11 Ways You Can Save on College Textbooks

College textbooks can cost a small fortune!

Elizabeth Hoyt

August 06, 2015

11 Ways You Can Save on College Textbooks

It’s no secret that, in addition to rising tuition costs, students find that the beginning of the semester can become a stressful financial time due to the high costs of their course materials.

It can be certainly become challenging to be able to afford expensive textbooks on a student budget, especially when you’re already struggling to make ends meet or even attend college in the first place.

Here are 11 tricks to help you find the best deals on your college textbooks and, hopefully, save a little dough in the process:

1. Use a Textbook Price Comparison Search Tool

A search tool allows you to compare prices of textbooks across different sites to find the best deal on a particular text, similar to an airline or travel deal comparison site.

A quick Google search will allow you to find sites which you can utilize to do this.

2. Rent Textbooks: Hard Copies or Online

You can rent hard copies of textbooks – new, like new and used. The more worn the book, the cheaper the rental. It can be very cost-effective and you won’t have to worry about selling any books back at the end of the semester, which can be a pain in the neck.

There is one downside, though: most companies have very strict late fees and if you’re late returning the textbook, they will automatically convert your rental into a purchase and charge you the full amount for the textbook. As long as you’re on top of your returns, this may be a good option for you.

Amazon Kindle also has rental options for college textbooks, which can be accessed through the Kindle app. They offer different rental options as well: semester, 30-day and 60-day – just in case you may not need a book all semester. Semester rentals are usually anywhere from a third to a full quarter of the price of a normal textbook and students find that the 30- or 60-day rentals are an additional $5-$10 cheaper than a full semester rental.

3. Purchase the Online Version

Many textbooks are now offered online, which is a much cheaper option. If this option is offered for a specific text, you’re able to download and access them for a fraction of the cost as long as you have a portable device, such as a Kindle, iPad or a tablet.

While most students still prefer paper books, keep in mind that just because you don’t have a print version of the textbook doesn’t mean you can’t get pages in print. Whenever you want a print version of a page or particular section/chapter, you can simply print it out using a home or campus library printer.

4. Share with a Friend

If you and another student you know are taking the same course, you have the option to split the cost of the textbook and create a study schedule that allows each of you equal study time with the book.

That way, neither of you has to foot the entire cost of the book but both of you gets to benefit from it.

At the end of the year, sell back the book and split whatever you two get from the sale.

5. Buy Used

Purchasing used textbooks can be somewhat tricky, especially if you’re purchasing from your college’s student bookstore. Why? Timing. You don’t want to purchase books before going to the class because you may find out you don’t even need the textbook. Assuming you already bought the text, you’ll suddenly be stuck with an expensive book you have to sell back at a reduced price than what you paid for it a few days earlier.

However, you don’t wait until the last minute either. By that time, all of the used textbooks are sold out and you have to pay double for a brand new textbook. There is absolutely, positively NO valid reason to purchase a brand new textbook unless the book either did not exist prior to the year you’re taking the course or was updated and the new version is necessary for the course. Nobody needs a bright, shiny new book for hundreds more that is going to get beaten to a pulp in a week or two anyway.

Combat all of this hassle by emailing your professors to inquire about the necessary textbooks. Most will be impressed with your initiative and be glad to help you save.

Or, you can wait until the first week of class to see the syllabus and talk to your professor to see which books you’ll actually need and purchase your books used online. That way, you won’t have to compete with the other students at your school for a limited number of used textbooks.

6. Check Student Posts

Sometimes, rather than selling back to the book store, students decide to take matters into their own hands and sell back their books to other students. These students will likely post notices that they’re selling books back on boards in the building where your course is offered or on school forums, boards, in common areas, online, etc. It may be worth your time to check to see what’s out there and price out your options.

Just make certain that any edition you buy has the right content for the class.

Who knows? You may even be able to gain insight on the class from a student who has taken the course before!

7. Visit the Library

It’s important to keep in mind that this can be a difficult route to rely on since there are likely other students who will be looking for the same book. As a result, the libraries usually don’t allow students to check out textbooks and just allow students to study from them while at the library.

You can take photocopies of the pages you need, though. Just make sure to give yourself enough time to ensure you can find the book before you need it.

Tip: ask about the library’s collection of e-editions, too. Sometimes they have more versions of these and students forget to inquire about this option.

8. Talk to Your Professors

Do I really need the book for this course? This isn’t a question for you to answer, it’s for you to ask your professor to answer. Some professors are required to put a certain number of textbooks on the syllabus and will be honest and straightforward with students regarding the use of certain textbooks.

Have an open and honest dialogue with the professor, explaining that money is tight and you are trying to prioritize what’s absolutely necessary. Most will understand your dilemma and be more than willing to let you know what will be vital to the course.

Which version is really necessary? If your professor indicates that the textbook is, indeed, necessary, ask if an older edition of the text could be used or if the newest version is required. Some professors will indicate the newest version on the syllabus to avoid confusion even though older versions are close enough to be used instead.

As previously mentioned, discuss the reasons you’re asking and your professor is more likely to be flexible and open to discussing all of your cost-saving options.

9. Check the International Edition

Sometimes, international editions of a textbook are offered and the price is usually significantly lower. The differences are most often on the surface; however, you should double check content because you certainly don’t want to be stuck with a book that’s different from the course material.

The international editions are also usually soft cover, which is an extra added bonus because they’re not as heavy, either.

Note: an international edition of the book will likely be more difficult to sell back so this option is only worthwhile if you’re really saving a LOT on the initial cost.

10. Inquire About School Services

Most schools are aware of the rising costs of textbooks and many of them are working to do something about it. You can inquire with your professor and/or your school’s administration to see what cost-reducing measures your school is taking to see if they offer any lower cost options for students, such as e-books, rentals or buyback programs.

11. Plan Ahead and Offer Friends a Fair Price

Most students will agree that selling books back that the end of the semester is a hassle. If you’re going to be taking a course next semester that a friend is taking this semester, offer to buy their book when they are finished for a fair price.

This will benefit both of you: they don’t have to deal with the hassle of selling back the book and they’ll receive a good price and you won’t have to deal with finding the right price or any shipping and handling costs.

Plus, you may even be able to get them to throw their notes from the course into the deal!

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