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8 Ways to Save Money on College Textbooks

The 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.

Purchase Digital Version

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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