Why You Should Never Buy Another Textbook

by Broke Grad on March 7, 2008

I previously mentioned that buying new textbooks is a waste of money when I evaluated whether I could have avoided student debt. While textbooks are a staple of the college life, that doesn’t mean students should go broke buying the equivalent of school supplies. I made the mistake of buying new textbooks my first year of college, and it probably cost me over a hundred extra dollars. Add that up over four years, and that’s huge chunk of change.

Fortunately, I learned quickly from my freshman mistake and never made the same mistake again. Why should you pay full price for a book that you’ll probably never read again? If you plan on reselling the book, there’s always the chance that a new edition will come out or the professor will switch to a different book. However, you can save money on your textbooks and still have the opportunity to resell them after you’re done by following a few simple tips.

  • Buy used textbooks if they’re available. Unless the book is a brand new edition, you should be able to find a used copy of almost every textbook in reasonable condition. While campus bookstores are usually the most convenient place to find these, you can usually save some more money by buying used textbooks online at a site like Amazon.
  • Share a textbook with someone else in the same class. While this won’t work for every class, it should work out fine for some classes. By splitting the cost of the book with someone else, you get a 50% discount on the book.
  • Borrow a textbook from a friend who has already taken the class. Some people like to hang on to certain textbooks for posterity’s sake. A lot of times they’ll be willing to lend a textbook to you for a semester. Just remember to return it back in a similar condition if you still want to be their friend.
  • Go to the library and use their copies of textbooks. As a child of the Digital Age, I must admit that I’ve only made a handful of trips to the library throughout college. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are literally hundreds of thousands of books that you have access to for free. As an added bonus, it’ll force you to go the library and study.
  • Talk to people who have taken the class and find out if all of the textbooks are used in the class. Sometimes professors will list a bunch of textbooks, but only some of them are mandatory. By talking to people who have already taken the class, you can avoid wasting money on the ones that aren’t going to be used.
  • Sell the textbook after you’re done with it. Assuming you bought a used textbook and didn’t completely annihilate it, you should be able to resell it to someone else for around the same price you originally paid for it. I’ve gotten the most money back by selling textbooks to friends/acquaintances or selling them online. In general, you get horrible deals when you sell textbooks back to campus bookstores, so avoid doing that if possible.

That’s it! By following these simple tips, you can literally save hundreds of dollars over the course of your college career.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cheap Textbooks March 7, 2008 at 12:27 pm

Solid post. Last year i found all my textbooks available at my campus library. I would also suggest for students to buy from amazon.com and then at the end of the semester to sell textbooks back to valorebooks.com.

2 N. & J. March 9, 2008 at 5:58 am

Another good place to buy and sell books of all kinds if half.com



3 Shaun March 9, 2008 at 10:35 pm

Ah, very good advice. I bookmarked the site. I’m a senior about to go to college, and I need to make sure I don’t go into debt — brilliant site concept. I can’t believe more haven’t thought of it. :)

4 Broke Grad Student March 9, 2008 at 11:40 pm

Shaun, thanks for stopping by, and I’m glad you enjoy the site. You’re already off to a great start by researching information on financing college before you’ve even started.

5 Bart March 11, 2008 at 12:49 pm

Again, nice tips. I’m an undergrad, but I do the same thing. I go to the library and they have at least 4 copies of the texts I need on reserve. They even have pay-per-page photocopiers right next to the reserve desk.

Also, look for the course instructors names and contact info a few weeks before classes start. Call or email them and ask them if old editions of the book work. I’ve had several math classes where the syllabus states something like “Calc 3, Varberg 9th edition”, but after talking with the professor, finding out that the 9th edition is just the same as the 9th with arbitrary “updates”. Price difference between a new 9th (no used available) and used 8th editions? About $80 bucks.

Even when the book is changed, if you can borrow the new copies and get compare. My Biology book was like that – I simply photocopied the questions at the end of the chapter that we had to do for homework and completed them with my old edition.

Even when the upda

6 Funny about Money March 11, 2008 at 9:59 pm

Mostly I’d like to throttle my students who can’t bring themselves to get ahold of the assigned texts. A third of the students in my two classes flunked their most recent assignment because they tried to get information off the Web–outdated, often wrong–that was readily available in the text I’d asked them to buy or get at the library reference desk.

BTW, the reason for the endless redundant new editions of textbooks is the rapacious used-book market, wherein students are paid peanuts for turning in their books, which are then resold to more students for almost-new prices….cutting out publishers and authors. Authors have to eat and publishers need to make a profit; the only way to get around this abusive system is to keep churning out “new editions” with minor changes. It’s a rip all the way around, for students, authors, and publishers.

Books are the wellspring of education. They are things to keep, to cherish, and to use for the rest of your life. If you’re taking courses whose texts you will never again look at after you finish the class, making you’re majoring in the wrong subject?

7 Bart March 12, 2008 at 9:36 am


Isn’t it Francis Bacon who said,

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

Likewise, some book are meant to be read for a season and discarded while others are to be cherished forever. However, I’ll never look at my biology textbook because I’m mostly a mathematician – if I need to a reference book there are plenty at the library to suit my occasional need for such.

You’re an English phd right? What suggestions do you have that could improve the textbook situation? Any thing you’ve done that has worked?

8 Elle July 20, 2008 at 9:04 pm

I rented a textbook last semester, from Chegg.com. I paid half of the price of the used version for a book I knew I didn’t want to keep, and the price covered all of the shipping costs and I got to keep it for the whole semester with a couple of weeks leeway on either side of the semester. I also knew that I would loose more money trying to sell this book back than I would when I rented it.

9 ElinyncFlolla April 9, 2013 at 9:19 pm

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