More Money, Less Problems

Reading your “required text” on a budget 


Fourth Estate / Billy Ferguson

Classes are well underway and those pesky required readings are creeping up each week. If you’re like me, you dread the amount of “required” textbooks that are listed in class syllabi. Sometimes they are unavoidable, but there are ways to save money and do the readings. 

A week or two before classes, I check the Mason Bookstore site to check if any of my courses have listed the required readings. Then, I open three other tabs: Chegg, Thriftbooks and, finally, Amazon. There are tons of other sites that are available for students to buy or rent textbooks, so if you have a favorite, don’t give it up! 

Thriftbooks has been a go-to for me since high school when I would buy summer reading books on the site. This was especially useful because popular classics were really cheap — as low as $3! Even better, there is free shipping for purchases over $10. Thriftbooks is a great option if you don’t mind buying used books and want a great deal.

It’s hard to miss the orange boxes on campus associated with Chegg. Chegg is a great site for students that goes beyond buying textbooks. What sold me on them, though, was their refund policy. They have a 21-day satisfaction guarantee during which you can return your textbook for a full refund — and they pay for the shipping!

For all of the books that are listed in the bookstore, I copy the ISBN number and search for them on each site. While I am doing this, I have the age-old debate of whether to buy or rent. For major-specific classes, it depends. Sometimes I have a number in my head that I won’t go over if I am going to buy, other times the book sounds interesting and I predict that I’ll read the rest of it. In this case, it’s important to know yourself and your habits.

Whatever I choose to do, this is not the time when I actually commit to buying or renting. I bookmark the cheaper options to review later for when I have the syllabus because sometimes a “required” reading is only a few chapters from a book. 

One thing I did this semester was to add a tab in my search for the cheapest option out there: the Mason Fenwick Library catalog. I searched for each of my textbooks and managed to find two required textbooks for a class. One of them I had access to through an online database and the other was in the TextSelect Reserves in Fenwick. I checked with the syllabus and discovered that we would only read two chapters out of that book. I went to the library and scanned the pages I needed into a PDF. Maybe the required textbooks we need have been under our noses the whole time! 

In an age where it’s an unavoidable fact that college and its related expenses are expensive, it’s useful to put in the work to find the cheapest options out there.