How to Save Money on College Textbooks

Books and supplies add about $600 to $1,200 to your college costs each year. The cost of college textbooks has doubled in a decade. At lower-cost colleges, buying books can bust your budget, sometimes even exceeding the cost of tuition and fees. Unlike tuition and fees, however, textbook costs are something you can control by buying and selling cheap textbooks.

Two of the best methods of saving money on textbooks include buying used textbooks and selling your books back to the college bookstore at the end of the academic term. Each approach can save you as much as half of the cost of buying new textbooks, so if you combine them and are lucky, you could pay next to nothing for your textbooks. Also, check campus social media for students who are selling their used textbooks directly to other students for a discount. Unfortunately, faculty change textbook editions periodically, so you won’t always be able to sell all of your textbooks.

Buying used textbooks isn’t as icky as it sounds. Often, the used textbooks will have notes in the margins and highlighted passages that can help you understand the material and study for exams. Some used textbooks are in almost-new condition.

An alternative is to rent your textbooks. This doesn’t save you as much as buying used textbooks and reselling them after the final exams, but it guarantees that you’ll be able to earn some cash by returning the textbooks. As with reselling your textbooks, the main drawback is you don’t get to keep the textbooks.

Shopping around will typically save you about a quarter of the cost of the more common textbooks, as compared with the prices charged by campus bookstores. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 required colleges to list International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) on course syllabi, making it easier to find the exact edition required by the professor. Just type the ISBN number into an online textbook site or google it to find cheaper sources of the same textbook.

Some of the more popular web sites where you can buy and sell new and used textbooks include:

Some of these sites provide free two-day shipping on textbooks.

There are also sites that specialize in textbook rental, such as:

Textbook price comparison sites include:

Buying an ebook version of a textbook can be convenient, since you won’t have to carry as much weight with you. But, it is more difficult to take notes on and highlight passages in an etextbook, and the savings are typically only about 10% of the cost of a print textbook.

Sometimes you can buy a previous edition or an international edition of a textbook for much less than the current edition. Unfortunately, the page numbers sometimes don’t match from one edition to the next. Re-imported international editions are also often printed on lower quality paper and may not survive rough handling.

Look online for free versions of some textbooks. Sites that offer free textbooks include:

If you and a friend are taking the same classes at the same time, consider sharing the textbooks.

Ask the professor if he or she has an evaluation copy of the textbook that he can share.

Some colleges (and even some dormitories, fraternities and sororities) have student-sponsored lending libraries where students can borrow texts and notes from previous class attendees.

Students can also save money by buying only required textbooks, as opposed to also buying recommended textbooks. The recommended textbooks supplement the course materials to improve the student’s understanding of the material, but tests and problem sets are usually not based on the recommended textbooks. There is also less demand for recommended texts that are placed on reserve in the college library.

Finally, most college libraries will usually carry a few copies of the textbooks. But, these books are often out on loan. Some will put a few copies of the textbooks on reserve, but the reserve copies sometimes get misplaced, perhaps deliberately.

Keep receipts from all of your textbook purchases. If your total textbook costs exceed the allowance in the college’s cost of attendance, ask the college’s financial aid administrator to adjust the student budget to reflect your actual costs.

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