Over the last several months, we’ve been gradually transitioning from a “recipes first” methodology of cooking to an “ingredients first” methodology. Our goal is to make our home cooking much more flexible so we can rely even more on bulk buying of key ingredients and just buying loss leaders from the produce aisle of the grocery store. I’ve written a little about this shift before and I thought a thorough update might be in order.
Let’s walk through what this is all about in detail.
How We’ve Done Things in the Past
In the past, our meal planning and grocery buying and cooking strategy was simple. It was a five step process:
Step 1: Get the grocery store flyer
Step 2: Select recipes and plan meals for the week using our calendar and the items on sale in the flyer
Step 3: Make a grocery list from those recipes, which is basically a list of recipe ingredients minus what we have already on hand
Step 4: Go grocery shopping with the grocery list in hand
Step 5: Prep meals according to the plan
This system came into being over time for several reasons.
One, we were kind of tired of clipping coupons and we found we could get much the same savings if we were careful about buying stuff from the grocery flyer of a low-cost grocer and sticking largely to store brand stuff.
Two, we knew that having a careful meal plan that took our calendar into account made it much more likely that we would prepare meals at home, which is far cheaper than eating out all the time.
Three, we knew that shopping from a grocery list was likely to help us maintain focus on that list and thus were less likely to put unplanned things in the cart.
Four, we weren’t incredibly confident in the kitchen as we moved to this plan and thus having known recipes to follow was pretty important.
This system was one that tolerated our relative inexperience in the kitchen and our crazy schedule while still finding a lot of ways to save money – cooking at home, using a low-cost grocer, sticking to a grocery list, having a grocery list full of items on sale, and so on.
There were still a few flaws with this system, though.
We often wound up with leftover ingredients in odd amounts and we were often unsure what to do with them. Often, partial packages would wind up back in the pantry or fridge or freezer and would eventually be tossed.
There were many food bulk buys that we couldn’t take advantage of because we were unsure how to use them.
Furthermore, as we became more comfortable in the kitchen, we wanted to “ad lib” with the recipes a little more.
“Recipe First” Cooking
What I eventually came to realize is that our method of meal planning and cooking is what’s known as “recipe first” cooking. In other words, our system of designing a meal plan around recipes, buying items to fulfill those recipes, and sticking tightly to the meal plan required us to find recipes before we went to the grocery store.
Basically, if you look at recipes before buying groceries, you’re doing “recipe first” cooking.
Since I’m a huge believer in simply trusting one’s grocery list to minimize impulse buys, I would often go to the store and end up buying package sizes to specifically match our recipes, and that was often a ballpark thing. Often, we’d need an awkward amount, so I’d end up buying a little too much and the excess would just wind up in the back of the fridge or the pantry.
This system also made it very hard to ad-lib. What if I wanted to modify a recipe one night? What if one or two of the neighbor kids was at our house for supper, which happens occasionally? What if a last minute change of events changes the window of time to prepare a specific recipe?
Over time, we came up with some “patches” for this, the big one being that we always had ingredients on hand for a few specific meals that we could quickly prepare any time. We always had ingredients for a simple vegetarian chili. We always had ingredients for spaghetti with sauce.
The perk of those meals was that I knew I could always buy beans in bulk and canned diced tomatoes in bulk and chili seasonings in bulk and dry spaghetti in bulk and pasta sauce in bulk (or, more often these days, tomato sauce in bulk and a variety of spices in bulk). If I saw boxes of whole wheat spaghetti for $0.50, I knew I could just fill the cart up with them and we’d eventually use them.
“Ingredients First” Cooking
Eventually, I came to realize that I wanted that kind of freedom with everything. Whenever I saw a really great sale on something I knew we used more than once in a blue moon, I wanted to be able to just stock up on it without thinking, knowing it would get used. I wanted to be able to buy some frequently used items in huge bulk so that it was incredibly cheap per pound.
This led to the overall realization that we should move toward “ingredients first” cooking, meaning that we just have a pantry and freezer full of staples and thus our meal planning is just about utilizing what’s on sale in the produce section of the grocery store while having the ability to ad-lib lots of meals.
For many quick meals, we’d just always have everything on hand. If I want to make a pot of chili, for example, I’d know that every ingredient I’d need for it is ready to go in the pantry or in the fridge or in the freezer at all times. If I want to make spaghetti, the same is true. Basically, I want this to be true for quite a few meals, and I want many other meals to be similarly ready to go whenever the fresh ingredients are on sale.
Basically, this means filling up our pantry with staples purchased in bulk, buying loss leaders from the fresh items at the grocery store, buying nonperishables in bulk particularly when on sale, and then assembling meals out of what we have on hand.
This changes the five step process above into this:
Step 1: Get the grocery store flyer
Step 2: Identify loss leaders that will make for interesting meals
Step 3: Make a grocery list from the loss leaders and from whatever’s low in the pantry
Step 4: Go grocery shopping with the grocery list in hand
Step 5: Make a meal plan based on what I have on hand and what fits our calendar
In other words, I buy the ingredients before even deciding on recipes or a meal plan. Instead, I just know I have a lot of staples on hand and that I can assemble a lot of meals from those ingredients.
