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How to Save the Most Money on Textbooks

How to Save the Most Money on Textbooks

I wanna bring to bear all the knowledge that I've gained, both as a recent college graduate and also as a quite adept user of Google, if I do say so myself, to help you pay as little money as possible for these things.

Get a list of the books you need ASAP

So, in my experience, the process to getting the best possible deal on your textbooks starts by getting the list of the books you need as early as you possibly can. As with most things in life, giving yourself ample time to prepare will result in the best possible outcome. By getting the list of the books you need early, you give yourself time to hunt for bargains, but you also give yourself time to e-mail your professors.

And this is what I did as a student, what I recommend doing, just e-mail them, introduce yourself briefly and ask them two different questions.

1. How often is the book going to be used?
2. Is it okay to buy an old edition of the book, or do you absolutely need the current edition?

And when you e-mail, just make sure you're polite and let 'em know that you're just trying to be budget-conscious. In my experience, most professors completely understand. And once you have these two pieces of information, you can start doing a couple of different things.

How to Save the Most Money on Textbooks

  • 1. If the book is not gonna be used very often, then you might actually be able to just go to the library and find a version they have for free or you can decide to share a copy of the book with somebody in your class.
  • 2. If it turns out you don't need the current edition, then that means you can buy an old edition. And in my experience, I've gotten old editions of textbooks that cost like $87 for the newest edition for $1 on Amazon. So, it really can be worth it. And let's face it, a lot of textbooks do not need a new edition every couple of years.

Like, if you're taking a French history class as a gen-ed, then you don't need to know about all the minute discoveries about the Napoleonic Wars that have happened since 2013. If you're really that curious, you can just go to the Wikipedia page and look at the citations for new books.

How to Save the Most Money on Textbooks

But, you're not that curious.

Book gambling

Now, the alternative to e-mailing your professors and asking about books or the plan of action if they don't reply is what I like to call book gambling. And this is the act of simply waiting until the semester begins to buy your books to figure out if you really need them or not.

And as a student, my policy with book gambling was this:

  • If I could get the book within one day if I really needed it, then I would go ahead and book gamble.
  • Otherwise, I took the safe road and bought the book as cheaply as possible before the semester started because some classes really get into the thick of it during the first week. And, to me, it really wasn't worth the stress of falling behind just to save a couple of bucks.

Check the library for are reserve copies

If you go to a big enough university, there's a good chance that some of your textbooks can be found at your library. However, I really wouldn't trust copies of the book that can be checked out by other students because, when it comes test time or when it comes time that you really need the book, it's likely to be gone. So, what you wanna look for are reserve copies, which are copies of the book that the library will let people use in the building, but not check out. And with those, you have a much better chance of getting your hands on one when you do need it.

Share them with other students

Aside from using the library, the other way to absolve yourself from at least some of the financial responsibility of buying books is to share them with other students. And the best way to do this is to wait until the semester starts and to find a group or partner in class that you can share with, but this requires book gambling.

Use Facebook groups

So, one thing you can do if you don't wanna book a gamble is to use Facebook groups to potentially find students who you can share books with. To do this, you can just search for your university class of 2021 or whatever your graduation year is, and then you can probably find many different official groups for that year. And in there, you can make a post just asking if anybody is taking your class and would like to share a book.

How to Save the Most Money on Textbooks

Also, it's a good idea to search for other graduation years, since lots of different students from different years might be in your class. All right, so now we have finally made it to the point in the process where you actually have to start buying your books. And in a moment, I'm gonna talk about several different websites and online resources you can use to get the best deals.

Buy books from students who took your class before you did

But before that, I wanna talk about what might be the absolute best deal in your area, getting books from other students. There are probably a lot of students on your campus who have already taken the classes you're gonna take. And the ones that still own their textbooks might be willing to sell 'em to you for cheap. If you can make these kinda deals happen, they're usually win-win for both parties, since, on their end, they're gonna get more than the campus bookstore would give them, which is two pennies and a pile of leaves, and on your end, you're going to pay less than that campus bookstore would charge you.

If you live on campus and you happen to live around a lot of people with the same major as you, then these deals are usually pretty easy to put together. Otherwise, Facebook groups are, once again, a good option. And if you have any specific sort of on-campus messaging system or bulletin board, then you can try those as well. In the case that older students refuse to sell you their textbooks and instead they give you a swirlie and steal your lunch money, well then, here are your other options.


How to Save the Most Money on Textbooks

And I wanna start with the oddball ones, starting with one called Boundless. Now, this is actually kind of the wrong section of the article to put boundless in, but it fits because it's a website. Boundless doesn't actually charge you for their textbooks. Instead, they make open-source online textbooks, which use open source Creative Commons data, but they structure it in the way that many popular textbooks do.

So, if you don't need a specific textbook for your class, but you do just need a general outline of the information in detail, then a lot of their subjects may be suitable for your needs.


How to Save the Most Money on Textbooks

The second oddball site I wanna talk about is called Packback Books. And this is gonna be useful for those times when you have a textbook that's required but is not used very often. Basically, what Packback does is allows you to rent digital textbooks for $5 a day.

So, instead of having to rent it for an entire semester and pay like $40 or $50 or whatever, if you just need the book for two different tests throughout the semester, then you end up paying just $10 for two days of renting.

Now, if those sites don't work for you, then there are plenty of traditional textbook sites out there.

And the ones that I used as a student include Amazon, Chegg, and TextbookRush, but there are plenty of others like AbeBooks, BookRenter, Textbooks.com, and many, many others. And because there are so many of these, I recommend using a price comparison tool to compare the prices across all of them. And the ones that I know about specifically include StudentRate Textbooks, SlugBooks, and bigwords.com.

With any of these tools, you can just put in the book's ISBN number or the title or the author, and then it'll pull up the book and query all of the different sites out there to figure out which one has the lowest price.

It's also good to note that you have several different options for the formats of the books you wanna get. For instance, you can buy or rent, you can go physical or digital, or you can get combinations of both. For instance, as a student, I made use of digital rentals a lot. And you also might be able to find international editions of the books you need. These are often black-and-white instead of color or a paperback instead of hardcover, but usually, they have the exact same content and are much cheaper.

Two last things to know here:

  • 1. Don't discount brick and mortar stores. If you have a secondhand bookstore in your area, or if your campus bookstore sells used editions, then you might actually find a better price there than you can online.
  • 2. If you're gonna plan on selling your textbooks at the end of the semester, then go on Amazon and see what the buyback prices are right now because you might actually come out ahead if you buy and subsequently sell than if you rent.

All right, so that is the point where we're gonna wrap this article. Now, I know you might be in a weird situation where maybe your school forces you to buy new books or maybe you have to buy one of those books that comes with an online code that can only be used once, which I absolutely hate those kinds of books.

But, in any case, hopefully, you've found a least a couple of useful tips in this article that can save you money on at least a few of the books you have to buy in the future. And if you have tips that I didn't mention in this article, share them below in the comments so other people can benefit from them. 

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