How much do you spend each month on newspapers and magazines? How many of these do you actually read? Would you miss any if you cancelled the subscriptions?

There’s something comforting about curling up in your favorite chair on a Sunday afternoon with copies of National Geographic and The New Yorker. Some magazines — Cook’s Illustrated, Fine Woodworking — can be collected as a valuable reference library. But magazines can be expensive, especially if you develop a newsstand habit.

Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of magazines (and newspapers):

  • Look to the web. Some magazines are better on the web. Many are free! Would you rather pay $3/issue for a Newsweek full of stale information, or would you rather have the same info for free as it’s happening?
  • Visit your local public library. Often you’re not allowed to check out the current issue, but is the information in Men’s Health really that timely? Won’t the recipes in Taste of Home be just as good next month?
  • Decide which periodicals you really read. Do you actually read the daily paper? What if you changed your subscription to Sunday only? Are you receiving multiple magazines on the same topic? Are you buying certain magazines you don’t ever open?
  • Limit newsstand purchases. Newsstand magazine purchases are almost always impulse buys. Stop yourself. If you’re browsing the magazines to kill time while your partner shops for groceries, don’t let yourself buy one.
  • Choose subscriptions carefully. Most of us have a periodical or two that we can’t live without. For me, it’s Harper’s and my personal finance mags. If you’re buying the magazine on the newsstand more than a few times a year, a subscription may be worthwhile.
  • When subscribing, find the best rate. Look for a chance to get in on “business rates”. Check the web for discount subscription services. I recently subscribed to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance for $10/year via “business rate”; I used the web to subscribe to The New Yorker for $20/year.
  • Watch for second-hand magazines. Ask friends and family if they’d mind passing on back issues when they’re finished with them. Watch recycling bins. Ask if you can take old waiting room copies.
  • Start a magazine exchange. Get a group of friends together and exchange magazines once a month. The subscriber gets first “clipping” rights, of course. This can grant you access to a lot of different publications.

Some magazines — Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly — are not worth saving. Others — Cook’s Illustrated, Fine Homebuilder — contain information that will be useful for years to come. Most magazines fall somewhere in-between.

Learn to clip interesting articles. I keep a drawer where I tuck magazine articles of interest. Just this morning, I tore out a column about proper chainsaw use from the March 2006 issue of This Old House. I’ve also recently clipped an article on San Francisco from Sunset, and an investment guide from SmartMoney. I always clip the camp recipes and the topographic hike maps from Backpacker magazine.

Magazines can be a great source of information and entertainment, but don’t let them become a financial burden!

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