How to Save Money on Textbooks

The average student spends $1100 per year on textbooks. Don’t be average. Here are some tips on how to save money on textbooks. 

The average student spends $1100 per year on textbooks. Don't be average. Here are some tips on how to save money on textbooks.

College is expensive, especially once you start adding in all the “additional” fees. There’s housing, food, fun money, etc. I think paying for my text books was always the hardest thing, especially because in some classes, they required books that we didn’t even read out of (and when we did, I could typically find the material online.) Nothing like paying $200 for a book that just collects dust all semester long.

Fortunately, after my first semester of college, I decided to learn all about the tricks for saving money on text books. Over the next 4 1/2 years that I was in college, I spent considerably less than I think a lot of people did, thanks to some of these techniques. Sure, I spent more than I would have liked (which would have been zero dollars), but I was able to spend a lot less than I may have otherwise, which made my budget a little less tight. The average student spends about $1,100 a per (or 550 per semester) on textbooks. You don’t have to be one of those students! I never spent over $200 and you might not have to either if you follow these tips!

1) School Book Exchange

This was, by far, the best way I found to buy textbooks. At BYU, they have what is called the BYU Book Exchange. Basically, it’s like a Craigslist for selling text books. Students can get on there to sell and buy used text books from others. It is organized by course, but you can also search by ISBN number and title.

For me, this is the place where I was able to get the most bang for my book when selling text books back. I would typically see how much a used copy of the book was being sold for at the bookstore, and then price it about $10 under that. I always was able to sell my text books really fast, and I made more than I would have if I sold them back directly to the bookstore, or even to online sites. I obviously don’t know if alluniversities offer something like this, but it is definitely something you should look into!

2) Look Online

When I wasn’t able to get a book I needed through the book exchange, my next stop is the Internet. There’s so many websites out there that will help you find the best deals and compare costs of the textbook you need that are available across the Internet. I’ve found that using one of these sites makes it so much easier to find the best coupons and prices. One that I really like was launched by Student Rate. You can access the textbook database search here. It pulls in the best prices for buying, renting, and digital couples, and it also combines available coupons on each site with the best cash bake rate. After doing a few searches, I’ve found that this site really helps you get the lowest prices for books online. Unlike a lot of search engines, it also doesn’t show sponsored results. Which is awesome.

I also loved using Amazon to buy and sell my textbooks. Because I had Amazon Student (sign up for a free three month trial here — if you are student, you won’t regret all the perks!), I almost always got free shipping.

One thing about buying online is that you have to make sure you are getting the correct book. I’ll talk about previous editions in a second, but occasionally, a book may be listed as the one you want but you might actually end up getting one that isn’t the correct edition, has “extras” such as CDs (that you probably don’t need,) or it might even be a teacher’s edition. Just double check to make sure you are getting the right one. On a similar note, be sure to check out the condition. I’m not against books that have some highlighting in it, but if it’s falling apart and it has writing on every single line, I wouldn’t get it.

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3) Third Party Textbook Stores

Here in the Provo area, there are tons of textbook stores that have popped up. While I never bought text books there, we occasionally would sell them. Sometimes, we would try to sell a textbook back online, or to the school bookstore, and they wouldn’t accept it for one reason or another. In these cases, we would head over to one of the textbook stores in the area, and we almost always were able to get some cash for the books we weren’t able to sell elsewhere.

These stores typically sell used text books for pretty cheap, and, at least at the ones I went too, sometimes would have the previous editions of text books for free.

4) Rent

Towards the end of my college career, I started looking into the option of renting text books a little bit. While you can’t sell the text books back, you can get them very a very reasonable price, that is significantly less than purchasing them. A few times, I found the costs of renting them to be more beneficial than buying and trying to sell back.

Most of the rental sites I’ve worked with have different time frames you can rent for. So, if you are in a class that is only for half of the semester, you could get it for less. I always used Chegg, because I found their prices to be the cheapest. Just don’t forget to send your text book back when it’s due, or you’ll be paying for it! My school started doing rentals as well, so that’s another place to look.

5) Previous Editions

I think most textbooks are just a waste of paper being printed, simply because they all seem to have a new edition come out every other year. And you know what — the new edition is almost always very similar to the previous edition, with just changes in page numbers, maybe an addition of a chapter or two, and perhaps some different study questions. While sometimes it is required to have the newest edition, I’d say 9 times out of 10, you can get away with a previous edition.

With that said, I wouldn’t just assume that you can get a previous edition. Contact your professor for the semester starts and ask them whether or not you can get a a previous edition. I’ve had a few say no, but most of them will say yes, or let me know what the differences are so I can make my own decision. Most of the time, my only problem was page numbers, or occasionally a missing chapter, but I was easily able to borrow someone else’s book for those few inconsistencies.

6) Contact Professors

Not only should you contact your professors about previous editions but in regards to whether you need all the books! Some professors will make certain books optional, and this may not always be shown on the syllabus. Depending on the class, the syllabus may have been created by the department but your particular professor may not even use that book. I’ve chopped off a good $50-75 in the past because I didn’t have to purchase a book that my syllabus said I needed.

7) Go Digital

Fortunately in this day and age, a lot of textbooks are being put into digital form, and it has dropped the cost of these books considerably. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t give up their hard copy of their textbooks for anything but for me, I LOVED using digital copies. Not all books are available this way, but when they are, definitely consider it. A lot of eReaders and tablets nowadays have some pretty neat tools that will allow you to highlight and take notes in your book. The only thing I would be nervous about is this — if a test is open book, not all professors will be keen on the idea of you having an electronic device open!

Looking for more college tips? Be sure to check out these posts as well:



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1 Comment

  • I am super cheap so I look all over to find cheap prices on everything including textbooks. For me the best place continues to be as this little gem always gives me biggest selection with lowest prices.. just try them

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