Five Ways to Save on Textbooks

Debt-Free University

The start of a new semester is always stressful. You’ve just paid an insane amount of tuition and you’re bracing yourself for an incoming flood of homework. To make matters worse, in order to do that homework you have to drop (yet another) beluga sized wad of cash on textbooks… or do you?

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada states that university students should anticipate spending $800 to $1,000 each year on textbooks and course materials alone. Most textbooks will cost anywhere from $50 to $300 at your campus bookstore and you may need more than one book per course or lab. That quickly adds up to, well, a whole lot of money that you’d rather spend on groceries or a fly new wardrobe (or save… maybe).

Don’t worry! You can have your cake and afford it too with these five ways to save on textbooks.

1. Check Out The Library (Free)

As a great aardvark once said, “having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card.”What Arthur didn’t tell you is that you can sometimes find course books in the library. Throughout my undergraduate I saved a small fortune on books this way.

Your campus library may have a section for textbooks that you can use to study or complete assignments for free. These textbooks become pretty popular around exam and major assignment periods though, so always plan ahead if you’re going to use them as a primary resource. You should also note that there may be restrictions on signing out textbooks or removing them from the library.

If you’re taking a course that requires the purchase of a literary work or anthology you may be in luck. In Nova Scotia, university libraries fall under a consortium called Novanet, which basically means that you can borrow books from universities all around the province and have them sent to your campus library for free. To access Novanet, go to your university’s website, click on their library page, and conduct a Novanet search for the title that you’re seeking. Novanet deliveries can take a few days to a week or more to arrive, so once again plan ahead.

Your local library may also have the textbooks and resources that you are looking for or be able to request them from other libraries in your region. If you’re pressed for time I would suggest searching the title online to make sure they have it before going there in person.

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2. Find Texts Online (Free)

Project Gutenberg is an online archive that houses thousands of free ebooks. It’s totally legal and also very easy to use.

If you’re stuck on a hard to understand text that is written in ‘weird’ English (think Shakespeare or even Chaucer), check out Sparknotes’ No Fear literature. It offers free line-by-line ‘translations’ of texts written in earlier versions of the English language. Make sure you read both columns though, especially if you’re going to be tested on passage recognition.

I’ve heard that it’s possible to download textbooks online as well but I’ve never had any success with that myself.

3. Thrift It Up ($1 and up)

Try your luck at a local thrift shop to see if you can snag a good deal. Many classic novels can be found in most thrift shops while stores that take local donations may receive old textbooks from university students who downsize.

You can also check out secondhand bookstores. If you’re in Halifax, Nova Scotia I would suggest trying John W. Doull, Bookseller. This secondhand bookshop is well worth the trip to Darthmouth: it’s absolutely loaded with a ton of reasonably priced texts. You can search for a book on their website or message them on Facebook if you’re looking for a specific title.

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4. Check Online Buy and Sell Boards ( Usually at least 30% off)

Search for your school’s ‘campus buy and sell’ or ‘your university + used books’ on Facebook. Most universities have Facebook groups that cater to student life related transactions. You can often find great deals on these sites and get most or all of your books for a course or program in one place. One of the major upsides to finding textbooks this way is that you can potentially find someone who is a year ahead of you and in the same program, meaning that you can have an ongoing customer/client relationship and continue to get secondhand textbooks on the cheap.

You can also try searching on online classifieds such as Kiiji.

Pro-tip: if you’re feeling bold try to haggle for a lower price. Although new textbooks are expensive, many are reprinted after a few years and dramatically drop in value so people with secondhand text books may be willing to negotiate with you instead of risking this depreciation.

5. Purchase Your Textbooks Online (Up to 70% Off)

Hard copies of textbooks can be purchased online with the use of websites such as Ebay or Amazon. Be careful: the cost of shipping can add up if you don’t pay attention and many low-price shipping options may take days or weeks to get to you.

ETextbooks can be purchased online at great discounts at VitalSource. I’ve also purchased eTextbooks from McGraw Hill before with great success.

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