Buy the book

A cheapskate’s guide to finding textbooks

Tanner Wideriksen works at Textbook Brokers.

Tanner Wideriksen works at Textbook Brokers.

photo by amy beck

Fifty bucks a week. That was my budget during my undergrad years, and making the $50 last became a practiced skill by journey’s end. That means lots of noodles, too many trips to the school library, and plenty of skating or walking to avoid the soaring cost of gasoline.

If you don’t think you’ll be that poor college kid, give it a month, because I’ve concluded it’s an innate trait of human development to be broke at this age regardless of our income or allowance. It’s in our young blood—something drives us to live beyond our means. So pay attention, because I’m going to help save you some money by practicing frugal book acquirement. It’s not a class at the University of Nevada, Reno, but it’s required learning for any college kid.

The first cost-cutting method: borrow or rent. Either from the library on campus, the public library downtown, one of the many sites online, or someone you share a class with. Library cards are free at both UNR and the Washoe County public library downtown; you only need proof you are a current Reno resident, like a utilities bill with your address. Be warned: With so many like-minded classmates out there, you’ll want to reserve the book from the library at least a couple of weeks in advance. Waiting until the night before an essay’s due will lead to utter disappointment and a potential failing grade—I speak from experience.

While renting can be one of the cheapest methods, it also carries the biggest risk with the least reward. You may not always be able to rent the book you need, and you won’t have a copy to later showcase on your bookshelf. But you will have an extra 100 bucks or so, depending on the textbook. Online options, like Chegg, allow you to rent a book anywhere from 60 days to a full semester, saving up to 80 percent off retail cost. Most online renters and retailers offer a generous return policy if you realize you don’t need a book—just be sure to read the fine print.

If the thought of not having a certain book in years to come keeps you up late nights, the options to buy are many. The campus bookstore will undoubtedly have steep prices, although the convenience and quality are hard to beat. Textbook Brokers at Ninth and Virginia streets is a nearby alternative, and you can send them your class schedule and contact information online, and they’ll have books ready for you by the time school starts.

Other local bookstores, like Dharma Books, carry used textbooks when they’re donated or re-sold. Grassroots Books holds a parking lot sale once a month where you can find loads of books at discounted prices—sometimes including older editions of textbooks. But since local bookstores don’t regularly carry textbooks, it’s really a throw of the dice. Call ahead to save some time.

Online retailers and renters may be your best bet. Amazon.com and Half.com both offer new and used textbooks from 30-90 percent off retail depending on the condition of the book. Another option is Better World Books. They offer textbooks up to 90 percent off, free shipping, and the money raised by the organization is used to improve literacy in developing nations and helps fund libraries around the world. When you’re done with the textbook, you can either donate it, re-sell it for a fraction of what was paid, or add it to your bookshelf.

And remember, a major aspect of college life is networking. By making friends within your specific school, you join a like-minded network that can trade or borrow books, share the cost of a new textbook, or hand down used ones. Just keep in mind the compromises being made with whatever method works best for you. Does the risk of not being able to write a comprehensive book review outweigh the reward of a few 30 packs? Is renting a textbook cost-effective when you could re-sell at the end of the semester? With your newfound independence, the decision is yours.