How to Save Money on Textbooks
September 18, 2010 @ 11:40 pm
How can I save money on textbooks for college? They're more expensive than you imagined; I think that's the first thing that hits most college freshmen. Well read on, and your efforts shall be rewarded. I didn't find out about textbook rentals until my sophomore year in college, and I definitely wish I had found out about it earlier. Renting textbooks is a great way to save money and save yourself some trouble. Here you will learn more about textbook rental and why I use it. There are other tips to saving money on textbooks as well.
Here are some quick links to jump around throughout this long article if you're looking for something in particular. The Bookstore Is Evil, Buying From Other Students, Search Online, Why Textbook Rentals?, Don't Buy At All, Final Tips
Whatever you do, don't go to the bookstore. As a freshman, you will have enough stress to deal with as it is, so it may be really tempting to just head on over to the bookstore with a list of books, and simply buy all of them then and there. If you do that, you are in for a big surprise. Books are super expensive. A thin, pathetic-looking paperback textbook will cost you a lot and an impressive, massive hardcover textbook is going to cost you a fortune.
The next best route that students go along with is buying from other students. It's a great idea. Recycle books, get them for cheaper. It's pretty good if you can strike a deal. I did that too, and I still do it sometimes. Although, now that I have found textbook rentals I don't think I'm going back to that. Why? I have a few issues with buying from past students.
First of all, it is somewhat difficult to go through this whole process. You need to find out what type of book your professor wants and then go hunting for a student who took the class. Friends, FaceBook groups, online classified ads, etc. I've had experience with the FB groups and online classified ads. 80% of the time, whenever I contacted someone about buying a book from them, they would contact me back and say they already sold it to someone else, or better yet they would tell me it's available and then a week later tell me they already sold it to someone else who was willing to pay more money. Yeah, you can guess that I was really unhappy about that.
Second of all, you must make sure that it is the same textbook and edition needed for class. One time I got really excited about buying my math book cheap from a student, only to learn later on that my math class changed textbooks and they were no longer using the one I was about to buy from the student. So don't always assume that a past student will have the same textbook you will need for class. Always make sure because sometimes professors switch textbooks. The past students selling you their books aren't going to know whether their book is relevant for your class or not. They just want to get rid of their books, so be careful.
Thirdly, you need to set up a time and place to meet the person so that you can actually buy the book. Sometimes it's painless, but sometimes it's really difficult to settle on a time especially, for example, if the other student does not live near campus and your schedules conflict.
And lastly, I hated having to deal with my textbooks once I was done with them. Okay, so you got a decent deal on an older edition textbook, but now the bookstore's buyback will either 1) not accept older editions or 2) rip you off and give you barely any money for your textbooks. Now you have to go through the cycle and be the one to sell it to another student, but marketing it is going to be harder because your edition will be at least 2 years old now (remember, publishers love to make new editions every year). So then you either sell it off for super cheap or it gathers dust in the corner of your room. So take extra care of all the consequences when you go down this route.
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Sometimes you can find a much cheaper price for your book if you search online. The best example is Amazon because they usually sell everything with a great discount, free shipping over $25, and no tax (at least for now).
Also, if you're not going to buy used books from other students but you still want a cheap and used book, you can still buy used books online for super cheap. Shop around online and you might find some really good deals. Here are some sites to help you get started: DealOz, CampusBooks, Half.com. You should also take a look at the used books on Amazon as well.
Okay, so now that you know why I'm not a fan of obtaining my textbooks through that method, what are textbook rentals and why am I so in love with them?
Textbook rentals are just that. You pay to rent a textbook for a certain amount of time. Prices will vary depending on what book it is and how long you need it. However, rental prices are usually drastically lower than buying the textbook from the bookstore, online websites, and even from past students. You may ask yourself, why would I pay to rent the book when I can just buy the book and sell it back? In the end, renting the book may save you more money and trouble than buying the book would have been. Let me show you what I mean with my own experience!
I had to take a genetics class. The required textbook was called Essential Genetics A Genomics Perspective and it sold for $95.30 at my college bookstore and $74.09 at amazon.com. This was a paperback cover and it is about an inch thick. A little pricey, yeah.
I rented it instead for about $20. I paid twenty dollars to rent the textbook, but let's do the math. If I bought the book for about $75 on Amazon (this is with free shipping, and remember free shipping can take weeks) and sold the book back to a student for about $55 (I checked a FaceBook group for prices students were offering for this book), you will have spent a total of $20. This is the exact same price as renting the book, except you had to go through the trouble of waiting for shipping and then selling it back. Keep in mind, you might have to reduce your selling prices even more to stay competitive with other students who are selling. Although I paid twenty dollars just to rent a book, the amount of money spent on books is final; twenty dollars for immediate use of the book (it is shipped straight to your home in a timely fashion) and I don't have to worry about selling the book back. Very fast, and very easy. Don't be afraid to rent some books.
Remember though, always do the calculations & math before you rent the book. If the rental price is close to retail price, you're better off buying a new book. If you can find a used version for very cheap, do that instead of renting.
This tip is best reserved for upperclassmen. Upperclassmen tend to have a better feel of how to succeed in their classes while freshman are still getting used to the system.
Once you have figured out the ropes and are doing well in your classes, it's time to evaluate how you did it. Was there heavy usage of the textbook? Or did you only have to focus on lecture notes/recordings? For me it was the latter, and once I skipped the unnecessary textbook for most of my classes, I saved money and started getting A's in some classes. Obviously it depends on the professor and the individual, so make sure you know what's best before you take the risk of not using the book at all.
However, if it turns out that you do need to read the textbook in order to succeed in your class, you can still avoid buying the book and yet still read the book. If your professor has put the textbook "on reserve" at the library, this means you can probably check out the book for about two hours before you have to return it. Relying on "reserve" books is a great way to make yourself responsible with studying rather than waiting till last minute to start studying. It's important to study ahead with this method since last-minute-crams won't be successful with just two hour limits and lots of other people fighting to use the same book.
And lastly, if you have a good friend taking the same class, you could always borrow their book if they are kind enough. Otherwise, you should split the price or at least take them out to a nice dinner.
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Don't rent too early or else you won't have all of that cushion time in case you need to return it. However, you don't want to rent too late, either. I noticed that some rentals lowers or raises their prices, depending on their supply. If you rent early the textbooks might be a lot cheaper. If you rent later, more people will start renting the same books you need, there will be less books in stock, and the price will go up. It's best to choose a time that balances out between late and early in that case. If you're buying then it's best to do it early before the cheapest ones run out first.
If possible, avoid buying the latest edition possible. Chances are, the newer edition barely has made any new changes, except maybe some chapter rearrangements and an extra fact or two. Really! Publishers keep pumping out new editions so that you will have to keep buying the newest one! You can check with your professor to see if it's okay to use an older edition. If you want to correlate chapters, page differences, and any new information between the old and new edition, see if you can compare your book with a new version at the library or from a friend.
There you have it. That's how I save hundreds of dollars a year on textbooks. Now you can use your saved money on a nice trip to Las Vegas. Just kidding. You should probably use that money for school.