Tip from a BYU Grad on Saving $ on Textbooks

For those of you heading to college later this year, here’s a tip on saving money on your textbooks: shop around. Go to Half.com, Amazon, or other sources of used books online and find your textbooks there for MUCH LESS than you’ll pay at the university bookstore. My savvy daughter-in-law, a recent graduate of BYU, found that by shopping around, she could buy many textbooks for less than than the bookstore buy-back price and actually make a little money on textbooks.

I don’t want to pick on any particular bookstores, but there are some that appear to have tried to reduce online competition for books by delaying publication of the list of required books until about one week before classes start. (Other excuses are offered, of course, such as the indecisiveness of professors who are always changing their minds, forcing bookstores to delay publication until the last minute – apparently professors were a lot more decisive before Half.com became available.) Never fear! It’s usually no problem to receive your textbook a few days after class begins. Many professors are understanding about this, and some of the best ones will specifically choose the penultimate edition so you will be more likely to find it in used form.

Textbook prices are an atrocity (except for any that I may author in the future). I hope you’ll be able to avoid some of the gouging through used books.

I kept most of my engineering and math related textbooks. They collect as much dust now as they did the month after I graduated. It’s hard to say that I would do things differently because I love books, but really, only a few required textbooks were ever of any value, and that was partly because I taught some related courses. Ask professors and others with experience which ones are likely to be classics and gems to keep, and sell back the rest to your bookstore, hopefully for more than your paid online. And take the money you save and spend it on valuable books that will help you for years to come. I’d recommend Nibley over Nabokov, for example, but you decide.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

8 thoughts on “Tip from a BYU Grad on Saving $ on Textbooks

  1. Typically on Ebay you can buy the international version of the textbook for about a 10th of the price.

    I am getting my MBA right now, and I buy all my books from Ebay or Amazon (used)

    The worst books for me are the ones which the teacher had published especially for the class. These generally cost 80 to 100 bucks, and you can only get them from one location. Very annoying.

    MAtt W.

  2. As a BYU student I would wait till the start of class to find out what books I would need–and then only buy them when it was time to use them. Sometimes we never used some of the required books. Many times we would only read one or two chapters from the required books as well. If this was the case, I’d offer to buy books with friends or study groups or “rent” the book from some one who’d actually bought it.

    In grad school I would buy older editions of my books on the internet (most times older editions are the same with a few editing changes) or share the cost with a study group as well.

  3. Shopping around is really easy: bigwords.com will compare B&N, Amazon, Amazon marketplace, alibris, abebooks, etc.etc. and find the lowest prices. They’ll show you the lowest prices from a single store, or multiple stores, including shipping.

    One caveat, though: occasionally, you have bad luck, like one of my books that took more than two weeks to arrive and finally got there three days before I had a test on it. Or in my sister’s case, she spent like a month waiting for a book that never came, and then the people who’d never shipped it gave her the run around but finally sent another book.

  4. I heartily agree with the advice to get old editions and to shop around online. That got me through school without breaking the bank too much.

    Another idea that works well on occasion is to see if the book is at the school’s library (or a public library, but that’s much less likely unless it’s a literature class or something).

  5. i don’t know if they still have it, but BYU used to have a used textbook swap, where you could buy and sell textbooks from students who had taken it the previous semester.

    If they don’t have it, try the BYU free classifieds (do they still have it?) or Provo Craigslist.

  6. I too bought many of my textbooks online for deep discounts over the on-campus bookstore price. There are two things to be aware of when buying books online. If you buy a used book, you have no way of telling how distracting the marking will be. When buying used from the local bookstore you can pick up the book and see if every paragraph is highlighted and in an assortment of colors, or whether relevant passages were marked.

    Secondly, if you buy new online, but get the international version, the ISBN is different, so you probably won’t be able to sell them back to your local bookstore. If you don’t want to keep them you’ll have to sell them yourself.

  7. I understand the position that BYU Bookstore has placed itself in by requiring itself to stock all text books, but out of principal I completed law school using it only for a couple of unique books because of their anticonsumer return policy. I believe in bookhq.com that is the travelocity of text books.

  8. There are those affected by BYU bookstore’s anti-consumer return policy that say that BYU is evil. I don’t think that its exhorbitant price gouging is evil but necessary for the kind of business they do. Rather, I choose to think of shopping for my books at the bookstore as economically irresponsible. It’s like doing your weekly grocery shopping at 7 eleven. Sure you’ll get everything you want, but you’ll pay through the nose for the convenience. More sensible to go to the grocery store, to which you will have to drive, but the savings outweigh the inconvenience.

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