Cash for College: Buying Books Online

August 31, 2010
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Last month I pitched Adams Media, publisher of Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less and Toss, Keep, Sell!: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Cleaning Out the Clutter and Cashing In, what I hoped would be the  third book in the Suddenly Frugal series. Called Cash for College: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Financing a Child’s Education, it was pitched as a book that would help real-life parents figure out creative ways to cuts costs, sock away cash and, ultimately, pay to send their kids to college.

Unfortunately, Adams passed on the idea.

As I do with any book proposal I write, I created a sample chapter to give the publisher a sense of my voice and writing style. Not one to let good work go to waste, in the next three days I’m going to run a portion of that sample chapter, which happens to be on a timely topic–especially if your kid is starting his/her college semester this week: getting college textbooks for as little dough as possible.

Today’s post is how you can save money buying your college books online.

According to the College Board (the company that administers the SATs), the national average for annual textbook spending alone at four-year public colleges in 2009-10 is $1,122. But clever college students don’t need to pay nearly anything close to that number when securing books for the semester. One option is buying books online.

Like with most things you buy online, college students can often get the best price on textbooks when they leave the college bookstore and log onto the Internet. Believe it or not, Amazon.com has a huge array of college textbooks for sale–from college physics textbooks to physical education–with new prices that are better than you can find in a college store.

Before you put any textbooks in your online shopping cart, though, make sure you do some comparison shopping. For this I would recommend using price-comparison sites, such as Bigwords.com or Campusbooks.com. To make this work, you plug in a book’s ISBN, or if you don’t have that, the book’s title, and the internal “search engines” on these sites will sniff out the best prices online for that book.

Another trick that many college students have recently discovered–buying the international version of a college textbook, rather than the American version. How do you do this? Instead of logging onto Amazon.com (the “.com” ending being the U.S.-based bookseller’s website), for example, instead visit Amazon.co.uk–the British version of Amazon.com.

A New York Times article reported that students who’ve tried this trick were able to get a textbook retailing in the United-States for $120 for only $50, just by ordering from the international version of a website. Even with $25 for shipping, they still saved money overall. The same article also said that except for a stamp on the cover pronouncing the textbook to be the “international” version and some variations in spelling–such as the British spelling of “favour” for the English word “favor”–the textbooks were nearly identical to the ones retailing in stateside college bookstores.

Many students also swear by Half.com, a site where you can finds millions of used books for sale, including college textbooks, often for more than half off what you would pay at another online site. And don’t forget about Amazon Marketplace for finding used or older versions–and cheaper, too–of the book on your required reading list.

Speaking of older versions of a textbook, often the best way to save the most is to buy a slightly outdated edition. While many professors may not encourage this practice openly–and neither will the textbook companies that rely on the revenue stream from newer textbooks–the truth is that when most textbooks get updated, the new information is so marginal as not to really affect your learning in the long run. In fact, sometimes the information on the inside is exactly the same but only the cover has changed–for example, with images to reflect current events, as might be the case with a history textbook.

Another reason a textbook might have a new “edition”? Because now it comes with new accessories, such as a CD-ROM. Now if you need this CD-ROM as part of your class assignments, then this “buying old” approach won’t work–unless you can find the CD-ROM version in you school library so you can check it out as needed.

Tomorrow I’ll cover textbook rentals!

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9 Responses to Cash for College: Buying Books Online

  1. […] Suddenly Frugal Blog » Blog Archive » Cash for College: Buying … […]

  2. […] last week’s series of blog posts on saving money on college books, I thought you might be interested in this information from the National Association of College […]

  3. barbara on September 2, 2010 at 11:08 am

    how about selling used text books?
    I have some of them on my shelves at home that my daughters bought used.

    • Leah Ingram on September 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

      I would try doing that on Craigslist or Amazon’s Marketplace.

  4. Mary on September 1, 2010 at 7:03 am

    One of the biggest advantages of getting a used book was actually the notes inside of them from previous students. They’ll let the student know what is important; therefore, cutting study time for many and a great guide for studying. (Please note: this does not mean skipping class!)

    • Leah Ingram on September 1, 2010 at 7:22 am

      I never thought about that added bonus of buying used! Thanks for posting that tip. (Wait, isn’t that what happened to Harry Potter in the “The Half-Blood Prince”? He got *extra* information from notes someone had added to his used book!

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