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Friday, August 6, 2010

College Textbooks Sticker Shock

When we went up to VWCC to pay for my son's last class we stopped by the campus bookstore to see what books he needed for his five classes. My son is the first in the family to go to college so I had absolutely no idea what college text books cost. Once I found out, there went the first year college budget. Talk about sticker shock.

The first book we checked was a thin little fellow entitled, "Elementary Linear Algebra." Guess how much they wanted for it? $237.75! Yes, you read that right! $237.75! I about fell over. The class is one semester long. The class is only 2 credits which amounts to about the same price as the book would cost. There's something wrong with that. When the clerk saw my jaw drop she informed me that they had used books available much cheaper -- $178.50. Yeah, that's not cheap in my book.

We then strolled the aisles for the rest of his needed books -- $123.00, $64.25, and the cheapest one was only $39.00 for the mandatory class, How to Succeed in College. I kept adding, "without really trying" but no one got the movie reference. We still don't know what public speaking book he needs and how much that will run.

We were informed that VWCC now offers rental books which is about half the price of the new books. That's a great idea if they're offered for the student's course. Naturally Linear Algebra is not one of the courses. I asked the clerk to please write down the ISBN numbers because there was no way I was paying $2327.75 for that book.

Years ago I decided both of my kids would go to college with the goal of them graduating without being in debt up to their, or more likely my, ears. So with that in mind they took as many AP courses, tests and dual enrollment classes as they could. As long as they scored high enough they would be credited with college credits. My son is entering his freshman year with 12 credits under his belt. That's one semester and a couple of thousand dollars saved. I figured if they went to VWCC for their first two years we wouldn't have to take a student loan out. We never applied for financial aid as I didn't think we would qualify so why bother. There were no scholarships or grants either. So everything is out of pocket. I figured he'd be living at home so we wouldn't have to pay for room and board either. The only thing I forgot to factor in was textbooks.

When we got home I immediately went on-line to Amazon. Sure enough there were used textbooks. For the majority of his classes it would pay to just rent the book. When I entered the ISBN number for the Algebra book I was stunned to see how many used copies were available. When I saw the prices they were asking I think I heard the angels sing. I didn't go with the cheapest one because the comments said the book had writing in it. I opted for the one that Amazon guaranteed. With shipping and handling the price came out to $20.99! Yes, you read that right...$20.99!!! I called my son over to make sure I was seeing it right and the decimal point wasn't in the wrong place.

I don't like ordering on-line, because I don't like using my credit card on the computer (yes, yes, I know as my kids say, "join the 20th century Mom!") but I did. I had no idea what to expect but figured it was worth the 93% discount to take a chance. Three days later the book came and this is what it looks like...

It's practically in perfect condition! No markings and one little creased corner on the hard cover is the only wear I see. My advice to all parents and students who need to buy textbooks is search before you buy. Here's a site that lists different places to buy new and used text books. I'm still checking it out to see if I could find the rest of the books any cheaper. Since I saved over $200.00 my daughter and I are going to Onyx today to get our hair cut. If I'm lucky the style will last longer than a semester.


  1. Yes. Those books are very high. I've been through it with kids and grandkids. We always buy the used books unless none are available. You did the right thing. That book looks brand new. You are a good planner and shopper Elena. Sounds like your son has a lot going for him.

  2. I think he needs a blog with a Paypal Button on it so the world can contribute.

    WOW... books.... highway robbery at it's finest.

    Wishing your son a great year and much success!

  3. Get the ones with comments written in them! Odds are good those books were owned by a diligent student who took notes. The less than diligent students don't bother to add notes.

    Also check Goodwill. Sometimes textbooks show up there.

  4. Good point Becky! I'm weighing whether to buy or rent based on if my daughter will also eventually be taking the same course as my son. If she is, I'll go with buying used...if not and the book is offered, I'm opting to rent.

  5. I know, it's awful. When I bought them, they weren't that much but the were a lot. I'd always buy used, and then sell back if I knew I wouldn't use it after the class was over. Those bookstores make a nice profit selling those used ones over and over.

    It's such a small market, which why I assume they cost so much.

  6. Elena, I use a single credit card online and that is the only place I use it. It makes me feel better about it because none of my other accounts are used. I actually applied for this card for this specific purpose.

  7. Anita, I used the one that had the least amount of credit on it and will probably designate it as the on-line card now ;)