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How to Hunt for Textbooks

Updated on December 21, 2012

College college COLLEGE

Textbook hunting, searching, snaggling, and other sneaky tricks to avoid paying a ridiculously large amount of your parents' money on stupid books that you will use for maybe one semester. Dang those college textbook companies!!!

The Beginning

Oh the fury and dreading of textbook lists. It is the epitome of the outrageous price that students must pay in order to simply receive a Bachelor's degree with the hopes of better chances at finding a job out in the world. As I entered the college world and balked for the first time at the price of books, I decided right then and there that this was absolutely unnecessary and that there had to other option out there somewhere. And so there is. From my own experiences of textbook hunting, I have compiled a few alternatives to standard textbook purchasing, hopefully some of which may save you a few hundred dollars in the future.

Let's start out with a standard textbook list. A sample list I had to purchase is as follows:

C++ Programming Language......................... $90.00

Fundamentals of Database Systems............. $138.00

Logic and Computer Design Fundamentals... $190.00

Probability and Statistics................................ $242.35

TOTAL........................................................... $660.35

Now, mind you, this is a lighter textbook load. According to the New York Times, in 2009, the average expenditures was between $700 and $1000.

These prices come from my college bookstore. Most students tend to take the easy route and simply click "Purchase" at the bottom of an online list, thereby purchasing new (sometimes used) books directly from their school bookstore where they can later pick them up. However, with a little effort, the books can be directly sent to your dorm or apartment at a much cheaper price.

Check out some of the posts below to find out what some other options are to save you money. Please pay attention to the types of books each method is useful for for best results! Happy hunting!

P.S. You know that humongo list I posted at the top? Well check out the End post to see how I was able to cut out nearly $500! Each module gives you extra info about how I chopped out that tree!

Buy 'Em New Sell 'Em Back

Sometimes, buying them new is the best option because of its resell value. If an edition of a book has just been recently released (within the last quarter), a book can have a really high resell value. For example, the Fundamentals of Database Systems textbook just came out with the 6th edition in 2011 which means that you can get up to about $80.00 in resell value by simply using online buyback sites (I will explain this later). Even if you buy it new from your college bookstore, your net price at the end of the quarter ends up to be around $58.00. Not bad eh? Also, if a textbook only has one edition out and no more coming out (this case is really rare, but it can happen with some general education books such as history), the resell value also tends to be quite high.

Total saved: $80.00.

Craigslist to Buy and Sell

This is the first place I look for all my textbooks. Craigslist is almost guaranteed to have the lowest prices on textbooks compared to any other place because the students who sell the books are trying to sell them desperately. You might have to spend a little gas money to purchase these books, but the payoff is totally worth it. For example, I was able to locate the Statistics book's chapters on Craigslist for $30. Now, the catches are that they are just printed copies and not the actual bound book and it contains only chapter 1-5. However, a quick look at the syllabus can tell me that chapter 1-5 are all that I need. Yay!

Total saved: $212.35.

Craigslist is also a great way to sell used textbooks. No matter what state they are in, if you post a reasonable price which is miles cheaper than the college bookstore price, they will sell. When I post my books on Craigslist, I tend to do a quick research on the latest prices on used books (and corresponding edition) and mark mine down $5 from that. They sell like hot cakes.

Tricks and Tips to Selling

The biggest power point you can capitalize is trying to get as much back as you can when selling your textbook. While I am no expert at selling anything, I do try and make it a point to research different selling mediums and look at what gives me the best deal: Craigslist may have no commission price but the outreach is much smaller than say, eBay where there could be a commission, but a greater chance at selling. The following are some books that could prove to be a useful and quick read to trying to get back as much money as you can and hopefully shaving a bit off of student loans! Good luck!

International Editions

This is really my secret to success. Most books that are required for college studies are also reprinted around the world on cheaper, thinner paper, but with the exact same content. The quality can be occasionally lacking and the front cover may look a little wacky (my ECE book's front cover was printed in Chinese), but the books are, in essence, the same and ridiculously cheaper. As a caution, there are certain rules about selling international editions of books, but there are loopholes that allow you to resell them on Craigslists or on school trading sites for personal benefit. So how to find these books? A quick search on some popular sites such as bigword.com, bookfinder.com, and textbookprices.com can lead to vendors selling these editions. Abebooks is one of my personal favorite vendors. Orders for these books should be placed as early as possible because the books generally come from some non-North American country and can take up to a month. But, they will be delivered right to your door.

On more word of caution, very very occasionally, the problems at the end of the chapters may differ in the international edition but usually, there is a guarantee available from the vendor that can vouch for same problems. As far as I know, I have never had a problem with that. And well, if there is, that's why you be aware of the vendor's return policy. With a quick 2 minute search from the above sites, I was able to locate the Logic and Computer Design book for $75.00 and the C++ book for $31.98. If you sell these books back, you may even score a better net deal!

Total saved: $173.02.

The End

(well... only the beginning of the end)

The road to textbook hunting search can be quite rewarding with a little time and effort. I would suggest completing the above mentioned suggestion in this order: Craigslist, Buy New Sell Old, and then International. Of course, there are special cases for all textbooks which you will find as you become more accustomed to the art of textbook hunting. In case you are interested, there are several other options that are available for textbooks including eBooks and rentals, which I have not covered in this particular article. Be open to trying new things and I believe you shall find it greatly rewards. Just a quick summary of our expenditures is needed before this article comes to a close, though.

New Prices!

C++ Programming Language......................... $31.98

Fundamentals of Database Systems............. $58.00

Logic and Computer Design Fundamentals... $75.00

Probability and Statistics................................ $30.00

TOTAL........................................................... $194.98

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    • poldepc lm profile image

      poldepc lm 5 years ago

      thx for sharing

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      Good lens! I definitely want to see more of your writing. Getting our textbooks (for my kids) has saved us HUGE. My biggest SALE on Amazon was when I dug a textbook still in the plastic wrap out of the paper waste bin in our apartment building. I sold it for $40!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      Jump back!!! Probability and Statistics? Hey, I took that course two -- actually two semesters. Challenging and interesting and a pretty heft price for a textbook!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      It is a very interesting. Thank you.