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Finding the Best Deals for Buying/Selling Textbooks

By Victoria Robertson

It’s no secret that books are an added expense when it comes to college. Whether you’re attending a community college or a four-year university, textbooks aren’t cheap, and they can greatly drive up the cost of your tuition.

That being said, there are many ways to alleviate some of that financial stress when it comes to books by buying, renting and/or selling back your textbooks. There are plenty of options available to you, so really it comes down to which option works the best for your individual situation.

Let’s look a little more closely at the different ways in which you can buy books. When it comes to purchasing books, the options available to you are to buy or to rent. Buying a book means that you are purchasing it to own it and it’s yours to keep, while renting a book means you are paying a lesser value but you will have to return the book at the end of the year.

To talk a little further in regards to buying books, there are still a few options to consider here as well. For one, you can either purchase a book used or new. Used books vary in quality, but almost always will cost you less than purchasing a brand new book. That being said, if you are going to purchase a book that you know you will return to several times, it may be best to purchase a new book so you can mark it up and use it as needed.

When buying books, there are also numerous outlets from which you can purchase. For one, you can buy your books at the local bookstore or the campus bookstore. However, you may want to consider cheaper, online options, which include Chegg or Amazon. For more common books, you may have good luck at a local thrift shop as well. Basically, if they sell books and there’s an opportunity to save money, you should be taking advantage.

Another consideration when buying books is to look at the price comparisons. There are a few websites that will allow you to look at the cheapest price for the book you need for your class. The comparison will often include prices for rented, used and new textbooks, so you can compare the variety of options in a way that’s fast and convenient.

A lot of these textbook buying options require some forethought in which you’ll need to spend a fair amount of time researching your options. In this way, purchasing books isn’t your best bet if you need a book right away for one of your classes. For this reason, be prepared to buy one or two books immediately at the bookstore, but take your time when it comes to the rest of your book buying.

In addition, here’s a quick tale of caution to heed when purchasing books:

For one of my college courses, a history course about ancient Greece, there was an expensive textbook that was required. On the first day of classes, our professor handed out the syllabus with the text listed, then made a point to let everyone in the class know that this was a textbook they were going to need.

So, following the class, I made my way to the campus bookstore to purchase the book. I waited for over an hour in line, as it was the first day of classes, and then spent almost three-hundred dollars to purchase the text.

Several weeks went by and not a single assignment had come from the textbook, so it remained in its cellophane wrapping, waiting to be used. It stayed that way for the rest of the semester. I didn’t use the book once.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that your professors will lie to get you to buy a textbook you don’t need, it does mean that you should be careful about buying textbooks. Look ahead in your syllabus to see if any assignments are pulled from the textbooks that they say you need. If not, wait it out and see if the book is actually necessary or if you can get by without it.

I had more than one roommate who bought the entire syllabus worth of books only to find out they really needed one or two. In my case, the book wasn’t necessary due to my attendance in class and note-taking, which eliminated the need for the book as a refresher. For others, that book could have been entirely necessary.

So yes, there are going to be times that you truly need to purchase a textbook, but there will be others where you really don’t. Play it by ear, and pay attention to your own study habits as well. A textbook is a large investment, despite popular belief, so you should really treat it as such.

Buying textbooks doesn’t leave you stranded, however. When you buy a textbook, whether used or new, you have the option to sell that book at the end of the semester, an option that many students take advantage of.

However, there are still stipulations that you need to consider.

For one, you may not always be able to sell a book back. For instance, if you bought an older version of a text, some stores may not want to purchase the older version with newer options available. The other item to pay attention to is the wear and tear on your book. Books that have damage, or that have been marked up with notes, won’t give you the same payout as a book that feels brand new.

By this same token, however, handing over a brand new book to sell doesn’t mean you’re getting the full price. In fact, you may not get much at all. So while you can sell your books back to get some money, you won’t be able to get enough money to cover the cost of the purchase to begin with. So don’t go in with the assumption that you’re going to break even, because you most definitely are not going to break even.

You should also consider the venues in which you’re selling your books back. Campus bookstores make selling your books easy, but they aren’t going to provide you with a large payout due to the sheer number of students selling their books back.

Some campus organizations will also take books, but again, your payout is going to be nearly as close as what you paid for the book to begin with.

Other options in which you may get more money are online stores such as eBay or Amazon. However, there are sometimes fees associated with selling your items on these sites, which could end up costing you more than the resale is worth. You also need to consider the cost to ship your books to the buyer and the added effort it takes to post each book on the site to sell it.

So when you’re buying books, these are all options to consider in order to save money and take advantage of deals available to you.

From here, there is also the option of renting your textbooks for the semester.

Renting textbooks is oftentimes the cheaper option, but this doesn’t mean that it’s the best option.

Renting a textbook from a campus bookstore means that the money you spend is gone, because at the end of the semester, you need to return the book and you don’t get any money back for it.

This is problematic in two ways: one, you’re losing out on money no matter what and two, you’ll have to wait in the long lines at the bookstore twice, because you’ll need to go back to return your book at the end of the semester.

That all being said, this is still a good option to consider when it comes to purchasing your textbooks, as it does typically save you quite a bit of money. Again, a good way to determine whether or not this is a money saver is to use one of the comparison websites and take a look at the price of the book new, used and rented. If there’s a significant price difference, renting is the way to go. However, if the costs are relatively similar, you may want to look at how much you think you could resell a bought textbook for at the end of the year.

Renting can also be complicated in that the damages to the book can cost you. That’s right, some bookstores will actually charge you more if you bring in a rented book that’s in bad shape or simply marked up. The idea of renting a book is that the next student will be able to come in and use it, so if that isn’t the case, you can bet they’re going to be tacking on some charges.

Of course, there are also other ways to rent textbooks that you may want to consider. For one, some campus organizations will rent out books, so keep that option open. Also, you may know a friend that took a class previously, and they may share their books with you as well (of course, do the right thing and throw them some money since they likely spent a small fortune on it).

But last, and probably least talked about/considered, the local or campus library is a good option as well. Go to the library on the first day of classes, sign up for a library card, and rent the books that you’re going to need first and so on. This is a free means of getting your books (if you ignore the high cost of your tuition) and it’s relatively easy to do.

However, you should also consider a few problems with this option.

One, the library may not have the books you need. Not all libraries stock their shelves with textbooks. In fact, most don’t. The books that you will likely be able to find here are classic novels and other smaller works (English majors rejoice!). So don’t assume your book is at the library – do the work and go in to check and be sure before committing to this method.

Also, you should consider the fact that libraries are open to all students, which means that students from your class may have the same idea as you. This is a problem if you’re dealing with deadlines, as the book you need may not be available when you need it because another student is renting it out. Granted, there are often several copies of the book at the library, but there is still the possibility they will run out of copies.

This is largely problematic because bookstores are notorious for running out of books before the classes have even started because all students are attempting to purchase them at the same time. So if the bookstore ran out and your library fallback didn’t work out, you now don’t have a book and have run out of options. So if you’re on a deadline, an online order may not get to you in time for your next assignment.

Another limitation here is if you don’t know what your schedule is for needing a book. Libraries only let you rent out a book for a certain period of time, and some campus libraries will limit the number of times you can re-check out a book. For this reason, you may find that you can’t keep the book for as long as you need it in the class. In cases like this, you may want to consider purchasing or renting a book.

So renting is still an option, and a good one, you’ll just want to look at your individual situation before committing to it.

All things related to purchasing your books are complicated and confusing. The hardest part is that there is no, one answer. Instead, you have to look at your syllabi, your individual capabilities in terms of finances and study habits and weigh your decision once you have all the details.