Scrimpin’ and Savin’ for the Fun Stuff: Textbook Edition

Money! We all want it, use it, need it. Unfortunately, your college also really wants to drain you dry.

Kidding! I love colleges. They are always totally motivated by concern for providing you the best education. Of course.

My expenses for college in Spring 2011 looked like this:

Yes, I did spend 15% of my money on Starbucks. I'm working on it.

The biggest thing you should note: I managed to spend about the same amount on textbooks as I did on Starbucks. Just stop and think about this for a moment.

Also, I didn’t include room and board here as that’s paid well in advance by my wonderful, generous parents. That came to upwards of $5,000 last year. Dorm living and dining plans, what can you do? It’s best to focus on things you can control.

Saving Money on Textbooks (Legally)

The average annual cost of textbooks at a four-year public college is $1,137 according to College Board. The cost of textbooks tripled between 1986 and 2oo4, according to this 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO notes that this increase appears to be driven in part by bundling of textbooks with single-use codes to online content, CDs or additional supplemental items.

I spent less than $600 on textbooks last year and look to be on track to beat that this year. Total for this semester? $237.22.

The best way to dramatically minimize your textbook costs with minimal effort: BIGWORDS.

This site allows you to enter multiple titles/ISBNs and place them in a “bookbag.” It will then calculate the cheapest combination of sites to order these textbooks from. It includes promotional codes and shipping costs in the calculation so you won’t end up ordering from two different sites where the added shipping ends up making it more expensive than just ordering from one. You can include or exclude rentals. Unless you really think you’re going to use the textbook for life (you won’t), renting is the best option. Because it’s cheaper.

Don’t be afraid of International Editions. They’re the same – but the publisher doesn’t want you to know that. They’re so scared of you figuring it out they’ve been trying to limit mass re-importation of ’em. No, really, it was in that GAO report.

Never buy from the University Bookstore. Unless it’s some literature book where shipping it costs more than the book itself.

Take advantage of any buyback offers. If you do buy rather than rent, sell it back – you can use BIGWORDS to do this as well and find the best offer on the Internet. Amazon usually buys almost everything. You get slightly more “store credit” than cash – not a bad deal if you use Amazon a lot.

Don’t bother with Study Guides and online supplements or CDs. Seriously, unless you’re actually going to use it because the professor adamantly requires it or it’s a subject you struggle with, DON’T DO IT. If you do: buddy system. I’ve done that with an online training program for Multimedia – halve, fourth, whatever, the cost. You should probably trust this person or group of people not to screw you over by locking you out of the account. Also, you may run into problems if multiple people log in simultaneously – schedule it or work at the same computer.

Check in with the local textbook dealer for university-specific texts. Here at Mizzou we have the Textbook Game, which has some awesome 10% off deals with great frequency. I realize not every college is special enough (read: gigantic enough, lacking in enrollment restrictions) to have one of these – this is when Facebook and Craigslist can come into play. Local used bookstores, perhaps?

University LIBRARIES rock. Sometimes it is cheaper to check out a book at the library, keep it for the semester and pay the late fine than it is to rent the book. It’s worth looking into – especially if you have a class with a special reading packet. By checking the books the readings for Power and Money come from out and returning them on time, I’ll be saving $114.

Older editions are sometimes okay. It can’t hurt to shoot the professor of the class a quick email or check into it by yourself. Publishers are devious enough to just change a few words or paragraphs or examples and sell it as a brand new edition. This holds for most economics books, history books that don’t focus on recent events, research method textbooks etc. Not so much for things like “Congress and Its Members” which deals with more current events. If you don’t want to risk it, that’s just fine.

Next up: the Tech edition…

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