Leveraging The Borders Rewards Program For Solid Savings On Entertainment Purchases

Please note that the Borders Rewards program has changed significantly since this was written. I leave this post up as a primer to demonstrate that customer rewards programs can be quite financially lucrative.

It has been repeatedly shown that purchasing books online is substantially cheaper than buying books in brick and mortar bookstores, and for obvious reasons: online supply chains and number of customer service workers per shopper are much smaller than brick and mortar stores. Yet, as an avid book buyer, I still enjoy the aesthetics of a bookstore quite a lot, even as I realize that I’m far better off financially at the library.

My personal favorite bookstore in northern Iowa is Borders. Their stores are clean, crisp, and have a lot of chairs for sitting while browsing through books. I thoroughly enjoy stopping at Borders for my book buying purposes, even though a simple comparison of book prices demonstrate it to be quite expensive.

Or is it? I spent some time on Friday doing a three way comparison of costs at amazon.com, Borders without leveraging their Rewards Program, and Borders with the Rewards Program, and I walked away quite impressed with their Rewards Program. If you’re a frugal book buyer, you should definitely consider joining the program.

How does the Borders Rewards Program work? The Borders Rewards Program costs nothing to join. Whenever you make a purchase, it does not directly give you a discount; instead, you earn points equal to 5% of your purchase. Each December, you can use your points to buy books at Borders. So, if you bought $250 worth of books, DVDs, and CDs at borders in a given year, you would have $12.50 in store credit at Borders to use in December.

There’s another feature of note as well. If you spend $50 in a calendar month at Borders, you are qualified for a “Personal Shopping Day,” during which you can take 10% off all of your purchases at Borders during that day.

Beyond this, the service regularly emails coupons for strong discounts on books (20% off any title, and so forth), but I won’t include these in this comparison.

What are we looking at? For the purposes of this comparison, I’m going to use the first twelve personal finance books I’ve reviewed in my 52 Personal Finance Books in 52 Weeks series:

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko
The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom by Suze Orman
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Make Your Kid A Millionaire by Kevin McKinley
The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin
The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason
Rule #1 by Phil Town
Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach
The Number by Lee Eisenberg
The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton
Real Money by Jim Cramer

Prices at amazon.com: I looked up the prices of each book at amazon.com, going always with the cheapest new version available.

The Millionaire Next Door – $10.20
The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom – $10.61
Nickel and Dimed – $7.80
Make Your Kid A Millionaire – $11.05
The Total Money Makeover – $16.49
Your Money or Your Life – $10.20
The Richest Man in Babylon – $6.99
Rule #1 – $16.50
Smart Couples Finish Rich – $10.17
The Number – $17.16
The Wealthy Barber – $11.20
Real Money – $15.60
Total: $143.97

What about Borders? I used a kiosk at Borders to price these same books out, again using the cheapest price they had for a new copy:

The Millionaire Next Door – $15.00
The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom – $14.95
Nickel and Dimed – $13.00
Make Your Kid A Millionaire – $13.00
The Total Money Makeover – $24.99
Your Money or Your Life – $15.00
The Richest Man in Babylon – $6.99
Rule #1 – $25.00
Smart Couples Finish Rich – $15.00
The Number – $15.00
The Wealthy Barber – $14.00
Real Money – $26.00
Total: $197.93 (plus sales tax)

You also earn $9.90 in store credit redeemable at the end of the year.

Obviously, amazon beats this total, though Borders does equal it on one title and beat it on another. How much are we helped, though, if we leverage the “Personal Buying Day” a bit?

Borders with leverage One day, we go in and buy the following books:

Rule #1 – $25.00
Real Money – $26.00
Total: $51.00 (plus sales tax)

This qualifies us for a “Personal Shopping Day,” where we earn 10% off on all titles. So we buy the following books on that day:

The Millionaire Next Door – $15.00
The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom – $14.95
Nickel and Dimed – $13.00
Make Your Kid A Millionaire – $13.00
The Total Money Makeover – $24.99
Your Money or Your Life – $15.00
The Richest Man in Babylon – $6.99
Smart Couples Finish Rich – $15.00
The Number – $15.00
The Wealthy Barber – $14.00
Total w/ discount: $132.24 (plus sales tax)

Thus, the overall total is $183.24, and you earn $9.16 in store credit. The Rewards Card, which is free, saves you $14.70.

Great, but why not just buy everything at amazon? There are often titles at Amazon that are equal to or higher than Borders, and in those cases, if you’re in the Rewards Club, you’re better off buying at the brick and mortar store. Their email coupon bonuses are also worth receiving, because quite often they amount to an extra amount off of any title.

