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Student Toolkit: How to Buy Textbooks

Guest Editor – Bradford A. Rogers

Of all of the expenses a student might accrue throughout their college or online education experience, textbook purchases are no doubt one of the most strenuous. But have no fear, follow the steps below, and you'll save your wallet from a textbook walloping.

Shorten Your List

As soon as you get your reading list for your class, do what you can to shorten the list before you go about shopping for the books you need. You can shorten the list by first identifying what books you already have, or what books you could easily borrow from a close friend. Then you can further shorten the list by researching what of your reading may be found as electronic copies either through web clients such as Google Books or jstor.org, or via your school's library or other web databases. In short, identify what books you cannot possibly get for free, eliminate all others from the list, and head to a book store.

Weigh Your Options

When it comes to textbook purchases, your options are by no means limited. Many schools offer textbook rental or resell programs that make getting your hands on those big expensive textbooks much more affordable. For many students, the rental option is a godsend, as it is much cheaper and students rarely need to hold on to their textbooks past the class's term. Alternatively, resell options offer students used books at greatly reduced prices. The label “used” can turn away some students, but these used copies should not be ruled out as they are much cheaper and often come pre-highlighted by the previous user - a perk that can often streamline the reading or studying process. If local options aren't available, online resellers such as Amazon often offer used as well as new textbooks at competitive prices. As with local options, search through the used sales listings first as they will be much more conservatively priced and the conditions of the books often range from “like new” to “lightly used” (the latter usually meaning “free pre-highlighting”). If you weigh your options correctly, you should only need to pay full price for any book if it is not available in any of the aforementioned options, in which case you can buy new from your campus or online store.

More Bang for Your Buck

As the term comes to a close, many resellers, including most campus bookstores and Amazon, offer to buy books back from students. Don't expect to get 90% or even 50% back from the book's original price, but you will get back some of your money which will at least cushion a portion of the financial blow wrought by book shopping. In the end, it all comes down to being frugal, never spending any more than you absolutely have to, and getting more bang for your buck by selling back books you don't need.