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Reader Tip: How I saved $200 per year on textbooks

Lana emailed in the following tip:

One of the ways that I survived the high costs of textbooks through my five years as an undergraduate was by using CampusBooks. The website was suggested to me by my dorm floor’s Resident Assistants in their “welcome” sheet, and saved me at least $200 each year.

CampusBooks allows you to enter the title, author, or ISBN of any book. It then compares the cost of the book between all online sources who stock the title. This makes it really easy to know where the best deal is.

Also, the breakdown shows previous editions, which are often much less expensive than the most current version of the book a professor requires. Many instructors are fine with students using older editions, but it’s always best to ask first.

On top of the initial savings that CampusBooks provides, the same database that shows how much you’d pay for the book is also available when you want to sell your textbooks back. Simply click “sell,” rather than “buy,” and enter the ISBN, title, or author. All of the online sources who I’ve sold books to have provided postage free labels for shipping, and paid at least 50% more than the campus locations.

One semester, I made back $90 of the $140 I’d spent on textbooks, simply by using this single website’s database! It certainly beats
paying $400 every four months for texts that the campus bookstores then pay $35 during buy-back season.

Plus, the money paid for books is already “gone” from my budget, so the money that I get from selling the books back gives some unexpected funds when things are always tightest. Having an extra $50-$120 at the end of the Fall term has made Christmas much more relaxed, and the extra money at the end of May has made a considerable difference in my Summer budget. -Lana

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31 Comments

  • Lea Stormhammer says:

    I’m going to second the note to check with your prof before buying an older edition.

    I’m a University faculty member and DO NOT allow my students to use older editions due to the fact that publishers in our field for the courses I teach often change the exercises, the examples and often times re-order the content. It makes it really hard for my student to follow along in an older edition. They often then have the added expense of photo-copying pages from another student’s book so they have the examples I refer to and the proper text homework exercises.

    I have both taken and taught other classes where an older edition is fine. So please check first before buying an older edition!

    You may also want to check with other, more advanced students. Some will let you borrow their text for the semester (downside is you can’t mark in it) or ‘rent’ their text for a small fee. Others will see you their text fora few dollars (say $20-$50 for a $220 text) because they don’t want to deal with selling online and it’s more than they’d get at the bookstore. I’ve also known students to check out a copy from the school library (usually only available when there are multiple copies of a text on the shelves).

    Great tips Lana!
    Lea

    • Julie says:

      I used to use Amazon in college to buy books. Only once did I have an issue with an older edition. I did check with the prof first and he was cool with it. Then we found it was missing a chapter. But we never did that chapter anyway. lol.

  • Brittany says:

    All I can say is thank you thank you thank you! I am a college student and textbooks are such a huge chunk out of my already limited funds! I am looking forward to trying this out for the coming semester.

  • Marnie says:

    Thank you for this!

  • Marnie P says:

    This is awesome! I have one entering college this fall and another who is doing Dual credit classes thru the college. This will help!

    I think it is funny that I am posting right below another Marnie! I don’t come across others with my name often! =)

  • Jordan Turner says:

    I actually use Chegg. Instead of buying textbooks, you rent them from the semester. I had to buy a $180 math book and was able to get it for the entire semester for $9! The bad thing about renting textbooks is that you don’t get the money back, but you at least only pay about a 1/3 of the cost.

    • lee says:

      My daughter used Chegg last year and we love it! There is a couponc code out there somewhere for them too. What we couldn’t get there, we used Amazon and E-Bay. One drawback is when the professor chooses a book that is specific for your particular school. We ran into that once each semester last year and had to pay retail at the bookstore.

      • Lynn says:

        My husband is in a Master’s program and we also use Chegg. You are right that we can always find a coupon code and they are also on Ebates so we get a little extra back there. This semester he “rented” a $140 book for about $50 after the coupon code and our eBates (I caught it on a Double Ebate day!!).

    • Holly says:

      Chegg was a lifesaver for me. I paid under $50 for my books for the semester with them.

  • brookeb says:

    If you’re able, always try to buy your textbooks directly from other students, or sell them back to other students. You’ll often pay the least and make the most back that way. If you’re tech-savvy, you might also want to see if there’s an online version that will work for you — many textbook companies offer those now. The downside is that there’s nothing to sell back, but some people prefer that option.

    (As a prof, I want to say thanks for reminding people to ask first about whether older editions are okay. I personally will always let students know if that will work in my class, but if I say it won’t, I’m going to expect them to get the newer edition).

  • Jill says:

    Thank you for this! I am about to start my final year of my undergrad and was trying to figure out how to budget for textbooks. My grant and scholarship money is a little lower this year, and I hate to turn to loans. I will have to give this site a try. Thanks again!

  • Colleen says:

    Great tip. Another thing I would recommend as someone who used to tech college classes is, if possible, email the instructor of the course before the term starts to ask if he/she has chosen the books. Sometimes having more time is helpful. Some may not answer, but many will!

    • Megan says:

      I did this when I was in college and, now that I’m a professor, I would welcome it if students did the same! It’s a great way to order books cheap over the summer.

      • Lauren says:

        I was going to suggest this also. It is great to be able to get the more inexpensive used books before the mid-august swarms descend!

    • LaTanya says:

      I always did this too. Instead of going to my professors, I would go to the department secretary. She always had the textbook order list at the end of the semester for the upcoming semester. I would just write down all the textbooks I needed (with ISBN #) and then order on ebay or found an older edition at the library to use.