The key to this is that the ingredients on hand become the constraint on deciding what to make, not what I can buy at the grocery store. I keep my shopping to bulk staples and on-sale ingredients and then use them to make something for each meal which I can figure out after grocery shopping but before cooking.
What Changes in Our Food Buying and Prep Time?
So, what does that mean in terms of actual changes in our food buying and food preparation?
Obviously, the focus changes to keeping a healthy pantry full of staples and supplementing that with on-sale produce. When we fully transition (this is still ongoing, for reasons I’ll note below), our grocery list will basically be staple refills along with on-sale fresh produce.
We’re still figuring out what staples we need to have on hand, but this is a really good list to work from that we’ve been using. Obviously, some items are in larger quantity than others depending on the types of food we make regularly. For example, we’ll always have tons of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce and tomato paste on hand, whereas we have very little need to have clams on hand.
The thing to notice is that almost everything on that list is staple foods, not prepared foods. Staple items are almost universally cheaper to buy at the store than prepared items. The more basic the item, the cheaper it is.
We still do meal plans, but meal plans can now be done after the grocery shopping. I can meal plan before or after grocery shopping. It becomes much more of an issue to make sure that the meals we plan fit our calendar rather than figuring out what we need to buy.
Our “meal prepping” is more about preparing basic ingredients for future meals and also about making duplicates of the same meal when we’re making one for supper. We’ve kind of moved away from just making lots of batches of the same meal; instead, if we’re making one meal from scratch, we’ll just make three or four of it (limited by what we have on hand) and save the extra two or three for later, which usually triggers a need to restock specific ingredients in the pantry.
For example, if I’m making lasagna, I’ll probably just go and make several pans of it at once, and the number of pans is usually limited by the ingredients we happen to have around. How many pans can I make based on what’s on hand in the fridge and pantry? This usually means we run out of something, and thus it’s a staple that I can replenish by buying in bulk next time.
I’ll also spend some time straight-up prepping ingredients for future use. For example, I’ve found that it’s a great idea to store small batches of chopped onions and bell peppers in the freezer in small containers. I can just pull them out when it’s convenient and toss them right into the skillet or crock pot or whatever. This means that every once in a while, I’ll spend an hour just chopping onions – tons of them. There are also times where I’ll just buy frozen diced onions and diced green peppers at the store when they’re on sale and divide them into smaller containers when I get home.
Ingredients-first cooking will save you a lot of money, but transitioning to it has a number of challenges and some unexpected expenses. We’re still in transition – we’re mostly doing it, but we often run into little problems and make last-minute runs to the store to fix things. While I think it’s already cheaper than our previous situation, it will get even better when we shave off the rough edges.
Here are some things we’ve learned.
Familiarity with the kitchen is absolutely essential if you’re trying to do this with time constraints. If you’re a single person or you’re retired and you don’t have a whole lot of time constraints on meal preparation, it’s not nearly as big of a deal. The reality is that we often have to get meals made in a pretty narrow timeframe, and that means that we need to be pretty adept in the kitchen at a wide variety of tasks.
The reason is that quite often, you’re not following an exact recipe. You certainly can follow recipes with this strategy, but it almost nudges you not to do so and to trust your own instincts in the kitchen. If you’re leafing through Serious Eats or AllRecipes or something like that and come up with a recipe, you’ll often not have exactly what it calls for, which means you need to be knowledgable and comfortable enough to make reasonable substitutions if you want to make it. In other words, almost everything you make becomes a slight variation on a basic recipe. You’ll almost never make the exact same pasta meal twice – it’ll slightly vary based on what ingredients you happen to have and, as you become more experienced, what flavors you want to accentuate.
A complete pantry reboot is often necessary. If you’re accustomed to just following recipes or instructions on the backs of boxes for everything that you make, it’s very likely that you’ve accumulated a lot of partial containers of things that have gradually shifted to the back of your pantry, filling it up with a bunch of junk that you’ve forgotten about.
In order to switch to ingredient-based cooking, you need to pull all of that nonsense out of your pantry and either use it up or toss it.
One good way of doing this is to get several large boxes and put everything that’s currently in your pantry that isn’t a staple in there. All of the half-used containers, all of the strange ingredients you bought to follow one specific recipe, all of that stuff – put it in a box or two or seven that’s outside of your pantry. Then, you can restock your pantry with actual staples while also trying to get through and use up all of the stuff in boxes.
Storage containers become very, very useful when you switch to this strategy. Many of the staples you buy at the store will actually just serve to refill a storage container in your pantry. We have lots of containers for different kinds of flours, different kinds of pasta, and so on.
