Saving money on textbooks

Fun fact: In college, your textbooks can sometimes cost you ¼ of the price of your tuition!

I guess it’s not really such a fun fact at all but it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little resourcefulness, you can cut those costs down to as little as $35 per semester. Just think of all the extra money you’ll have left over to spend on all the necessities of college, such as 12 packs of (root) beer and pizza for your study groups. However you decide to spend/save that extra cash, follow these simple guidelines and you’ll be well on your way.

First of all, you need to understand a few things about these socially responsible, upstanding textbook companies. Every few years they come out with brand-spanking-new editions of their books. Sales reps from these companies apply every slimy trick in the book to coerce your professors into “requiring” you to purchase these new editions. And seeing as how underpaid most professors are, this usually is not a very hard task.

They would have you believe that these books have had some major overhaul and the newest, best and most relevant information is now contained within the pages of these sacred books. The truth is that the books remain largely unchanged. The percentage of what actually changes varies from textbook company to company, but it’s never much. 1 + 1 still equals 2 and it still takes 2 hydrogen molecules and an oxygen molecule to make water year after year.

However, there are certain subjects where this does not hold true, especially subjects like tax law where there are new important things added yearly. You will have to use a bit of intuition to discern whether or not the particular book you need has changed much from the previous edition. For the most part, the only thing that changes is the case studies and the homework/review questions.

So if nothing has changed, then why do you need the newest edition? You don’t! Many professors will tell you that you do, but you don’t. There will always be at least one poor sap sitting within arm’s reach that will have purchased the book. If you will use the case studies and the homework/review questions for graded portions of the class, simply negotiate an agreement with one of your classmates that allows you access to their book for those assignments. With the advent of smartphones and their built-in digital cameras, all you have to do is snap a photo of the page needed and you’re set.

Now that your infallible strategy is in place for your assignments you can focus on which textbook to buy and where to buy it. You’ll want to find out the book the class uses as far in advance as possible. Most schools release that information as soon as you are registered for the class. Go on Amazon and look the book up by title or ISBN. Usually it will have an edition number, as well as some outrageous price accompanying it. Copy and paste the title back into Amazon’s search bar, except this time change the ISBN number to the previous one. You will be floored by the price difference. Many times you can get used copies of the previous edition for as little as $0.01 + S&H! At that price, you can afford to upgrade to expedited shipping and have your book by the week’s end.

$6.99 shipping + $0.01 book price. Five books at that rate and there you have it: your textbooks for a whole semester for $35! Now normally it never works out quite that perfectly, but you get the idea. Simply buy the previous edition used copy of your book and save an extraordinary amount of money.

Textbook companies have been catching on to this and have partnered with school bookstores and professors. Now they are publishing custom edition books that are university specific, which makes them less likely (but not completely impossible) to be found on Amazon. Simply head on over to your local Craigslist and have a look. Usually the campus bookstore offers next to nothing to buy back the overpriced books. So many savvy students throw them up on Craigslist, where you can still grab them for a heavy discount.

An even more recent trend is starting to emerge, which is textbook rentals. Why buy the book at all if you are only going to use it for a few months? Many companies such as Amazon, Chegg, and even the campus bookstore now offer to rent you the textbooks.

The bottom line is that you can be proactive in saving large sums of money on your textbooks. With tuition costs rising, student loan rates increasing (don’t get me started – I could write a whole blog about how corrupt this is), and the job market looking more and more dismal, it only makes sense to save where you can. If this article has left you with a sour taste in your mouth, I’m sure there’s an event at the local frat house that will not only offer drinks to wash it down, but will also remind you that college is also about fun. So try to keep that in mind and good luck next semester.

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