During undergrad, most of the kids I knew went to absurd lengths to avoid buying textbooks. I had a friend who printed out an entire book – an entire 300+ page novel – off the internet at the library. (If you through Liberal Arts students only got riled up over a lack of vegan options and neo-politics, you thought wrong.)
There is, I believe, a direct correlation between how hard you try to save on your 800 page Intro to Astronomy hardback and what percentage you are paying for said book out of your own pocket. You can tell who has a rich uncle somewhere shelling out for books each semester: they are the ones who are strutting out of the campus book store with their logowear bags bursting and no USED sticker in fluorescent orange marring the spines.
The rest of us scrapped by with dog-eared copies and a diet of just ramen noodles while we learned the savviest ways to scrimp on the required reading list. A few of my favorites are as follows:
Just Don’t Buy ‘Em
Depending on the course, there’s a medium to hefty chance that you will barely crack the spine of the freaking thing after the first week. This is especially true in broad survey/lecture courses like Art History. Shelling out $190 for the newest edition of “Art through the Ages” will do you diddly come exam week. Guaranteed.
On the other hand (and from personal experience), skipping out on an Intro to Stats book is probably the worst decision you could make. If the problem set, daily homework, and semester-long workload comes in the book, be sure to buy it. But buy it on the cheap!
Go to the Library
The great thing about universities is that pretty much any book you will ever need is already owned by the library. Chances are some quick-thinking fellow student already thought of it and checked it out the day before, but some of the heftier textbooks will be kept on permanent layaway for you to peruse. Do a quick Search before you hit the bookstore. What you find may be the previous year’s edition, but can History really change so much is nine months?
Go Used or Go Home
Most campus bookstores will have a selection of used textbooks that they buy back from students at the end of the year. They will be cheaper than buying full price, certainly, but it’s still going to put a dent in your bank account. As a last resort, keep your eyes people for the neon USED stickers, but arrive early for best savings. Those babies go quick.
Another option is for you to rely on your classmates. Bookstores are notorious for ripping you off. Your fellow students: not as much. Entrepreneurially-minded students will sometimes organize book swaps amongst their peers (my copy of Ancient Greek for your copy of Literary Theory) or utilize a university’s listserv to find out who is available to trade. Other more selfless students will go so far as to share text books (I get it Tuesdays, you get it Thursdays), but that always gets tricky around exam time and I wouldn’t recommend it.
Hit the Internet
The best deals for cheap textbooks are found on the internet. You can pretty much find any book ever written used and for deep discounts, but factor in the research and shipping time or you may be left scrambling on the first day of class. If possible, buy early.
But from where?
• Chegg: your source to rent textbooks by the semester or quarter. Savings usually fall at around 50% of full retail price, and the site gives you UPS labels with your rental so return shipping is free.
(FatWallet Tip: Up to 5% cash back is available through Chegg.)
• Amazon: you’ve used their used book/third-party vendor search before, but now Amazon has a dedicated student and textbook search feature that helps you find even the most obscure translation of Boetheus.
• Half.com: a part of eBay, Half.com offers textbooks at low prices and has a Bargain Wizard feature that searches for the best basement bargains combined with shipping to find you the best and fastest deals. That macro econ book couldn’t come quickly enough!
(FatWallet Tip: 4% cash back is available through Half.com)
These are the sources that got me though my four years of undergrad and continue to help coeds and graduate students alike. What have I missed? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!