Friday, August 18, 2006

Getting Gouged on More Than Gas

Biff!!! Zowee!!! Kapow!!!


No, you're not watching an old Batman rerun. And I'm not doing a one-on-one interview with consumers pumping gas at their local service station.

This is the sound of my wallet being beaten to death while trying to buy college textbooks.

As most of my blogfriends know, I'm going back to college alongside the Big Kid. I always wanted to get my Paralegal Certificate, and circumstances being what they are, now is a great time to do it.

Classes start next week.

The college we're attending is promoting the heck out of its "Women's Re-entry Program".


Let me say that again.

Ha! Ha ha ha ha ha! And Ha!

I've already commented on my difficulty with the entire admissions process in previous posts.

Big Kid and I don't qualify for any financial aid or grants.

That's ok. We qualify for in-state tuition, and it's a--koff--bargain.

But even at used prices, the books we require for our classes from our college bookstore are a little over 1/4 of our total combined tuition.

That's if there are any used books available. Tack on another 30% or more for new books.

I understand that colleges rely on revenue from the bookstores, but this has become outrageous.

Instead of competitively pricing their textbooks, they exert an enormous amount of energy and manpower to keep you from being able to buy them elsewhere.

It's reminiscent of the old Colorado Mining Camps. There's only one store in the camp, and it's owned by The Company. You gotta buy your supplies there at a huge mark-up, simply because there's no place else to shop.

You'd imagine that colleges would have grown out of that mind-set in this age of the internet.

Guess again!

When the Big Kid came back from college last spring, he was an absolute medical mess. He had to re-take two of the classes he failed that last semester down in the city over the summer because they were required.

I called the bookstore to find out if the English 121 book he had at the previous college (we paid $93.79 for it) was also used for THIS English 121 class.

They refused to tell me. I asked for the ISBN number, and was refused.

"You have to come to the book store personally to ask. We're not allowed to give this information over the phone."


So we went down into the city, we had the wrong book, and shelled out another $72 (used) for the correct one.

Afterwords, just for comparative purposes, I went to Alibris online and found out that we could have purchased either book, used and in excellent condition, for around $35.00.

Oh joy.

So this time, I got the info available on the college website (author's last name, abbreviated title, edition, astronomical price) and went to Alibris first off. Found the closest matches, including ISBN and went to the bookstore to compare, along with our class schedules.

Half of the books we needed weren't even there. There were just empty sections with tags where the books were supposed to be.

I asked the lovely young clerk with a Charlie's Angels-do about it. She came over and took a look at the empty spaces and said, "Well, we're out. You'll have to go buy them at the main campus (far far away) or order them online from our website. You can pick them up here at the end of the week."

I said, "Can I at least get the ISBN numbers or titles so I know what I'm ordering?"

She gave me the hairy eyeball and snapped, "We're not allowed to give that information out!". And flipped her hair and flounced away.


If we choose NOT to order from the campus bookstore, we have to show up at class the first day unprepared because the college refuses to tell us what exact materials we need, either on the phone or in person?

How messed up is that?

I stood there helplessly for a moment after Miss Hair stomped off, not knowing what my next step should be. Then I turned my head.

The freaking tags in front of the empty spaces had the ISBN numbers printed large as life!

So I whipped out my pen and copied them down while she glared at me from behind the counter.

When I got home, I went to Clevermoms coupon site and got an online coupon for 20 bucks off a purchase of $100.00 at Alibris.

Even with expedited shipping (around 25 dollars), I purchased mostly NEW books and saved almost $300.00 off the "used" price the college offered.

What in the heck is wrong with this picture?

I would have been more than happy to forgo the high shipping price and the wait for delivery if I could have bought these same books at a reasonable mark-up at the college bookstore.

I don't MIND supporting the college as long as they aren't strong-arming me and robbing me blind!

But you know, in the end, they got me.

When I left the bookstore (which was hot and airless), I stopped by the nearby vending machine kiosk.

Put a dollar bill in to get a Diet Pepsi. Clicked on the button, nothing. Clicked on a different button, nothing.

So I hit the change return.

Got 3 quarters back.

Looked at a little note taped on the machine.

"For refunds go to the bookstore and request forms B4 or B7".

Thought about facing Miss Hair again.

Pocketed the quarters and scrammed.

I'll just use them for the parking meters that charge $1.00 an hour in the required student fee-paid (whether you have a car or not) parking lot.



magda said...

