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How to Find the Cheapest Textbooks

So if funding a college education wasn’t enough of a burden, here comes the cost of textbooks. Suddenly you find yourself in an irreconcilable situation—you absolutely need the books since your class requires you to have them, but you can’t fathom spending close to $400 per class when you have absolutely no use for them when the semester is over.  What’s a girl to do? There are indeed ways to cut the costs and avoid unnecessary purchases to begin with. 
Cheap Finds Online

The most popular alternative to the campus bookstore are online textbook portals.  Books are often substantially cheaper when bought from websites geared towards college students, especially when the books are used, and shipping costs tend to be low (Barnes & Noble offers free shipping!).  If you are looking for a quick-fix requiring minimal energy, then opt for buying books online.  Below are popular, dependable sites:

  • Chegg.com [Chegg.com]–This website allows students to rent books for substantially lower than their original prices. Has recieved investment funding from Rick Bolander, a graduate of Harvard Business School.  It is also a forum for those looking to sell their textbooks.
  • Half.com [half.com]–Powered by eBay, this website is a portal for buyers and sellers. Buyers pay according to the condition of the textbooks.
  • AbeBooks.com [abebooks.com]–Abebooks is a general bookseller that specializes in textbooks and is a great resource for students.
  • Booklinkpro.com [Booklinkpro.com]–This resource is comprehensive in that it will compare rates for a specific book across the spectrum of online textbook sellers. Unfortunately, however. it isn’t straightforward to navigate and does not have a strong search tool.
  • CampusBooks.com [campusbooks.com]–This site allows you to buy, rent, and sell textbooks to and from other students. It provides you the online resource that sells the book cheapest. 
  • Textbooks.com [textbooks.com]–In addition to renting, buying, and selling, this website also allows you to download books, saving you shipping costs and the hassle of lugging your textbooks to and fro. Students can buy books both new and    used, and shipping is free on purchases exceeding $25.

These websites offer varying discount rates.  For Gregory Mankiw’s Principles of Economics 2008 Edition textbook, for example, the prices are as follows:

  • Chegg.com, $50.99
  • Half.com, $89.99
  • AbeBooks.com, $18.99
  • Booklinkpro.com, $36.95
  • CampusBooks.com, $45.51
  • Textbooks.com, $18.56.

Textbooks.com and Abebooks.com seem to be the most reliable resources.  They offer a $200+ book for under $20, something that is close to impossible to find!

Buying from Friends

Sometimes the cheapest way to get your books is buying them from friends who have previously taken the same classes. Katie Crandell, HC writer and student at James Madison University, says, “I prefer to buy books off of friends because then we are both getting a good deal that way! I think that the textbook business is c*** and they take advantage of students and the University and Professors should do more to help us change the system!”  By buying books from friends, you recycle the book and get more bang for everyone’s buck!  Also, if you are on the “seller” side, consider buying a book full price at the beginning of the semester and reselling it at the end of the semester to others who plan to take the same class. At the end of the day, you end up spending very little, if anything at all.
Sharing with Friends

We learned to share in kindergarten, and boy, does it come in handy as a college student! Sharing books is one of the best ways to cut the costs of books in half or more if you share with more than one person.  If you are taking a class with a friend or group of friends, try setting up a system in which you rotate a book between and among friends, so you all get the benefit of the book without spending a lot of money. Elon sophomore and HC writer Gabriela Szewcow points out the practical aspects of sharing. She says, “I shared books with my friend Sam. We both took the same Spanish class, so we just split the cost of the books. We knew we’d always be doing homework and studying together anyway, so we figured we’d just save some money and only buy one set of books. At the end of the year, we sold them back and split the money that we got back. It worked out really well and I’d recommend doing that if you can!”  But Dawn Hu, HC Contributing Writer and Georgetown student, mentions the drawbacks of sharing. She says, “Aside from trying to buy books off of discount websites, I’ve known some people to share textbooks or to try to track down textbooks in the library. I think this can get kind of complicated because people tend to need the textbook at the same time, like right before exams!”  This tactic requires good planning and a sense of trust among sharers, since things can get a bit complicated during exam time.

Many classes put books on hold in the library so that you can do your studying by checking books out for a few hours at a time. While this option is free, it limits the amount of time you can spend with each book at a time, and during exam period, books are nearly impossible to get your hands on.  Chrissy Callahan, HC writer and Brandeis student, offers another option.  She says, “Interlibrary loan (loans between colleges) is great because you can find nearly any book (except for really obscure ones) and you can just request another close to the time that the one you have is due. This great service has saved me hundreds of dollars that I would have otherwise wasted on books that I wouldn’t even have used that much!”  See if your college offers this service!

At the end of the day, it is impossible to avoid the costs of textbooks without a bit of effort. You have to do your research, seek out people on campus who can offer the books for cheaper, and compare online prices until you find the book at its cheapest. Most schools have an on-campus textbook store that provides students venue to buy and sell back books for half price.  Your best bet, however, is probably buying them online as long as you don’t mind waiting for them.  Shipping costs are low and the deals are unbeatable!

Chrissy Callahan, Brandeis student and HC Contributing Writer
Dawn Hu, Georgetown student and HC Contributing Writer
Hannah Orenstein, HC Intern
Gabriela Szewcow, Elon student and HC Contributing Writer

Aylin is a senior Government concentrator at Harvard with a citation in German. An avid traveler and lover of languages, Aylin was born and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, although spending a lot of her childhood in Turkey and Germany. She is a self-proclaimed “foodie” — loves everything food, from home cooking to fine dining . In her sophomore year summer, she went backpacking through Western Germany, researching and writing for the “Let’s Go: Europe” travel guide. She has contributed to several on-campus publications. Her junior year summer, she interned as a production assistant for chef Bobby Flay and Alex Guarnaschelli’s Food Network shows filmed in New York City. She also interned for author and nutritionist Natalia Rose. An entrepreneur at heart, she'd ideally love to open a chain of high-end, health-minded restaurants. Her passions include piano, tennis, and dark chocolate.
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