It seems that many of today’s lifestyle tips concern a newly rediscovered thrift; a quick glance at the newsstand confirms this.  10 Ways to Save on Household Products bleats one magazine’s subhead. Five Local Vacation Hotspots! blasts the travel section.  (Or my favourite from a few months ago: an article quoted Bill Clinton that he now helps the environment by turning off the tap while brushing his teeth.  Thanks, Mr. President.) 

I gloat that when it comes to leisure pastimes since I’ve always been a pennysaver – or as my friends say, a damn cheapskate.  When I read a newly published novel, 99.9% of the time I’ve borrowed it from the library and I can count on one hand the number of times I shelled out money instead of borrowing for free.  My rule – no, law – was never to pay full price for a new book unless it was a gift and, since I shopped at used bookstores anyway, I never spent more than $10 a book.  Mass market paperbacks?  Not a penny above five bucks.  Ever. 

However, one day after a particularly disastrous cinematic experience, I began to reconsider and did some mathematics on the way home.  The movie was $12 (New Zealand dollars) and 90 min long which works out to $8/h.  Since the movie was crap, that was 90 minutes of my life gone.  Irretrievable.  Not even the ephemeral, occasional happy memory to justify it.  And honestly, how many times have we gone to the cinema and come out thinking, “I really wish I’d waited until it came out on DVD?”  And now more than ever, I don’t want to be thinking that. 

But a romance novel – ah, a romance novel is different.  Figure $10 a book (or less), and if you’re a fast reader you can get through it in 4 hours, which comes to a cool $2.50/h (or less, if you take your time).  If you hated it, you can always return it.  (Provided you treated it nicely.)   And if you liked it, you can keep it forever, and the gratification is unending.  Not to mention the average romance novel is, in my considered and considerably snobby opinion, heaps better than the average Saturday Night Movie (we’re not talking Roman Polanski here). 

Since then I’ve relaxed my purchasing habits at the bookstore, although I still quail at paying full price for a new book (even with my member discount).  I figure authors can use all the support they can get, now more than ever, and with the tragedies and distresses of our lives, we need happiness and security where we can get it.  Given a choice between the latest Julia Roberts or the latest Nora Roberts, I know which one I’d choose.  It’s like the old Mastercard commercials:

Movie for two: $25

One box Godiva Chocolates: $40

Fancy dinner for two: $70

True Love’s Kiss: Priceless

There are some things money can’t buy.

For everything else, there’s romance novels.

-Jean Wan