The Pitfalls of
Cheap College Books

While saving money causes you to navigate the murky waters of buying cheap college books, you may still have some questions on how to get the best deal, or whether or not to go for the best deal.

There are many pros to bargain shopping, but its important to consider the cons of purchasing cheap or used books as well, in order to be the best steward of your money.

Since I'm a huge saver, I always question the necessity of every purchase. Sometimes it's my weakness; but mostly, it works to my advantage. When it comes to buying books for college, professors and educators strongly warn you to get the newest edition.

Is this always necessary?

1. Editions

My first semester, my U.S. Politics professor assigned a book that cost $92. I looked around for a used copy, and unfortunately none were available as its 12th edition (the one assigned), had just been published.

Following a very risky hunch, I searched for the previous edition online, just to see how much they were being sold for. To my surprise and confusion, I found a copy for twelve cents. Yes, twelve cents! With shipping and handling being less than two dollars, this would be a steal!

I do have to admit, I still had some apprehension about buying the previous edition. However, the hesitation was not enough to completely prevent me from ordering the book immediately. I figured that I would take the risk and look up anything that we discussed in class that the book did not cover.

Thankfully, my purchase worked out quite well. The page numbers were slightly off, but when I compared my book to a friend’s new book, I saw that the only difference was that the pictures were in color and the sample graphs were larger and to date.

Purchasing the previous edition might not always be the best option for your class or subject matter.

With certain subjects, updated content might be necessary – for example, new discoveries in the scientific field, or updated technology and software programs in the computer/programming field. However, we see these updates more commonly in general education courses, areas where such updates are seemingly unnecessary = more money for textbook publishers.

If you will be doing a lot of work directly from the book, check and make sure that the questions in both editions are the same.

2. Safe Buyers vs Scams

You can find cheap college books for sale in many places on the internet. The trick is trying to sift the real deals from the too-good-to-be-true-so-it-isn't deals.

First, check and make sure the website is credible. Next, make sure the seller you're buying from is legitimate. You can do this by checking the seller's buyer feedback and ratings.

Few things will be worse in your cheap college book savings endeavor than paying someone to rip you off.

With that said, be aware: most major websites are good about verifying merchants and sellers by completing sufficient background checks and eliminating scams, but that doesn't mean that you can't get ripped off.

3. Online Components and CDs

Some of your assigned textbooks may have online components that will cost extra money. Some professors make online components necessary; others do not. Be sure to check exactly what is required for your course.

Online components can include A/V manipulatives, study help, and homework assignments, and even tests. Most of the time when you purchase this service, what you are physically buying is a piece of cardboard with a single-use password on it.

Be sure to check that you are not being scammed by someone selling an already used password.

You can find this out by either checking the product description or by simply messaging the seller for more information.

When searching for cheap college books, it's important to keep in mind that there are downfalls to successfully finding a deal. Cutting textbook costs does requires time and research – it's easy to see why some people purchase textbooks full price. Although it is convenient, never underestimate what a little time investment can save you.

Michaela Gneco attends American University's School of Public Affairs, in Washington, DC where she is working on a multi-faceted degree in Communications, Law, Economics, and Government, with a minor in Spanish. She is a former homeschool graduate who loves to save money, and help others save money too. One of her goals is to complete her college education debt-free and without any loans.

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