You’ve made your schedule and you are on cloud nine. You are officially a freshman, congratulations! What’s the next step? Of course, you need to purchase the required material that goes along with your classes. Your advisor tells you that it is as simple as 1-2-3. Take your schedule to the bookstore, and voila, they do the job for you. You leave with your books in hand, full of bliss and happiness and wait for classes to start in the fall. Now unless your parents are millionaires, it is safe to assume you are on a budget. Between tuition, dorm furnishings, parking decals and the heap of fees that college generously offers, money may be tight. If this is the case, I can guarantee that you will not be leaving the bookstore in perpetual bliss—more like perpetual tears. Textbooks are expensive, ridiculously so in my fair opinion. With patience, however, you can strike a deal on textbooks that won’t leave your bank account with negative numbers.
1. Know Your Options
When it comes to textbooks, there are essentially three options. You could buy new, buy used or rent your textbooks. Of course, buying used or renting will be the best options financially. However, if you have a thing for books hot off the press and have a little extra cash, you may choose to buy new. In my opinion, there is only one situation where buying a new textbook could be beneficial: if there is an online access code involved. If you are a STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) major, you may find that a majority of your classes will require an access code. These codes come with the textbooks and the combo is usually very expensive. Most (if not all) forms of access codes can be used only once, so if you purchase a used textbook with an access code, the code will be invalid. This is definitely a lesson you do not want to learn on the first day of your general biology class. While buying a new textbook code combo guarantees that you receive everything required, you can also buy the access code separate and either rent or buy the textbook used. Just be careful to ensure that the access code you are purchasing is the correct one. This can be guaranteed by either contacting your professor or thumbing through the textbook at your school’s bookstore. You will still save money by doing this because, as I said above, buying the code with a new textbook can cost well over $200.
2. Avoid Your College Bookstore Like the Plague
When I took dual enrollment classes my senior year of high school, I learned first-hand how expensive textbooks are. I also learned that a college’s bookstore offers the buy new, used or rent options. After quick online comparisons, I soon discovered that while a college’s bookstore offers the used or rent option, it is still more expensive than online sources (don’t be fooled). If you have come to the conclusion that used or rented textbooks is the only suitable option, you may be wondering which one is more beneficial. “To rent or to buy used? That is the question.” If you haven’t clicked out of the article due to my horrible Hamlet reference, I will happily help you navigate the two options.
This is the most affordable option, but also requires the most responsibility and restraint. If you are the type of person that highlights, underlines and doodles in their textbooks, renting will not be for you. The textbook must return in the condition it came in and must also be returned on time. Textbooks have hundreds of pages; obviously the renters are not going to be nitpicky about a scratch or that one time where you forgot that the highlighter was off limits. However, the book is not yours and you must treat it as that.
4. Buying Used
Now you may be pessimistic about this option because used things are usually in a bad condition, right? Throughout my dual enrollment, every textbook I had was either used or rented and they were all in great condition. Once your general education courses are out of the way, buying used is the only option I recommend. Depending on your course of study, having your textbooks around longer than a semester may be very helpful. Also, courses that are continuations such as English composition and history courses may use the same textbook both semesters, so buying instead of renting will be very beneficial.
5. Chegg and Amazon Will Be Your Best Friends
If you’ve decided to buy your books online, let me encourage you to use either Amazon or Chegg. Both sites have renting and used options and both sites have excellent customer service (which is a crucial factor when it comes to textbooks). Amazon is my favorite because it is a portal for third party bookstores to sell their textbooks, enabling you to find the best deal. Because Amazon is so reputable for keeping their customers happy, you will rarely, if ever, have any problems with a third party distributor. Chegg is great too, and for every textbook that I buy, I compare the two on both sites to see who has the better deal. Also, some textbooks on Amazon are not available to be rented in all fifty states so that’s where Chegg comes in.
6. Bonus Pro-Tip
Amazon also sells their Prime membership to students for only $49 a year. This membership comes with cloud storage, Prime video (which is Netflix’s little brother) and free two-day shipping. The free two-day shipping will definitely come in handy in case you need a textbook at the last minute.
The art of buying textbooks can be very complicated and expensive territory. Many students spend a fortune on textbooks when it could have easily been avoided with a little research and a lot of patience. Don’t let textbooks deplete your college saving fund. Master the textbook and you will be a happier college student.
Lead Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons