university of illinois chicago

How I Bought A Whole Semester’s Textbooks for $25

In a fate similar to most college students, I sunk hundreds of dollars into my college textbooks during my first few semesters. With a $500 receipt being commonplace and preferring to use my money for my other living expenses, I decided to find an alternative. My bill has progressively gotten lower each semester, this semester being an all-time low of $25.

Note: This piece was originally written by me in January 2016, so dates may be a little outdated, but all of the ideas work the same.

Life-Changing Textbook Tips

Amazon is the Best Textbook Marketplace

Okay, this is not exactly a shock, but this tip is based on personal experience. I have tried all kinds of textbook sites, and rarely can they underprice Amazon. I actually really enjoy Chegg’s brand, however, I am trying to find dirt-cheap books. Amazon also allows you compare all kinds of factors, like format (digital, rental, used, new) and sellers (including ratings). Its ease-of-use and prices make it the best textbook marketplace online.

Look for Older Editions

This is KEY. I cannot emphasize this enough. It is the most important textbook saving trick you will ever learn, and I will shortly demonstrate just how much this can save you.

You can ask your professor if an older edition is acceptable, however, it doesn’t usually change my decision. You will get mixed responses. Some will have no issue with it. Others will insist that you need to purchase the most recent edition. I tend to disagree. Aside from fields that change frequently, e.g. technology courses, the updated editions are not as crucial as you would think. The bulk of the information will remain the same. In fact, textbook companies have been criticized at times for releasing new editions, with little updated. You may find a new news story, but that definition you need to study for your exam? It will be there.

Remember that any information vital to the exam will likely be in the lecture. As long as you follow along in class (or have access to the PowerPoint presentation), you should be able to easily catch any missing information. As an extra step, you can also compare chapters with a peer’s book and note any information you find important.

Side note: If you find that your professor is actually recommending low-cost options in the syllabus or in class, this is the best kind of teacher. They understand the financial strain of textbooks and are trying to relieve that burden. Alternatively, I lose some respect for teachers that are overly insistent on purchasing the newest book. The value just isn’t there.

Beware of Digital and Rentals

Yep. Digital and rentals. At first, these were some of my go-to’s, but after discovering how much I can save on older edition books, used became my preferred format. Obviously, digital and rentals are better than buying new hardcovers, but they tend to also be the most recent editions. Although the format itself is cheaper, the edition isn’t.

Lab courses that require some type of digital program are killer. You’ll need the service for the class, and there really are no alternatives, so these can easily cost you.

Do you Need the CD?

Occasionally, you’ll find a textbook description that includes “with CD.” Before purchasing anything, reach out to your professor and find out if you’ll actually be using the CD. Just because you see it on the list, doesn’t mean it will be used, and tracking down an edition with the CD can be costly.

Sell Textbooks Immediately When the Semester Ends

Regardless of whether it’s new or used, the best time to sell is immediately. The longer you wait, the more the book value depreciates. Just one semester can make a huge difference in your selling price.

As for your dirt-cheap books, you may be unable to sell them for little more than a few bucks, or even a few cents, however, the money you saved in purchasing them will make up for this fact. For these low-cost books, you could also consider holding out until the following semester. Many schools will have Facebook groups for students selling textbooks to other students. While the value may be low online, you may be able to manage selling the book for $5 or $10 to another student.

Challenge: Spend as little as possible for textbooks.

I had four courses this semester:

  1. Consumer Behavior
  2. Business Statistics II
  3. Marketing Research
  4. Business Data Mining

Consumer Behavior

List Price: $246.19            Purchase Price: $0.45

Text: Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having and Being

Author: Solomon

Edition: 11th

My first textbook was an 11th edition listed at $246 at UIC’s bookstore. Headed to Amazon, a new book for purchase was $230 and $43 to rent. Realistically, spending anything under $50 for a textbook isn’t too bad, but I was curious to see how inexpensive an older edition would be. A used 10th edition was $21 and from 2012, which is really not that outdated. I decided to push once more and check out the 9th edition, a 2010 and only $4 used. Now you’re starting to understand how I managed to purchase my books for so little. I get a little greedy and search for the 8th edition. It’s $0.45; sold. I don’t feel guilty going three editions back because the frequent release of new editions tells me each new edition wasn’t revised too extensively.

Savings: $245.74

Business Statistics II

Thankfully, this course required the same text as my Statistics I class from the previous semester. No purchase necessary.

Marketing Research

List Price: $220.30            Purchase Price: $0.01

Text: Marketing Research

Author: Burns

Edition: 6th

My next task was a 6th edition book listed at $220 at the school’s bookstore. I managed to find a copy of the same edition on Amazon for only $8. Okay, if the newest edition was only $8, I knew the previous edition could be a really good bargain. I searched the 5th edition- $0.01. I had found a textbook that only cost me a penny, and it was only 3 years older than the current edition. My hunt is going well so far.

Savings: $220.29

Business Data Mining

List Price: $119.95            Purchase Price: $25.32

Text: Data Mining Techniques for Marketing, Sales and Customer Support

Author: Berry and Linoff

Edition: 3rd

Text: Data Mining: Practical Machine Learning Tools and Techniques

Author: Witton, Frank, and Hall

Edition: 3rd

This course’s books were a bit of a setback. I do appreciate, however, how much the teacher tried to lower the costs. The books themselves were not overly expensive at list price $50 for the first and $69.95 for the second. Even when added together, they were less expensive than the textbooks from my other courses. The professor also recommended Amazon for the books.

For the first book, I found a used copy for $10. I decided to check the older editions. The oldest edition was $0.77, but it was published in 1999. The 2nd edition was not much better $7 and from 2004.  Considering this is an IS/IT course, I knew editions this old were not wise choices. I accepted this small blow and added the $10 book to my cart.

Next, I looked at the second book. It was $14 to rent. My search for older editions resulted in similar findings as the last. A 2nd edition was $3 and from 2005, and I was unable to find the 1st edition. If this were any other business class, I probably wouldn’t have minded buying a 2004/2005, but this tactic doesn’t work for this type of course. Rental payment: $14.

Savings: $94.63


List Price: $586.44            Purchase Price: $25.78

Savings: $560.66

Even with my ‘splurge’ on the last course’s textbooks, my costs were still extremely low. I paid about $3-4 per book for shipping, so the overall amount of money spent was about $40. I paid less on my books combined than what a normal college student would spend on a single textbook.

I practiced some of my key tips from above. All books were purchased on Amazon, and all but one were used, as opposed to rental or electronic. Most importantly, I searched for older editions. This led to me finding books that were under $1.

Be savvy going forward with your textbook purchases. Cheaper editions are always out there.

By Linsey Stonchus

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