College Textbooks on a Budget

Your first year of college brings many surprises, some pleasant (your English professor doesn’t take attendance) and some not-so-pleasant (your new roommate’s penchant for salami and onion sandwiches). Among the top ten most surprising things about college is the price of textbooks – ouch! They cost how much? Even if you’re a not a first-year college student, and you know what to expect, you probably still receive your textbook list with a grimace. The high cost of books can be a blow to even the most parentally-padded wallet. Here are a few tips to ensure that you can get your required reading materials without going broke.

âÂ?¢ Buy used textbooks. You’re most likely going to re-sell them when you’re done anyway, so there’s really no need to buy a new one. Used textbooks are often substantially cheaper – and as an added bonus, sometimes you’ll find that the previous owner left some helpful notes in the margins.
âÂ?¢ Buy your books online. There are many sites – Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, eBay, Varsity Books, and eCampus, to name a few – that sell them. If you decide to go this route, though, there are a few things to keep in mind. Make sure you order your materials early enough to get them in time for class; allow for out-of-stock items and shipping delays, and be sure to choose the expedited shipping option. Also, don’t forget to add the sales tax and shipping to the total cost of the book when comparison shopping. If you’re ordering from a site with a rating system, be wary of sellers with low ratings, even if their prices are the lowest – you may end up not getting the textbook at all, or getting it way too late. And be sure you’re getting the right textbook (check the ISBN number located on the back of every book) because it is much less convenient to return items to an online bookstore.
âÂ?¢ Shop around. There can be a significant price different between your local bookstores and online book sellers – and even between the online sellers themselves. It will pay off in the long run to do a little comparison shopping before you buy. You may even find that it’s cheaper to buy your books from more than one seller.
âÂ?¢ Some textbooks are sold by themselves, and some have supplemental materials such as CD-Roms or study guides. Sometimes the extra materials are helpful, but sometimes they’re really unnecessary. If your teacher hasn’t specifically instructed you to purchase the version with the extras, it may be a better value to buy the text by itself, without the “frills.”
âÂ?¢ Buy an older edition. This can save you money, as older textbook editions are generally less expensive. But be careful, because older editions can be missing information that’s crucial to your class. Ask your professor if the newest edition is an absolute must-have.
âÂ?¢ Check to see if the textbook is required, or if it’s just recommended. Obviously you have to buy the required text for a class, but a recommended text is just that – a recommendation that may or may not be helpful in your studies. Wait until you’ve begun the course before you decide whether or not you need the recommended textbook.
� Look around at college bulletin boards or classified ads for people selling their books. They may have the book you want for cheaper than you could purchase it at a store.
âÂ?¢ Many colleges have copies of each class’s texts in the library, so you’d never even have to buy one. Although that sounds tempting, this should be a very last-resort option, because if someone else has the book checked out when you need it, you’re out of luck.
âÂ?¢ When you’re done with them, sell your books and then (if you have the self-discipline to save it) put that money toward your texts for next semester. It may not cover the cost completely, but it can definitely cut it down.

With a little shopping around, you can save a considerable amount of money on your textbooks – which is good news when you need it for other college-related expenses (pizza, anyone?).

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