Four hundred dollars, plus tax. Standing in the university bookstore with my phone calculator in hand, I was faced with the nauseating realization that for one semester, my text books were going to cost over four hundred dollars. I wasn’t able to bring myself to buy all of the books at once, so I bought only the texts I would need for the next week and I left, one hundred dollars poorer.
One of the big transitions from high school to university is the fact that books are no longer provided. You have to go out and buy the texts yourself. From one overwhelmed university student to another, here are some money-saving tips for when it comes to purchasing books.
The Early Bird
A few weeks before school starts, find out what texts you’ll need for each class. Whether it’s by finding the syllabus online, checking the school bookstore list of books, or e-mailing your professor and asking, you’ll definitely be thankful for the information you gain. By knowing early, you’ll be able to budget the books into your spending rather than being horrified on the first day of classes. By finding out what you need earlier, you’ll also be able to try a few different strategies to get the books rather than spending the ridiculous amount charged by the bookstore.
Personally, I don’t write in my textbooks. So when I buy a used textbook, having writing, underlining, or highlighting is a deal breaker. Get into your school’s bookstore or another bookstore as soon as possible to find the best used books, which will be significantly cheaper than a brand new book. Take the time to flip through a used book before you buy it if at all possible, because not all used books are equal.
Before spending money at the school bookstore, do a little legwork on the internet trying to find texts. The easiest way to find exactly what you’re looking for is to have the book’s ISBN number, which is a lot simpler than trying to find it based on publisher or other criteria. If you want to boost your savings even more and be a savvy shopper, check multiple sites for the same book. A few of my favorites include Half.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble , and Abebooks. While you may find a great 99 cent novel deal, make sure to check out how shipping will impact the overall price. Sometimes, what seems like a good deal will become less affordable if the shipping rate is too high.
Beg, Borrow, and Steal (Okay, Not the Last One)
If you don’t think the book is going to remain a permanent part of your collection, check out your school’s library and see if it’s possible to take the book out instead of buying the book. This doesn’t work out well if you can only have the book out for three weeks and you’ll need it for the entire semester, and it does make writing in the book impossible. That said, it can be a huge money saver. Make sure to talk to a librarian about the rules and restrictions governing library books before using this as your method of book acquisition.
Sell, Sell, Sell
When you’re through with your books, decide what the next step is. Many of my college texts became part of my permanent collection, while others were less desirable. To recoup some of my earlier losses, I sold some of my textbooks. Many colleges offer buy-back programs, but they may not offer you much money. That two hundred dollar chemistry book may only get you twenty-two dollars come December, so you’ll need to shop around before making a decision. Try creating a half.com account and selling your books that way if you’re unhappy with the amount of money being offered by the bookstore. Or you can always use a university message board (be it online or an actual bulletin board) to advertise the books you have for sale. Make sure to clearly specify the state the book is in, taking note of damages and pricing accordingly.
What are some other tips you’ve found that help you save money on books?