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youngandthrifty explores how to save money on text books in Canada, including text book rentals, online text books, used text books, and buying textbooks from amazon

It’s been probably about six years since I bought a text book and things have definitely changed in the ‘saving money on text books’ sphere.  Before, the way to save money was to line up at the used text book store on campus and fight with other people to get the nicest looking used text book.  Things have seemed to change this time around.  There are many more options for us starving students.  Which is a good thing, because text books can seriously add up (and break the bank!).

When I got my text book list (yes, I checked the first day it was out, August 1), I was astounded by the number of texts I needed to get.  I added up how much it would cost if I got the books new ($900).  I added up how much it would cost if I got them used ($650).  I would have to order them for delivery from the university as I am doing distance education.  I was going to try to get all my text books used, until I saw the tiny tiny print at the bottom of the page:

“If used texts are not available, we will send you a new textbook automatically”

Then I thought, ugh! How would I know if there were used books or not? That’s a gamble, and I didn’t want to do that with my precious starving student budget.

So I went to Amazon.ca and Amazon.com and compared the prices of the text books I needed to get.

Even though the Canadian dollar has been doing very well, there is still a huge discrepancy in prices of the text books.  Like a 15-25% difference.

Cost of new text books through Amazon.ca:


Cost of new text books through Amazon.com:


I knew that I would have to pay for shipping (since it’s international shipping to Canada) if I used Amazon.com and I would have to pay for customs charges.  This added up to $100.

So my total bill came up to $650.  I’m happy with that, but in hindsight, I should have had it sent to a PO box across the border and then pick it up there and declare it.  I would have had a CHANCE where I might not needed to have to pay the $100 (especially if the officer was nice LOL).  I plan to do this next time.

Here are some other options:

  • Textbooks Pictures, Images and PhotosRent a Text Book

This option was unfathomable when I went to university (or maybe I was just hiding under a rock? I graduated in ’05).  There more and more text book rental options in Canada now.  Though I would caution that you make sure you find a textbook that is the correct edition (because there may be older, outdated editions being circulated).  Other than that, if you don’t plan on keeping it, rent it!  (I had wanted to keep my text books when I was in university the first go, and now I regret that decision- just stuff! I never read my ENG 112 text book ever again!).

Some text book rental sites (I admit it, I Googled “text book rental canada”) are: Textbookrental.ca (the largest one in Canada.  You can become an “ambassador” and for everyone you refer, you get 8% back.  Almost like referring others to use Groupon… a tier/ commissions system) and Big Mama(often there is a back to school promotion where you get 5% off your purchase, and they plan a tree every time you rent from them).

The good thing about renting text books is that you can save trees (it’s recycling!).  The bad thing is, often you pay about 50% of the purchase price to rent the text book for a semester.  If you bought the book and sold it, you usually get about 50% of the resale value anyway (especially if you sold it directly to another student).  However, sometimes the editions get updated so quickly that your textbook might not be new anymore.  To me, it seems like the only one profiting from these text book rental sites is the people who are renting you your text book 😉

  • Buy the Online/ downloadable version

On Amazon, for a number of text books, there was the option of buying the online version (e.g. so you can read it on your Kindle, or your iPad!).  This is usually about 50% of the regular price the store would normally sell it for as well.  However, if you’re the type of person who can’t read ‘online’ and needs to print everything out, or touch the pages, or high light the pages… a huge online version of a text book will be a pain.  That being said, it may be easy to find what you want if it was an online version instead of flipping through hundreds of pages.  Also, “selling” the downloadable version of your textbook might be awkward.

  • Go to the local used text book store (and go early)

Had I gone to the campus bookstore, I would have found some used text books.  However, I would have had to take transportation to get there (campus is in a different city), which would obviously negate the benefits of buying cheaper text books.

In summary, I’m happy with my Amazon.com purchase, but I think that next time, I’ll be having it shipped across the border and pick them up and bring’em home 🙂  It’s about an hour drive to the border from where I’m at and it would be a nice day trip.  I know it’s best not to destroy so many trees, but with my program being delivered online, I’d like to get away from my computer once in a while.

