The most convenient way to buy textbooks is to walk into the nearest campus bookstore and get everything at once.

Trevor Campbell
Campus bookstores are convenient and easy, but there are cheaper alternatives for students looking to save money. (ROB MIGRIN/Daily)

If you do that, though, you might end up spending more than you otherwise would. One hundred dollars for a used copy of “Single Variable Calculus: Concepts and Contexts” (Retail price: $149.95)? Not if you know where to look.

The Student Book Exchange is often overlooked option. The exchange, which began in 1989, operates for four days at the start of each semester. On the first two days, students bring in their used textbooks and set their prices. During the last two days, students come in to buy textbooks and coursepacks, and then participants can collect a check for any books that have been sold at the end of the sales period. The sellers get back any books that aren’t sold.

The exchange started yesterday and runs through Friday in the Pond Room of the Michigan Union.

Another option for finding cheap textbooks is buying them online. There are the larger sellers, such as half.com, amazon.com or eBay and the more localized online options, like marketplace.umich.edu, Facebook Marketplace and craigslist.com. The localized sites allow buyers to arrange meetings with the seller to pick up the textbooks and thus avoid dealing with the costs and long wait of shipping.

When buying your textbooks online, however, there are a few things to watch out for.

– Make sure the textbook you’re purchasing is the correct edition. Professors usually include this information in their syllabi. If you have the ISBN for the required book, finding the exact edition online is as easy as typing the number into a search box. Also, remember to check if there are any extra necessary materials, such as workbooks or lab manuals, that might be listed separately from the textbook.

– When purchasing books online, it’s also important to order early. Order can take more than a week. E-mailing your professors and asking for a copy of the syllabus a few weeks before class starts will leave you enough time to find better deals and receive all of your books before the start of classes.

– Some students prefer to wait until after classes start to buy textbooks to better gauge whether a class relies heavily on the textbook listed on the syllabus. If a book is only going to be used once or twice, it might be better to find a copy at the library or share with a friend. Waiting to buy books, however, may lead to having to pay more as a result of not being able to find used copies.

– Buying older editions of textbooks will often drastically reduce costs. For example, the seventh edition of “Psychology: Themes and Variations” costs $132.95 as a new book on Amazon.com. The same edition of the book can be found used for about $70 on marketplace.umich.edu. But the sixth edition of the book is listed on the same site for $20. Comparing both editions can help you determine whether there’s a significant difference between them. Having an older edition of a textbook is not always ideal, though. The information might be outdated, and the page and chapter numbers of the older edition might be different from the new one.

– As a final option, check whether the books for your classes are available in the course reserves at the library. Most are. Keep in mind that most course reserve items can only be checked out for two to four hours at a time.

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