The reason for this is that it keeps you from having a pantry full of half-empty bags and containers of various kinds. When you buy oatmeal, for example, at the store, you just bring it home, dump it in the oatmeal container, and toss the package.
Even better, this system makes it really easy to move to using the bulk bins at the grocery store. Almost always, the stuff that comes out of those bulk bins is cheaper and higher quality than the packages on the shelves. It’s definitely fresher most of the time, too.
The drawback, of course, is the startup cost of having so many food storage containers. Our solution is to go cheap at first, using cheap flimsy containers from the grocery store, and then buying better sets as holiday gifts (my wife and I have become absurdly practical with most of our gift-giving to each other, where it becomes mostly an excuse to upgrade things around the house that we use a lot). Basically, go cheap, then gradually upgrade your frequently used containers to better stuff like OXO Good Grips POP containers (my favorite for things like flour and pasta, but expensive) and these airtight spice containers.
Another thing that will happen is that you’ll constantly be learning what should and shouldn’t be in your pantry. You’ll have ingredients in there that you scarcely use and will sit for years, while you completely missed the boat on other staples. That’s why we have been often running to the store for last minute items as we make this transition.
Most Americans approach home food preparation from a “recipe first” perspective. They buy items to fulfill a specific recipe, whether it’s one found online or in a book or magazine or a recipe card or even the back of a package. While this is certainly less expensive than eating out constantly and it does require less creativity and skill in the kitchen, it does create the problem of having extra ingredients left over and you’ll also find it’s harder to always stick to the on-sale items when grocery shopping.
Ingredients-first cooking solves both of those problems, which further reduces long term food costs, but it comes with some challenges, too. It requires some skill and creativity in the kitchen, for starters, and there’s a hefty startup cost. There’s also the challenge of dealing with a pantry full of items that you need to use up as you’re “rebooting” your pantry.
In the long run, it can definitely save you a lot of money as it means that further food buying is either bulk purchasing or loss leaders from the grocery flyer, but it requires some transition if you currently have an overstuffed pantry and refrigerator.
Whether you think that “ingredients first” cooking is a good choice for you or not, it’s a worthwhile approach to understand and keep in your back pocket for times when your food costs are about to become tighter or when you want a bit more freedom in your home food preparation and want to stretch your cooking skills and creativity a little.
The post Transitioning Our Pantry from “Recipes First” to “Ingredients First” appeared first on The Simple Dollar.
Here’s Your Plan to Retire in Ten Years
The average American has only a little over $200,000 saved for retirement by age 65. It’s a small wonder that 50% of married couples and 70% of individuals receive 50% or more of their retirement income from Social Security.
But that doesn’t have to be you. In fact, you don’t even need to wait until you’re 65 to retire. It’s possible you can retire in 10 years – as in 10 years from where you are right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re 25, 35, or 45, with the right mix of discipline, commitment, and financial strategies, it’s a goal you can reach.
Many thousands of others have already done it, which means you can too. And you can do it even if you have no money saved for retirement right now.
But first, let’s touch on a few important concepts.
Determine “Your Numbers”
What are your numbers? The amount of income you’ll need each year to live in retirement, and the amount of money you’ll need in your portfolio to produce that income.
Let’s say you decide you’ll need $40,000 per year to live in retirement. It’s possible to determine the amount you’ll need to have saved to provide that income.
It’s known loosely as the safe withdrawal rate. It’s a theory mostly, but one that’s been shown to be reliable in a number of studies.
It holds that if you withdraw it no more than 4% from your investment portfolio each year, you’ll have an income for life, and your portfolio will remain intact.
It works something like this: if you earn an average of 7% on your portfolio in retirement, and withdraw 4% for living expenses, that will leave 3% in the portfolio to cover inflation.
If we look at the rate of inflation going back to 1990, it ranged between 1.1% to 5.3% per year, with an average of something less than 3%. Over the past 20 years the average has been closer to 2%. But since early retirement will bring long-term planning consequences, let’s go with 3% as an average.
Can You Earn an Average of 7% Annually for the Rest of Your Life?
Investing is all about playing the long-term averages, and that’s what works in your favor.
The average return in stocks has been about 10% per year going all the way back to 1928. It varies quite a bit from one year to the next, but that’s the return you can expect over 20 or 30 years.
Meanwhile, safe investments, like high-yield online savings accounts, are currently paying between 1% and 2% per year. But to be conservative, let’s go with 1.5% for our calculations.
If you create an investment portfolio comprising 65% stocks and 35% in high-yield online savings, you can achieve a 7% average annual return.
Here’s how it breaks down:
65% invested in stocks at 10% per year will generate a 6.5 % return.
35% invested in high yield online savings at 1.5% per year will generate a 0.525 return.
The combination of the two will produce an average annual return of 7.025%. That will allow you to withdraw 4% each year for living expenses and retain the remaining roughly 3% in your portfolio to cover inflation.
Why have only 65% in stocks when a higher allocation will get you a bigger return?