Readers- which method of saving money on text books did you use in school?  Did you keep your text books for nostalgia/reference sake or did you sell them right away?

Article comments

LivingAsMe says:

I am a student at U Ottawa; when it comes to finding textbooks for University, I have had the most success using http://www.locazu.com – it is free to use and connects you with everything you need to survive university. You make a ‘Wishlist’ of the books you need, and then you receive notification when someone in your area posts them for sale – it’s fast and easy to use! Buying used books locally saves students a lot of money!

young says:

@LivingAsMe- Cool- thanks for the heads up!

The Wealthy Canadian says:

Admittedly, when I went to university, I had to have the actual edition that was recommended in the course syllabus. Also, I never felt organized until I had every single book required for the semester so I often bit the bullet.

Don’t get me wrong, I always tried getting a used book if I could find it, but I never settled for a previous edition of a book with the fear that the subtle changes could affect learning concepts, or having a homework assignment on the wrong page. Call it stupid, but that was my thought process at the age of 17-21.

I really like your Amazon comparison Y&T – great job finding the differences in pricing. I totally agree with Andrew in that it’s bizarre how you can earn more savings by going the .com route.

Good stuff!

young says:

@The Wealthy Canadian- I understand your reasoning exactly! Just today, I started reading a chapter mid way and then realized I have the 6th edition and professor is quoting 5th edition. FML lol.

flash says:

I forgot to mention that the costs on the site are in Indian Rupees, which is like 1/45 of the Canadian dollar.

One downside I forgot to mention is the shipping. If your lucky you’ll get your order in one week, but most of my orders took 2-3 weeks.

young says:

@flash- Thanks for the great tip. I’d be happy to help out emerging markets 😉 I remember when I was in India, there were so many books that looked like real published versions, but they weren’t. I think I got a copy of Dan Brown’s book in India and it was on flimsy paper. But it was only $2 USD. I only realized it was a copy when I opened it.

flash says:

check out: nbcindia.com

I was able to find most of my 3rd year and 4th year textbooks on this site and it’s usually 1/5th of the price. Keep in mind the discounted textbooks are soft cover in lieu of hard cover and the paper quality isn’t as good, but at 1/5th the price it’s a bargain and I personally had no issues with the lower quality books.

Tanis says:

I would wait until a couple weeks into the course to figure out if I actually needed textbooks – sometimes I could get away with just going to the library whenever I needed to refer to something, or photocopying assigment pages from friends.

Look at notice boards on campus, too, near where your classes are – lots of people would put up notices of texts for sale. My school (UofAlberta) had an online bulletin board system for people to sell their used books.

You can buddy up with people in the same program a year ahead of you, and get first dibs to buy their books, or just borrow them. I also buddied up with a person a year behind me, and he bought my books when I was done with them.

I spent around $1000 total on texts during a 4 year engineering degree! If I had bought new, I think the costs were around $500/semester.

young says:

@Tanis- That’s not too bad, $1000 for 4 years, but still, that’s a lot of money, especially when the student budget is already so limited. Great tips Tanis, thanks for commenting and sharing!

Misa says:

Abebook.com helps a lot besides Amazon. But I definitely sold the books right away if I wasn’t going to use it. No point making clutter!

young says:

@Misa- Yeah for sure! I made the mistake of using my books as “reference” or to make my bookcase look good, but now I just look pretentious hah.

