Students easily spend thousands of dollars on college textbooks–sometimes they can spend that much in a single year, depending on their major and school. While this can make a huge dent in your educational budget, there are ways to get ahead of the curve on textbooks. By looking in the right places and making some key decisions, you’ll find that there are great ways to save money on your course materials.
Here’s a look at a few of the ways you can cut your textbook expenses down, and even how to buy books on the cheap.
Table of Contents:
Figure Out What Books You Need
It doesn’t matter which field you’re studying: you’re going to need to buy tons of books. Literature major? You’ll need thirty-five novels for each class. Science or math major? Textbooks for these classes routinely cost upwards of $200, and you probably need more than one. Chances are, you’ll get a lengthy list of required books before your classes even begin, and the price tag will be high.
However, you’ll often find that many of these texts aren’t actually required. Some of them are recommended or encouraged, meaning that they may or may not be worth the expense for you. Others will be assigned but never even used in class, meaning that you waste cash just to let it collect dust.
Your first place to save money on textbooks is to weed out what you don’t really need.
If you have friends who have taken the same course with the same professor, you might be able to ask them whether the books assigned are actually used. This may not be the most accurate way to gauge your book list, but it could give you some insight.
Another way to avoid wasting money on books is to wait until the first day of class to start buying. If you know you’ll have to buy a book new (either because it’s a new/special edition or you’ve already found used copies to be sold out everywhere), you can usually afford to wait a couple days–it’s not like the price will go up or anything. Then, you can see what the professor says about each book and how it will be used throughout the course.
The last option is to buy from your campus bookstore, or third-party seller with a return policy, but don’t open the book. If you walk in on day one and the professor says you won’t really need the book, you can return it and get your money back.
Your campus bookstore is great for many things. There, you can load up on school spirit gear, buy discounted software, and find your book lists by course and professor. However, it’s not usually the best place to look for the cheapest textbooks.
Used books are a better deal than new books, and your bookstore will usually have a good selection of used textbooks. However, these often sell out fast, and sometimes the used prices aren’t far off from the brand new prices. In this case, you might want to look elsewhere.
Many websites allow you to find exactly what you need for your courses, at rock-bottom prices. Depending on the quality you’re willing to accept, you might even find them for pennies on the dollar.
There are a few things to remember when buying textbooks from places other than your college or university bookstore. By buying elsewhere, you can save massive amounts. But, you lose the sure bet of buying exactly the right edition. The safest way to avoid this problem is to head to the campus bookstore and jot down the ISBN numbers (available on the barcode) for every book in all of your classes.
Do this ahead of time if you can, this way you don’t have to worry about falling behind while you wait for texts to arrive in the mail. Armed with these numbers, you can start shopping around on the following sites to find the best prices.
Use a Search Tool
The first place to start is an online tool that will search multiple websites for the best prices. These aggregators save you time and frustration by comparing various sellers at a single glance.
For example, the search tool at Slug Books allows you to search for textbooks by ISBN or title, and you can even compare multiple books at one time. The results will give you dozens of buying options, complete with website and price. This makes comparison shopping a snap.
Among the biggest names in online book retailers, Amazon sells textbooks at up to 30% off new titles and 90% off used titles. You can search for books via ISBN, author, or title, and you can even browse by subject matter.
In recent years, Amazon has begun offering textbook rentals and even digital textbook options. When you’re done, you can exchange your books directly through Amazon, making the process as easy as possible.
If you have a .edu email address, you can sign up for Prime Student. Amazon’s college program now offers a 6-month trial which includes free Prime shipping. After that, you’ll get 50% off of a Prime membership.
With Prime, students can get free shipping as well as unlimited instant streaming on over 40,000 movies and TV episodes, and access to free Kindle books.
Barnes & Noble
A huge name in both brick and mortar book shops and online retail, Barnes & Noble also sells college texts at discounts. In fact, you can easily save up to 80% off of titles by buying with them.
If you want to save even more on your books next semester, you can rent them, and Barnes & Noble offers textbook rental to boot. You can return your books with free shipping, and if you wind up not needing the texts? You have as many as 21 days to return the books free of charge (except for a $5 return fee).
Let’s say that you’ll be using a particular book for only part of the semester. Well, Barnes & Noble is a great place to rent. They allow you to choose your rental period. Whether you need a book for two months or the entire school year, you only pay for what you need.
Google “textbooks,” and you’re bound to find this site toward the top of the search results. In addition to tons of offerings on new and used titles, Textbooks.com also allows you to download etextbooks for hundreds of titles.
You’ll search the site by ISBN, title, author, or even keyword. They offer free shipping when you spend $25 or more, and they also guarantee to buy in-demand books back at 50% of the price you pay. If you wind up dropping a class or not needing a book? Simply return it within 30 days.
With Textbooks.com’s ebooks, you can save serious cash on your semester’s texts by simply downloading digital copies of your required books. This is not only a cheaper option, but also a more convenient one: you’ll have instant access to your materials, you won’t have to lug heavy books back and forth, and you’ll be able to view your assigned reading from any device you’d like.
The downside to etextbooks is that they cannot be resold. However, the cheaper price and convenience of this version might be more than worth that exchange for you.
This site is a relative newcomer to the online textbook market. Chegg.com offers books for sale, as most sites do, but really focuses on rentals. In fact, Chegg boasts savings of around 90% when compared to buying new.
If you need to return a book because you dropped a class or find out it’s unnecessary, you have 21 days to do so. Returns are also free, whenever you decide to turn your book back in.
Chegg.com doesn’t just sell textbooks, though. They also offer students a ton of helpful resources, such as a homework help and even a school finder. Graduating soon and want to lock in a great internship? Chegg offers an easy way to apply for open positions in your field.
Things to Remember
When buying textbooks for college, there are a few things to keep in mind.
If you’re considering textbook rental programs, make sure you’re using an apt comparison. Rather than comparing the rental price against the new or used price, compare it against that price minus the average buyback amount.
For instance, let’s say that a rental seems like a bargain at $26, when the book is $100 new. However, if you can buy the book used for $71 and then sell it yourself for, say, $65 at the end of the semester, you’d wind up $21 in the hole by renting the textbook. Always do the math and see what your best bet would be.
Selling Books Back
The best part about buying textbooks is that you can sell them back when you’re done. Then, you can use that cash for next semester’s books.
When it comes time to sell your books back at semester’s end, though, don’t feel any loyalty to the store where you bought the book. Instead, see which retailers are offering top dollar for your titles.
And remember that you’ll probably get the best prices from sites where you are the direct seller to the buyer, such as the Amazon marketplace. These sites make their money from sales fees, rather than markup. Other sites have to buy the book from you at a low enough amount to leave room to sell them at a profit.
Also, don’t disregard your campus bookstore as a place to sell your books back. This writer once bought a mathematics textbook for $40 and sold it back to the campus bookstore for over $60. (Yes, sometimes you can actually make money selling your books back.) Just make sure you remove any price tags from other stores; otherwise, the sell-back can get awkward. Also, you can get a quote from your campus bookstore after browsing around online, to make sure you get every dollar back that you can.
There are also ways around getting books for certain classes. You may be able to find novels and literary works at libraries, and your friends might be able to loan you books they decided to hold onto. Don’t be afraid to give every possible method a try, in order to save as much cash as possible each semester.
Regardless of where you buy and sell books, remember the golden rule of saving: shop around. Check multiple sellers for the book you want in order to find the cheapest price. Then, sell the book to the store that will offer the most for it when you’re finished. That’s the surest way to keep your book costs under budget.