Activity Idea: Don’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover

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May 27, 2015
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Activity, Paying for College, Budgeting, Purchase Decisions

Textbooks represent one of the first purchasing decisions that college freshmen will make this fall when they arrive on campus. I could have included the adjective “dreaded” ahead of textbooks and I am sure I would have gotten lots of nods from readers. Many of you probably still recall years later that moment of stepping up to the cashier at the bookstore for the first time with mouth agape wondering if there had been a tremendous mistake when the total bill had been calculated.

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Today the book buying process has evolved beyond the new vs. used decision when I was in college to one where there are multiple channels (Amazon, Chegg, Barnes and Noble, Textbooks.com to name just a few) and multiple media (hardcover, digital) and purchase options (buy vs. rent).

So, here’s the idea for this brief activity which went over extremely well at a recent FBLA conference.  Pick a popular college textbook.  Since Economics tends to be one of the more popular majors, I thought I would use Principles of Economics (7th Edition) by Greg Mankiw. Feel free to choose another textbook based on your interests. The task for students is to research on the web and find the lowest cost option that works for them in purchasing this textbook. I have created a template for students to complete that allows them to compare the various options (buy new, buy used, rent, Etextbook) across various vendors (BookBuyingActivityTemplate). Since there are so many folks selling textbooks, you may want them to limit their search to five vendors (which they should list) and also evaluate whether they believe the vendor is a credible one.

Once students have completed the activity, here are a few good discussion questions:

  • What did you learn from this exercise?
  • Who found the lowest price for each category?  What retailer/vendor offered that price?
  • Did you find differences in shipping cost?  (Often retailers will provide low-ball textbook price and then make it up with high shipping costs)
  • How did you evaluate whether a vendor was credible or not?
  • Which option do you feel works best for the way you use textbooks?
  • What are other ways to keep your textbook costs low (use library, share with other students in class, etc.)?

About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.

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