If you’re planning to rely on your investments for the rest of your life, you’ll need to build some safety into your portfolio. A 35% allocation in safe assets means that even if the stock market takes a big hit, your portfolio won’t go down with it.
Another important point on this front is that though interest rates are low by historical standards right now, that situation could change. If interest rates were to return to 5%, the savings allocation would make a much bigger contribution to your annual returns, and do it risk-free.
Back to “Your Numbers”
Now that you can see how the 4% safe withdrawal rate works mechanically, it’s time to determine your portfolio number.
If you need $40,000 in income, you can determine your portfolio size by multiplying that number by 25. Why 25? If you really like math, you can divide $40,000 by 4%, and you’ll get $1 million.
But for those of us who don’t like mathematical formulas and number-crunching, it’s easier to simply multiply your income number by 25 to get your portfolio size.
If you multiply $40,000 by 25, you’ll get $1 million. It’s just a simpler calculation, and it’ll get you to the portfolio amount you need quickly.
Commit to Your Numbers
I’ve used $40,000 as an income number for retirement, but it’ll be different for everyone. For example, if you have other income sources you expect to continue in retirement you may need less. But if you want a little bit more fun and luxury in your life, you’ll probably need more.
I’ve only used this number as an example. You can come up with an income number that will work for you. As you can see from my calculations above, your portfolio number will be determined by your income number.
You’ll need to know both.
For example, if you think you’ll need $50,000, you’ll need to build a portfolio of $1.25 million ($50,000 X 25). If you’ll need $100,000 in income, your portfolio will need to reach $2.5 million ($100,000 X 25).
To reach your goal, you’ll need to work toward three objectives:
- Saving the money needed to build your portfolio.
- Earning a return on your investments that will not only help you build your portfolio, but also keep it growing once you retire.
- Implement spending reductions and controls that will enable you to live on what will probably be less money than you are right now.
If you plan to retire in 10 years, you’ll need to commit to all three. Your retirement income and portfolio numbers must serve as a guiding light from now on. As you can easily imagine, retiring in 10 years is a tall order. You won’t get there by taking shortcuts. You’ll need to achieve all three objectives to reach your goal. That’ll take a 100% commitment but it’s the only way to make it happen.
Now let’s look at creating a timetable.
Year 1: Set the Plan to Start Saving
The average person probably saves between 10% and 15% of their pay toward retirement. But if you hope to retire in 10 years, you’ll need to save a lot more. Like 30%, 40%, 50%, or even more.
That’s going to take more than a little bit of sacrifice, and it may not happen right away. That’s why you may need to commit the better part of the first year to getting this phase in full working order.
The best way to start is by implementing a budget immediately. If you’ve never done that in the past, you may need to get help. You can do that by selecting a budgeting application that will show you how.
Your budget should include a generous allocation toward savings. It’s possible that at the beginning of the year you’ll only be able to commit to 15% or 20%. Don’t be discouraged – that’s an excellent start if you’ve never been a saver in the past.
But as you move forward, you’ll need to increase the percentage. For example, you might start by saving 20% of your income. But you can double that percentage by increasing it by 2% each month for 10 months. That will get you to 40%, which may work for you.
If it won’t, commit to continued, gradual increases in savings, even if you have to move them into Year 2.
You should know that anyone who’s committed to a high savings level has found that it gets easier over time. That’s why it’s so important to start in the first year.
Year 2: Focus on Increasing Your Income
There are two ways you can do this: increase your job income or create additional sources of income.
Let’s look at the benefit of each.
- Increase your job income. Early retirement shouldn’t mean abandoning your career plans. By continuing to move forward on your job, higher income should follow. That will provide the extra funds to save even more money. But there’s a second purpose for building up your career. If for any reason you may need to rely on a source of earned income when you retire, returning to your current career can be the easiest and most profitable way to make it happen. Most likely, you’ll be able to work in some reduced capacity, like part-time, remote work, contract, or freelancing within your industry, or even with your current employer. Continuing to increase your income on your job will also help if you find it will take longer than 10 years to reach your retirement goal.
- Create additional sources of income. What I’m talking about here is creating a side hustle to go along with your full time job. Not only will this generate an additional income while you’re preparing for retirement, but it can also provide a valuable postretirement income source. That would keep you from needing to go back to your current career to earn additional income. One of the best ways to create a side hustle is by making money online. It will not only enable you to make money no matter where you choose to live after retirement, but it holds the potential to make a lot of money. I’ve managed to create seven different income sources using this method. You can do something similar. Begin building a side hustle in Year 2, and you’ll have plenty of extra income when retirement arrives.
Year 3: Focus on Increasing ROI on your Savings
By Year 3 you should be committing to learning all you can about investing. The more you know, the higher your investment returns will be. It will not only enable you to build your retirement portfolio faster, but it can also provide higher returns when you finally retire.
There are ways you can increase your returns, largely by moving into different investment platforms.