Milli fox says:

I buy new books from amazon.ca and get the free super saver shipping because I know I will get at least 50-70% of my money back when I’m done with them. I used to go through the trouble of hunting for used books on kijiji and craigslist but I found it took up way too much of my time. As well as when I tried to sell them this way. So now what I do is sell them back to my school (even though didn’t buy them there :P). They offer a pretty good rate if you get there early in the term when demand is still high for the book. So even if your school bookstore doesn’t have a buy back program, I suggest finding your way over toanother campus w a friend that goes to that school and get them to buy your books. They actually offered me better prices than amazon.coms buyback program!!

young says:

@Milli fox- That’s a good idea! I’ll try and do that for sure 🙂 Hehe, TAKE THAT, university!! 🙂

Kellen says:

I’d say definitely buying on Amazon.com used books was WAY WAY cheaper than our campus bookstore’s used books. And if you sell back to the bookstore, you’re lucky if they give you 10% of what you paid for it. So probably selling on Amazon again would be the best. – I always made the mistake of holding onto them for reference material later, so never sold them in time. I also made the mistake of letting professors pressure you into buying the new book because they would not put the book on the book list and would only tell you about it the first day. Typically, if you have to wait for a book to be shipped, your professor should be able to provide a reference copy for you to use in the library or something. (In your case, you’re off campus so this is trickier.)

young says:

@Kellen- I’ll see- I might have to pay double for shipping if someone from the US buys my books, I think. I’ll let you guys know what route I choose when I sell them. I’ve already marked some of them all over with highlighter LOL. Ughh professors- that’s pretty awful that they do that- I had one of them do that to me in my undergraduate studies.

Great tips. The bummer thing I have right now is I can’t use used textbooks or get them online for cheaper. The courses I am taking correspondence give you study packages which you pay with your course fee. There is no option to get the materials any other way since they are customized for that course. It sucks really because I am sure I am paying a chunk of change for them.

young says:

@Miss T- Study packages wow! But are they cheaper since theyre likely photocopies from books?

I agree with Teacher Man here, I felt no guilt for photocopying the pages I needed for assignments, over my 5 years at school I probably only bought 30% of the books. Saved a lot of money, but those savings was blown at the campus pub…. Right T.M?

young says:

@J.B.- Way to stick it to the man!!! It’s like robin hood, you take from the big publishers and give to… your campus pub 😉

I always order to an American addresses. To be honest, I used to work at the border and if you just threw the books in your bag (taking them out of shipping packaging) and didn’t keep the price tag with you anywhere in the car, there is no way you would have to pay duty. Border guards aren’t going to go through the trouble of trying to prove you were smuggling textbooks unless they conveniently find the receipt. If you are more moral than that, the guards still might give a poor student a break, or you could time it with a 48-hour trip down to the USA and claim your $400 exemption.

I was so disillusioned with University by the end that I was one of those people that would buy a textbook with a group, split the cost, and then just photocopy the relevant sections. Or rented the book/checked it out of reserve, and photocopied what I needed. I know this isn’t right, but I justified it by saying that McGraw-Hill got enough of my money my first couple years to tie them over. I hated when profs would list textbooks and then either not use them at all, or only reference 2 chapters out of 30. I hope you stick to your morals and don’t become jaded against the textbook industry and higher education!

young says:

@TM@MUM- Reeaaallyyy… thanks for the tip! I was hoping an ex-border worker or customs officer would chime in and comment 🙂 What about if you declare it? My friend declared it and she didn’t end up having to pay.

LOL McGraw-Hill- do you see this? We’re all discontent! Stop making new editions!! Stop making us students even poorer!

Thanks for the update. It’s been 15 years since I purchased any text books and it’s great to know the current options. I would do Amazon.com and send it to a PO box or a friend across the border. Seems like the best option.
Can’t you buy some text books oversea too? I heard they are much cheaper, but I don’t really know how to get it.

young says:

@reitrebyforty- I know- I felt really “old school” for not knowing to use Amazon too! I heard something about buying text books overseas, but that sounds sketchy. I think the shipping would be more $ too, no?

