Sunday, August 30, 2015

Saving Big Bucks on Books.

Recently, Kristin and I took my grandson, Carter, to see the Minions movie.  We headed to Regal Cinemas, with the wonderful recliners for seats, and I chose to pay $7.99 for a bucket of popcorn larger than those sold at KFC.  It was only 80 cents more than the paper bag full of popcorn.  And it was refillable.  (Ha!  WHO eats that much popcorn?  I'd love to know how many people go back for more.)

My logic for this purchase was motivated by the fact that I knew we were going to be sitting in reclining seats, and that a four year old, (okay, and his 54 year old Beanie and Aunt Kristin), are likely to easily knock over a light paper bag, while the bucket will sit flat.

Yes, I chose to spend a full eighty cents on popcorn insurance, assuring that there would be no tears, or loss of story line, while watching the movie.

Movie popcorn aside, I'm not a big fan of overspending for things with huge profit margins.  Case in point, college textbooks. Kristin is now a senior in college, and after 11 1/2 semesters between she and her two brothers, we've done some serious experimenting on how to save on textbook purchasing, saving literally thousands of dollars over the twelve college years.  It takes a bit of time, but it's worth the bonding experience.  Last year, after a particularly wonderful evening of saving nearly $600 between the bookstore price and our actual out of pocket, we wrote this tutorial, and shared it on Facebook.   Using this formula, this year's total out of pocket for the semester was less than $150 for all textbooks, including shipping!  Given that a number of former students are followers of this blog, and not friends with me on Facebook, I thought I'd offer a second edition.  (Get the textbook reference?  I crack me up.)

The statistics are staggering.

Most colleges have their bookstores online, and many have already linked the required textbooks for your student's classes directly to that site.  If this is the case, start there.  Sometimes the college bookstore IS the cheapest place.  But not all the time.  Once you have the list of books you need, take care to note the edition needed.  Make sure that you are searching for, and buying, an edition that will work for the professor teaching the class. 

Gather the ISBN from each book.  It is located on the title page of the book, on the back of the book at the barcode, or on the bookstore or other site (like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.)

We usually use two computers.  One signed in to the university bookstore with the list of books and the baseline of the college bookstore, and the other with several tabs open.  It's not entirely necessary, but if you have them in the house, use them.

TAB #1:  google
TAB #2: Amazon
TAB #3: this year it was that was most successful.  We've also had success with thrift  Some will pop up as affiliates of Amazon.

1.  Locate title and ISBN.
2.  Type ISBN into google, and hit SHOPPING tab.  You should get a list of available copies of the book.  Make sure you are not clicking on an ADVERTISEMENT at the top of the google page.
3.  Copy and paste the ISBN into Amazon and compare prices there as well.  We almost always buy used books, and often the ones that are only listed as "good".

4.  Pay close attention to shipping costs.  If you're a PRIME member at Amazon, you've already got an advantage.  Many of the independent sites offer free shipping.  That's fine if it is 3 weeks before classes start -- not so fine when it is 3 days, because most shippers use media mail which can take up to 10 days.  (And more, if it is coming from overseas!  So watch the location of the book before you buy!)

5.  Identify some similar sellers for some books.  For me, it was worth it to spend a couple of dollars more for a book, knowing that there were more than one coming in a package from a closer location.  (Shipping from MD vs OR, for example).

6.  If you are not already signed up for, DO THAT!  (And use me as a reference, so I get the cash!)  Bookbytes, some Amazon transactions, and many other online purchases will get you CASH BACK.  This morning, I was able to get 3.5% back from Bookbytes on top of the 1% I get from using my Discover card.  On Amazon, part of my order supported the Donegal Foundation, as I've elected to donate a percentage of sales there through their "Smiles" program that supports non-profit organizations.

It's worth noting that sometimes there is a CD that comes with the book -- so make sure that it is included before purchase.  Also be wary of European editions -- although that only happened to us once, and it turned out not to be a problem.

Consideration should also be given for the cost of shipping.  Sometimes it's worth paying a couple of dollars more from one vendor, if they cut the shipping charges on multiple books. 
We've never rented textbooks or ebooks, although some of my former students have.

When I first posted this on Facebook a year ago,  some former students had some great advice, so I'm adding that here:

Chloe:  I would also recommend that when you purchase a textbook to not be afraid of older editions. This is advice that depends on the subject and professor, but almost every semester there has been at least one book that I purchased which has been an older edition. I have never ran into any problems apart from a few page numbers being off, but that is easy to get around just by checking what the syllabus says you should be reading about. Usually social science and history textbooks fit well into this category. This might not work as well for a math class where you need to do specific problems or examples. If you need to read an area of a specific textbook that isn't in an old edition, try going to the library as many colleges keep a copy of each textbook that is being used.

Remember Ebooks! They are not always cheaper but at times they have been for me. I have saved at least $50 through the purchase of Ebooks over physical copies. I would recommend this mainly for books which are intended to be read from cover to cover, such as an English book. I do not recommend Ebooks for textbooks that have a lot of graphs or pictures unless you have a device that can easily handle the images in a large enough screen.

Also remember to use other people and see if they are willing to sell or let you borrow their old textbooks. This works especially well for core requirement classes and ends up saving many people money as you can exchange and borrow books.

Lastly, look into CLEP exams at your college and see if there are any subjects that would fill core requirements. In May I taught myself Micro and Macroeconomics and my college accepted my CLEP scores. I had had no prior instruction in either of the subjects, but I got college credit for taking one exam! I saved over $1600 (what it would have cost to pay the overload fees for taking more than 5 classes and the cost of the textbooks) as well as my sanity. Not all colleges accept CLEP exams so check with the registrar's office or your adviser to see if the college does. They can save you time, money, and possibly help you graduate faster if you can get a couple of credits worth of general education classes done. The exams are essentially AP Exams without a written component.

Shannon:   I used as a starting point, usually. You search for the ISBNs, and it brings up that book on a bunch of major sellers (Amazon, Chegg, etc) so you can compare prices! Also helpful if you want to eventually sell the books. It can compare selling prices too!

Lucy:  Also when selling books back wait until textbook buying season starts. Then use comparisons of the various trade-back programs. Prices can vary up to 10 dollars on one site in a day and over 30 dollars across all sites. I have seen a book go from 50 dollars to 100 to 70 in the course of a month. NEVER sell books back at the end of the semester, that is when the worst prices are offered.