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8 Ways to Save Money on College Textbooks

By David Bakke

girl library textbooksThe average tuition cost for one year at a public university is now $17,000, and the average annual price of private colleges is twice that amount. However, rather than waving your white flag and giving up on the thought of ever attending school, know that there are many ways to save money on the costs of college – including acquiring cheap textbooks.

If money isn’t an object, by all means, purchase brand new textbooks from your college’s campus bookstore. The prudent buyer, however, knows that buying new textbooks is not essential, and will instead look into the numerous other ways of acquiring the needed books at a greatly reduced price.

How to Save Money on Textbooks

1. Buy Used
As soon as you get your syllabus, check out eBay or Amazon, where you can find many used college textbooks in varying conditions. If you need your book for a lot of research, note-taking, and highlighting, look for one in “like new” or “very good” condition. You may also want to check out Craigslist to buy locally and avoid paying shipping fees. eCampus is another good option, and they were actually named the Best Website for Buying Textbooks on About.com’s 2012 Reader’s Choice Awards.

Here are the prices for an identical biology textbook on four popular sites:

  • Amazon: $120.78 (good condition)
  • eBay: $109.99 (very good condition)
  • Chegg: $162.99 (used condition)
  • AbeBooks: $167.49 (good condition)

In this instance, the obvious best bet is eBay – but this isn’t always the case. To get a full view of all your options, perform an Internet search with the ISBN number of your college textbook, followed by the word “used.”

2. Rent
There are plenty of websites where you can rent college textbooks. Among them include Chegg, BookRenter, and Barnes & Noble. Just be sure to investigate shipping charges both to and from your location to ensure you’re getting the best price.

Using the same biology textbook example, I found it available for rent at Chegg for $70.49, at BookRenter for $76.80, and at Barnes & Noble for $52.80. These are base prices only, and do not include any shipping fees. Furthermore, if you return the book late, you could be charged a 15-day late fee – any longer than that, and you may be charged the entire purchase price of the book.

3. Purchase eBooks
You can also purchase a digital version of your textbook. There are no shipping charges, and if you don’t need to print any pages, it’s environmentally friendly.

Just be sure to research the terms and conditions for each individual ebook, as some have printing limitations, expiration dates, and other restrictions. The biology textbook was available in a digital format at Ebook Ave for $45.85, via Kno for $70.99, and at the Barnes & Noble website for $92.10.

library textbooks open

4. Get Them Online for Free
This can be a long shot, but there are instances when you can get your textbook for free. Check out the website Flat World Knowledge, for example, and you just might be able to download and view your textbook free of charge. The website also offers affordable options for audio books and printable books. The catalog of textbooks the site carries is somewhat limited, but it certainly is worth searching. The biology textbook I searched for is not currently listed.

5. Check Out Your Campus Library
Another possible way to get your textbooks for free is to search your campus library for the books on your list. If they’re available, check them out immediately. If you do score a book from your campus library, be sure not to deface it in any way, and return it in the exact condition in which you received it.

6. Review Your Syllabus for Unnecessary Materials
By reviewing your syllabus, you can get an idea of what you really need. Professors often include added materials that you may not actually need. Typically, such items may include study guides and other ancillary books. Your best bet is to wait until you’re partway into the semester to see if you really need to make these purchases. You can also ask other students who have taken the identical course previously, or read reviews of the class online for more information and additional insider tips.

7. Network
While you’re updating your Facebook or Twitter account, it never hurts to post about the textbooks you need. If you’re friends with other college students, you might be able to score a deal or a trade. You can also post a comment on your university’s Facebook page, or take advantage of the campus classifieds or marketplace website if your school offers one.

8. Sell Them When You’re Done
Make sure you sell your college textbooks to recoup some of the initial expense. Amazon and eBay are great websites to use to sell your books, but if you don’t want to go through the hassle of listing them and paying for shipping charges, there are a number of websites that will buy your books. For my biology book, I could have sold it back to Amazon for a $92.09 gift card, or at the website BuyBack101 for $70. You can also usually sell your books back to the campus bookstore directly, but you likely won’t get the most competitive price.

