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How to Save Big on College Textbooks

college textbooks

Guest post from Malia of Homemaking 911

Looking for ways to reduce college expenses? Don’t overlook the high expense of college textbooks. This year, my daughters have enrolled in classes that required books ranging from $4 to $300!

Considering that my two girls will purchase between 160-300 books before they complete college, this is an area we can are working hard to save in.

Here are a few ways we’ve found to save on textbooks: 

1) Ask the school.

When you enroll them in a college, immediately ask around for the best ways to buy textbooks. Ask the school administrators, ask other students,and ask other parents.

Often colleges, and even sub-disciplines within college, will have Facebook groups where the students swap/buy/sell/loan textbooks to one another.

2) Price check or price match.

Check all the sites I’ve listed below, as well as the campus bookstore. If you find a cheaper price online, but need the book quickly, ask the local bookstore to price match. Many will.

3) Buy an older version.

Don’t assume you need the latest edition. Ask professors (or check the syllabus) to see if the newest edition is the only one allowed. If not, investigate whether you need the newest or not, depending on the changes.

4) Find out if the book is actually necessary.

In one online class, my daughter was “required” to buy an English textbook that was basically a style manual. Most of that information can be found quickly using a google search. She asked the instructor if she had to buy the $200 book, and he said no!

5) Shop early.

Prices change on textbooks. Buying books on the week class starts is going to cost you the most and give you the least selection. As soon as you get your book list, start checking and ordering.

6) Rent textbooks.

My daughter needed the newest edition for her Economics textbook — and it was over $300. Rather than buy it, we rented it from Amazon. Students on Amazon can get a FREE student PRIME account for six months (you’ll need to cancel at the end of 6 months, or you can get a discounted rate on a Prime account) — which means free two-day shipping.

7) Consider Kindle.

Depending on the book, your student’s learning style, and the rules from the school regarding in-class technology use, a Kindle book may work just fine. This will be particularly helpful for reading books, but less so for textbooks.

The downside is you can’t re-sell a Kindle ebook. You CAN, however, loan or borrow Kindle books from other Kindle owners.

8) Borrow from the school or a public library.

If you let them know you are using it for a class, the library may be willing to loan you books for longer than the usual borrowing period without requiring you to renew it. Also, if your library does not have the books you need, ask for inter-library loans.

9) Plan ahead.

If you know what classes your kids will be taking next semester or next year, ask the professor if they plans to keep the same edition. If so, start looking early. You can check websites, or ask people currently in those classes if you can buy or rent their textbooks for the following semester.

Want more textbooks savings?

Here are some websites to check:

Malia Russell is an author, teacher, conference speaker, and blogger at Homemaking 911. As the blessed wife to Duncan, and the mother of six children, she specializes in thrifty living and encouraging women in their roles as wives, homemakers, and home educators. 

P.S. Check out this list of 20 Freebies for Students

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23 Comments

  • anna says:

    I like to use dealoz.com It searches all the used websites online and gets the cheapest price for me!

  • Aimee says:

    Good advice! I saved hundreds on textbooks by ordering most of mine from half.com.

  • great tips! as a librarian at a small liberal arts college, i will say to not count on the library for books for classes. we cannot purchase books (especially textbooks) for every class due to costs. we may have some of the readings for the classes–and sometimes professors put materials on reserve in the library–but just because you are using it for class you shouldn’t expect us to be able to let you check it out for the whole semester. i know the author wasn’t saying that, but i wanted to point it out! public libraries may be different.

  • Bob says:

    Great list of savings tips and resources. Price comparison shopping, your #2 tip, can save you big bucks. A site not listed that provides free price comparison services is http://www.cheap-textbooks.com

  • Chrissy says:

    You can also rent or purchase books thru Chegg. They also but books. We have saved so much using them.

  • TEresa says:

    Ebay has been great for us. Ask upper classmen, they want a few dollars and are willing to sell those books they have used for cheap so they don’t have the hassle of the book buy back at school. The only issue we have ran into so far is when a book was brand new. The previous edition would not work, so we had to pay full price. Otherwise I normally get it over half off what the school wants for a used book by searching elsewhere.
    Plan to buy early as the prices to go up closer to semester start dates on most site.

  • Bonnie says:

    bigwords.com searches a bunch of websites for the cheapest/best book.

  • jennifer crandall says:

    My son said he has found some online and hasn’t needed to purchase the book. This semester he shared a book with a friend and took the friend out to dinner to pay him back.

  • Debbie Kearschner says:

    Amazon Prime is not free for students, it’s discounted. My daughter paid $50 last year for her Amazon Prime account. We use Chegg, most often, but always check prices with Amazon. We also mostly rent.

  • JG says:

    Saving on textbooks is a great idea but don’t cheap out on textbooks just to save money—it may cost you or your child in the long term. Some books will be investments in a career (I have several books that are disciplinary classics that I’ve owned for over twenty years and still use). Ask older students in the department about books that they think are worthwhile investments so you don’t skip those texts. You also may be able to buy books from students who are in advanced classes or changing majors; you can give them more than they’d receive from the bookstore but still pay less than your might buying a new or used book from that same store.

