11 Ways to Save Big on College Textbooks

Photo by Ermolaev Alexander / Shutterstock.com

Most college students will return to campus soon, and they’ll spend a lot of money on textbooks.

Students at public four-year colleges spent an average of $1,298 on books and supplies during the 2015-16 school year, according to the College Board.

The total was a little less for private four-year colleges ($1,249) but higher for public two-year schools ($1,364).

Anything you can do to offset such costs helps. Following are 11 strategies to save on your textbooks.

1. Contact your professors now

Class may not start for weeks, but chances are the textbooks for your course have been selected. Professors have to give college stores advance notice so the stores can order copies.

So email your professors and ask for the syllabus, or the required textbook list. That way, you can snag the cheapest copies before your classmates get the chance.

Talk to students who have had your professors before. Such students might still have copies of the textbooks you need and sell them at a cheap price.

2. Visit the campus library

Why pay for a textbook when you can borrow it free? If you’re quick enough, you may be able to get one of the library’s precious few copies. If it’s checked out, see if you can reserve a copy that’s due back soon.

The only flaw in this strategy is that you might not be able to check out the book for the entire semester. So, this strategy may work best for texts that will be used only briefly during the course of a semester.

Don’t forget digital libraries. Many out-of-copyright works are available on sites such as Project Gutenberg and Bartleby.

3. Buy used

Used books have to be in decent condition for stores to resell them. The savings can be significant, especially on an older edition.

On several occasions in college, I bought used books online for less than $10 (including shipping) when the new price was $60 or more. None had significant defects — sometimes they had a little highlighting or writing. Nor were they missing anything essential for the class.

4. Check rentals

Companies like Chegg, BookRenter and CampusBookRentals helped create an active market for textbook rental. Many college bookstores now offer the option, which can save you one-third or more in costs compared with buying. (If you rent from an online store, shipping usually is covered.)

Just be aware that if the book is relevant to your major and you might reuse it, the savings might be greater if you buy the text. It can be hard to tell whether you’ll need a book again. But if the book is by an author important to the field, the odds increase that buying makes more sense.

I had books overlap in different English classes, and I also reused a few books from undergrad in my graduate courses.

5. Look for digital

As the number of tablets and e-readers grows, so does the selection of digital textbooks. And you can also rent digitally. Amazon suggests you can save up to 80 percent with its Kindle rentals, and you don’t even need to buy a Kindle — there are compatible reading apps for computers and smartphones.

6. Compare prices

Prices can vary widely for both new and used copies, and online isn’t always cheaper.

At a minimum, check at Half.com and Amazon.com in addition to your school bookstore and any nearby off-campus competitors.

BookFinder.com, DirectTextbook.com, and TextbookPriceComparison.com can help you compare.

7. Make sure you get everything

Sometimes books are packaged with software, codes for required online access, digital content, study guides or workbooks. If the course requires any of that stuff, make sure your copy includes it — or that you will still come out ahead financially even if you have to buy such materials separately.

8. Know the rules

Understand the refund policy when you buy, so you don’t get burned if you end up not needing a book or if you drop a class. Unwrapped or marked-up books might prevent you from getting a full refund.

9. Keep receipts

Not only will you need these for returns, but you also might want them for tax deductions.

10. Pay smart

Your school may offer textbook advance loans to ease you into the semester before financial aid comes in. You might also be tempted to charge books to your credit card.

Both those options risk extra fees and possibly interest, so read up before you swipe or sign.

On the other hand, credit cards are smart to use for online purchases, in case there are any disputes. Just pay off the balance as quickly as possible. Looking for a credit card? Our Solutions Center can help.

11. Sell back

Digital books and rentals can save you money up front. But until digital options finally dominate the market, most traditional paper textbooks still have good resale value.

For now, you ultimately keep more money in your pocket by buying used and reselling before a new edition is released. (When a new edition comes out, the value of older editions plummets – which is why you can buy old editions for so little.)

Do you have great tips for saving on textbooks? Share your thoughts by commenting below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
This Pastime Can Keep Your Brain Sharp as You Age
This Pastime Can Keep Your Brain Sharp as You Age

It’s never too late to benefit from taking up this type of activity.

Have You Heard of This Best Place to Retire in 2020?
Have You Heard of This Best Place to Retire in 2020?

The best place to retire in America is one you likely are not familiar with.

How to Achieve Your Financial Goals in 2020
How to Achieve Your Financial Goals in 2020

New year, new you. Get your finances on track with the help of these tools for investing, saving, budgeting and earning.

15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021
15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021

Follow these tips to save, so you’ll have money for things that really matter.

10 Things That Can Ding Your Social Security Payments
10 Things That Can Ding Your Social Security Payments

Here are 10 things that could mean less money in your pocket during retirement.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Vacuums from this brand can last a half-century, if not longer — and they’re hot on the resale market.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

This iconic dinnerware is prized for everyday use as well as reselling for profit.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken
Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken

Something foul may lurk in those delicious, ready-to-eat birds.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees
5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees

All of these states are located in the same region of the nation.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make
7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make

Sometimes a big-ticket purchase is nothing more than a big waste of money.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.