A frugal spender’s guide to textbook shopping
Helpful tips on how to be a full-time student on a budget
I’ve always loved the back-to-school season. Going to Staples with my mom to buy new notebooks, pencils and binders was my favourite part of the new school year.
Being an adult and figuring out how to manage time and a budget has been intimidating. Each course usually requires its own set of specific books, specific gear, and always a very specific kind of motivation.
This September, I was feeling extra motivated after a year of talking to my computer. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a classroom listening to my professor discuss the course syllabus.
When the professor brought up the books required for her course, I began to worry about my expenses. She explained how one of her required textbooks was quite expensive, but said that it would be useful for other classes.
After class, I went to the Book Stop, Concordia’s apparel and textbook store, and looked at the price of said textbook. When I saw that the sale price was $115, I felt instantaneous relief as I'm used to paying more than $200 for my books.
The relief at the idea of paying that amount of money, on top of other school fees, felt unreal. Books are becoming increasingly expensive, according to Maclean’s, with students spending on average 773$ per year on school books.
I have been a student for longer than I would like to admit, meaning I know my options when it comes to getting books at a lower price.
There are many other resources online where you can find help. Websites such as Khan Academy, Chegg, and Paul's Online Notes are real life savers when struggling to understand a new concept learned in class. However, other alternatives exist as well.
The school store does provide some options other than purchasing brand new books, such as rentals, used, and digital versions.
Brian Layne—who works at the Book Stop—hinted at global warming and the pandemic to explain the prices of textbooks.
Textbooks require paper, and paper comes from wood. Layne explained that the fires on the western coastline reduced the availability of wood on the market. This consequently decreased paper production, which has made it harder to print enough textbooks for everyone.
Layne added that the pandemic caused delays in textbook productions as publishers and warehouses have had to adjust their workflow according to government guidelines. This means that if a component of the supply chain was located in a high-risk COVID area, the facility had to fully shut down until further notice. Consequently, the supply chain was stalled, and buyers—such as students—were bound to wait until the restrictions were lifted and production resumed.
Previous textbook editions can often be found at a lower price. Consult with your professor before purchasing a previous edition, as the information might have been updated in the more recent edition and your assignments might change accordingly.
Online versions of textbooks are often cheaper than the physical book, but they tend to have an expiration date. Double-check how long you will need the book to avoid re-purchasing it for another semester.
Some books come with a code for online assignments. Although the code only comes with the purchase of the textbook, you can sometimes purchase the code alone for a lesser price.
The library has a lot of textbooks, some available to borrow while others are available course reserves. There is a scanner available to students, which allows them to either email the pages scanned or upload them on a USB drive. This is fully free and will only require some patience while scanning the required pages.
Check with your peers. We're all in the same boat. We all want to save money where we can. Online groups, such as those on Facebook and Discord, can help you find the books you need. There are also groups on Facebook where students sell their used books at a reduced price.
This article originally appeared in The Money Issue, published November 2, 2021.