I hate that it’s July and we’re already thinking about textbooks for the Fall semester. Alas, college.
In the past I’ve covered different ways we’ve saved money, including getting the books directly from kind professors for free or using the reserve section of our library. But today, I want to cover different ways to get the book in your own backpack via some type of purchase, and which kind of purchase is best.
Should you rent or buy your textbook? Get a hard copy or an electronic version? A lot of it comes down to your own personal needs and the pricing for your specific book.
Cheap Paper Rental
The first commandment of buying textbooks is to never, ever buy a new paper copy. Never. It’s way expensive, and it depreciates so quickly that you’re not likely to be able to recoup a meaningful portion of your costs.
So we know we’re either buying used or electronic. We’re either purchasing or renting. For Scenario A, let’s look at a textbook that was required for both the husband and I in our respective English writing courses:
On Amazon, you can buy it used starting at $61.99. When you buy used, you can always resell when the semester’s over to recoup some of your costs.
However, Amazon gives you the option to rent a hard copy for $12.98. This is crazy low. It’s low enough that even if you bought used and resold, at the end of the day you’d probably be out more than $12.98.
Amazon also has a rental option for Kindle that would run you $47.85. Or, you can buy the Kindle version for $81.47. eTextbooks typically don’t include digital extras—in this case MyWritingLab (which neither the husband or I were required to use.)
Amazon’s eTextbook prices aren’t always the best on the market, though. When we hop over to VitalSource, we find a rental price of $44.99, or a purchase price of $64.99. With eTextbooks, the only reason I can think of to buy would be if it’s a text that’s going to be critical in your chosen career path.
Buy and Resell
Sometimes buying used may not appear to be the cheapest option at first glance, but when you account for the fact that you can resell you realize it may be your best bet. Let’s take a look at this book:
The current cheapest used paper version on Amazon is going to run you $57.00 plus $3.99 for shipping, for a total of $60.99.
The next cheapest option would be to rent on VitalSource for $67.48 for four months. If you like the idea of not having to lug around a textbook in your backpack, the extra few dollars may not seem like a big deal.
That ignores, though, the fact that when you buy a paper version, you have the ability to resell it at the end of the semester. Let’s say you only sold it for 75% of what you bought it for originally. In the end, you still would have only lost about $15.25 on the book. Fifteen twenty-five is a lot less than $67.48.
Niche Down and Own eTextbooks
In my experience, eTextbooks provide the most value when you’re really niching down to your specific course of study and want to hold onto the text to help you in your career. For example, this textbook is clearly specifically for geologists who will need to convey their research and findings to other scientists:
If I were a geology major, I’d want to hold onto this one tight. Because it’s so career-specific, there aren’t as many paper copies flooding the used book market as texts for general ed courses or electives. In fact, the cheapest used version on Amazon is going for $44.62.
You could do that, or you could own the e-version from VitalSource for only $30.99. Because you’re not reselling, you’re not going to recoup any costs, so the e-version is truly $13.63 cheaper. The Kindle version costs $38.27 to own.
When you’re getting into higher level courses that provide information that will be useful in your career, definitely look at the eTextbook option.
Note for Pell Grant Recipients
This tidbit of advice is specifically for Pell Grant recipients, particularly at community colleges, or anyone who has excess funds that their school has not yet released to them. Your school will tell you that you can purchase at the bookstore on credit. Then the money will come out of the excess funds they would have released to your further into the semester.
Avoid doing this at all costs. While it’s a convenient solution if you don’t have the money to purchase the books today, buying at the bookstore will cost you a heck of a lot more than buying almost anywhere else. Besides, most professors aren’t going to require you to have your books on Day One. Wait to see if you’ll actually need the text, and then, if you do, find a way to scrounge up enough money to purchase them anywhere but your bookstore. Doing so will save you hundreds.
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