A Great Real Estate Investing Resource that Cost a Penny

by | BiggerPockets.com

Having great “go-to” resources is one of the key components you need to have set-up in your real estate investing business. Whether that be resources for getting a house fixed up, sold, or financed, they’re all important. The other resource you’ll need is education. I’m not talking about $997 education (or whatever the current Guru price structure is), I’m talking about $.01 education!

This is my second contribution to the unofficial “Education that Costs a Penny” series I suppose I’ve started on BiggerPockets. My first contribution to the series was in regards to inspecting a house. I will soon be using a word that I’m sure will send quivers down the spines of some of you, and rightfully so, but all I ask is that you hear me out.

College Tuition that Costs Less than a Dollar

Principles of EconomicsI’m a college graduate, so I’m not completely calling the college system a scam; however, what I am saying is you do not need to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to get a college education.

One of my favorite books pertaining to real estate is Principles of Economics by Gregory Mankiw. At the time of this article, there are numerous copies of it available at Amazon for a penny.

Yes, this is a textbook. After that shiver has subsided… read on. I promise a bit later in the article I will go over how I ‘read’ books such as this, but I first want to answer the question…

What Does Economics Have to do with Real Estate Investing?

The study of economics is a great way to transform the way your mind works. It’s not about memorizing definitions or mathematical formulas.

I think the best way to look at economics is the philosophy and theory of business.

I’ll be the first to agree with anyone that says “theories are only so useful”, but my counter-argument would be that it’s not the theory that matters in the long-run, it is the thought-process.

Key “Thought-Processes” For Real Estate Investors

There are numerous ways the basics of economics can transform our mind and way of thinking, so I’m only going to touch on a couple that are always at the forefront of my mind. I should note that not only are these ways of thinking great for real estate investing, but they’re great for ALL aspects of your life: business or personal.

  • Opportunity Cost. If you only take one thing away from the above book, this concept should be it. The saying “there is no such thing as a free lunch” is derived directly from this economic concept. The one cost that is associated with ALL that we do is time. No matter what you are doing, you are “spending” your time doing it… including sitting down for a free monetary lunch.

Applied to real estate investing: what is your opportunity cost within your business? Are you spending your time doing things you are good at, or are you wasting your time doing things you should be outsourcing? If you are sitting around trying to draw up your own rental contracts, your opportunity cost is the time you are losing potentially finding your next hot deal. That seems like a pretty big cost to me!

  • The Law of Diminishing Return. Simply put, the more of something that occurs, the less impact it has. I used to absolutely love macaroni and cheese. In college I ate it almost everyday. Fast forward to the present day… eeeek! I can still eat it, but it no longer produces the incredible taste-bud rush like it used to.

Applied to real estate investing: don’t expect to be a master at something right away. Just because you have a failed negotiation with a motivated seller doesn’t mean you are terrible at it, you just need to do it more. The more negotiations you have, the less difficult it will become. Is your direct mail not producing the results you want? Keep at it! The more and more you do direct mail, the more and more you will learn, and hence, the less difficulty you will have with it.

How to Approach Reading a Textbook

Have I read this entire book from cover to cover? No!

Let’s apply the principle above of opportunity cost. Is my time best spent reading a college textbook from cover to cover? Absolutely not! But is the time here and there I spend to read it worth the knowledge and thought-process I gain in the long-run? To me, it absolutely is!

Some principles I use when reading a textbook…

  • Always read Chapter 1. This will give you the groundwork and frame of reference for whatever topic you are covering.
  • Skim. Skim. Skim. You’re not reading the book to pick up a degree in economoics (or whatever topic), you are reading it to try and pick up ideas and new ways of thinking. Briefly scan pages. If something catches your eye, read it more in-depth.
  • Always buy a used book. Read the comment section on Amazon or eBay or whatever. If they say “lots of highlighting and markings”, those are the ones you want! The more markings a book has, the more it has been “read read” (not skimmed) by college students. This will save you time with your skimming as you can just look at highlighted and underlined sections.
  • Cut your loses immediately. There is lots of information in a textbook. If your skimming produces something you may think is worthwhile to “read”, but then as you read you see it is not. Stop immediately and move on. No sense in trying to fit a square peg through a round hole.