    This advice is specifically for college students: don’t be afraid to write in books because that will supposedly hurt your ability to sell them back. I know from teaching college classes that students who write in their books (underline, take notes in the margins, etc.) tend to get better grades. And “buy-back” prices aren’t great, usually only a 1/4 or less of the original price. It makes more sense to invest in the price of a book and really use it than to make a few extra dollars at the end of semester.

  • Jessica says:

    You can also go to the college library and read the reference books there. I did that with many science books that I needed for just a chapter or two.

  • We’ve consistently gotten the best prices on my husband’s textbooks on Amazon (with a few exceptions). The school bookstore is always the most expensive, even if you buy used. But I’m sure every school is different. It’s just best to shop around and plan ahead so you leave time for a book to get shipped to you if that’s the best price.

  • Amy L says:

    My son is taking four concurrent-credit classes through his high school this year (yay for discounted tuition and getting lots of freshman-year basics out of the way!) and I found almost all of his textbooks to be considerably cheaper to rent from Amazon. Thank you for the list of additional book sources- I hadn’t heard of some of them! I’ll be keeping this list handy for fall semester!

  • Sunny says:

    Renting textbooks can be a very bad way to go. We found this out the hard way. My very responsible son was riding his bike after a rain and a small amount of water kicked up on his backpack leaving a small wet spot on a couple of pages. He didn’t even know it happened and I did not notice it when I flipped through the book before returning it. TextbookRush refused to accept the book saying it had water damage. They charged us $268. (The rental was only $21). Their policy was to charge 20% above the list price (which is inflated way above the actual new book price). They refused to do anything for me until I got the BBB involved. Through the BBB’s arbitration process, I was able to make an agreement the rental company would accept which was replace the book in the same condition I purchased it in or better and they would refund most of the money (minus a late return rental fee of $9.99). I was able to purchase a new book on Ebay and ship it to them, request the “damaged” book back and sell it on Ebay, and only came out losing about $30 (not counting the original rental fee.) It was still a bummer, but much better than the original $268 penalty. I will not rent books again after our experience.

  • Julie says:

    My dad teaches for a University – He always offers what he calls the McDonald Happy meal book. He shops online (amazon) for the book that is required for his classes but one version older. He then tells the students where they can buy it. When he says Happy Meal – He truly means less then $5.00 a book.

    Teachers are required to read the text books that they are teaching from. If there is any difference with the new version book verses the old one he will tell the class in his lectures “this is not in your book, take note.” Talk to your instructors. Ask what version of the book they will be teaching from? If you are honest and explain that cost is an issue many truly understand.

    This probably explains why his classes are always FULL.

  • Robyn says:

    We have had really good luck buying used textbooks on Amazon and then selling them back at the end of the semester for an Amazon gift card. We have even made money by doing it this way. You are taking a chance when ordering used that the book may not be in good enough condition to sell back, but so far this has not happened to us. My girls have barely used their textbooks for most of their classes as their college professors seem to test mainly from their power point lectures. Our college bookstore is SO overpriced but we have had to purchase “access codes” there for certain math and English classes.

  • Lana says:

    As a grad student, we are in a different situation since are books are primary source texts, so much cheaper, and not something I’d ever resale. But my friends and I do save money both by checking out books at the library and sharing books; I will always eagerly loan my books out to friends.

    In my college teaching, I told all my students to return their textbook because I felt it was too expensive for the amount of time we used it. the head of the bookstore called up my boss who told me to make them all buy it, ugh. Looking back, it was nice for them to have the textbook for reference – I just felt that a lot of students couldn’t afford it, and it wasn’t necessary for their success (it’s really hard for me to justify asking students to spend $100 for a book that it isn’t really that necessary; helpful, yes; necessary for success, no).

    I think next time I’ll say out loud that older editions are acceptable.

  • Lana says:

    Another tip is to check prices on both amazon.ca and amazon.com. I live in canada, and often even with the additional international shipping, it can come out cheaper to order my books from the states. That is not necessarily “normally” the case, but if a book is published in a US press and not regularly stored in warehouses in Canada, then it often comes out cheaper to ship from the states, because the canadian bookstores tend to make their prices steep. The reverse can also be true.

  • Heidi says:

    My son attends a technical college and to keep costs down (there are a large percentage of low-income students) the professors are asked to use the oldest editions of the texts that they can. This has been a tremendous savings. One source not mentioned that we use is alibris.com We have found a few of his technical manuals on there cheaper than Amazon.

  • Linda says:

    I like saveontextbooks.com which does price comparison for you. Buying used textbooks is usually the way to go! I like to resell books after they’re no longer needed. The same site tells you where you can get the best price when you sell. You can print out return labels and it’s super easy! We’ve already gotten more for a book than we paid for it! My son also discovered that not all “required” books are really required by the professor.

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