fool says:

    On April 1? RIGHTTT! You’re not getting me to fall for another one of these stories!

  39. ClickerTrainer says:

    I love my Britannica set. And I use it, there are articles in there that are simply not available on the Internet. Plus, I love how it mentions the new space vehicle called “Sputnick”. And the newly discovered Pluto.

  40. Anthony says:

    Love this post. Here’s one I’d love to hear as well:

    “How to turn $30,000 into $5,000 in 10 years”

    The subject? Buying a new car of course….hehe

  41. Tom says:

    This made me laugh out loud. Thanks for sharing. I think we all have stories like that.

  42. Mike says:

    Great post! I think we all have things we paid dearly to buy that turned out to be worthless. I invested heavily in an independent record label in 1998. In 1999, Napster destroyed most of the industry, except the giant labels who could sustain the hit and the nichest of the niche indies whose customers weren’t tech-savvy enough to own computers.

    It’s not all bad, though! Sometimes the indulgent purchase somehow sustains or even gains value while it sits in your closet. Let me tell you about a little game called Magic: the Gathering! It was 1993 and…

  43. Matt Haughey says:

    I bet over the time it took to pay off the books, it was actually a $1268.32 encyclopedia set. 🙂

  44. J.D. says:

    For those wondering: this story is absolutely true. It’s time-shifted by six months (I posted at Consumerism Commentary last fall), but other than that, it’s accurate. It’s not an April Fool. And I know it’s minor, but I thought it was fun.

  45. Confused says:

    Why wouldn’t you return the movie to the store for something you wanted instead of reselling it for less? Or did you only pay $7 for it and still have another few dollars in credit left?

    Cute story, but that part left me scratching my head.

  46. kick_push says:

    funny you mention this because i had my old encyclopedia set collecting dust at my mom’s house.. i tried to throw them away, but my mom decided to keep them in a cabinet in the garage (which has enough cluttered stuff as it is).. we got into an arguement because i told her it was just taking up valuable space.. but she would not listen to me.. she obviously doesn’t know what wikipedia is

  47. Travis says:

    A fine post, JD. Does anyone else out there feel that they just have too much ‘stuff’? I was planning my budget this weekend, which made me reflect on how I spend my money. Later I went into my apartment’s spare bedroom (which for a single guy like me is also known as the ‘junk room’) to get something, looked around and thought “wow…where did all this stuff come from!” Consumer Reports magazines that I’ve had for years (isn’t this info available online?), golf clubs (when was the last time I golfed?), and those little items that you don’t ever do anything with but for some reason you’ve attached sentimental value to them so you feel compelled to keep them. I plan on being more cognizant of what I buy in the future, and even more cognizant of what my stuff says about me and my life. Your article made me think of this, JD. Thanks!

  48. Elizabeth says:

    Since I am in the process of de-cluttering my home before putting it on the market, I have been going through my bookshelves and attempting to sell some on Some of my books have been on that site for over two years with no buyers, so I decided to sell them to to get rid of them faster. It pained me to see that my brand-new or like-new books were worth a mere $21. However, I also realized that almost all of these books were purchased before I became an avid library user, and that my evaluation process for purchasing books is very different now than a few years ago. I’ll use my $21 store credit from Powell’s to buy a book that I need for my school work (I’m a doctoral student) and will use again and again for years to come.

  49. kimi says:

    I don’t know – my parents bought us a set of encyclopedias, and I remember working on projects with them. I think they were better than the internet.

    Every once in a while, we pull them out. It’s fun because you learn about things that you don’t necessarily have questions about.

  50. Faculties says:

    This is a great story, but the $500 loss would have been true whether or not you’d put it on a credit card. (Except the interest presumably made it $500+.) However, I like the point that you forgot that you came out of the deal with some Red Vines!

  51. J.D. says:

    Confused asked: Why wouldn’t you return the movie to the store for something you wanted instead of reselling it for less?

    I opened the DVD before going to put it away. To the best of my knowledge, stores won’t take opened DVDs as returns unless they’re damaged.

  52. Lise says:

    I think the most interesting part of this story is the guy with the 80s Honda and no computer. Who was he? Was he underprivileged in some way, or had he embraced voluntary simplicity as a way of life?

    I’m always fascinated by people who live out of a sync with a consumerist culture…

  53. SavetotheFuture says:

    As with anything in life,you live and your learn. It just amazes me that just ten years ago, having an encyclopedia was considered a good investment. Time always seem to go faster than we think.

  54. allen says:

    @JD: If it was a used DVD, then you could have returned it. If it was a new one, then they are not allowed by federal law to take it back, except as an exchange for the exact same item (thanks, RIAA & movie equivelent!).

