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The Nerd’s Word: The Blueprint for Buying Textbooks

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College is a big business, and one of the biggest expenses in this business – next to tuition, room, and board, is textbooks. Nothing hits your party fund like a trip to the campus bookstore. Reselling books may recoup some of your investment, but not all. You shouldn’t have to take out extra loans just to cover your books. The Nerd is here to offer you some alternative approaches to the costly textbook dilemma; just follow this tip guide to lessen the cost of your education.

Register for your classes as early as possible. Start researching courses as soon as you can, and solidify your schedule early. If you have to change classes at the last minute, it’ll be hard to escape high textbook prices.

Find out what books you’ll need for your classes. Go to the bookstore just to browse. Leave the wallet at home, but bring a pen and paper. Look for your classes and the new semester’s required books. Ask the bookstore employees to assist you if needed. If your 0classes’ book requirements are not in yet, inquire as to when they will be and come back on that date. You may also be able to get this information off the bookstore’s website or your classes’ web pages.

Write down the following information for each book:

– the name and volume/edition of the book

– the name of the author

– the book’s International Standard Book Number (ISBN), found on or near the barcode on the back of book

– the price

Try to find the books in the library. Check the catalogs of your school library and the local public library. If you can’t find a book there, try to obtain the book via inter-library loan. Depending on the library’s borrowing policies, you may be able to check out books for the whole semester or at least for as long as you’ll need them. You’ll want to get on this early, though, because supplies will be limited. If they do not have the current edition, it is likely that they may have previous editions, with most of the same information (see below on previous editions).

Check your library reserve. If a book is on reserve, the professor has provided the library with one or a few copies of the book for students to borrow for several hours at a time provided they do not leave the library. Be careful before class, tests, or major homework assignments, because reserve copies are often checked out at critical times; however, with proper planning you will have no problem. Alternatively, buy or borrow a previous edition for the chapter content, and use the reserve copy only for the homework problems. If the text isn’t available on reserve, e-mail the professor and ask if she’d be willing to put a copy on reserve.

Search for books on the Internet. If you can’t get a book at the library, or if you’ll need to be able to keep a book or write in it, look for better prices online. Usually all you’ll need is the book’s ISBN. In the search box of your favorite search engine, enter onlySharing, the ISBN number, without the dashes that separate the digits. You should come up with several exact matches; in the unlikely event that you don’t, try searching by title. Verify you have the correct book using the other information you wrote down.

Consider renting. Some sites will rent you textbooks for a fraction of the cost of purchasing them. Shipping is often free for either the receive or return, depending on the service you use.

Buy bundles. Bundled books save you money by allowing you to buy your books in one shrink-wrapped package, often at a discount.

Shop around online. Most likely just about any price you find online will be cheaper than the bookstore, but check as many sites as possible to find the cheapest possible book. Check out online auction marketplaces. While you won’t be able to find as many books at auctions, you may be able to find screaming deals.

Check out local bookstores. You may be able to find a good deal locally, especially once you factor in shipping charges. Even if you can’t quite match an online price locally, you’ll be able to see the book before you purchase and you’ll get the satisfaction of helping local merchants.

Inquire about earlier editions. If the current edition’s used price is still too much, use the book name to find an earlier edition: enter the book title in the search box and remove any references to what edition it is. You’ll find that the cheapest used version of the newest edition generally sells for 3-5 times the price of a previous edition. Before buying, be aware that page numbers, chapter order, and homework problems will almost certainly be different, and content may vary as well. However, often there are only minor difference between the two, and the homework problems are the only thing that may give you trouble (see above about library reserve, or below about sharing). Other than that, you will rarely have a problem, particularly for core texts on basic subjects. If in doubt, however, ask the professor or TA about using an earlier edition before you buy; you don’t want to have to pay for a book twice.

Share. Particularly for your core courses, try to take the same classes as your roommates or friends, and share a book. You’ll learn better if you study together anyway. Alternatively, get an old edition (see above) and borrow from a friend only minimally to access the homework problems.

Consider used books. Used books are almost always cheaper than new ones, and if you can find a used version online in good condition it may be a good bet. You may also be able to get used books at your campus bookstore, especially if you shop early or pre-order. Compare prices to find the best deal. Also used books may have the previous students notes in them which is a plus because you won’t have to make them.

Scour your campus. Some colleges have student groups that sell used textbooks for older students or that otherwise facilitate buying and selling of books. Ask your friends, look at flyers around campus, and watch the student paper for deals.

Resell your books. If you don’t foresee that you’ll need a book after the semester ends, try to resell it as soon as possible. Find out what your campus bookstore and local booksellers will pay, and consider putting up flyers around campus and/or selling it online. If your book is in high demand, you may be able to sell a book online within a day, and at a much higher price than you’ll get at the bookstore.

It doesn’t take a Nerd to know that you will need textbooks to stay on top of your courseload.  You shouldn’t have to take too much of a hit to the wallet for arming yourself with the necessary tools to succeed in the classroom.  By taking a lesson or two from our textbook purchasing guide above, you won’t have to make the choice between your savings account and GPA – you can have it all with the help of the Nerd.  Next week, the Nerd zeroes in on what you need to do to prepare for your upcoming finals.

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