Saving Money on College Books

One of the worst "visible" expenses I had to deal with at college was books and supplies. If you're a freshman, you will be knocked directly on your butt at the cost of a semester's worth of "educational materials." If you're an art student, you'll have to sell body parts to get your supplies! :)


The best way to arm yourself against losing money and getting gouged is to know how the "book racket" works.

  1. You sign up for English 101 and obtain your class book list. It has three books on it - an anthology of stories and two separate "one story" books.

  2. You go to the student bookstore to purchase these books, which, if purchased new, will be around $80-$100.

  3. You make it through class, and at the end of the semester you go back to the bookstore to sell back your books. The bookstore offers you $5. $2 for each of the single-story books, and $1 for your anthology.

So, why the discrepancy?

If the publisher comes out with a new edition of the book, your edition becomes worthless. So those $200 chemistry or math books will now be obsolete because the publisher added an extra sentence.

If a professor isn't going to use the book for the next semester, it becomes worthless. Some book buyback people will throw you a dollar or two to take your book (and then they'll turn around and sell it elsewhere for three times as much - or more).

So, what do you do to save cash?

  1. BUY USED. It's okay to have used books. The bookstores won't sell anything that is falling apart. They always have a lot of used copies. Browse them until you find a nice one. I had a book that cost $65 new - I got it for $19.

  2. DON'T LIMIT YOURSELF TO THE STUDENT BOOKSTORE. Get your booklist as soon as possible and shop around. Shop online for new and used. There are websites specifically for college book sales, returns, etc. Some books will be exclusive to your school bookstore. Most are not. Shop around your dorm, too. If it's second semester, there's a good possibility someone is taking the class you just had, and you are taking a class someone else just had. Sell books to each other, have a book swap - do what it takes to save money.

  3. BOOK BUYBACK. You are NOT required to sell your books back to the bookstore. When you are done with the books, go to book buyback to see how much they'll offer. If you think it's good - take it; if not, don't. Sell elsewhere - garage sales, Craigslist. Whatever you do, don't let them take your books for free. I have seen students who will leave their books at the buyback because the bookstore says they won't buy them back (due to reasons stated above). Why would you pay for a book and then return it to them for free. Just because they aren't going to use it at that school doesn't mean they wouldn't box it up and ship it to another school for use. Keep your book and sell it elsewhere. Even 25 cents is more than zero from the bookstore.

And a note to art students - you will be completely gouged by the student bookstore art supply area. Shop elsewhere. Online, at the dollar store (you'd be surprised what you can find) - be creative. You don't need the $100 paint brush. Buy "hues" in oil paint rather than the actual colors. Learn how to stretch your own canvases. Become a scavenger and use unique materials to create art.

By GalFriday08 from Oakland County, MI

August 28, 20090 found this helpful

Absolutely correct! Got a $100 plus useful nursing book for $30 on Amazon. Excellent article here. Keep it to use in the future!

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September 1, 20090 found this helpful

These are some excellent tips for buying books, but as an senior art student, I have to disagree with the advice about art supplies. The bookstore at our University has very competitive prices, and good quality supplies. If you are taking a university/college class, you do not want to have dollar store supplies. There IS a difference. Our bookstore has a big sale on the first week of each term. The local artists supply shops (and I DON'T mean Michael's) have sales at the beginning of the term as well, and give student discounts. Shop around.

Also, I found that my art profs were very aware of the high cost of art supplies and did not ask for a lot of expensive things that were not used. Now, I do agree, you don't need the $100 paint brush, and you can certainly save by stretching your own canvases. Those are good tips. But do buy student grade materials from reputable art suppliers. And, if you are a beginning artist, talk to someone with experience about what you actually need. If you don't know anything about materials, you don't want to buy online. There are some great prices, I agree, but only if you know what materials you like and which are good quality.

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September 7, 20090 found this helpful

GO to They are a part of ebay. My BF got all of his books using the ISBN Numbers given to him at his college bookstore. He saved over half!

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