To get the most money for your textbook, your best bet is to sell them yourself on eBay or Amazon. Account setup is a snap, and you can list on Amazon for free and on eBay for a small fee. These sites do take a cut of the selling price, however. eBay currently takes at least 13% of the sales price of textbooks, and Amazon takes a 15% cut. Other nominal charges may apply.

Final Word

The best way to organize your efforts to save on college textbooks is to get going early. You don’t want to fall too far behind in class because you’re waiting for a textbook. So check out some of these sites and compare prices today. That way, you can hit the ground running as soon as you have your syllabus in hand.

What other ways can you think of to save money on college textbooks?

David Bakke
David started his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101, in June of 2009 and published his first book on ways to save more and spend less called "Don't Be A Mule..." Since then he has been a regular contributor for Money Crashers. He lives just outside Atlanta, GA and most all of his free time is taken up by his amazing three year old son, Nicholas.

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  • http://www.juliespages.blogspot.com Julie

    Another great website for textbooks is bookmooch.com.

  • Kira

    I bought almost every single book I used on the internet. If you’re on campus, you can go to the bookstore, write down the ISBN number, and search for it either on Amazon, abebooks.com, half.com, etc. Just make sure it’s the same version or you’ll be lost when the prof has specific page numbers.

    Some campuses also have student-run book sales – I picked up a lot of interesting reading there as well as the books I needed. If you think you will need your books after you graduate, better to buy than rent or borrow – I re-bought several books a few years later because I wanted to look things up.

  • http://www.ekgtechnicianclasses.com/ Claudia

    Remember that getting ebooks can be a great way to save on books! Don’t forget the power of the internet!

  • http://homeschool-college.blogspot.com Chris

    If you do a Google search for “free online textbooks,” you’ll find a long list of them.

  • Brent

    $150 per book and $600 per semester are low compared to what I’ve been spending lately…

    This website gives a great overview on how to save money on college textbooks: http://www.buybookscheap.org/

  • Tyson

    Textbooks are expensive. There almost seems to be no getting around it. Though I have found that purchasing online or used rather than new from the bookstore can save hundreds. There’s actually a website (www.myedu.com) that has a feature for saving students money on textbooks. It’s actually quite useful – you input your class schedule at your respective school, and it tells what textbooks you need at the cheapest prices. I used it this semester and it worked like a charm.

  • http://www.waystosavemoney.tv John

    Good points. I always felt ripped off because the universities assigned books regardless of the price. I think the real solution will be for professors to find cheaper options for students, such as reusing editions or finding textbook alternatives.

  • evarun21

    The best way to save money on textbooks is to buy them used online during the months of March or April. During this time, used textbook sellers are marking down their inventory trying to sell off their overstock. You could probably save up to 50% during these months compared to January. You could also make money on your textbooks by reselling them online to companies such as MyBookCart.com. http://www.mybookcart.com

  • Veronica @ Pelican on Money

    Can I suggest sharing one with a friend if they happen to share a class with you. I’ve had classes where the book was used a total of maybe 3 times (for which I could have easily borrowed from another person).

    • David Bakke

      Great tip! Thanks for sharing…

  • http://www.outliermodel.com/ OutlierModel

    I always got my textbooks off eBay, usually from sellers in India. The international version of textbooks is the same content and always cheaper. Most of these guys will ship you your book within 2-3 days, often faster than waiting for the campus bookstore to stock them.

    • David Bakke

      Nice tip! Thanks for sharing with our other readers….

  • http://twitter.com/shuaid Shuaid

    Or just don’t go. Well I think state schools are cheaper than Unis. But college education isn’t up to par. What the employer wants and needs don’t meet what the college educators should provide. The colleges should look at employers wants and needs. Then create curriculum. But the professors never held a job outside of being professor. So the circular logic is it just doesn’t work.

    • http://twitter.com/jasonchanning Jason Channing

      I totally agree. Usually textbooks are free or you take a minor loss because you always can sell them back. It’s like lease basically.

      • Davidbakke

        Interesting comments! Thanks for participating in the discussion!

  • Mike

    I personally rent textbooks from CollegeBookRenter.com it really saves students money! They have wonderful customer service and the best prices!

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