For example, if you want to dramatically increase your fixed-income earnings, investing at least some of your bond portfolio in Lending Club can increase your interest income dramatically. Many investors are reporting returns of 7% to 10% per year.
You may also want to allocate part of your stock portfolio toward some type of real estate investing. That will not only provide high returns, but it will also diversify your portfolio in years when stocks are not performing well. Real estate crowdfunding platforms, like Fundrise can provide returns similar to stocks, and sometimes higher. Check out the many different ways you can invest in real estate to improve your return on investment.
If you’re not having much luck with investing, or you don’t have a serious commitment to it, look into investing through a robo-advisor. Those are automated, online investment platforms that provide full portfolio management for a very low fee. That includes building your portfolio, rebalancing it as necessary, reinvesting dividends, and even minimizing your investment-related taxes.
A robo-advisor like Betterment can manage your portfolio for 0.25% per year. That’s $250 for a $100,000 portfolio, or $2,500 for a $1 million portfolio. But if you’d like investing with a more personal touch, you may want to consider Personal Capital. They charge a higher fee, at 0.89%, but also provide financial planning advice, as well as regular access to live investment advisors.
Year 4: Focus on Reducing Your Spending
Cutting your spending is a strategy that needs to be implemented in Year 1. But those reductions will need to become progressive as each year goes by. And it’ll be even more important as your income grows, since there’s always a temptation to spend more as you earn more. That process even has a name – lifestyle inflation. You’ll need to avoid it.
The purpose of reducing spending is twofold:
- to free up more money for savings
- to lower your cost of living in anticipation of retirement.
Both are equally important. But the second part may be even more so. That’s because early retirement almost certainly requires you to change lifelong spending patterns.
For example, if you’ve been used to living in a large home, driving a late model car, and taking expensive vacations, it may take you several years to unwind those patterns. Put another way, you’ll need to find less expensive ways to create an enjoyable life. And you’ll need to have that well underway before you finally retire. Unfortunately, retirement and an opulent lifestyle are incompatible.
Focus on ways you can reduce your spending. You’ve probably already guessed that involves a lot more than clipping coupons and cutting your cable TV subscription. And in fact, it may require either cutting some very large expenses – like your housing and transportation – or reducing or eliminating dozens of smaller expenses.
There will be tough choices to be made. After all, cutting spending is something like going on a money diet. You’ll do well to think about your ultimate objective – early retirement – to help you embrace the short-term sacrifice.
Ultimately, retirement is about lowering your living expenses to a point where you can live comfortably without working. You may need to remind yourself of that on a regular basis.
Year 5 – 10: Assess and Plan Your Path to Retirement
At this point, you’re moving into the second half of your decade-long early retirement preparation. Generally speaking, you’ll want to concentrate mainly on staying the course. But at the same time, you’ll want to look for ways to increase savings, income and return on investment, and reduce spending.
You may not need to do anything dramatic in those areas at this point. But you should be alert to any ideas or strategies that can improve your performance in each. Small improvements in multiple strategies can dramatically speed your progress. That should be your goal at this point.
But perhaps most important will be guarding against complacency. By now, your overall financial situation will have already improved substantially. This is not the time to take a break. Keep pressing forward until you reach the point where you can finally retire.
Why am I stressing the importance of commitment to your early retirement goal? It’s easier than you think to get distracted, especially when you’re making a major change in your life. But while early retirement is certainly possible, it’s not easy. You’ll need to maintain laser beam focus to reach the goal in 10 years.
It will help you to realize the many options that will be open to you once your early retirement goal. Free from needing to make a living, you’ll have the choice to spend your time enjoying your life more, or pursuing opportunities that may even have the potential to make you wealthy.
It’s the kind of thing that happens once financial stress is gone from your life. But before you reach that point, you’ll need to be fully committed to getting there.
The Best Places To Buy College Textbooks Online
With all of the options to buy books, gadgets, and school supplies online, college bookstores are becoming more obscure, and purchases made on campus are more often made out of emergency, urgency, or convenience rather than necessity.
The costs of college textbooks has been on the rise, but now that there are more options, students are spending less.
Fear not, the odds are stacked in your favor. With several online retailers and comparison websites at your fingertips, the options for saving on textbooks are endless.
Keep reading for tips on how to save as much money as possible on college textbooks!
Chances are you are not going to keep all your college textbooks, so you should buy books with the intention of reselling to save the most money. If another edition of the book is coming out this year, the value of your book will drop. You could also look at renting your textbooks.
You can also resell textbooks on these same websites that you buy them from. Also, if the seller offers an e-book option, make sure you download it onto your computer, not from someone else’s computer, or you may not be able to access the subscription.
Check out our list of the best places to buy textbooks online, in alphabetical order.
Get The Right Information: Author, Title, ISBN Number
You will need to know the title of the book, as well as the author’s first and last name, and the edition of the book. If you get the ISBN number, you will be able to check and make sure you are getting the best deal on the book. With used books, prices can vary greatly for used books depending on the condition of the book.
