(Shopping Period)LifeHacker: Should you buy that textbook?


When I saw the price of one of my textbooks in the bookstore, I had to slow down grab the wall. How can a few pieces of paper and cardboard possibly cost $375? For reference, that’s the cost of 750 ounces of fro-yo. There are rumors of classes with book lists running up to $700—I’m pretty sure you could buy a miniature horse with that kind of money. So should you actually shell out the dough for that textbook? Here’s a handy guide to help you find out:

1. Are you still shopping the class?
It seems like professors expect everyone shopping their class to have already bought the list of a dozen books on the syllabus by the first day (that is, if you don’t walk out halfway through). But if you’re not sure you’re going to take the course, definitely hold out.

2. Can you find the book online?
In one of my classes, my professor told us, “I’m not endorsing anything, but if you google the textbook, the first result may or may not be an entire PDF of it.” If the book is available as a handy downloadable file, there’s no need to spend money on some fancy sheets of paper.

every-expensive-textbook-in-every-university-comic3. Is the class ever going to refer to the textbook?
Some professors think they’re too cool to follow a textbook but make you buy one just for looks. If this is the case, don’t waste your money on a $400 doorstop.

4. Are you actually going to do the reading?
When the professor assigns approximately a zillion pages of reading per night, you might give up right then. Be honest with yourself and don’t buy the textbook if you’re never going to open it.

If you determine that you do, in fact, have to buy the textbook, but you would rather spend your money on fro-yo, here are 6 smart ways to save:

1. Rent it. The Brown bookstore offers a rental option for some textbooks that is about half the cost of purchasing. If you’re not an obsessive highlighter, this is the way to go.

2. Amazon.com. Yes, I know that buying into this online superpower isn’t the best option, but it’s worth it if you can save some cash. Often the price of a new book on Amazon is equivalent to that of the used version in the bookstore.

3. Sketchy online booksellers. If you’re willing to take the risk that you may receive an empty cardboard box, go ahead and order from one of these second-hand sites. The booksellers might be mafia fronts—or just some other broke college students like you.

4. International/foreign editions. The international versions of books are often a fraction of the price of the latest U.S. edition, and they contain most of the same material. Just watch out for publishers who like to mess with you and mix up the numbering of the problems: if you’re not careful you’ll end up doing unnecessary work. The foreign editions are especially helpful if you’re trying to pick up a new language while learning Orgo.

5. Get it from a friend. There’s a high probability that a friend, or a friend of a friend, took the same class and has the textbook wasting away on a shelf. Offer to buy him or her a few ounces of that fro-yo in exchange for borrowing the textbook for a semester. If you’re desperate, clog up your class’s Facebook page with pleas for the book in exchange for sexual favors.

6. The Brown Book Exchange. This handy Facebook page is perfect for finding, selling, or exchanging textbooks within the Brown community. It’s a win-win: you get the book you need for cheap, another Brown student gets the money, and you might even make a friend in the process.

Good luck, and enjoy your (textbook) shopping! Just kidding.


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