Pounds for pages: how to buy compulsory textbooks for less

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Illustration: Flo McQuibban

One of the most frightening moments of the first week of classes is receiving your reading list. Whether your list contains two expensive textbooks or two hundred regular books, it is bound to be expensive. Before you get on the phone to your parents to ask for extra money, here are some tips to help you save.

Illustration: Flo McQuibban
Illustration: Flo McQuibban

First, it is often beneficial to go to your first week of class before you buy your books, unless you have been specifically told to bring a certain book to class. The first reason for this is that sometimes the reading lists online are not updated until later in the term so they may include books that are no longer being used. The second reason is that there are some books you can get away with not buying. Most of the time reading lists are packed with extra reading so make sure you differentiate between what book you will need to bring to class and what book you may only need for an assignment for one day. Also, keep in mind that if the item on your reading list is just a chapter or article from a book, you can usually find it online for free. Finally, it can be the case that a book will be listed on your reading list but your tutor will have copied the essential bit for you or posted it online. Make sure you find out before you invest in the whole book.

Now that you have determined which books you will need, spend a little time checking to see if the library has any of them. Most of the books on reading lists can be found in the library, so if you will only need them for one week of class or for an essay, then it may be worth just borrowing it instead of buying it. However, if everyone else in your course has decided to do the same thing then it may be difficult to get your hands on it. The library does hold multiple copies of most popular books and if that is the case then you will have a better chance of getting it.

If you absolutely need a book then before you go running over to Blackwell’s check in the charity shops around town. It can be a long shot but some of them, especially Barnardo’s, which is dedicated to books, will have you what you need especially if it is a popular one for sub-honours. It is also worth looking on amazon used books, however sometimes the delivery charge can be more expensive than the book itself so check against a new one before you buy. Another great place to look is to either browse or post on the St Andrews free and for sale Facebook pages. Especially at the beginning of term people will post about selling or giving away their books from last year and this is a great opportunity to get them at a great price. If you don’t see your book, you can always post on the page asking if anyone has one.

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