How to Save Money on College Textbooks | 05.21.13

Posted in College Life, News By Mark Kantrowitz

College Textbooks

Books and supplies add about $600 to $1,200 to your college costs each year. 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 semester. 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. Unfortunately, faculty change 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.

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 ISBN numbers 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 AbeBooks.com, Alibris.com, Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, CampusBooks.com, Chegg.com, eBay’s Half.com, eCampus.comgoogle.comTextbooks.com, TextbookX.com and ValoreBooks.com. Some of these sites provide free two-day shipping on textbooks.

There are also sites that specialize in textbook rental, such as BookRenter.com and CampusBookRentals.com. Textbook price comparison sites include BigWords.com and BookFinder.com.

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 Baen Free Library, Bartleby, Flat World Knowledge, Open Text Book, Project Gutenberg and Textbook Revolution.

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

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

Finally, most college libraries will 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.

Mark-Kantrowitz-EdvisorsMark Kantrowitz is a nationally-recognized expert on student financial aid, scholarships and student loans. He is Senior Vice President and Publisher of the Edvisors Network. His mission is to deliver practical information, advice and tools to students and their families so they can make informed decisions about planning and paying for college.


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2 Responses to “How to Save Money on College Textbooks”

  1. Jonathan A says on September 21, 2013 at 12:16 am:

    I’ve typically been one to rent text books but as I’m getting further and further into my major courses I wonder if it would be beneficial to buy and keep textbooks for reference maybe. I haven’t heard of a lot people doing it but I wonder if I should consider it. I’m a business major.

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  2. Kristine Mears says on May 25, 2013 at 7:33 am:

    There are two additional points I would like to make. Sometimes ‘used’ texts are in practically new condition. Clean pages, no scribbles. I prefer the texts that are not already highlighted and noted, so students can note what they deem important.

    Second, for those that are truly on a budget, do not feel the need to buy the ‘optional’ text books. Check with your professor first, but if a text book is annotated as ‘optional’ on the course syllabus, in most cases you will not be tested on the contents of the book.

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