I wandered over from ninjapoodles, and thought you might like to look at, which I used throughout college to find good deals on books. Also, worldcat can tell you whether a nearby library has a book.

Thanks for posting the four-part series about coupon-ing.

Miss Keeks said...

Here's a little advice that you can utilize after your first semester. Talk to your professors rather than the idiots at the bookstore. You'll know them by then and can find out what books you're using early on and get a pretty good deal.

Now, when are you taking accounting I?? This semester?? Next semester?? I'm looking forward to it because... I was the best accounting tutor ever!! Well, maybe not the best ever, but I used to get people coming from different schools because they heard of my skills. And I know you would be an ideal pupil! So, when you take accounting--let me know ASAP the first time you're questioning anything. I'll love it.

I miss that job. Except for the glue sniffer with no short-term memory.

Attila the Mom said...

Magda---ooooh thanks for the links! And thanks so much for stopping by!

Miss Keeks---I think you have me confused with some other college student. LOL I plan on taking "Mathmatics for the Liberal Arts". After I pass Pre-Algebra, of course. ;-)

Miss Keeks said...

Sorry Sucker, if I remember correctly, they generally make the paralegals take accounting I. And oh, how they wept! Seriously--I'll make it better for you. (you'll cry over the price of that book)

Stephanie said...

...and there's always for college books! that's where we shopped this year for our
TWO daughters heading off to college.

OneEar said...

If you need any help with criminal law, I have a real knack for it.

Anonymous said...

I had the same issues with the mildly fascist regime that runs the bookstore on the campus of my local U. I purchased all of my books at, because luckily, the codes are available prior to class inception at the online book store. phee-ew.

your local college bookstore owners sound as though they qualify as true third-reich members. yecch.

DutchBitch said...

Next time bring your Hubby's raisor and make Ms Hair into Ms Baldy!

ditzymoi said...

i didnt know you lived in california ???? its ridiculous every where i suppose

i have a link on my postmeasecret site to a place called PhatCampus that sells used and also that buys back books too ... maybe that will help recoup some fees :)

Brenda said...

You know, I believe we're going from a land of plenty to a land of the pennyless pretty damned quick. We're the only civilized country in the world that doesn't provide a free education through college and free medical care for it's citizens. Our tax money certainly goes to pay for these schools and stuff. It took us, who had no college degrees, years to pay for our oldest daughter's college education.

fifipoo07 said...

attila, i symapethise, i remember how at university in England one of my biggest expenditures, certainly in the first weeks after each holiday was books, and that was even after finding alot of them online.


Deb said...

Okay I need info from you. My boyfriend is in college and we shell out a hell of alot of money on books! What do I need to know to make sure that I order the correct books, I need step by step kindergarten instructions PLEASE~!

Kevin Charnas said...

good lord!!! i know, i know... i work at a university and they practically try and charge people for farting on campus.

the fleecing just seems a little un-necessary.

Kelly Wolfe said...

Oh, lordy, I remember that feeling of bankruptcy via text books. I think there are some web sites that sell the books more cheaply now.... but not sure.

I am so excited for to return to school. Enjoy. We are very proud of you, my blog friend.


Kim Ayres said...

Forget the books - just Google any questions then copy and paste a variety of answers. Easy :)

RC said...

college book prices are crazy, but I am glad (and not surprised) you were able to shop around for better deals.

I love getting books for cheap (i think that's why i'm always annoyed when i get barnes and nobles gift cards...i'm like...what i do with this...i avoid getting books there because they're a rip.)

--RC of

Mr. Fabulous said...

I was going to say as well that there must be places online.

Mrs. Fab sold a lot of her law books through a bulletin board the college had set up. eBay may also be a possibility.

carmachu said...

Campus bookstores SUCK.

But what are you goingto do fi they dont give you the numbers?

Oh yeah, call the professor, tell'em their out of books, andyou need the number.

However, did you check intown independent bookstores? My colloge use to have them off campus that had the right books, cheaper...

Good juob for the numbers....

OneEar said...

Kim is on to something.

However, there are some other factors to remember.

1) None of the other students will use their books for several weeks/months.

2) All of the other students are lazy.

Conclusion: One of the students will gladly allow you to use/have their textbook in exchange for your notes. You should consider placing strategic errors in order to ensure that they don't outperform you on exams.

Rootietoot said...

suddenly, I feel faint and queasy. I dipped my baby toe into those academic waters last week, reading an online course catalog for the local university. Now suddenly, I am going to have to chose between textbooks and necessary things like flour, sugar, and coffee? Suddenly the water seem cold and slimy.

stinkypaw said...

