Passive Income

Money Hack: College Textbooks

I’m taking one course, and will receive funding to cover all of its costs, with lots of bonus money. Yay!

Given how much I’m receiving, I could be tempted to spend willynilly. But, I’ve been practicing the art of radical prioritizing for some time, and donating some of the difference back to the wealthy college system is not what’s most important to me.


The college laid out the cost of essential course materials this way:

Item 1: $79
Item 2: $320
Item 3: $99
Item 4: $68
TOTAL: $566

Tuition for the first-year, 3-credit course is $474 over and above this.

Tuition is nonnegotiable, and the grant for materials is a fraction of the stated costs. I started to look for ways to save on the texts:

  • Are all of the items required?
  • Do retailers offer a student version of any?
  • Is there a free software trial for the four months it’s needed?
  • Is there a used copy of the physical item?

I poked and asked and Googled and prodded.

The ultimate cost to me? $186, for all brand new materials. (I might have saved another $50 buying used.)


  • The $320 item is available for $186.
  • While we were told, in writing, that we would need to purchase Item 4 in addition to Item 2, Item 2 includes it. If the bookstore hadn’t told me that outright, I would have purchased both sealed packages, with each nonrefundable! A sheer waste of $68.
  • Item 1 is free for all students! The course admin folks, the instructor, and the campus bookstore were all unaware of this. Although the information is presented as a giant, bold icon within our online access, the first five staff people and students I mentioned this to said a freebie was “impossible.” The “impossible” tends to be my best source of income or savings, so I pursued it.

Now I get to invest the difference—$380.

  • The original $380 becomes $1218*, with zero additional effort.
  • Multiply that times however many courses you’re taking per semester.
  • Multiple that by how many semesters you’re taking this year.
  • Multiply that by how many semesters you’re taking for your certificate, diploma, or degree(s).

Score, right? Won’t your 20-year future self be tickled when it gets to play with all that extra cash it didn’t have to work for?

The only real hassle is that few sources were willing or able to tell me the cost of any given item upfront. This meant each needed to be contacted in turn, each quote took 1-5 steps to obtain, etc. Worth it? You decide. Personally, if any given savings were a one-off, I probably wouldn’t bother. But, because these habits save me similar amounts multiple times every month of my life, it really adds up!

*I used this calculator, and assumed the following: I will add no other amounts at any point. I will leave it in for 20 years. The long term rate of return will be 6%. (This rate is considered reasonable in long term investing. Feel free to use your preferred projections.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s