Books and Their Relation to Student Wallets

You will probably never get all the money you spent back on the books. But it doesn't have to be excruciating on your wallet. Be a smart student shopper and know your options!
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It is undeniable that books, no matter how you read them -- leafing through pages or swiping your finger across an eReader -- are instrumental to learning, thought and preserving culture and history. In a previous post, "The Book Empire," I discussed the new contemporary pitfalls of corporate publishing. In this post, I wanted to take it a bit further and have a discussion about the pit falls concerning students, mainly college students like us, with books.

Now most of us college students are required to get books; however, unlike high school, we aren't assigned a book number and then handed the book on loan for free. We have to buy through different websites -- Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Bargain Books, even Uloop -- to acquire these books with our own funds. The books are required for class and only some very skilled seniors may have the talent to skate through a class without reading the text and complementary books.

Hopefully you are searching around for the best deals -- a book from Amazon, a textbook from Abe Books. Shopping around will save you money. But when the semester or quarter is done, what do you do with the books? Students face paying anywhere from $300 to $1,000 in books for the year -- my own financial aid package estimates I will need around $1,500 for books over the 2012-13 school year. This is no small expense and it cuts into funds we could be using elsewhere.

Textbooks are the main culprit of such extreme expenses. Textbooks, even used, will run a college student anywhere from $50 to hundreds of dollars. Not only this, but they are essentially like a new car; once you drive it off the lot (or, in the book's case, buy it), it retains little of the monetary value you put into it. A $125 textbook may, if you are lucky, get you $20 to $40 in return. Books themselves are even less, sometimes only worth pennies for the $10 to $25 needed to buy them. It becomes a nightmare when the textbook is unique to a class (or professor) and will run a student $200 to $400 while retaining miniscule resale value.

This money vacuum students sign up for when attending college is daunting and can make you want to throw the books across the room. There is solace in the fact that you can get a little bit of your money back. One option is to trade in your books and textbooks to sellers such as Amazon that will reward your return with credit to the store. This is helpful for those of you who know you will be going through Amazon to get your books for next semester or quarter. Some of the time, you can get a better trade-in price than by actually selling the book.

Now, selling your books isn't a horrible option either. Much of the time you can get at least a few dollars back. The route I usually take is selling them as an independent book seller through Amazon. Remember, however, that you are competing with actual book sellers, so the competition for the lowest book price will be stiff -- so don't put your price so low that you are actually losing money (for you still have to pay for shipping the book to your buyer). Consider if the trade-in, after price competition and shipping expenses, is worth more.

Another option is to rent your books. I recently went this route with a textbook and was very pleased. It was cheaper than actually buying the textbook and shipping to receive and return the book were free. Many times this is the cheapest option for textbooks -- just remember, you must return the book when specified!

One last option you may want to consider is keeping certain book. My shelves are slowly being stocked with classics, books such as Don Quixote to The Iliad. So if the books hold some intrinsic value for you, don't feel bad retaining them! Odds are you will have to read such classics again in future classes, so you don't have to spend more money. Not to mention they are timeless.

My last piece of advice is to never assume your university's bookstore will have the best price. You don't have to buy it from them and you don't have to buy new. Shop around for the best deal. Ask around and see if a friend has the book you need. Use trade-in credit the next time you buy books. Shop with friends to get the free shipping (I am a big fan of free shipping). Utilize the library if it has the book you need. There are many ways to be smart when you shop for books -- be resourceful and always be on the lookout for deals, both in buying and selling.

No, there is no true solution to this money vacuum. You will probably never get all the money you spent back on the books. But it doesn't have to be excruciating on your wallet. Be a smart student shopper and know your options!