    I had just assumed it was used, if you were getting it at BB, but maybe not. *shrug*

    As a child, i would read the Encyclopedia. The great thing about them is that they are fact-checked by people for whom that is their job, you won’t find any random porn, or other such material, & so on. If i had a child tommorow, i would still buy an Encyclopedia.

    However, putting them onto your CC, and (i assume) not paying that off in full IS the stupid bit. 😀

  55. Mister E says:

    I don’t have children yet but when I do they will be steered towards encyclopedias for their research.

    The internet is not a very child friendly place and as allen said above me the facts in a set of encyclopedias are checked by pros. Real honest facts that you can count on are hard to come by on the interweb.

    And I’m very, very much in favour of a simple lifestyle without an accumulation of a tonne of “stuff”, but a set of encyclopedias on a shelf just has a classy look that I like too.

  56. Liz says:

    Thank you J.D! My mother has been trying to find a home for the encyclopedia set my sister and I used growing up. I called her and told her about your story. She was thrilled with the solution. I think she held on to them for this long because she and dad did without so we could have them.

  57. Miranda says:

    Great post! I think you should consider how much you DID use the encyclopedias before you discovered Google. After all, you did get use out of them :0)

    Not all value is monetary…

  58. trb says:

    @Lise – I’m with you! What about this family? I’m surprised that JD didn’t talk to the guy and end up giving him an old used computer. That might have done the little girl even more good…

  59. Meagan says:

    Just a tip: I use both Amazon Marketplace and, and I have much better luck with the latter. More traffic, I think, for used items.

    Also, you could have traded the DVD for another (equal trade!) using!

  60. Will says:

    As I’m writing this commentary I’m looking at a 1990 edition of Grolier’s The New Book Of Knowledge. Well it’s not mine, so I’ll have to ask my uncle what he plans to do with them.

    Nobody in the house has touched them for years! Full disclosure: every adult in the house has a laptop plus there’s the family desktop :d

  61. G. says:

    @Mister E: what about DVD-based encyclopedias? They have the mentioned advantages (facts checked by pros, no random porn, great for children), and many others: search ability, hyperlinks, updates, audio, video, extremely low prices when compared to the printed ones, and they take no extra space…

  62. Bonnie says:

    I’m 31 and cannot imagine not having had a set of encyclopedias in the home. My brother and I constantly used the set my parents bought for us in the 80s, for all subjects! How things change. Even though I’m still fairly young, I’m a little old-fashioned, I guess…I like vintage clothes, REAL books, CDs, and even LPs and cassette tapes. I’ve never downloaded a thing from iTunes–don’t even know how. And I can’t imagine reading a book electronically. My boyfriend has never even had an e-mail address…so maybe we are living in the Dark Ages, LOL!

  63. Mister E says:


    That’s something I wasn’t even aware of and would certainly consider. Thanks for mentioning it.

    Like Bonnie above me though I’m young (well sort of, I’m 28) but a bit old school like that. I’m completely comfortable with computers and electronics, I use them every day and I’ve even done some minor programming for pay, but digital/electronic doesn’t automatically mean better to me.

  64. Daedala says:

    See, you just bought the wrong encyclopedias.

    If I could ever bring myself to sell my 11th Ed. Encyclopaedia Britannica, I could probably get at least $200 for them. It’s a complete set of the cloth-bound handy volumes in decent condition, with the beautiful maps, and entirely readable. I paid $15 to get a missing volume; a friend gave me the rest.

    Now, as research into the way the world is, they’re largely useless. As research into the way we thought it was, though, they are priceless and fascinating. And yes, they are public domain and the Gutenberg Encyclopedia has them online — but that makes them even better, because I can do keyword searches, too.

  65. StackingPennies says:

    You might not appreciate this comment, but this post was really cute!


    Thanks JD!

    Oh, and next time I can turn that $500 into $7 for you much more quickly. Let me know if you need any help.

  66. Shawn says:

    I’m deeply moved by the image of your old, great books helping a family who might otherwise had gone without. Many of us, especially in blogosphere, take Internet access at home for granted. I live around many hard-working kids who just don’t have this luxury. Your trash. Their treasure. I wonder how far those books will take her …

  67. Melissa says:

    I grew up when Encyclopedias were needed for looking things up, but I also had a better use for them. I never got a Barbie Doll house for Xmas, so I would use the Encyclopedias to build walls and hallways, etc. on the living room floor. My Barbie’s mansion took up the whole living room and ALL my Barbies fit in the “house.” I have such fond memories of that, I am planning on picking up a set at a thrift store or something when my girl gets old enough to play with Barbies. Fortunately for me, unfortunately for you, my cost for the Barbie house will be much less than the original purchase price!

