First Person: How I Afford College Textbooks

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First Person: How I Afford College Textbooks

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If you're one of the millions of college students across the country looking to sell back your used textbooks …

I've earned more than my share of college degrees, but no matter how old I get or how many diplomas I collect, I'm always up for more education. I'm also perpetually broke, so budgeting is serious business in my house. After learning my way around financial aid for tuition, I needed a way to afford pricey textbooks, so I came up with some off-the-wall ideas that paid off big.

I ask the instructor. I'm not ashamed to admit to a teacher that paying my tuition was tough and I can't afford the pricey textbook required for the term. I'm comfortable asking because I've taught in the past and always had a stash of required books in my possession, sent to me by the publisher and/or distributed by the department.

I visit the librarian. Having attended six colleges during my academic career, I know that some libraries stock copies of required textbooks that can be reserved and checked out for defined or indeterminate amounts of time. I pick up the phone if I'm taking classes at a new school to learn whether or not the textbook I need is housed in the school's collection. Some students don't think of this resource until I share my tip with them.

I approach current students. If I know I'm taking a specific class before the current term ends, I literally wait outside that classroom and ask students if I can take their books off their hands. Some offer me a cheap price so they don't have to go through the pain and agony of book buy-back events. One time, a student handed me his book and refused to take a cent. I was so shocked, I almost forgot to say thank you.

I've shared the wealth. One year, I struck up a conversation with a woman while registering for a class. It proved a serendipitous moment: We were taking the same course. I jokingly suggested we share the textbook since used editions were sold out and the price of new copies was sky high. We shared the book and it proved to be a terrific experience for both of us. I was lucky to have chosen a responsible person. Future co-op relationships didn't prove as satisfying.

I Contacted the Publisher. I was once inspired to write a letter to the publisher of the expensive Russian history book I needed for class. I was new at pleading poverty, but my attitude was the same as it is when approaching a teacher to borrow a text: Why not ask? My letter to the publisher explained that I was a single mom juggling college and a job. Voila! A free text landed on my doorstep. I paid my good fortune forward by giving the book away at the end of the term.

My Kids Substitute. Project Gutenberg is the oldest digital library on the planet. When my adult children need Pride and Prejudice for an English class or an esoteric biology book, they find many e-books covering their subjects on Gutenberg, because, they say, Mitosis is Mitosis and the Battle of Stalingrad has no other outcome. That stated, they're savvy enough to avoid science and technology books with copyrights older a year because it's critical to have current information when studying such disciplines.

I May Try Renting. I stood in line for an hour at the college bookstore this week and overheard cashiers at the register ringing up the purchases for fellow students asking each if they wanted to buy or rent. Many had no clue rental was available to them and walked away having saved, on average, 50-percent. I prefer looking for free books, but in a pinch, there's no doubt I'll turn to textbook rental if I run out of creative options and I have no other recourse.


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