Okay, so everyone anticipates university being expensive. Tuition costs can be found online, and you can also look up how much it’ll cost to live on or near campus. Of course, you’ll still have to mortgage your iPod and maybe set up a payment plan on your liver, but there’s comfort in knowing how much you have to pay. In fact, the costs associated with university are generally set, or slightly variable under your control—your phone plan, food, rent, are all chosen by you, at least to a degree. Your tuition, gym membership etc. are set, and also invariable, so they can be planned for.
This leaves the big unknown, the real outlier, the forever elusive… textbook costs. Sometimes, a class will have a course materials pack costing $20 flat (though there are the hidden costs of the copy store potentially being swarmed by cops and “busted”). Other times there will be a textbook for $175, or a whole bunch of books (and the prof always says the specific editions matter…) for a cumulative $250.
All totaled, textbooks can cost as much as $1000 in a given semester, or as little as $250, in my experience, and their prices are completely out of your control.
EXCEPT! Oh, happy day! As in all things money-related the market has worked its magic and ways to save money (with additional costs in the form of time, travel and inconvenience, unfortunately) have appeared over the years.
(1) I actually heard of TUSBE (Toronto University Students’ Book Exchange) in a funny twist of textbook fate—I was just about to sell my AST100 textbook for a ridiculously lower price than I had paid for it when a girl in line with me was about to buy it for the ridiculously higher price. We, of course, cut out the middle person and made our way to a bank machine, where we agreed on a more reasonable price. She, a qualified textbook hustler, told me about TUSBE, which really is quite cool. You just type in the course code to search for cheaper used textbooks. As with everything internet, of course, be wary. Though the site tries to crack down on scammers, they inevitably appear. My rule is no credit cards, no money orders, pay upon pick up (in a public place!). Selling Bonus: you can also sell your old books here! (I have this romantic idea that one day I’ll read all my old textbooks, so I keep them doggedly.)
(2) To eliminate all sketchiness, you can often buy used (and new) books at the U of T Bookstore itself. The downside is that you still have to pay for their overhead, so often their used textbooks cost more than if you were to buy them straight from a friend, but you save in convenience (and safety). One upside to used books is that they’ll often have annotations and highlighting, which I find comforting, if not helpful (I find it heartening to see a past student highlighting what I was planning on highlighting*). Selling Bonus: You can determine how much the bookstore will pay for your old textbooks online (click here!) just by entering the ISBN number!
NB: Make sure that the old textbook you’re buying is still relevant for the course before you buy it. That is, check if the edition is the right one and if it’s the wrong one, whether the teacher will give you equivalent page numbers for the older edition. Often I’ve found that profs sympathize with the crazy prices and provide pagination for older editions, but sometimes there are significant content changes, etc. Just ask!
(3) Textbook rentals! Say what?! I know! After a successful pilot project over the summer, textbook rentals are back in … a variety of textbook-appropriate colours. Although the bookstore hasn’t posted the courses they’ll be offering textbook rentals for, they say they will in September, and I’ll post the link in the comments once they do (I plan on refreshing the page hourly. I mean… no I won’t…). Basically, you can rent a textbook for a year or semester at a much lower price than buying it, and then you don’t have to worry about selling it afterward. So eco-chic!
(4) Ask a friend, or a friend’s friend. Okay, so this is not the most tech-savvy thing to do, but it’s an easy, safe (and surprisingly cost-effective) way to do things. In many programs, such as Human Bio, Commerce and Economics, students will need the same set of books year after year. If you find someone in your year and major, textbook-swapping is a great way to do things. I inevitably end up lending my textbooks to people for free, but I have also had my fair share of people lending me their notes, etc, and I see it as good karma. If you find someone in your major who is younger than you, you can often sell them a whole set, and sweeten the deal with past tests and lecture notes.
*Are they my soul-mate?