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Buy used, only after the first day and never from the university bookstore.

A Student's Guide to Affordable Textbooks

Textbook Techniques for Getting Cheap Textbooks

Buy used, only after the first day, and never from the university bookstore.

By Olivia W. McCoy, University of Georgia


The only thing worse than writing that tuition check is watching all your money being siphoned into textbooks.

All those hours you spent cleaning up potty accidents at the daycare, all those assholes you served food too, all those coupons you had to scan—gone in one swipe of your debit card.

A Student's Guide to Affordable Textbooks

I know what you’re thinking: “There has to be another way!” Luckily for you, the textbook-know-it-all has come to your rescue. The goal of this article is to save you enough drinking money so that you won’t have to twerk for shots downtown—unless you just want to.

So here is the what, where and when of textbooks, laid out for you once and for all.

Do I Really Need to Buy ALL of These?

The answer is probably no, in most cases. You don’t need to buy most textbooks recommended for a class. But, thanks to the masterful glares and implied threats radiating from your professor, you’ll probably have get them anyway—if only for your own perceived safety.

There are some shortcuts and tips to getting around having to actually spend money on them, though.

First, check with your teacher on technology. If you do enough digging around, you may be able to find a PDF online or some equivalent. If all responses are indifferent shrugs, you’re in. If you’re not so lucky as to have a technologically lax prof, it’s probably worth it to spend the five dollars printing the damned thing out at your university printers—having to pay for your own printer ink is an immorality of the world, don’t fall victim.

A Student's Guide to Affordable Textbooks

I must empathize on behalf of liberal arts majors with all the science and math minded—truth be told, those textbooks are your bridle and brakes for the next four years of your life. There’s no getting around that.

For the rest of you, almost any and every anthology—poetic, literary, historical, other—is at your disposal on the World Wide Web for zip dollars and zilch cents. Rather than buying/renting that bowling ball of a book, print out the individual articles as you need them. You’ll probably only use it a handful of times anyway, being real. You may have to spend the extra three minutes looking them up, but if time is money, then you’re saving a hell of a lot.

Last but not least, borrow. Often, college students overlook the brilliance of borrowing. Ask a friend, a friend of a friend, your roommate’s ex’s dog sitter’s cousin—whoever you can get phone numbers for, and beg for their mercy. Just because they paid the ultimate price (literally), doesn’t mean that you have to. When it comes to textbooks, there is never any shame in begging, or, if necessary, offering your soul for all eternity.

Where is Cheapest?

Alright, so you scoured, scrounged and scavenged your best for an online option and/or a borrowed book, but not even the pet sitter’s cousin had anything for you. It’s time to give in and squander your hard earned dough on some dumb necessity.

Rule number one: NEVER go to the university bookstore. Write it down, underline, highlight, boldface, italicize, carve it into the back of your eyelids—I don’t care, just don’t go.

Yes, it’s the quickest way of ending this impending dread. Yes, it’s the most convenient. But that’s how they get you!

Next thing you know, you’ll be investing in a bag full of books, an armful of attire and one horrendous headache.

First thing’s first, Amazon.

Did you know (and I’m not getting paid to advertise, I promise) that college students are offered a six month free trial of Amazon Prime when they sign up with their school email? Free two-day shipping, free instant video—it’s a dream come true. Just, remember to cancel it after six months because you will be charged $50 automatically when time is up. Don’t be like me and forget to cancel your prime before six months has passed, or else be prepared for a toast and ramen diet.

A Student's Guide to Affordable TextbooksNot only is there that for you procrastinators out there, but you can rent from Amazon too. Crazy, right? $12 for a $60 textbook and free shipping to and from? Hell yes.

Scotch-taped shoes are a thing from the past with these kinds of savings.

And finally, resort to Facebook if you must. Search for your school’s “free and for sale” page. I promise that 90 percetn of you guys will have something of the sort. There, it’s a myriad of sympathetic sales, I’m-through-with-it-all thoroughfare and enormously helpful advice. This is the place where upper and underclassmen live in peace, sharing horror stories, anxieties and, thank God, textbooks. If you’re lucky, you may even score a hand-me-down futon in the process.

A word of caution though, know the sale price of your books before you make a deal. Just because they understand your desperation does not mean they won’t try to take advantage of it.

When Should I Get Started?

Wait until the first day, always. Walk into class bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and the first thing to be discussed will most definitely always be about textbooks. Do you need them, which editions to get, extended or abridged, etc., etc?

Even if the syllabus is already online, don’t invest until you have to. That’s always been my motto and it’s worked out for me.

So let’s say you get to class on the first day, your professor starts right off the bat by diving into the curriculum and you do, indeed, need all the materials outlined in the syllabus. What then?

Well, desperate needs call for desperate measures. Check the Facebook first, and see what you can find there. If that backfires, then go ahead and buy the first book you’ll need at the bookstore. I know what I said, but these are dire circumstances. Study your calendar, what will you be studying first? Shakespeare. Awesome, go ahead and spend the full twenty dollars on the Shakespeare’s sonnet collection and find everything else for infinitely cheaper online.

You may have to fight the urge to buy the extraneous gift crap, but you’ll still save in the long run.

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