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Friday, January 15, 2010

Saving on Textbooks: I Should Just Give Up

So much terrible news in the world these days. The pictures from Haiti really bring home that my experience of Katrina Lite was indeed lite: within 3 days, the Red Cross was dishing up food downtown and, a few days after that, the streets were sufficiently cleared that you could drive to the Target parking lot where volunteers were handing out water, ice, and MREs (plus diapers and formula if you needed those things). The joke around here is that Louisiana is a third world country. But, of course, WE HAVE NO IDEA. And my cynical mind wonders if the CEOs of Goldman Sachs et al are relieved that news from Haiti knocked their smirking faces off the front pages.


It's easy enough to say: buy used or check out Amazon. What I did was check out Amazon, Powells, weigh the possibilities of rental on Chegg and other similar sites, and so forth. There is no easy answer. I did discover that the books my daughter had from first semester were basically worthless, but that the books she needed were expensive. WHY?

Books go into new editions with great rapidity. If your book is brand new, it has about 2 years of life. So, maybe, I would buy and then resell. If it is near the end of its lifespan, used might be cheap, but you will not be able to resell. Rental might be better. Example: the new edition of a book a friend needed will be coming out January 28. Just after the stock of the old ones will have been purchased.

For courses in history, literature, and so on that require regular books--not textbooks--you should check used bookstores and Powells. Or even the swap sites like My daughter needed The Stranger, Grendel, A Room of One's Own. I had all these, but all are available at paperbackswap. If you are not a swapper you can buy credits from the site or from members, who sell them in the Book Bazaar.

So what did I do? Well, I had some of the books. Then I suggested borrowing. She did borrow a math book. Then I bought her French book and some other trade books at Powells. I saved about $50.00 on the French book.

Or so I thought. A new development, at least to me. The French book requires an on-line code, which comes with the new book. If you buy used, you need to pay $50.00 for the code. Savings: 0. Time wasted: quite a bit.

Ditto for the borrowed math book. The code costs $99.00; the new book costs $109.00. See where this is going?

My biggest savings will come from the US tax code. For 2009 and 2010, the tax credit for education has been expanded from tuition only to include books. Since my kids have tuition scholarships, I have not taken any tax credits. Now I can get a credit for the full cost of their books. So my search for cheaper books was an educational adventure. What I learned: you can't beat the textbook companies. At least, not much.


Mike Ng said...

Hey Frugal,

I read Greg Mankiw's blog pretty regularly and he linked this post to a company that rents out textbooks, sells textbooks by the chapter, whatever, you name it.

Don't give up!

FB @ said...

How about Renting on Barnes and Noble?

I just posted about it in my Link Love Roundup post.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Mike-Thanks for the tip.

@FB--I'm going to do a cost comparison in a few days.

msh said...

More people need to know that in many cases instructors don't actually use those extra online features... publishers often just bundle them with all versions of the book so that the used books won't be the "same," i.e. there is not a codeless ISBN for the teacher to request. So definitely check the syllabus/talk to the instructor to find out which codes you actually need to add back on to the used book.

Frugal Scholar said...

msh--That's a good point. My son was told not to buy the $$$ biology book. But my daughter was told the on-line codes were essential. Textbook companies CREATE exams and GRADE them--very tempting for language and other teachers.