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    The Ultimate Textbook Purchasing Guide

    August 16, 2017 Amanda Cross 6 min read
    Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more details. Thanks for supporting the brands that make The Happy Arkansan possible!

    Textbooks are a mandatory part of the college experience, but how do you purchase them without going completely broke? Today on the blog I am answering some very important questions about purchasing textbooks in college so that you can get the best deals when you purchase.

    The Ultimate Textbook Purchasing Guide | Purchasing textbooks doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Click through for all my best tips on purchasing textbooks such as where you should get your books, when you should get your books, if you should buy them new, and so much more!

    Where Should You Get Your Textbooks?

    A lot of people say that you should automatically stop thinking about the bookstore on your college campus. I don't really think this should be the case. Sometimes your college bookstore has the best deal.

    Personally, I think you should think about a couple of things:


    How much do the textbooks cost? This is an extremely important part of the process because you want to make sure that you can afford everything.

    What Your School Pays For

    Sometimes if you are on a scholarship, you get a certain amount of money for textbooks. You may have stipulations for that textbook money and if someone is paying for your textbooks, you may as well use that money how they want.


    Yes, getting the best deal is awesome, but sometimes you also need to think about what's going to be more convenient. Waiting for multiple shippers to get all of your books can be a pain and some shippers are slower than others.

    I did a lot of comparison shopping between my campus bookstore and places like Amazon. Ultimately I found that my bookstore had a couple of books at a lower rate and so did Amazon. For me, it usually wasn't worth it to go to sites like Amazon because it was just more convenient to get all my books from one place.

    Here are a couple of alternatives to your campus book store:

    Check out this Consumer Affairs article about textbook rentals and see where some of the most discussed book rental places stand when it comes to reviews.

    When Should You Get Your Textbooks?

    Another statement that I see often when it comes to textbooks is that you should wait until after your first day or even week of class to get your textbooks.

    Personally, I don't think you should do this.


    Well, there has only been one time where I didn't actually use a book that was assigned to me. I didn't end up taking it back, but there is usually a window of time where you can take textbooks back for a good chunk of your money back or you can sell it online. I encourage you to check out the policy for the store you are purchasing your books from.

    Chances are you will need every book on your list and you don't want to be stuck days into the semester with no book.

    College classes are fast-paced. A week without your book at the beginning of the semester can devastate you, especially in textbook heavy classes like math, foreign languages, etc. Sure, you can always catch up on reading, but you shouldn't be spending your first few weeks playing catch up, you should be spending those weeks getting ahead.

    So, yes, waiting to get your book is a possibility, but I am not sure if this is a possibility that I would personally go with myself.

    Is Winging It Ever Okay?

    So many students try to save money on textbooks by simply not purchasing the textbook.

    While it is possible to make a good grade in a class without the textbook, I wouldn't chance it, especially if you are not the best student.

    Library copies will already be used by someone else and therefore fail, the friend whose book you are using will bail on a study date, and the internet will go down making it impossible to look up the book online to get your work done. You never know how much you need a textbook until you can't use the textbook. The chance of all these things happening at once is slim, but the chances of them happening at different times throughout the semester is not.

    There are ways to get textbooks without paying an arm and a leg for them. You just have to shop around and be okay with a used textbook or two.

    At the end of the day, you are in college. Purchasing textbooks is to be expected. It would be nice if we could get around that, but for convenience and the sake of your grades, you should purchase your books.

    To Rent, Buy New, Or Get Used?

    There are SO many ways to get your textbooks. Should you rent them, buy them new, or get them used?

    I have only bought a couple of books new in my life. One was my Intro to Sociology book and one was my Spanish book. I am not sure that I would have bought my Intro to Sociology book new thinking back to my freshman year, but I still would have gotten my Spanish book new. At my school we used our Spanish book for three semesters in Elementary Spanish I & II as well as Intermediate Spanish I, so while it was a big investment my first semester, I used it for two other semesters. Renting it wouldn't have made sense for me and I wanted the best copy so getting it used didn't work either.

    For the most part, I buy books used over renting them. I have rented books before, but going back and returning rented book is one of my least favorite things so I usually just buy my books used.

    You have to be careful with used books and try to get a good quality used book. Used books can be awful in quality and you don't want to be stuck with a bad book. So many times I have had bought a used book only for the quality to be awful. I have had books where the spine was barely hanging on and books that belonged to people who thought EVERYTHING was highlight worthy. Getting the best quality used books is essential in my eyes.

    Lastly, book rentals. I have only rented a couple of books as I stated earlier. Renting is a great idea if you don't really need to use the books after the class is over. I mainly rented books for classes outside of my major. Renting is a great option and it saves you a lot of money. I have also rented a lot of digital books on Amazon which is great because there was no returning–they just expired after a certain time period.

    Should You Get A Physical Copy Or A Digital Copy?

    Lastly, let's chat about physical books versus digital books.

    This is another textbook debate that you may want to consider.

    I personally use physical books way more than digital copies, but I have used both through my 6 years of college and graduate school.

    Digital textbooks are usually much cheaper than physical copies and you can even easily rent digital textbooks.

    The great thing about digital textbooks is the very fact that they are digital. You can access them from many locations like your laptop, iPad, Kindle, etc. Also, some digital textbooks allow you to even print portions of your textbook which makes it easy to bring digital textbooks into the real world.

    There are some downsides to digital textbooks, the most obvious being they always require you to be connected to some type of electronic device unless you can print portions of your textbook. If you depend on time away from the computer while studying, it is really difficult to do that if you have a digital textbook. You don't have to be on your computer, but you will probably need to be at least on an iPad, Kinde, or phone which wouldn't allow you to be as disconnected while studying.


    Buying textbooks doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg.

    I hope that this guide has demystified the process of purchasing textbooks for you. I wanted to talk about a variety of textbook-related topics in this article and I hope that this guide provides you a great place to start in the textbook debate.

    What are your best tips for purchasing textbooks?

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  • Isabelle August 16, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    This is super helpful, thanks! I also like to find out if other students at my school are selling the books I need since they have had (potentially) the same exact classes as I am taking. My school even has a facebook group for buying and selling textbooks!

  • felly August 17, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    This is such a great guide! I wish I had known all of this when I was having to buy books.

    Felly //

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    About Amanda

    Hey Y’all!
    My name is Amanda Cross, and I am the blogger behind The Happy Arkansan. I am a blogger, freelance writer, and podcaster. When I am not creating content for any of my content online, I can usually be found baking, watching YouTube, or napping. I love helping millennials and young adults navigate the mess that is adult life. Keep reading for my thoughts and experiences.

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