  68. Hooper says:

    That is precisely why I will never be wealthy. When that guy said that his family didn’t have a computer and that his, presumably 10 year old, daughter loves to learn, I’d have given him one of my laptops. Moreover, I would have loaded it with Edubuntu Linux and every open source educational software package under the sun.

  69. kat says:

    I sell books online for a living, which means I scour thrift stores, garage and estate sales for valuable books to resell. I *always* see people trying to hawk their encyclopedia sets for $100 or $50. No one ever buys them. When I eventually convinced my boyfriend to sell his set when we moved in together, he tried to do the same thing. Eventually we loaded the whole set into the car to donate to the Brown Elephant thrift store — even THEY wouldn’t take the set!

    My mom had a similar experience to yours on the “free” section of CL. Her encyclopedia set was donated to an artist looking for images to farm. (And affirmed my mother’s belief that hoarding is justified because someday “an artist” will probably want this….)

    Great post!

  70. elisabeth says:

    My father in law used to keep a few $20.00 bills in the pages of his encyclopedia set (a nice leather bound one since my husband once worked for Encyclopaedia Britannica in Chicago). Our set is in the living room bookcase wall, and it is probably as quick as google for some searches; and for long-article reading I still find a book easier than a screen…

  71. irina says:

    I loved my Encyclopedias too. I grew up in Russia and we had a 12-or so book set.

    My sister and I used them all the time. I have great memories of laying on a sofa and reading each of them methodically from cover to cover while eating homegrown tomatoes. I couldn’t be happier.

  72. Jeremy says:

    We have a set of WB encyclopedias ca. 1980 I inherited from my parents. My four boys use them all the time, for school as well as entertainment. Surfing the web doesn’t compare sitting on the couch browsing in the books.

  73. Sam says:

    I was one of those kids that read every book in the set front to back over and over. Same with the yearly update book that my dad would buy. Our curbside recycle service said they will recycle all books put in the bins, which is about all you can do with those sets nowdays.

  74. Beth@paydaytree says:

    My mother loves to read and as a result my parents have several bookcases around their house that are overflowing with books. In one of those cases is a set of encyclopedias. I used to use them when I was in high school, but I’m sure my little brother hasn’t spend any time looking through them. It’s funny to think about how the times change and things get left behind as a result.

  75. athena says:

    We grew up with a great child’s set of illustrated Goldenbooks my mom bought one at a time at the grocery store. None of them stayed on the shelf, but stacked up by the toilet, where we all took turns reading them cover to cover. So, by virtue of my mother’s conviction that knowledge is power and my regular bowel habits, I was the only one in my class who’d ever heard of an aardvark (much less spell it), could explain Darwin’s theory in an understandable way, knew the difference between tropical and subtropical, comets and meteors, tornadoes and hurricanes (then, all commonly called “cyclones”) and that there is one mammal that lays eggs.

    Whether it did me much good or not is another question…but I do know that the idea of keeping a computer by the toilet just doesn’t have the same appeal.

  76. JoeTaxpayer says:

    You did not buy a stock that tanked. You bought a set of books. The internet made them obsolete, mostly. The way any technology goes down in price. I have a hard drive in my closet, about 10 years old. 170MB (yes, megabytes). It cost $300 new. At CES this past January, I passed a booth and was handed a 1GB thumb drive for free. They sell at Staples for $10 or less on sale. I’d still love to own a set of OED in hardcover, real books. But encyclopedia, that’s the work of the net for me.

  77. Fred says:

    Looking back at their own purchases as frustratingly worthless as this, a lot of people will think, “Damn it! I wish I’d known better,” when in fact there was no way to know.

    At the same time, people tend to lose tremendous amounts of money on things like credit card debt, worthless purchases (e.g, cigarettes) or loans that could’ve been avoided. Even still, in these cases where people have actual mistakes to learn from, many of people seem to forget to actually do.

    My bet is that most of us have spent more than $500 on stupid purchases (perhaps accumulated) that we truly could have avoided, which perhaps we haven’t even looked back to realise were absurd (but should’ve known then).

  78. J.D. says:

    As an addendum, let me note that I just found the actual receipt for the encyclopedias. Kris and I remembered wrong. They did not cost $500. They cost $1145!!!!

  79. John says:

    Great story, I just have one question, if the guy that took the encyclopedias didn’t have a computer, how did he find you on cragslist? I’m guessing he went to a place with free internet.

  80. Kal says:

    $1145? I thought $500 seemed pretty cheap.

    And I love how people just assume that just because you paid by credit card, you paid tons of interest. Anyone think of the possibility that you paid it off right away or soon after?