It’s important to also always check the edition number. Many books have multiple editions, so while you might think you’re getting an awesome deal on the Fifth Edition, the class is actually using the Sixth Edition. This could also pose problems for homework assignments, lessons, and more.
You’ll find the best prices online, but there’s a lot of variation in price, especially for used books. Shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal, and double check the ISBN number to make sure you’re looking at the exact same book.
While you may already be familiar with sites such as Amazon, Half.com, and CampusBooks.com, consider the options below for the best deal possible on your next set of college textbooks. Textbook comparison websites, such as Book Rocket can get you a quick price comparison from multiple websites for the best price with shipping and other discounts.
AbeBooks is a website with a wide database of textbook sellers for deep discounts, up to 75% on retail prices. AbeBooks has been around for a long time, and they have consistently provided value to their buyers.
Abebooks also partners with local sellers in certain cities for more inventory and great prices. We’ve found that you can get the best deal at AbeBooks for international editions of the textbook you need.
AbeBooks offers fast shipping and a return policy, which guarantees that you can return any book for a refund within 30 days when the return is due to an error on the bookseller’s part.
Even outside of your return window, AbeBooks will still buy those books back from you at a decent rate. Check out our full AbeBooks review here.
If you have done online shopping of any kind, you know Amazon has one of the largest selections for college textbooks. You can see a wide selection of sellers on Amazon.
Amazon offers options to purchase, sell, and rent textbooks at a discount. You can always sell those same books on Amazon once the course is over. If you are eligible for Amazon Prime, you can also get your textbooks super fast.
Remember, students can take advantage of Amazon Student, which is a discount version of Amazon Prime, and still has many of the perks.
Amazon is typically the leader in textbook sales, and their marketplace, where you can buy used books, is top notch. Check out our full Amazon Textbook Review here.
3. Barnes And Noble
Barnes and Noble is the last major national book retailer in the United States. While they don’t sell many textbooks in their store, their website sells just about every textbook imaginable. They also offer textbook rentals, and they even have a textbook buyback program to sell your textbook back at the end of the semester.
They advertise that you can save upwards of 90% off the cover price on textbooks, and they offer free shipping on orders over $25 (which covers just about every textbook).
BigWords is a search engine designed to help you find the best prices on college textbooks. Although you may end up purchasing textbooks through different retailers, you will be able to get the best prices and shipping costs.
You also have the option to rent textbooks and view rental prices against the price of purchase. Once your class is over, you can sell the books back to the highest bidder on the site.
The site isn’t the easiest to use, but it’s still a great tool to compare the prices before you buy.
BookFinder will help you search for the lowest prices to buy books, and the highest return for selling books. You can compare new, used and rental offers from over a large selection of sellers, including major websites such as AbeBooks and Amazon.
All you need is the ISBN number or Title and Author. BookFinder offers free shipping and quick accurate cost comparison.
The website looks like the best of 1999, but it works, and it can be helpful to find the lowest prices.
BooksRun lets you buy, sell, and rent textbooks. But they are also one of the leaders in eTextbooks – so if you need a digital copy of your book, check out BooksRun.
If you go the eTextbook route, you can get instant access to you book. If you opt for a traditional book, they offer free shipping on everything – which is awesome.
CampusBooks.com has been around since the late 90s, and has been the go to resource for all things related to textbooks. CampusBooks.com offers an option to buy, rent, or sell textbooks, with average savings at least 60%.
A convenient feature on their website includes calculations based on discounts, coupons, promotions, shipping costs, and sales tax so that you get an accurate picture of the cost.
Their coupons are exclusive to their website, and they offer incentives to buy and sell with them. Many of their promotions are exclusive, which means that the savings can only be found right here.
CheapTextBooks.com is a no-frills website where you can buy, sell, and rent textbooks. You can also search by ISBN, Title and Author, or even subject matter.
If you prefer to save your sales proceeds for credits towards future purchases, CheapTextBooks.com lets you sell your textbooks for cash or credit. They also have a blog and host giveaways as an incentive.
CheapestTextbooks.com is a free price comparison page for buying, renting and selling textbooks, they also price compare eBooks for rent or buy, across all the major textbook websites. Shipping is shown and any coupons that can be used are all shown on the same page for ease of use. They are completely up to date and constantly improving their site, so you know you are getting the best service.
They have a great social media presence and can be found on Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram.
Chegg has been a longstanding website that offers competitive prices and a large selection of book versions and editions.
While Chegg discounts of up to 90%, most discounts will be lower, but the prices will still be way lower than some of the major websites, and definitely lower than your local campus bookstore.
Chegg allows you to search via title and author or ISBN number, but it also shows you an eBook version (if available for your selected textbook).
Chegg also offers the bonus of giving you free access to the electronic version of your textbook while the physical copies ship to you to avoid disruptions in your class schedule. In order to continue to offer competitive prices, Chegg features local deals and discounts with retailers on and around your college campus as well.
