Buying Books For Grad School 2: More Tips

Posted on January 26,2011 by jennymspp

First of all, hi! We are back into another semester at MSPP. Hearing classmates complain about how much they paid for books this semester inspired me to revamp my very first post on book-buying. Since last summer, I have gained more expertise on how to save money when buying textbooks. My methods take more time and effort, but the money-savings make up for it.

The Search

I must give credit to my classmate, Lisa, for pointing out the website It is really easy to use. You just put in the title or ISBN number of the book you want, and it will give you a price comparison of all major book sellers on the internet:,,,,, etc. You can choose to filter the choices if you want a rental, a used book, or a new book. You can also choose to sort the results however you want. I usually sort by total price (price + shipping - any coupon discounts), with the lowest at the top. Then, I find the lowest price that isn't a rental. Why not a rental? Because you can't sell them back. If you buy a book and sell it back, chances are you can get a good portion of your money back (unless the edition becomes obsolete). The amount you end up paying for a rental will probably be more than the amount you lose from buying and selling.

The Research

I bet you thought we were done after we found the cheapest book! Not quite. You'll want to click the link for the book to make sure the price was actually correct, that you're eligible for any coupons that were factored into the price, and that the book is in a condition that is acceptable to you. Also, if the lowest price was an eBay auction, you'll need to "watch" the auction until it ends and bid strategically. More on this later.

What if you find a used book in "good" condition for $55 and a "new" book for $60? This is a matter of personal choice. A "good" condition book may contain highlighting and wear on the cover and/or pages. Some people like it when a book comes already highlighted, so the "good" book would be fine for them. If it were me, I would probably spend the extra $5 for the "new" book. If I decide to resell it later, I can probably get more money off of it than a "good" condition book. If I decide to keep the book, I will have a book that lasts longer and looks better on my shelf. To make the final decision, always be sure to read the full item description and take seller ratings into account.


eBay gets its own section because it is a world in and of itself. Sometimes people get so caught up in bidding in an auction that before you know it, the current bid is higher than what the book might go for elsewhere on the internet. On the flipside, you can get some really good deals if you are crafty and timely. Textbooks are popular items and buyers can be very competitive over them. Here are some tips:

  • Don't bid right away! Track the book by clicking "Watch" in the item description. The item will be added to your watch list in My eBay. The advantage to this is that if you are watching multiple books, you can see the current bids and time left for all of them in one place.
  • Calculate the day and time the auction will end from the days and hours remaining on the item.
  • If you can be there at that time, plan to log on minutes before the auction ends. As close to the end of the auction as you dare, place a single bid with the maximum amount you'd be willing to pay for the book.
  • If you can't be there at that time, wait until the last possible time you can be there and place your maximum bid.

Why do you put your maximum bid instead of only bidding when someone outbids you? When you put your maximum bid, eBay will autobid for you up to the current bid. Then, if others place a minimum bid after you, they will be automatically outbid and unable to tell what your maximum bid is until they have outbid you. For example, if the current bid says $10, and you put your maximum bid at $50, someone else may have already put their maximum bid in at $30. eBay will automatically autobid against the other person until it is over that $30. So you would see the current bid jump up from $10 to $31. If someone else then bids the minimum of $32, they will be automatically outbid by you. They may keep bidding after that, but will have no idea that you bid $50 unless they bid at least $51. This is why it's a good idea to wait until the last possible minute to put in your maximum bid. Bidding takes up valuable time, so people trying to grab the item for the lowest possible price will waste their time trying to outbid you with minimum bids. The price will keep going up with every bid, but ultimately you'll end up paying less for the book than other stores if you were smart about your bid amount. It's a good idea to set your maximum bid at the highest you would be willing to pay for the book, based on how much it is selling for elsewhere. The whole point is to get it cheaper than anywhere else, so don't get too caught up in bidding wars! If your maximum bid is outbid, consider buying the book elsewhere or trying another auction.

Hopefully all of this information isn't too overwhelming. If you have any questions or need more help or advice on buying or selling books, let me know! I am also willing to sell your books or other media for you for a cut of the sale price. Just e-mail me.