  81. rackgen says:

    Well, that’s why I think 4 times before buying any non-perishables. If I can’t live without it, I will buy. Or else I will try to rent, borrow or live without it! 🙂

  82. La BellaDonna says:

    Folks, for your aging encyclopediae, there is ALWAYS a reader base, even if there’s no economic market! Our men and women in the military are ALWAYS looking for something to read! And, closer to home, there is a desperate need for reading materials in prisons, as well. There are folks there who could be helped. Consider donating to Books Through Bars – you may make a bigger difference to society than you ever anticipated.

    MITBeta, if I had a car/transportation, I would GLADLY give you $7 for your Bowflex! I would even give you $10 for it – and I’d use it, too!

    Hannah, my walkman works just fine, even with the introduction of ipods. I therefore see no reason to rush right out to buy an ipod. As long as CDs are available (even if only through garage sales, I can use my walkman. Heck, as long as the CDs I currently own are good, I can use my walkman.

    I see no actual point to regretting what one has purchased, when something cheaper follows on its heels – most especially if it’s something that would never have occurred to you, such as the Internet v. encyclopedia development. Way Back When, my Dad bought a calculator. Since he bought it in the very beginning of its introduction to the general public, he paid several hundred dollars for it. Now calculators can be found on keyrings and as prizes in cereal boxes. He never regretted what he spent on it, even as the price for a calculator dropped steadily. I know, because I asked him. He told me that it paid for itself many times over, and it was well worth his having it when he did. I think the only way to avoid swimming in The Sea Of Constant Regret is to determine if the purchase you made was one you could afford when you made it, and if it fulfilled the need you had for it when you bought it. Otherwise, your options are to live in a state of miserly misery – “I coulda bought it cheaper if only I had waited!” – or to not buy ANYTHING, on the grounds that the price was bound to come down – eventually. At that rate, people would still be pecking away at manual typewriters. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a manual typewriter – or even a pencil, for that matter – but I like using a computer for document production. (Of course, when the power cuts out, it’s nice to have that manual option, too.) I will say that it has been my experience that any time I make a major purchase, it is the signal for the price of that object, whatever it may be, to drop dramatically – AFTER my purchase has been made, of course. I HAD to stop thinking in terms of “if only I had waited!” – otherwise the constant regret, day in and day out, would eat me alive.

  83. Tyler says:

    I agree, saying it went from $1145 to $7 is not the way to view this. Look at the four years they were used, and ask if you got out of them what you wanted. If yes, then it was worth it. If not, then it wasn’t. No other time frame matters.

  84. Bill in Houston says:

    I’ve done something similar. I have a house full of books. Lots of hardcovers and tons of paperbacks. I figure that over the course of the past twenty years I’ve spent $50,000 on books. If I took them to the local reseller I’d probably get five bucks a case, and maybe $400 for the entire collection. I’ve always been a huge reader and have entire collections of several authors.

    Two things brought it home for me. First, I moved last fall and had to box and haul ALL of them. (Yes, I moved myself, for the last time.) Second, I had to unpack them.

    Horrible investment, but years of good entertainment.

  85. Peter says:

    I bought an upright piano 8 years ago to “refinish”. I just had a guy come by to take it to the dump. After I rented a uhaul and got friends over to try to move it. In all, I wasted about a thousand dollars. Not to mention, its a piano, and well, it took up a lot of space in the living room… and have nothing to show for it.

  86. HGH says:

    Great, great post! I love your blog.

    But there is no way you could have known that internet will take away the need for your books.

    I think that investing in knowledge is never a bad thing!

  87. br549 says:

    After we moved, some of our boxes were not unpacked right away. We wound up buying alot of small household items that we needed again, because it was just easier to buy another than it was to try to find the one we had. A couple of years ago we went through all the stuff we had. I took 2 full truckloads (I have an 8×10 foot flatbed with 3 foot sideboards)to the Salvation Army and 3 to the dump. Since we have become organized and less cluttered we very seldom buy something we already have and it makes keeping the house clean much easier. I don’t know how much being organzed has saved us in time and money, but it is signifigant for us.

  88. Annie says:

    Another option for the books is to donate to an overseas charity. There are many countries where children have no internet, no phone, no library, no shoes. Document the gift and perhaps you can get back some of what you put in and be pleased to gave knowledge and a smile to a child at the same time!

  89. mariane says:

    I use mine a lot! I am an artist and my studio is too brightly lit ( I have skylights and large windows) so for me the option to actually flip through real pagesgetting the info I want there and then beats having to close myself into a dark corner to get the info I need (not to mention the danger of getting sidetrapped by mails and stuff like that…)
    also, I am interested in history and have found really interesting articles on persons and subjects not so known anylonger in really old encyclopedias (like, from the 1920s) that I used during my time at the university. would not give them up for nothing! 9and, yes, I bought them at a fleamarket for next to nothing…)

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