Chegg also has other resources- they also offer resources to help you find a job or internship, as well as help with your homework.
CollegeBooksDirect.com offers one of the largest selections of used textbooks, and offers same day shipping for your textbook order (unless otherwise noted).
There is a wide selection of over 30,000 textbooks online, ranging from annotated textbooks, Instructor’s Edition textbooks, Text Only textbooks, New textbooks & Used textbooks.
They offer a wide variety of shipping options, with standard shipping options starting at $4.00 for the first book, and $1.00 for each additional item. They also offer UPS shipping 2nd day air at $15.00 for the first book, and $1.00 for each additional item. CollegeBooksDirect.com also offer a 30-day return policy.
eCampus is another long time online textbook seller, that also offer rental services and a textbook buyback program.
eCampus has a huge selection of books, but their free shipping level is $59, which is higher than many other places. However, the savings you find on the books might justify the higher price.
They do have a rewards program that can help you save in the long run. Check out our full eCampus review here.
Using SlugBooks.com, you can search by author and title or ISBN. You can also compare prices between Amazon, Chegg, Textbooks.com, and other online sellers.
SlugBooks.com also offers a unique feature that permits sellers to post their textbook requests and textbooks for sale on a separate page via Facebook.
If you’re looking for a more social media oriented comparison site, check out SlugBooks.com.
14. Valore Books
Valore Books give you the option to buy, rent, and sell textbooks. They offer a 30-day money back guarantee, and all textbook rentals come with free shipping.
Another useful feature is the instant price quotes Valore Books will give you when you sell your books- just enter the ISBN number. They also have an option for textbook stores to liquidate their inventory fast, which could translate into huge savings for you.
They don’t have a free shipping option, but their shipping is relatively cheap. However, it might not make sense compared to other companies in this list. Check out our full Valore Books review here.
Check out the cost of the textbooks at the campus bookstore first, this will give you an idea of the baseline retail price. It is worth checking out at least 2 comparison websites so that you can get an idea of the price range.
From there, narrow down the choices based on the factors that are important to you: buy back options for textbooks, low cost or fast shipping, and return policy.
Regardless of the choice you make, you will be sure to save hundreds of dollars off the retail price or your campus bookstore.
Have you bought textbooks online recently? Tell us about your experiences with buying textbooks online in the comments below!
Introducing Coverage Critic: Time to Kill the $80 Mobile Phone Bill Forever
A Quick Foreword: Although the world is still in Pandemic mode, we are shifting gears back to personal finance mode here at MMM. Partly because we could all use a distraction right now, and even more important because forced time off like this is the ideal time to re-invest in optimizing parts of your life such as your fitness, food and finances.
Canadian Readers – we have also collected some recommendations for you at a new Canadian Mobile Phone recommendations page.
Every now and then, I learn to my horror that some people are still paying preposterous amounts for mobile phone service, so I write another article about it.
If we are lucky, a solid number of people make the switch and enjoy increased prosperity, but everyone who didn’t happen to read that article goes on paying and paying, and I see it in the case studies that people email me when looking for advice. Lines like this in their budget:
- mobile phone service (2 people): $160
… is all I can say, when I see such unnecessary expenditure. These days, a great nationwide phone service plan costs between and $10-40 per month, depending on how many frills you need.
Why is this a big deal? Just because of this simple fact:
- Cutting $100 per month from your budget becomes a $17,000 boost to your wealth every ten years.
And today’s $10-40 phone plans are just great. Anything more than that is just a plain old ripoff, end of story. Just as any phone more expensive than $200* (yes, that includes all new iPhones), is probably a waste of money too.
So today, we are going to take the next step: assigning a permanent inner-circle Mustachian expert to monitor the ever-improving cell phone market, and dispense the latest advice as appropriate. And I happen to know just the guy:
My first contact with Chris was in 2016 when he was working with GiveWell, a super-efficient charitable organization that often tops the list for people looking to maximize the impact of their giving.
But much to my surprise, he showed up in my own HQ coworking space in 2018, and I noticed he was a bit of a mobile phone research addict. He had started an intriguing website called Coverage Critic, and started methodically reviewing every phone plan (and even many handsets) he could get his hands on, and I liked the thorough and open way in which he did it.
This was ideal for me, because frankly I don’t have time to keep pace with ongoing changes in the marketplace. I may be an expert on construction and energy consumption, but I defer to my friend Ben when I have questions about fixing cars, Brandon when I need advice on credit cards, HQ member Dr. D for insider perspectives on the life of a doctor and the medical industry, and now Chris can take on the mobile phone world.
So we decided to team up: Chris will maintain his own list of the best cheap mobile phone plans on a new Coverage Critic page here on MMM. He gets the benefit of more people enjoying his work, and I get the benefit of more useful information on my site. And if it goes well, it will generate savings for you and eventual referral income for us (more on that at the bottom of this article).
