Textbook Time

Where has summer gone? Here we are in the last few days of July, and it’s time to start thinking about school again. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Here at BJU, textbook info gets released on August 1st. Ish. Hopefully. If all goes well. And I’m a planner, so I start looking for books as soon as possible. In fact, I actually emailed my professors about textbooks last month so that I could estimate how much I would need to budget.

I’ve done four years of this. So it’s time to share some tricks I’ve learned.

First of all, don’t be afraid to email your professors.

Cheap books sell fast, so the sooner you look into books, the better off you’ll be. College professors can seem intimidating with their years of experience and myriad of degrees. But they’re actually just regular people, and in my experience, most of them act accordingly. What’s the risk? The worst they can do is fail to respond or ask you to wait until the official info is released. If you send them a polite, professional email, they will usually respond politely and professionally.

This is a great way to find out not only what books you’ll need, but also whether an older edition of the books would be acceptable. Sometimes a new edition just has a few new pictures or an extra chapter that won’t even be covered in the class. Older editions always sell for less.

My best experience so far has been this summer. I looked up the old syllabi in the course pages on my school’s intranet, copied and pasted the required text list into emails to the two professors I will have, and asked them whether those books would still be applicable to the classes. Both responded within a week, not just to me, but to the entire class. Both listed the books we would use, the editions they preferred,  the editions that would be acceptable, etc. One even listed the average price on Amazon! Is this normal? Far from it. But it just goes to show you that asking is always a good idea.

The next step? Get on Amazon Prime.

Amazon Prime has a free 6-month trial for students with a .edu email address. Which means free 2-day shipping on your orders. The fast shipping is super convenient for textbooks.

After your free trial runs out, you get the student price for Prime membership–$45 per year. And trust me, you want that. You’ll save at least that much just on shipping. And if you throw in the music and movies you can get for free with Prime membership, you have a fantastic bargain.

Check multiple places.

Don’t limit yourself to one or two ways of buying books. Explore all your options. Amazon. Ebay (and its Half.com site). Your campus store. See what you can find through word of mouth. Check to see if your school has a Facebook page where people buy, sell, rent, and swap books, then keep tabs on it and compare asking prices. Here at BJU, we also have a site called “Campus Yardsale” on our intranet.

Around this time of year, I can be seen on my laptop with about 123467812356817 tabs open to compare textbook prices. And since there have been multiple semesters when I have gotten all of my books for between $100 and $150, I say it’s worth the time and effort.

Watch for coupons.

Believe it or not, Half.com and Amazon occasionally send coupons for textbooks. Of course, you still need to be comparing prices and make sure that using the coupon is actually worth it. But let’s say Half.com has a particular book listed for $37.95 (by the time you add shipping) and Amazon has the same book listed for $30 (and you have free shipping through Prime). You have a $10 off coupon on Half.com, so that makes the price $27.95 altogether. $2.05 may not seem like much in terms of savings. But that could be a week’s worth of Ramen. Or a tube of toothpaste.

Buy more often than you rent. Rent out what you’ve bought.

I avoid renting books as much as possible. Why? Well, for major classes, I’ve got things like comprehensive exams and a thesis to think about. I want to keep those books in case I need them for reference. But if I own the books, I can also rent them out.

I still have my book from freshman English, and I rent it out every semester. I spent about $17 on that book. I’ve charged $5 per semester for rent. So in 7 semesters, I’ve gotten $35 for that book. Which means I’ve actually made $18. Worth it? I think yes.

I’m also a bit of a vulture. There are a lot of people who leave their books in the dorm hallways with signs that say, “$5 apiece” or even, “Free.” Especially at the end of spring semester. If I’ve got the money (or it’s free), I’ll pick up a few and rent them out. Also at the end of a semester, I’ll find whole textbooks left next to the paper recycling bin. Hey, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure. And like I said, even if you’re only making a few dollars in a semester, that could be your toothpaste or Ramen. I look at these as survival methods. How to tell the difference between poisonous and edible berries in the forest. How to make money off textbooks. Different contexts, same goal.


As overwhelming  and expensive as buying textbooks can be, there are smart ways to find them. Books do not have to be the cause of your financial ruin. I hope these tips are helpful! If you have any other tips and tricks for saving and making money on textbooks, feel free to share for the good of college students everywhere!








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