8 Ways to Save Big Money on College Books

It’s back to school season, so I want to tell the upcoming college freshmen — and those going back for another year — the real deal about your school books.  I kicked ass at the college book game and saved huge amounts of money, and here’s how you can, too.

Before I get going, I’ll get the obvious one out that you should always buy used unless there is absolutely no choice. If there’s no key coded software or other crap to worry about, get the used version. That one’s kinda obvious.

1) Don’t buy your books before class starts.

No class is gonna require you to have your text book on the first day, and let’s face it, you could probably fudge your way through a couple more without the book. Take a class (or two), see how the professor really operates, and closely check the syllabus to see how much the book is really used, and for what, exactly. My freshman year, I bought a $95 book for music class that I never used, not even once. Never again. This leads me to…

2) See what information you can get for free.

One of my classes only gave reading assignments from its text book, but these readings were from famous philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle — things I could find for free online (or in a library if I felt like going the Amish way). I went through my syllabus and made sure that there was nothing in the book that I couldn’t find for myself online. Seeing nothing, I knew I didn’t have to buy that book. Saved $60.

3) Be wary of things professors tell you not to do.
Some professors give advice because they’re looking out for your own good. Some are just trying to guard some shady shit. I took a correspondence course where I had to rent videos from the library. In the first video lecture, the professor and his students had a good laugh at the notion that,

Hahaha, you can’t just watch the first couple and the last couple and a couple in the middle and expect to pass!”

Challenge accepted, mother fuckers.

Guess what I did?  I watched the first two, the middle two, and the last two, then walked into the final and kicked its ass.

Note: Don’t do this if you aren’t confident it’ll work for you.  It worked for me, but I’m amazing, so there’s that.

This also isn’t really a book buying tip, but see, like that example in #1, the professor of that music class made it sound like the book would save our asses, so I bought it.  I did this without doing enough investigation and without having my BS Detector turned on high enough.  We can learn from this.  We can save money from this.

4) The Library is your Friend

Many university libraries have copies of text books that you can borrow for free. Borrow. And if you have to return it soon, check your syllabus to see which assignments you need to read up on, take a high-quality digital photo and then return it.



5) Online merchants: Also Your friend.

Campus book stores are notoriously overpriced, and only getting worse. I grabbed tons of my textbooks from Half.com and eBay to save, all told, hundreds of dollars.

5.5) International Editions

One online merchant specializes in international editions of commonly used text books. These are often word-for-word the same stuff as your regular text books, with maybe a different cover and/or other cosmetic differences. I didn’t find a lot in my fields for this one (communication, journalism), but my buddy in engineering found a ton of his books this way.


6) Book store has a “no buy-back” policy on a certain book? Sell independently.

My campus book store had a “no buy-back” policy on my $75 biology text book. Basically, they wanted to keep making huge bank on selling new copies of it, because they published it themselves. Did I sit back and eat that? No. I just walked around “browsing” at the book store until I saw a lady put that book into the cart. I could tell she’d hunted for used copies, but finding none, she had little choice other than to burn $75 on a new one. I said, “Hey, I actually have that book right now. I’ll sell it to you for cheaper.” Maybe not the exact words — this was nine years ago. We stepped outside, away from the prying eyes of book store peeps and I showed her the exact same text book.

There were no computer codes, no one-time-use software CDs or anything that made this book useless to a second-hand buyer. No reason for the book store to hold back used sales, except of course, greed. So fuck ’em, I sold it to her for $45. She saved a bunch of money on the book she needed and I got a return on my purchase we both won, where “won” means “didn’t allow the university to fuck us.”

6.5) Book Store Offering Pennies on the Dollar? You Know What to Do….

Sell that thing to another student the old fashioned way, or hop on Amazon your damn self and sell it that way for more money. Some book stores offer you — this is a true example — $1 for books that they will resell for $65. I know that stores need to make a profit, but that shit doesn’t fly with me.

7) Pay it Forward

Be conscious of friends and family members who are taking the same classes as you. Even classes at other schools will often use the same text books. Remember my $95 music book from point #1? Well, not all was lost, because it made a wonderful gift to my younger cousin when she entered college the year after me. Instead of trading it in or selling it at a loss, I played the nice guy and passed it along to my cousin. My $95 bought me some good karma!

Meanwhile, your friends and roommates might be using the same books that you are. Split the costs, save the money.  Boom!



8) Know yourself

I didn’t buy my Health text book because the material was all basically a review of high school, which I already knew. Useless. I didn’t spend that money and I passed the class easily.

I didn’t have to comprar my Spanish libro because yo already hablo el espanish. Yo saved mucho dinero.

If you can swing to Heath Hindman’s jive, follow on Twitter.  I mean, if you want to.