So my strategy boils down to this: I often shop at Borders for new releases (they usually have a 30% off by default, which I can make lower with a coupon, making their price very similar to amazon) and also regular paperbacks of older releases (which both stores sell at list), and take most of my other purchases to amazon. I do this by usually making a list of books I’ll get (plotted out via amazon), stop at Borders for some price comparisons, buy what makes sense at Borders using my Rewards Card, then buy the rest at amazon.

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  1. Cecil says:

    So my strategy boils down to this: I often shop at Borders for new releases (they usually have a 30% off by default, which I can make lower with a coupon, making their price very similar to amazon

    I don’t think you can use the coupons on new releases, but they do give out great coupons like, 3 for 2 and what not.

  2. Charles Ngo says:

    I prefer Amazon in my situation. I have Prime which gives me free 2 day shipping, beats driving to Borders for me. I love the bookstore experience but I get that since B&N is next to my classes and I go there between breaks.

    Nice post

  3. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I actually used a coupon on a bestseller marked 30% off just a few days ago and got a total of 37% off. I don’t know whether it’s certain coupons or not, but I do know you can do that.

  4. Chuck says:

    You could also use a book search engine such as AddAll.com or BookFinder.com – these usually work best for older releases or if you are looking for a used copy.

  5. Ed says:

    Wow nice post. I also have prime and in three days of shopping have saved the membership fee in shipping charges. I go to used book stores a lot here in Charlottesville. The library also sells books. Interesting titles not necessarily what I am looking for. Abe Books and Alibris also are good sites to hunt for titles you are in search of. Lots of options on saving money on books.

  6. Martin says:

    Buy.com usually has around 10% off of Amazon price, and Overstock has at least 5% of Amazon.

    I look at these places first and compare to Amazon before I buy any book.

  7. Kimberly says:

    Just in case you see a bump in traffic, we selected you as a top financial blog. We tried our best to make sure that the blogs selected were actually in the state we thought they were in, so I apologize in advance if we accidentally put you in the wrong spot.
    http://www.yourcreditnetwork.com/blog/TheStatesOfCredit.aspx

  8. Craig says:

    I almost never buy new but instead look for Used-Like New copies from Amazon. Buying books new is like buying cars news. Using this approach for your book list gives (prices include shipping):

    The Millionaire Next Door – $7.49
    The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom – $5.99
    Nickel and Dimed – $6.63
    Make Your Kid a Millionaire – $9.44
    The Total Money Makeover – $16.25
    The Richest Man in Babylon – $5.16
    Rule #1 – $17.24
    Smart Couples Finish Rich – $10.48
    The Number – $6.01
    The Wealthy Barber – $6.49
    Real Money – $15.44
    Total: $106.62

    Which is a savings of 26% over Amazon’s new prices (you can, of course, save even more if you’re willing to settle for copies that are in “Very Good” condition). Amazingly enough, this 26% savings is despite the fact that you’re paying a total of $41.88 for shipping!

  9. Cathy says:

    Their new rewards program – email issued today- doesn’t work the same! Now when you spend $150 in one month – you get rewards in the next month – AND IF YOU DON’T USE THEM – THEY EXPIRE!!!! STUPID! Now if you don’t remember to use them – they disappear like a magical act each month. It’s probably a way to get their margins up incrementally during the year and smooth out their sales while TRYING to tell us that it’s better for us. Think again.

  10. Michelle says:

    I work for a Borders store (temporarily) and would like to expand on the information Cathy gave on the new program. There are still coupons via email every week, and with your receipt every time you shop. There are still specials such as 20% or 30% off of new books, plus 3-for-2 deals. There are no more 10% personal shopping days, and no more 5% put into a Holiday Savings account for use at the end of the year. Instead you get 3% back, in the form of $5 “Borders Bucks” for every $150 you spend in a calendar year. Borders Bucks are issued the first of the month for purchases made the previous month, and expire on the last day of the month. (If you don’t spend $150 in one month, the balance will roll over until the end of the year.) If you do use the coupons and you do spend a lot of money on books, the program may still be worthwhile. If not… well, it IS free. Which B&N’s program is not.

    Corporate’s explanation for the changes are that (1) the original program specifications were only intended to be a temporary introductory plan, and (2) this is supposedly to satisfy customers looking for more immediate rewards than Holiday Savings that could only be redeemed November 15 through January 31. Personally I think it’s a load of bull, but others are entitled to their opinions.

  11. Katy says:

    http://www.edwardrhamilton.com for checks and money orders oor http://www.HamiltonBook.com with credit cards.

    Tons of remainders and closeouts and huge markdowns on new books. Buy as many as you want with one shipping and handling fee of $3.50

    Been buying from him for over 25 years!

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