Isn’t it bizarre that you can order a book through Amazon, and the quoted U.S. price is lower than the quoted Canadian price? Yet the Canadian dollar is stronger than the U.S. dollar, so it should be the other way round. Because I live in Singapore, when I wanted to gift my own book to friends in Canada, I found that ordering through Amazon was cheaper than ordering through Amazon.ca. To me, that’s the strangest thing.

young says:

@Andrew Hallam- Tell me about it. It’s kind of like how magazines, books, and birthday cards are all more expensive in Canada than they are in the US even though we are at parity. I find it strange too. I think it has to do with duties and custom charges? I might be wrong on that one though. The complexities and mysteries of Canada… just like Canadian health care, Canadian politics…lol.. but I digress.

Helly says:

It’s been years since I’ve even had to *think* about textbooks. The costs have always been insane. I definitely scour the user book lists online. I tend to favor half.com (which now belongs to eBay) for the best prices.

Another useful way to save money is to buy an older edition of the book. Many times the content is essentially identical, just the page #’s and problems differ, and unless the teacher gives out assignments that say “Do problems 5-10 on page 294”, you should be good to go 🙂

young says:

@Helly- Hey Helly! Long time no see 🙂 Half.com? Cool, never heard of it- just checked it out- lots of cheap stuff! I wonder if they ship to Canada too?

Yeah, that’s a good way too. It CAN be more time consuming especially if the prof does dole out readings in page numbers 🙂

SavingMentor says:

I remember those days! I never went to many great lengths to save money on textbooks. I looked at it as my education and that it was worth spending money on. I didn’t want books that were already highlighted or messed up. In hindsight, that was pretty stupid and I could have saved a lot of dough!

Another great tip on saving money on textbooks is to sell them as soon as you’re done the course. Many people, including myself, keep them thinking you will refer to them from time to time. Most times you don’t do this. Used books are often still worth a fortune for the next semester or next year, but if you wait a few years the amount of money you can get from them will drop off a cliff.

So don’t wait, sell them as soon as you’re done with them. If you find you need a specific book again later, you can probably buy it back for less than you sold it for or get the next latest and greatest edition on the subject and be better off.

young says:

@SavingMentor- I’m surprised about that 🙂 But I definitely understand. I have a thing about already highlight text books too- it somehow detracts from the “pristine-ness” of it all. That is indeed a great idea- to sell them ASAP. I realized that I didn’t use my old text books for reference, and will likely sell a lot of my text books when I’m done. Great tips, SM!

schultzter says:

A solution for buying state-side is kinek.com. There’s a small charge for reach package so try to bundle your purchases into one big order.

The other solution to cut text-book costs is going to the local copy shop before the RCMP closes them down and buying copies of the textbooks you need.

I realise this is illegal. And I don’t condone it – I’ve never done it!

But can someone explain to me why they come up with new versions of a textbook every year for a subject that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years?! Yes, the colours might be brighter and the examples more “current” but I’m pretty sure Adam Smith hasn’t revised the Wealth of Nations lately so does the Economics 101 text book really need to change every year?

The best solution for cutting your text book cost would be getting student body, the school, & the minister of education to insist on end to the abuse perpetrated by the publishers!!!

young says:

@schultzter- Ooh thanks for the resource. Just checked it out- looks good. I hear TSB is alright too. This will revolutionize the way I buy text books.

You know, my sister did just that- she bought her text book and then photocopied it. I don’t condone it either, but she did it! And saved some money. I think if a text book has a huge number of pages this might not be a good idea.

I don’t understand why there are versions of text books every year either. I have a friend who co-authored a text book (hahha, yeah I have friends in high places, yo!) and she said she gets like… $2 for each copy of that text book sold. It’s a $70 text book. She says authors don’t get very much of the text book pie.

It’s the #)*)#(@)%* publishers!

Vanessa says:

900$ for textbooks!? How many classes are you taking?

My worse semester was about 700$ for 4 classes (3 of the books were used in multiple semesters). Thankfully after that year my books got thinner (read, cheaper) and I started photocopying my larger textbooks (0.07$ per page)

young says:

@Vanessa- Um, 3 LOL. There were like 11 text books. I hope my books get thinner too 🙂 My sister photocopied her text books this semester 🙂 I think I did that once way back, but I’m not bothering to do it this time around.