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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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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