Pros and Cons of Getting Textbooks on the Cheap

By Lauren Sharkey

While all of us are looking for ways to save money, there is a difference between cutting costs and cutting corners.  If you’re not careful, cheap textbooks could wind up costing you more in the long run.  Here are some things you should look out for:

1.  Don’t get used by used books.

Even though buying used books can save you some serious cash – there are some drawbacks.  Buying textbooks is a stressful activity – even if you plan your trip to the bookstore during a time when you are convinced no one will be there, it always seems that EVERYONE is there.  After squeezing through strangers in crowded aisles, waiting in line at the help desk because you’ve been in the Accounting section for an hour and can’t find “Basics of Accounting”, and then waiting on an even longer line to purchase a single book because the rest of your books are on back order, you kind of just want to get out of there as fast as you can.  Checking your books to make sure they are intact is the last thing on your mind.

Well, the old saying is true – don’t judge a book by its cover.  Just because a book has an intact cover doesn’t mean the inside is the same.  Always flip through your used books to make sure there is no inner damage such as ripped out pages, doodles, or worse.

2.  Sharing isn’t for everyone

Having a study buddy is great, but there are some serious complications that can arise when you agree to share a book with someone.  Scheduling conflicts can make sharing a textbook difficult – especially when you have readings and assignments to complete.  That’s not to say sharing a book can’t work, though.  Just follow some of these guidelines for a smoother agreement:

  • Try to share a book with someone who lives in close proximity:  If you live on campus, but the person you are looking to share with lives in Queens, chances are you’re going to have problems.  The closer you are, the easier time you will have exchanging the book.
  • Less is more:  Basic math dictates that when you split costs, the more people splitting, the cheaper each person’s share is.  While that is true, sharing one textbook among five people is highly impractical and will cause more problems than it solves.
  • Come up with a schedule:  Take a look at the syllabus and set up a schedule so that each of you will be able to have the book and still be able to complete all assigned work.  Perhaps you can study and work together before exams and work independently the rest of the semester.
  • Be Respectful:  Remember that you are sharing a book with someone else.  Don’t wait until the last minute to do your work and have to ask the other person you’re sharing with if they can give you more time.  Budget your time with the book properly so that others can also use it.

3. Library

The library is a great resource for textbooks.  Unfortunately, however, your textbook is never guaranteed to be there.  Someone else may check it out before you or there might not be enough copies.  Making copies of the readings beforehand can save you time and headaches.

4.  Renter’s Remorse…it’s a thing.

If the inflation of college textbooks has done one thing right, it’s the ability to rent textbooks.  Renting textbooks is a great way to get the books you need at a decent price.  However, before you opt to rent, there are some things you should keep in mind.

  • The Future:  granted there are a great many books we will probably never use once the semester is over.  However, if the textbook you are looking to rent is required for a course for your major, you might want to reconsider renting.  Intro class textbooks often come in handy later down the road as references to material you may have forgotten.  So think twice before opting to rent.
  • Limitations:  I don’t know about you, but I like to highlight and write notes in my books.  Some rental companies do not permit you to write or mark up the book in any way, so as to preserve the quality for the next renter.  If you like to mark up your books, renting might not be for you.
  • Return policies:  Some rental vendors have strict rules when it comes to returning your rentals.  If the book is damaged in any way, or not up to their standards, you could incur sizable fees that might cost you!  In addition, if you don’t return your books on time, vendors will not hesitate to apply late fees to your account.
  • Not everything is included:  Supplemental materials such as CDs, workbooks, and online access might not be included with your rental.  Always check before you check out!
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