Textbooks are insanely expensive and anyone who has taken a college class knows that the price only goes up the longer you’re in school. It can become a hardship to pay for textbooks if you don’t take the time to understand how it all really works. Up until now you have probably been handed your books on the first day of school and been told to take care of them for the next student who will use it. Well, college is a very different experience and this is one of the big changes you will encounter.
The options students are faced with when buying books for the first time can be overwhelming, and there are not many people available to guide you through the process or teach the lasting lessons that will help you save money now for a better textbook buying experience later. Below is my list of tips for buying textbooks to both help you save money and to help you think through the reasons you are making certain choices about your textbooks.
I view books as an investment in both my education and in a valuable, tradable good. I go to great lengths to keep them in good condition, which helps them keep a lot of value. I also keep tabs on my books and only loan them out when I know they will be returned in the condition they left in. Used books can resell for close to the price you bought them if the condition remains the same, but once they’re damaged it is very difficult to get any real value from them.
Before I actually buy books, I check the library to see if there is one on reserve. If it is a book we will use infrequently, or if it is only for a single unit, I try to use the reserve copy or borrow it from a former student. But, this can be tricky because you cannot make notes in them and you cannot take the reserve copy out of the library. Other issues could include the need for an access code (which the library wouldn’t provide and a friend would have already used) or you could be required to bring it to class with you.
I don’t use book vouchers, waivers, etc. because they are not “free” money from the school to help you with books. If you investigate, it is usually leftover loan money that has been placed as a credit on your account. Occasionally, the money credited to your account is excess scholarship (which is pretty rare, honestly) or it is money you used to pay a school bill that did not process correctly for one reason or another. Either way, it is better to investigate before you use it on books.
I never use loan money for books or other expenses not directly related to tuition and housing. Books, laptops, and my wardrobe are smaller purchases that I can afford by saving and doing my research to make intelligent purchases. Loan money accrues interest, and if you spend it on $500 worth of textbooks each semester, and a laptop, and a few other expenses then you will be adding over $5,000 to your student debt by the end of college, not including the interest that will collect on top of that sum. A lot of people get sucked into huge amounts of debt because they are simply not aware of how quickly these totals can add up, or how easy it is to avoid large amounts of debt with small steps.
I don’t share books because a lot of my friends don’t like to share resources, or they want to be the one who sells them at the end of the year. So, I stopped trying to split the cost of books with other people and found other solutions. What I do instead is borrow and lend or simply trade outright. I look for people who are in courses I have already taken and offer them a trade, or I loan books out to develop good relationships with students who might loan me a book sometime. This works better than sharing the cost with a classmate who might not (for one reason or another) return the book you paid to use.
I never rent books because there is no return value. Money spent renting is nonrefundable, so if you drop the class the book cannot be returned for a refund. I never buy ebooks for the same reason. Most people do not think about this when they go to buy books because they are only looking to save money on the front end, but the long term gain of buying far outweighs renting. Ebooks, in my opinion, are a waste because they cannot be sold and they are usually too close in price to save you more money than reselling books would bring in. Rental books might be much cheaper at first glance, but the savings you get is not as high as the resale value of the book in most cases.
I buy books ahead of time because prices go up closer to the semester, and because it helps me to find the best deals without facing a time crunch. But, if there is a class I am unsure of and may consider dropping, I wait or I ensure that the book I purchase can be returned for a full refund so that I won’t be stuck with a textbook I can’t use.
I always sell my books directly to students through putting up my contact info and a poster on the campus bulletin board or just posting on Facebook. By selling them directly, I get a much better value than I would if I took them to a used bookstore or sold them back through a service like Amazon or Chegg (which are good options if you just can’t find a buyer). some campus bookstores have buyback events, but I would check and see who is buying and if the prices are reasonable. Some are really good, but there are some buyback services that take advantage of people who are swayed by cash payouts.
I look for tax breaks when I buy books because, depending on how you (or parents) file, you can get breaks for school expenses which include school books, extra housing-related expenses, and other unexpected costs you might face. There could be some catches here, but this is where homework pays off. If you can get the tax break by purchasing in your campus bookstore it could be more worthwhile than buying elsewhere, even if you do find a better price somewhere else.
I compare prices before I buy because your campus bookstore can surprise you with their affordable used book prices. I also check to see what is required because sometimes the access code is important and the physical book is unnecessary. Check to see what is available before you buy it, and look at what kind of value it will have when you try to resell it next semester.
I never buy new unless I have to because the cost of a new book is so much higher. Sometimes you need the latest edition and it is too new for used copies to be available, so you can’t always depend on used books to save you money. When I do have to buy new I look for the best prices and most convenient way to get it. Is the shipping going to outweigh the savings of ordering online? Is the wait time going to interfere with any homework assignments I might have? In this case, it would be more cost effective to buy them directly from a local bookstore, even if the price is a little inflated. Again, you could be surprised and find it cheaper in-store.
I use what I earn from selling to buy my books for the next semester. By keeping this allowance and putting it aside for a purpose, I essentially just use the same money over and over again to by books. If you keep that in mind, then you only have to really buy your books once and then periodically add a small amount to that whenever you encounter higher prices.
Books are a big expense but they are also a good investment when you are going to college full time. By making thoughtful and carefully weighed decisions about textbook purchases, you will be able to save a lot of money both in the short term and in the long term. Thinking of textbooks as an asset and an investment helps to relieve the strain of the expense, and by working a little harder you can make it worth your while.