If you’re looking for five simple rules on how to save as much as $1200 every year on college textbooks, or even how to score free textbooks, this is the article for you! I’m a real student at Trinity Western University and have followed my own advice to incredible success and a fat(ter) wallet. While I write it from the vantage point of a TWU student, my advice will work at any and all colleges and universities worldwide. I may still be a poor college student, but at least I’m not needlessly wasting money on boring and expensive college textbooks! Helloooo, new iPod.
Trinity Western University was recently rated by the Globe and Mail (sort of like the Canadian version of the US News and World Report publication) as one of the best universities in all of Canada. Located in Langley, British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada, a private university with the high academic reputation of Trinity Western University means one thing: Expensive textbooks, and lots of them.
College students often forget that college textbooks are a huge chunk of their college and university tuition, even though it is not included in the tuition costs a university might quote you. Smaller universities might cost you only five or six hundred dollars, which is what I paid when attending the University of Hawaii. However, after transferring to Trinity Western University, the amount I pay every year for university textbooks jumped to approximately $1,200-the amount that TWU says students should budget for textbook expenses.
$1,200 is a lot of money for a student like me. It can by you a thousand songs on iTunes, twenty expensive dinners, sixty tickets to big concerts like Evanescence or The Fray, or even a new Apple Macbook. Thus, I was rather bothered by the fact that I had to shell out almost a grand every year for ridiculously boring college textbooks that I’d use once and never need-or want-to touch again.
After one semester of paying full price for college textbooks at Trinity Western University, I began to search around for alternatives to the expensive TWU Bookstore. There had to be a way to spend a lot less on college textbooks!
I was right.
Here are five ways to get cheap college textbooks at Trinity Western University, or any college for that matter. If you follow my advice, you may even be able to score FREE textbooks. For a poor university student, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Rule #1: Never, ever, EVER buy from the official university bookstore.
Official university bookstores are notoriously overpriced. Seriously, who pays $2 for a pencil? The only other place in the world you can buy such overpriced merchandise is if you were a Democrat politician trying to slip $5,000 toilet seats into the U.S. Congress’ annual budget.
The bookstore at Trinity Western University (http://bookstore.twu.ca) sells everything you need at, well, prices you quite frankly don’t need. You’ll automatically save money right away by walking right on past the bookstore’s doors (although if you want a hoodie or sweatshirt to sport your school pride, you have no choice but shop there).
Rule #2: Buy used college textbooks from the student association.
The official student association at Trinity Western University is the creatively named Trinity Western University Student Association http://twusa.ca). Abbreviated, it’s “TWUSA,” which the U.S. students get quite a kick out of. Joking aside, TWUSA (and similar student associations at other universities) are an incredible source of cheap used college textbooks.
Used prices through TWUSA are as much as 90% cheaper than the new prices in the official bookstore. For example, I needed a piece of classical literature for my English class. In the official TWU bookstore, the book was $20. Sure, that’s not too expensive. But wait: TWUSA sold the same book, used, for $3. Would I rather pay twenty dollars or three dollars? Guess what I picked.
TWUSA operates something called “The Cube,” where students give them their used books and TWUSA sells them and gives the students their money when the book is sold. The students decide the price to list the books at, and you can access all of it at http://students.twu.ca.
If you don’t go to Trinity Western University, contact the student association at your college or university and ask them where they sell their used books. Every student association organizes something similar to The Cube where students can buy heavily discounted, used books.
Rule #3: Buy used college textbooks at informal book sales.
Every semester, posters go up around Trinity Western University announcing a used textbook sale. It’s very informal and happens in the first two weeks of each semester. Students bring out blankets and set out their wares on the lawn in the middle of the university. You walk around looking at everyone’s books and deal directly with the students, rather than a middle man like at The Cube. You can often score a very cheap deal on science textbooks from the Asian students, as well as classical literature from English majors who no longer want fifty copies of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I picked up a book for my journalism class at this informal student-run book sale for a paltry $10, while the same book in The Cube was $25. Don’t even get me started on what the official Trinity Western University bookstore was selling it for (Hint: You could feed a whole village of African orphans with the same amount of money).
If you go to other universities, keep an eye out for posters or flyers announcing book sales, and ask other students about when it happens.
Rule #4: Shop for college textbooks online.
Go to your bookstore and get a list of all the required textbooks that you need for your class. Right down the ISBN numbers, then take that list to your computer and check out Amazon.com (or Amazon.ca if you are a Canadian student). Search for the book by the ISBN number; this guarantees that you are getting the exact same book as sold in the bookstore, not some crappy old version.
Check the prices and the cost of shipping to ensure the final price is still cheaper than what you could get on campus. If it is, order away! Amazon often has discounts on shipping if you order over a certain amount (usually $25).
Every semester, I end up buying a couple books online and end up saving about $50.
Rule #5: Shop around and break Rule #1
The problem with buying books at informal book sales or through The Cube is that they don’t always have the book you need right away. And if you buy a textbook through an online bookstore like Amazon.com, you have to wait for them to ship it to you. Here’s the way to get the absolute best deals on college books without going for a few weeks without textbooks.
First, buy all your college textbooks new at the official university bookstore. I know, that breaks Rule #1. But you’ll see why you want to do this.
Buy your books and save your receipt. Most importantly, take very good care of these books. You’re going to be sneaky and return them later, so they have to be in new, re-saleable condition as well as still have all their tags, stickers and receipts. Unfortunately, this will not work on shrink-wrapped books.
Second, do your shopping around at The Cube, the informal book sale and online. Keep track of all your books and their prices and buy the best deals you can find.
As you buy and/or receive the textbooks that you found on the cheap, return the new, expensive version. Soon, all of those new textbooks will be returned (and you’ll have all of your money back) and you’ll still have cheap textbooks.
Example: Let’s say you’re taking Science 452 and need Bimolecular Mechanical Engineering (I’m not sure if that’s a new book, I just made it up. If it’s real, it must be one heckuva hard book to read).
1. Buy the textbook at the university bookstore for $78.
2. You now have the book you need for class and can start using it right away.
3. Check The Cube ($40), the informal book sale ($50) and online at Amazon ($45). You see that The Cube sells this textbook for the cheapest, so buy another copy of the book there.
4. Return your original copy and pocket the $78 you get back.
The advantage to this method is that you never go without having the textbooks you need in class. And in the end, you will still get cheap college textbooks and end up paying over a thousand dollars less every year.
Happy shopping, and here’s to you finding cheap college textbooks at your university. Now go blow all that money you saved and get a new laptop (I’d recommend a Macbook).
ENDNOTE: How to get free college textbooks
This might sound corny, but make lots of friends in different majors. At the end of each semester, see what classes they’re taking. It is inevitable that you will be taking classes that they just finished taking, and vice versa. Swap textbooks with each other. It’s so easy, and a great way to get free textbooks to a class that you are taking next semester.
Another way to do this is to go on Facebook and check the class listing of students in the current semester. If they are taking a class right now that you will be taking in the future, send them a message and see if they’d be willing to trade for a textbook that you have. Most will say yes, and you’ll both save a lot of money.