Ouch! Talk about being screwed and not beeing asked which way you want it!

...and then they wonder why is it that students start off their "lives" with debts! I wonder!

Pendullum said...

are any of these books available on e-bay or soemthing along those lines???

Ruth Dynamite said...

You know, Attila, instead of pursuing the paralegal thing, you should seriously consider writing a book about all your money-saving tactics. I'd buy it (and then I'd want your consulting services to put your advice into action). Just think: books, videos, infomercials, consulting... We spendthrifts of the world need you!!!

Attila the Mom said...

Thanks everyone for your supportive comments!

One Ear---I can't wait for the Criminal Law part of it all! I bet I'll be bending your fuzzy lil ear!

Ruth---Unfortunately, my money-saving grocery tricks are just a routine, not a lifestyle! I pretty much gave most of my secrets away in those 4 posts, although I have a lot more up my sleeve when it comes to household/gift stuff. Not nearly enough to make a book, but anybody can feel free to email me if they need some tips!

You're so sweet to say what you did, though. Thanks so much!

Phil said...

Attila, you already sound too smart for college.

Anonymous said...

it's impossible to qualify for financial aid anymore. I can't get my mom to understand it, since WE all qualified 20 years ago. she doens't believe me its just not there. they don't even give you loans enough anymore. We got lucky, Geek1 got his books this week, but the cost of books is a rental fee that is added onto the per hour cost. I think it works great, no books that never get touched, or are only worth $5 to resell, and it makes the teachers somewhat responsible for the book choices.

abfh said...

Attila, even if you don't have a huge amount of advice that could go into a book on saving money, I'm sure the readers would be very entertained by your anecdotes. Why not try putting together some of your blog posts and e-mailing them to a literary agent as a sample of your work? You never know what sort of response you might get until you try.

Ma T said...

Is there anything consumers can do these days without getting screwed? Fortunately there are resourceful people like you to keep the jerks from winning EVERY time. :)

abfh said...

Here's a great concept for college textbooks. I just noticed this story.

Freeload Press

girl said...

Eeek, bad memories of college textbook intimidation!! You're Super Coupon Clipper though, so you'll save the day!

Anonymous said...

Good Lord! I remember college. In my opinion, you have to be degreed just to manouver your way the the crap you've got to do - just to get to the first class.

Sven said...

I wish I would have known about Alibris back in January when I spent $97 for my text book. Unfortunately for me books are not covered under my employer's reimbursement program. Sadly, neither were the "fees" which made up about 1/5 of the total bill.

apricoco said...

Aughh! I know how much this sucks as I am going through it right now as we speak. My local CC used to publish the ISBNs and book lists, but now at the BIG university I can't even get that information and the bookstore doesn't give it out over the phone. WTF is wrong with these people? I use (I usually buy in the marketplace section from other users), but I am going to try albris. Good luck in school!

Pendullum said...

You may beat more than a breast late at me...
I just tagged you through a meme...
Don't hate me too much...
Looking forward to reading yours!!!

Robbiegirl said...

That truly sucks.

I'm adding that to my list of "Why English Universities are Better Than American Ones".

Our tutors tell us what books to get, and we're actively encouraged to buy them second-hand from students who took the module in previous years. Our uni doesn't even have a bookshop.

I guess they know that if we were coerced into buying expensive books, we'd either not buy them and therefore do badly and make the uni look bad, or we'd bankrupt ourselves and drop out so they wouldn't get our tuition fees for the next year.

Our library has shedloads of books too - when a book is used as a module text book the library automatically buys many copies of it. Just in case you choose not to buy the book yourself.

fifipoo07 said...

Attila- just wondered if you were off to see the new sigourney weaver movie where she plays an autistic woman? Pippa

Anonymous said...

Hullo all,

I just wanted to toss my $0.02 in. I've been using since they've launched at my school. It's a free student-run site that lets you buy and sell used books directly with other students on your campus. It's obviously better than the bookstore, but it's also great because you don't have to wait weeks for Amazon or Alibris to ship.

They just opened up to any college in the country (apparently if you try to sign up with your university email address they'll add your school within a few hours). They've got a wide selection of books available at Stanford, but it might be a little less useful if they're just getting started at your school. They do give you direct links to used books on Amazon Marketplace, though, so even if the book isn't offered at your school it's not a total waste.

I think we really need something like this to catch on nationally. Students are being ripped off by the bookstore, but if we can help each other out...