Starting classes? Save money!

Aside from tuition and fees, the worst money drain I remember from college was the textbooks. My school was on the quarter system and we had to fork over an astounding amount of money every twelve weeks for a set of textbooks that the bookstore would buy back after finals for pennies on the dollar.

Even back then, before I was heavily into personal finance, I didn’t like that ROI. Education’s fine and dandy, but when you’re working 20 hours of overtime a week, it’s more than slightly galling to hand it all over to use a book for a season.

I adopted a rather convoluted and time-consuming approach to saving money on books, and reveled in every penny saved. It’s been years since I needed it, but a good old table comparing the prices of each book by venue reminded me how much money you can save when you bargain hunt for a textbook.

1. Library: I checked our school and local libraries for every textbook, many of which were literature books. If the books weren’t in high demand, I could either check out the book for the duration of the quarter (with renewals along the way) or tailor the checkout period to my syllabus. ie: if we were slated to read the book in Week 6, I’d make a note in my planner to start checking on the book’s status in Week 3. If it was checked out already, then I could enter a request for the book. This meant the previous reader had to return the book without renewing.

2. Paperback Swap: Once in a while, you’ll get lucky and get a shipping-only book from the Swap.

3. Amazon, Alibris, other internet book sellers: This is a dicier proposition as you have to factor in shipping time vs. cost. If you went with Super Saver Shipping, you ran the risk of receiving the books too late. If you ordered them really early to compensate, there was the risk of finding out that the professor had decided to skip that book and wasting your money on an unneeded book. But this is a great way to get a really cheap copy of an older edition literature classic that you could donate to your local library afterward or sell to a friend.

4. Which brings me to a great resource: friends and fellow students! If you network even a little, you can find out which classes your peers have taken and buy their old books for a fair selling/buying price, or even plan to pass along books to people who are taking the class after you. This is probably the best option: you pay much less without having to worry about shipping, they get real money instead of foreign pennies. Win-win!

5. Renting books from the newest addition to the textbook game, Chegg offers you the chance to rent your textbook at a reasonable price for a specific time frame. Unless they’re offering a free shipping code or promo, you’ll usually be charged a shipping fee but they pay for the return of their books so you’re only paying on the front end. I’ve tried this service once before, and my experience was about a 3/5.

The lower score was partly my fault: I didn’t pay attention to shipping dates so I missed the optimal shipping dates, and got my books a week after I needed them. You do have to watch those ship dates very carefully because sometimes they don’t have the books you ordered – which I wish was something that was clearly stated on the site when you’re placing the order – and then you’re left scrambling when the “Sorry, it’s not in stock!” email arrives. Again, this is something easily remedied if you simply order your books two weeks in advance.

They also have a 30 day guarantee which allows you to return the book within 30 days and pay nothing, just in case you didn’t need the book after all.

I’m testing it again this semester, and have received one of the two ordered books so far. If I get both books in good order, I’ll have saved about $200 off the two books, bought new. (They’re not available used anywhere.) If you’d like to try it, you can use my affiliate code to get 5% off your order: CC107691. I think I get some sort of credit if you order using the code, but I’m not sure of the details, it’s still new to me.

6. Last resort, the student bookstore: If the book is specialized enough that no one carries it, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and buy it directly from the school. I hate that, but it happens. Again, timing is important here – go early enough to grab a used version because buying new from the bookstore is doubly painful. At least it is for me.

With a bit of searching, a combination of the above methods can help you save that hard-earned cash and keep you a little more debt free!

[You can find my everyday writing over at A Gai Shan Life.]

About Revanche

Revanche writes the personal finance blog A Gai Shan Life.