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The Best Places to Buy Your Books for Spring Semester

By Victoria Robertson

It might sound crazy, but the spring semester is already approaching, which means it is time, yet again, to purchase your textbooks for another semester of college. While your bank account is likely screaming at you, your professors would be doing the same if you didn’t show up to class armed with the textbooks that you need to be successful for the semester.

So, in an effort to not break the bank, where exactly should you be focusing your money this semester?

Funny you should ask! There are plenty of locations in which you can purchase your textbooks, but only a few that you should be checking immediately, before all others. Saving money is so essential, especially when you have taken out student loans to attend school, so wherever you’re able to save a quick buck, you should certainly be doing so.

When it comes to saving money on your books, the best way to do so is to shop around and compare textbook prices, so, in the interest of shopping your textbooks, the following are five starting places that you should always look first for your college textbooks.

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1. Textsurf

This online textbook comparison site has earned its title by comparing the prices of just about every store in its path. Textsurf is best known for assisting students with comparing textbook prices of any textbook that they may need during the school year.

Now sure, Textsurf does not always have the specific copy of the textbook that you'll need, but this is a great starting point when it comes to textbook buying, as they offer the ability to check with your professors to ensure that the textbook you've selected is one that you can use during the year.

Additionally, Textsurf offers options to rent, buy or sell textbooks, providing students the perfect opportunity to save money on their textbooks during the academic year. This means that students can purchase their textbooks from here, or rent them if they'd prefer, and they also have an outlet to sell the books back at the end of the year so that they don't need to move the books back home. In addition, this provides an extra opportunity for students to make some extra money after a large textbook bill from the semester (or year).

All a student needs to do is input the title, author's name or even the ISBN, and presto! It really is that easy to use this platform. Plus, you can even sign up for email alerts when a book you need lowers its price, so you can ensure you're getting the best possible deal on the books that you need!

2. The Library

Probably the most cost-effective means of retrieving a necessary book on this list, the library is one of the best places in which you can find the books that you need for the spring semester. That being said, there are quite a few caveats to keep in mind with this option.

For one thing, the library is not a guarantee. Libraries typically don’t house textbooks, but rather novels and other books of that nature. For this reason, an English major is more likely to find the books that they need than a History major is. Still, this is a good place to stop and check before looking into other, costly options.

In addition, libraries are available to all students, which means that every student in your class has the opportunity to look here as well. There is a high likelihood that the book you need is not going to be available, because another student has already picked it up and there was only one copy. Libraries aren’t meant for the masses, but rather hold a large variety of books, though without a large number of copies. So if you opt to go the library route, the book you need/want may not be available.

This brings me to my next point, which is that renting a library book has a time limit on it. If the book you want is in demand, then you’re not going to be able to hold onto the book for the entire semester. So unless you only need the book for a short period of time, this may not be the best option for you.

Finally, you can always look at the local library, but your crowded campus library is likely your best bet for searching for the books that you need. Remember that campuses are institutions, and ones that want you to spend money. So just because you have a book that you need is not to say that the library is going to house it, including the local libraries.

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3. Thrift Stores

This method of searching for textbooks is a bit unorthodox, but it’s effective, nonetheless. Thrift stores are inexpensive, and while the books that you pick up will be used, they are just as effective as the brand new textbooks that you would pay hundreds more for.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily just mean the local Goodwill. There are plenty of mom and pop shops and other discount stores that will be in and around campus that you can look for and utilize for your book shopping needs. All this takes is a quick Google search, and potentially some asking around to ensure that you have turned over all leaves.

Granted, the largest issue you will have with searching thrift stores for textbooks is that these stores don’t typically have a large selection. That being said, if you look at stores that are near campus, you’re more likely to find the books that you need, as they were likely dropped off by past students looking to make a little money after the end of the semester. For this reason, if you’re able to find the books that you need, you’re likely going to get them for a steal!

Another thing to keep in mind when digging through thrift stores is that you probably won’t be the only one doing so. Many students are looking for alternatives to the overly expensive textbooks that are provided by the school, so any local stores are going to be swamped with students.

This is definitely a more time-consuming process, and you may end up with nothing to show for it. But, if you have the time, you might just come out with hundreds of dollars in savings that will make you feel like a champion.

4. Book Stores

Aside from your campus book store, there are plenty of other book stores still out there (unbelievable as that may be) that you should be looking at for your spring semester textbooks. And yes, bookstores do still exist in the age of Amazon, Kindles and other eReaders.

You can think of the big chains here, such as Barnes & Noble, or the smaller, mom and pop stores that are in the immediate campus vicinity. Not only are they likely to have the textbooks that you need, but they’re also likely to charge you less than your campus would, just to ensure you take the trip out there and purchase from them rather than from your campus.

Another thing that you’ll want to keep in mind is that the local bookstores are going to be crowded around the beginning of the semester. With that being said, you may want to take the trip out of town to take a look at local businesses that aren’t quite within walking distance, as that’s where all campus dwellers will be heading.

This way, you may get your pick of the books that you want, and you may even find that the books you need are far more discounted than you originally hoped they would be. Again, you could find that the prices are equal to or greater those on Amazon or in the campus store, but taking a look only gives you more price points for comparison, so it’s a win-win.

Of course, this is not an option for everyone, as many individuals don’t have cars or other transportation to make it off campus to the bookstores they want to shop at. Still, for those of you willing to take public transportation (or with transportation of your own), this is a potential money saver that you won’t want to take lightly.

5. Campus Book Store

Last, but definitely not least, you should always be checking your campus book store. Of course, you should go into this knowing that you’re likely going to see the most inflated prices of all options here, but that’s not always the case, so keep an open mind. Even so, you should be going into the bookstore armed with the prices from all other options so that you can make the best decision for you.

So once you’re in the store and you’re comparing prices, if you find that the bookstore is cheaper, you’ll likely end up with several options that you’ll need to consider.

First, you’ll most likely have the option to purchase the book used or new. This option seems easy, as most used books will cost less, but that’s not always the case. Make sure you compare these prices as well, as it’s sometimes in your best interest to purchase the new book.

You should also note that some bookstores give you the option to rent your books. You’ll want to compare prices and see if this is worth it in the long run. If you want to rent, this means you won’t be able to sell the book at the end of the year, so you’ll want to take a look at the price. If there’s a significant cost difference between a used/new book and a rented book, the rented book may make sense for you. However, if the difference is minimal, you’ll need to think about your preferences.

For instance, will you attempt to sell it back? Or would you prefer to drop it off and be done with it? If you choose the latter, renting makes sense, but if you chose the former, then it doesn’t.

Really, campus book stores are your last resort, but ones that should be taken seriously, as there will be plenty of options available to you within them. The truth is, the cost is going to be relatively high no matter what, so it boils down to your personal preference and what you’re able to afford versus what you aren’t.

As the spring semester approaches, crazy as that may sound, you should certainly be looking into how to save yourself some money when it comes to purchasing your textbooks. Your bank account is only going to empty out more, so start thinking financially when looking into your books.

The above five locations are a fantastic starting point as far as looking for textbooks goes, but you should also look elsewhere and see what you’re able to dig up as far as deals go.

It’s also a good idea to ask your friends and individuals in your classes where they purchase their textbooks from, as you may find that they have an option you haven’t tried that gave them a much better deal than you were able to find.

Whether you’re looking at used books or new ones, seeking out your spring semester textbooks well in advance provides you plenty of opportunities to shop around and ensure you are getting the best deal possible on your necessary textbooks.

So take a look at these five locations, strategize a few more that you should be looking into, and have fun shopping this semester!