So to complete this introduction, I will hand the keyboard over to the man himself.
Meet The Coverage Critic
I started my professional life working on cost-effectiveness models for the charity evaluator GiveWell. (The organization is awesome; see MMM’s earlier post.) When I was ready for a career change, I figured I’d like to combine my analytical nature with my knack for cutting through bullshit. That quickly led me to the cell phone industry.
So about a year ago, I created a site called Coverage Critic in the hopes of meeting a need that was being overlooked: detailed mobile phone service reviews, without the common problem of bias due to undisclosed financial arrangements between the phone company and the reviewer.
What’s the Problem with the Cell Phone Industry?
Somehow, every mobile phone network in the U.S. claims to offer the best service. And each network can back up its claims by referencing third-party evaluations.
How is that possible? Bad financial incentives.
Each network wants to claim it is great. Network operators are willing to pay to license reviewers’ “awards”. Consequently, money-hungry reviewers give awards to undeserving, mediocre networks.
On top of this, many phone companies have whipped up combinations of confusing plans, convoluted prices, and misleading claims. Just a few examples:
- Coverage maps continue to be wildly inaccurate.
- Many carriers offer “unlimited” plans that have limits.
- All of the major U.S. network operators are overhyping next-generation, 5G technologies. AT&T has even started tricking its subscribers by renaming some of its 4G service “5GE.”
However, with enough research and shoveling, I believe it becomes clear which phone companies and plans offer the best bang for the buck. So going forward, MMM and I will be collaborating to share recommended phone plans right here on his website, and adding an automated plan finder tool soon afterwards. I think you’ll find that there are a lot of great, budget-friendly options on the market.
A Few Quick Examples:
Mint Mobile: unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 8GB of data for as low as $20 per month (runs over T-Mobile’s network).
T-Mobile Connect: unlimited minutes and texts with 2GB of data for $15 per month.
Xfinity Mobile: 5 lines with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 10GB of shared data over Verizon’s network for about $12 per line each month (heads up: only Xfinity Internet customers are eligible, and the bring-your-own-device program is somewhat restrictive).
Cricket Wireless: 4 lines in a combined family plan with unlimited calling, unlimited texting, and unlimited data for as low as $100 per month (runs on AT&T’s network).
Ting: Limited use family plans for under $15 per line each month.
[MMM note – even as a frequent traveler, serious techie and a “professional blogger”, I rarely use more than 1GB each month on my own Google Fi plan ($20 base cost plus data, then $15 for each additional family member). So some of these are indeed generous plans]
Okay, What About Phones?
With the above carriers, you may be able to bring your existing phone. But if you need a new one, there are some damn good, low-cost options these days. The Moto G7 Play is only $130 and offers outstanding performance despite the low price point. I use it as my personal phone and love it.
Mobile Phone Service 101
If you’re looking to save on cell phone service, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the industry. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over a lot of nuances in the rest of this post. If you’re a nerd like me and want more technical details, check out my longer, drier article that goes into more depth.
The Wireless Market
There are only four nationwide networks in the U.S. (soon to be three thanks to a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint). They vary in the extent of their coverage:
- Verizon (most coverage)
- AT&T (2nd best coverage)
- T-Mobile (3rd best coverage)
- Sprint (worst coverage)
Not everyone needs the most coverage. All four nationwide networks typically offer solid coverage in densely populated areas. Coverage should be a bigger concern for people who regularly find themselves deep in the mountains or cornfields.
While there are only four nationwide networks, there are dozens of carriers offering cell phone service to consumers – offering vastly different pricing and customer service experiences.
Expensive services running over a given network will tend to offer better customer service, more roaming coverage, and better priority during periods of congestion than low-cost carriers using the same network. That said, many people won’t even notice a difference between low-cost and high-cost carriers using the same network.
For most people, the easiest way to figure out whether a low-cost carrier will provide a good experience is to just try one. You can typically sign up for these services without a long-term commitment. If you have a good initial experience with a budget-friendly carrier, you can stick with it and save substantially month after month.
With a good carrier, a budget-friendly phone, and a bit of effort to limit data use, most people can have a great cellular experience while saving a bunch of money.
From now on, you can check in on the Coverage Critic’s recommendations at mrmoneymustache.com/coveragecritic, and he will also be issuing occasional clever or wry commentary on Twitter at @Coverage_Critic.
Thanks for joining the team, Chris!
*okay, special exception if you use it for work in video or photography. I paid $299 a year ago for my stupendously fancy Google Pixel 3a phone.. but only because I run this blog and the extra spending is justified by the better camera.
The Full Disclosure: whenever possible, we have signed this blog up for referral programs with any recommended companies that offer them, so we may receive a commission if you sign up for a plan using our research. We aim to avoid letting income (or lack thereof) affect our recommendations, but we still want to be upfront about everything so you can judge for yourself. Specific details about these referral programs is shared on the CC transparency page. MMM explains more about how he handles affiliate arrangements here.
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