Finally, in regards to purchasing textbooks, you want old editions! Although a math book may be on edition 25, I’m pretty sure that 2+2 still equals 4. My rule of thumb is this: if I’m paying more then $5 for a textbook, I’m not buying an old enough edition.

I’m a firm believer in economics (so much so I actually minored in it in college) and the way it makes you look at the world of business. While it certainly is lots of theory and philosophy, it creates a new little voice in your head that is always ensuring you are formulating logical business ideas.

What about you? Do you think I’m crazy for buying college textbooks? Any good textbooks (no matter the topic) that you’ve found helpful in your thought-process molding? Please leave your comments below!

Photo: r-z

About Author

Clay Huber

Clay (G+) is a licensed real estate agent and the owner of Huber Property Group, LLC, a real estate investment company located in Grand Rapids, MI. His company purchases distressed properties with the main exit strategy of fixing them up and reselling with owner financing, particularly, land contracts.


  1. Nice one Clay! Carpe Diem! Sieze the Day!

    Also, you can start a local REI Club, and be about everyone learning, writing synopses of books bought on Ebay and Amazon, used. As cheap as .01 to $1.00, and if you get Amazon Prime, the shipping is free!

    Well Done. Never stop learning.

  2. Clay,

    This is a brilliant, low cost/high impact idea that I also use myself 🙂 There is so much good stuff in used books that people miss out on because they think that a book has to have been published in the last year for it to be relevant. Not true! Thanks for the article.

  3. Parveen Bansal on

    Hi Clay- Text books provides framework to the thought process. They carries the concept based on the observations and behaviour of great people. They are the foundation to our actions / outcomes. Applications with predictive outcomes can be perfected by referring to text books and cross apply to profession.

    Economics is a subject linking a person and market. Market is nothing but a behavior of the group of unknown persons. It is always good to read economics and apply to our activities including real estate activities.

    parveen bansal

  4. Clay,
    I graduate in 8 days with a degree in business economics. I always tell people that ask why I choose econ, that economics is not about learning a fact sheet of rules and statistics, it’s learning how to think in a different way that many people don’t. (along the same lines of coding)

    From an economic perspective, “spending” my time in an cubical for 40 hrs a week adds no value to my life.

    Nice article. More people need to learn economics basics in my biased opinion. haha


  5. Great tip, Clay, thanks. 🙂 my favourites to day are principles of economy, psychology, sociology, and “the art of war” – all of them the best business books I ever read (and re-read, and re-read etc).

    • Thanks Ziv.

      I’ve never gotten into any sociology textbooks, but that’s a topic where I can definitely see coming in handy. I think I’ll have to head to Amazon and look up some old edition textbooks. Same with the “Art of War”, you’re not the first person I’ve heard that from who says that is a great book for business.

  6. Great suggestion! There is a respected real estate professionals program in my city, but I have neither the desire, time, nor the money to enter into yet another education program right now. So, as you suggested, I look over the coursework, review the online campus bookstore, and order the suggested texts at the lowest online price I can find. It’s not a substitute for class time, but it’s the best solution for me right now.

    • I don’t know Christine. I think I would argue what you are doing is “the best” solution. I’m sure you’re saving a boatload of money and getting the same amount of education.

      Maybe you’re receiving slightly less because you don’t have the instructors, but I’d be willing to bet that even with that trade-off, you’re still in a very good position.

  7. Creative post Clay!

    I actually love watching social and financial documentaries. My fiance thinks it clogs up our Netflix but I could watch them over and over. 🙂

    The more one understands about market cycles and driving forces the better decisions one can make in their RE business.

    • Thanks Tracy. I appreciate that.

      I’m all for the documentaries too. The only downside, as you addressed, is my wife’s facial expression when the Netflix envelope is opened and she sees it is ‘another’ documentary!

  8. I’m a little disappointed—I had to spend a whopping $.42 :p

    In all seriousness, I think this is a brilliant idea.

    I just ordered my book (I guess all the $.01 copies were purchased by the BP community). Looking forward to reading it!

    • Haha… wellllll, I still think getting a college education for $.42 isn’t that bad 😉

      Glad you found the post helpful. But remember, don’t “read” the whole thing, just “skim” it til you find sections worth “reading” 🙂

      Thanks for the comment Nik.

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