Save Money on Your Textbooks by Not Buying Them

You really want to know the best way to save money on textbooks? The answer isn’t buying them used, or buying them on Amazon or eBay, or trading your buddy a package of Ramen noodles for the Chem. text from the course he failed last semester. The best way to save money on textbooks is not buying them at all.

OK, I might be exaggerating a little bit. You can buy *some* of your books. But wait a while. I learned this lesson really fast during my first semester at community college. I spent three hundred bucks on books only to end up using one of them. Those were some expensive paper weights. That was the last time I bought my textbooks before the semester began.

But won’t my professor be mad?

No, they won’t. They don’t expect you to have your text the first day. Most don’t even expect you to have it the first week. Hell, some won’t even use the textbook at all. I’ll talk about that in more detail in a minute.

But if I wait until later, all the used books are gone!!

Ah, the glorious “used book.” It’s amazing how colleges can turn a bunch of wrinkled, torn up paper into something so desirable, isn’t it? Let me tell you something about used textbooks. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who attends a school that rents out their textbooks, don’t pay for used books from your college. Buy them online. (Note: You can also do what I did and become one of the “lucky few.” I transferred to Southeast Missouri State this fall :P)

College bookstores are businesses.

A good rule of thumb is this: if you’re buying it from a college bookstore, you’re getting ripped off. It’s sad but true. That’s why a backpack from your university bookstore costs $40, while the exact some one at Wal-Mart costs $20. Most colleges run their bookstores as businesses to make a profit. This means they’re charging you more than they paid for that item. In fact, probably a lot more. Some colleges make literally millions of dollars a year from their bookstores. For many state colleges, and especially junior colleges, the bookstore is an integral source of income for the school. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except when a college or university tries to hide it.

OMG used books!!!1

Your college encourages you to buy used books because they know the used books run out first. You and I know this too, so that’s why we rush in the first chance we get, usually about 5 minutes after we pick our classes, to get a hold of one of the precious used textbooks (cue heavenly singing.) Here’s my advice if you’ve bought used textbooks from your college bookstore: Don’t get on the computer and see how much you would have saved online, because you might want to throw that precious textbook out the window.

Your college bookstore isn’t evil. It’s just a business like any other. They’re in it for the money, and as a consumer you have to make educated choices for your purchases. One common excuse the bookstores use is that the high prices are the fault of the textbook manufacturers who charge them an arm and a leg for new books, and they’re just passing the buck to us. This is true, which leads me to my next point:

Don’t EVER Ever Ever ever ever ever buy new textbooks!

Ever. Unless it’s a brand new edition that you can’t find used. If this is the case, you should consider buying the previous edition used. You might be surprised how little difference there is between different editions of the same textbook. Usually they’ll just switch the order of the pages and chapters and slap a different cover on it. The content is the same.

And now we’re rounding third and coming home, bringing me back to my first point.

Don’t buy them at all.

Next semester, just show up to each class for a few days before you decide whether you need the text or not. Ask the professor whether you’re *really* going to use it. Most professors will be honest (although your college probably frowns upon their professors telling you anything besides: “yes! most definitely buy the book from the bookstore! In fact, buy two!!”) and honestly tell you whether they think you will need it or not. Find other kids who have taken the same course with the same professor and ask whether they used it.

It’s never too late to buy books off the internet. Even if you’re halfway through the semester and you realize you’re in over your head, get on Amazon and see who has your text. Many, if not most, used bookstores list their inventory on Amazon. You should try to save money, but don’t get a crappy grade in a class because you’re too cheap to buy the book. If you’re willing to pay a few extra bucks, you can have it shipped overnight and get it the next day. Just in time to cram for that final.

Some of it comes down to how hard you’re willing to work. One semester I got an A in my psychology class without ever buying the text, and the teacher even told us we HAD to have it to get an A in her class. But I showed up to class every day, took notes like a mad man, studied the heck out of my notes, and managed to pull off an A- in the class. Having to work a little harder was worth the $60 I saved.

So just take a deep breath and chill out. Bring a folder, notebook, and pen with you on your first day. That’s all you’ll need. You don’t need to be carrying all those books around anyway. It’s bad for your back. 😉

Use Continuous Self-Testing to Remember Information

Quizzing yourself is really a great study tool. But when you’re cramming, there’s not a whole lot of time to write up your own flash cards is there?

I suggest you use what I call “continuous self testing” to memorize stuff the first time around. Immediately after you read a key piece of information; say a definition or description of a theory, immediately quiz yourself on it by making up a question for that piece of information.

For example, you’re trying to remember this piece of information:

“Erikson’s first stage of psychosocial development is called “Trust vs Mistrust.”

Wrong way
You: “K. Gotta remember this! Erikson’s first stage was Trust vs Mistrust. Erikson’s first stage was Trust vs Mistrust. Erikson’s first stage was Trust vs Mistrust. Erikson’s first stage was Trust vs Mistrust.”

When this question pops up on your exam, you’ll have a hard time remembering it because you didn’t create a link to it in your brain. That sentence is still floating around in your mind somewhere, but without anyway to find it, you’re in trouble.

Right way
You: “Ok, now what was Erikson’s first stage called? Hmm…I just read it a second ago…I remember…Trust vs Mistrust!”

That’s it. It might sound silly until you actually do it, and realize how hard it is to really commit something to memory. Even doing this right after you’ve read something will create a much stronger memory that’s way easier to recall.

And this really makes sense when you think about it. You’re practicing for exactly what you’ll be doing a couple hours later for your test. Would you practice for a baseball game by repeating some mantra over and over again? “I will swing the bat and hit the ball. I will swing the bat and hit the ball…” No, you would practice by actually playing baseball.