Aug 23, 2010

How to save major cash on textbooks (not by just shopping online)

As if college doesn't cost enough, you still have to pay for books for class...many of which you will never even crack open. College textbooks are a complete ripoff because the publishers just come out with new versions ever year or so, so students must continue to buy new textbooks, paying sky high prices. It's highway robbery! But, as a thrifter I manage to spend next to nothing on textbooks in college. Here are the secrets.

DO NOT buy the textbook before class begins. I have been to so many classes that require a textbook that have no assigned reading in the text (this is a big hint). Sometimes the professors don't even reference the textbook at all...and you're sitting there like - why the heck did I just drop $100 on this thing!? I cannot stress enough, do not buy the textbook until it is clear you need to buy the textbook.

DO NOT buy books from the bookstore. I feel bad for college bookstores, but they're outdated and incredibly overpriced and I believe in 10 years, college bookstores won't even carry physical textbooks anymore. I work in higher education and I'm sorry to say they will become obsolete because they cannot compete with, and the many other textbook websites there are available (for more information on online book hunting, see #4).
DO NOT return books to the bookstore. I will never, ever forget my freshman year when I bought a textbook for more than $100 and returned it to the bookstore for $12. I felt defeated, the bookstore won that round...but I won all the rounds that followed. I sold all my books on amazon, it's so easy. You just write what the books isbn number is, the condition and BAM, you're done. Wait for someone to buy.

Now that I've told you what not to's some advice on how to kick some butt on textbook buying ina section I like to call:

Recommended Book Hunting Sequence of Events

1. Ask around for books. Meet people in your major or minor who are a year or a semester above you. They are great people to give you advice on classes and professors. They are also a great resource for getting textbooks. Ask them what they do with their books. If they want to get rid of them, offer them a fair price. If they want to keep them, see if they'll let you borrow them for a semester (best case scenario). When the class is over, if you decide the book is a good resource for the future, wait another few months to a year and buy it when the updated version comes out, then buy the version that was used for class: outdated versions are cheap as can be.

2. Check out your college posting boards. Colleges sometimes have areas for students to post their "classified ads" including textbooks they're trying to sell. This is a great resource for finding texts because you don't have to pay shipping and there's no middle man.

3. Compare prices online. I would highly recommend the following two websites: this is a website where you can rent textbooks. Save cash and save the Earth: win, win. this site searches hundreds of textbook sites for the lowest prices on the textbook you need for you to compare. With this website, you can skip amazon, half, ebay, all that jazz. This site searches them all.

Hints: Always search for textbooks online by using the books isbn number (the code above the bar code on the back of the book). This will insure that you are buying the exact book you need for your class. If necessary, go to the bookstore and copy it down so you are sure you have the right one. Also, consider buying the international version of the book. Oftentimes they are the same book but with just some added material so the pages numbers may be one or two off. This can save you loads of money.

My experience

When I was just a wee freshman in college, many moons ago, I bought all my textbooks at the bookstore the first week of classes. Then I heard that some of my new friends went online to buy books. I quickly went online and purchased all my books. As they came in the mail, I returned each one to the bookstore and saved about $200. One of the books I even decided not to buy, instead, I shared it with my roommates who had the same class but on a different day.

In the next few years, I met people above me in my major and minor and ended up buying very few textbooks because these friends allowed me to borrow those books. Overall, I spent very little on textbooks...many semesters I didn't even buy any. In fact, I have yet to buy any as a graduate student.

The moral of the story is, as it is with so many thrifting stories, if you try hard enough you can save money on the things you need and want. Thrift buying is not always the easiest or most convenient option (in fact it almost never is) but it can save you lots of cash. You just need to explore your options and try one!

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