Budget Diaries from a College Student: Spending $100 on Textbooks + more

Friday, July 18, 2014

A couple months ago, someone emailed me out of the blue asking me if I could answer a couple of questions about being a college student and a reader. Sure, I thought, why not? I didn't think that much about it until posts started popping up in my college's incoming freshman group. These freshmen are freaking out about everything and I know that they're not alone. 

And because we're all curious and thrifty people, here are some resources that will help your wallet and give you some spare money to afford those books you've been eyeing. Isn't that the logic? Save money on textbooks to buy that book you've been eyeing since it made itself into an Edelweiss catalog or onto Goodreads.

Money in Yo Pocket

Read on to learn how I spend less than $100 on textbooks per semester... 


I spend probably under $100 per semester on college textbooks and I buy all of the textbooks in the syllabus (I take mostly science classes, too). One basic rule of thumb is: Stay away from the college bookstore as much as possible.

The second rule of thumb is: Search online. I use BigWords.com every semester to search up all the books that I need to buy. I usually buy 3-4 weeks before the semester starts to get a relatively good deal on books before they run out and a better price. I mainly buy from textbook sellers (or resellers depending on how you look at it) and as of yet, I haven't bought from Ebay. I definitely would suggest looking at the details of the book beforehand. A couple times, I backed out of clicking "buy" because of the condition of the book. I've always bought used books!

Depending on what the price is, I either buy it or rent it. I make the decision based on buyback price (which isn't always guaranteed, by the way!). If I can get a better price selling it back (and therefore a better deal), I buy the book instead of renting it. I've only rented two books so far. Renting may not be the best deal!

Third rule of thumb: Sell that book back. I always sell my textbooks back at the end of the semester, when buyback prices are good. I go back onto BigWords and search buyback prices. I use the companies that give me free shipping and sell the book back. I haven't had a bad experience yet but I have read some negative reviews. Also, don't buy international editions of books because you can't sell it back to book resellers!

There are also free and for sale forums in college Facebook groups but I haven't bought a book from fellow students yet since I usually get better deals online. You can probably get smaller things (clickers/remotes that are needed for classes), toasters and other things there, too!


I know a couple of retailers have student discounts but usually the student discounts are only on regular priced items and are meager at best (10% off, which either covers tax or barely does depending on where you are). 

J. CREW gives 10% discounts on all items (including sale and their sales can get pretty steep in discounts). All you need is a student I.D when you check out. 

AMAZON Prime Student: Amazon Prime has saved me so many times. College students get free shipping for six months when you sign up with a valid student email (@.edu). The closest Wal-Mart/Target is a long bus ride away and a simple shopping run kills a 3 hour block. 

ZAPPOS- They have great sales and their free shipping both ways has saved me. My original pair of rain boots broke and I needed one fast. 

A lot of colleges have discounts with various retailers on computers, cell phone carriers and more so do check with your school on things you can save on! 


I don't really like dining hall food but I make do. I try to make it to the times when there's fruit (it's a mad dash for the fruit, every. single. time. unless it's breakfast, which not a lot of people wake up for) and I eat the veggies at the salad bar. I don't really get sick of fruits and vegetables, which is a good thing. 

Basically the key to affording good food and other things is to stop buying those three-dollar coffees every time. They add up. Just think three cups of coffee is the same price as a book and I'd much rather get the book. I just found out about cold-drip coffee and it's super simple to make (and tastes infinitesimally better) so I'll be doing that next semester. (I'm not really a Keurig fan.) 

Affording other (nice) things

There's a really great quote from a favorite blogger of mine, Margaret Zhang (who's 22 and achieving huge things already):
Buy only what is necessary, spend within your means, read the ingredients, calculate dollars per kilogram (i.e. cost per wear), and don’t fall victim to barely valuable loyalty programs.
Find things that you're passionate about on campus, dedicate your time to it and things will turn out fine. I write for my school paper, which has a business model that's able to pay the writers, I freelance when I can and I work. 

EDIT (8/9/2014):
Rachel mentioned that she likes to see if there are discount codes and cashback websites and one that I use is Ebates.com. I was a little weary at first when I signed up for it but it's totally legit (one of my friends uses it as well) and it works like most credit card/frequent flier shopping accounts where you have to go through ebates.com first to receive the cash back. And yes, I do use it a lot! Popular sites such as Best Buy, Hotels.com, Expedia, Target, Sephora and Wal-Mart also offer cash-back. 

How do you save money? Budget it? Am I just super thrifty? What are your tips for college? 


  1. I had no idea about BigWords and I think it's going to help me out a lot this semester. Thanks so much for sharing all this great information! :D

    Amelia | The Authoress

  2. Great tips! Loyalty cards definitely help and I love looking through sales since I'm pretty much killing two birds with one stone.


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