      Also, it is good to good to get to know your professors. My last semester of undergrad I was taking a correspondence course from another university and was going to have to buy the book. I made an off-hand comment to one of my prof about the course and he found a copy of the book in the department office and let me borrow it.

      • Lindsey says:

        This is a great suggestion. I was friends with some of my professors (small department and on the speech team, so we spent lots of time together) and they’d often get multiple copies of books from publishers. I had a couple classes where I didn’t have to buy the books because they’d give me an extra copy. They’d also give away all the copies of the books they didn’t want, most of them fairly new, from the publishers, who’d provide dozens to all the professors. Through this, my friends and I were able to sell those online, which provided other students cheap(er) books they needed, and we got money to buy our own books.

  • Naomi says:

    Half.com is also a GREAT site for books for college students. I always got lots of my books for a fraction of the cost (and often less than half off).

    Another site to consider would be paperbackswap.com (probably not for typical text books is my guess though). Pbs.com is free! You just have to list books you are willing to give away and pay for the shipping when a book of yours is requested. but when you earn credits (by sending your books to someone else free of charge to them), the ones you request are free to you! I wish I’d known about this site when I was in college, bc I was an el. ed. major, meaning lots of my books were not the typical text books.

  • Amanda says:

    I always purchased from half.com. My books a semester would sometimes cost $700. I would end up spending $100 at half.com. I don’t remember what I made during buy back, but I sure saved a lot.

  • Kelly says:

    My fourth child starts college in the fall and I love half.com for purchasing textbooks. I find they have the best prices without having to shop around. I did try campusbooks this summer but only 2 of the isbn numbers I submitted came up with any comparisons. In both cases I found it cheaper at half.com then the resource they gave me.

  • Lynne says:

    I recently had to take a college course to re-certify and renew my teaching license. I too rented my textbook but not through the site mentioned above. I paid about 1/3 of the price of the text book new and didn’t have to pay the shipping to return it. My rental was through the school bookstore that I was attending, so I also had the option of paying no shipping at all by picking my book up at the school book store. I was still able to highlight and write in the book and got the correct edition for a bargain price. Great for those books you will never use again. Just be sure to return it on time so you don’t get charged extra!!!

  • Angela says:

    I would definitely look into the college’s library first. I have always bought/sold on amazon, etc but I finally got smart my last year and looked to see if the library had some of them and they did! I did run into a snag with a $15o book i was borrowing because someone else wanted to check it out so i had to return it, but the librarian told me to check with the interlibrary loan program and i was able to borrow from another university that participated and got to keep it till the end of the semester. or you can talk to you professors about putting a copy on reserve at the library so that anyone can go into the library and read it, you just can’t take it home w/you (this didn’t really work for me since I lived 30 mins away and with a toddler i wanted to get home ASAP, but a friend of my always took advantage of this since he lived on campus).

    • Dana says:

      I second the Interlibrary Loan suggestion! I got books this way for six of my seven semesters in grad school, all for free! I found that professor’s tended to not use the books as much in the last part of the semester, so it wasn’t that big of an issue if I had to send them back early. For other times, I read ahead and did assignments early to turn the book in. Once I turned the book in, requested it again, and had it back within a week! ILL was a lifesaver!

  • Amanda says:

    I used bookrenter.com for my masters courses. I needed new texts every 6 weeks and you can rent books for varying lengths of time.

  • Eric says:

    I get the textbooks through interlibrary loan from the university library. I have even had success of finding the books in the library at the school. I do this especially with the supplemental books that are only used for a week or two during a class. I am in a doctoral program right now and there is no way I could afford to purchase all of the books that I read.

  • Jen says:

    I am a college librarian and have been a professor, so I have seen all kinds of ways to get cheaper books. I agree with everyone above who said to make sure you check to see if an older edition is ok. And even if the instructor says it is, I’d recommend you be proactive and do some comparisons with a classmate’s newer book if possible to ensure you’re not missing something important. You also might need to do some extra work to stay on track, since your page numbers probably won’t sync with everyone else’s. Stay on top of it. If the instructor says you need the most current one though, don’t cheap out. Listen to them. After all, what’s the point of paying for school if you’re not going to try to get the most out of it that you can?

    The library can be a great option sometimes, but not always. Some libraries collect textbooks and will have all of them available on reserve, which means you can’t check them out but can use them in the building for a couple hour rental. This can be a good choice for a book you read briefly or a supplemental text, but it is hard to make it work if it’s your primary text and you need it for studying/reviewing. If your library doesn’t collect textbooks, see if they might still have your book anyway. Watch the editions though–often it’s not the most current one. As someone else mentioned, you can also explore Interlibrary Loan (ILL), which is a service that can borrow books from other libraries for you. There are limits on what you can borrow, but talk to a librarian at your school about what’s available. It’s also worth checking your local public library. They likely won’t have actual textbooks, but if you’re reading a piece of literature or nonfiction, they might have it or be able to get it for you. The early bird definitely gets the worm too–if you have 50 other people in your class reading the same book and your library only has 1 copy, most of you are going to be disappointed. If the same book is read across multiple sections, your chances get much slimmer. Do check out the online catalog though and place a hold if you see a book’s available, as that might stop someone else from beating you to the punch. It’s important to remember though, that if you check a book out from the library, you probably can’t have it indefinitely. Some universities might let you have the book for a whole term, or it might be a shorter loan period. Public libraries will almost always have a 3-4 week loan period. Renewal policies vary, so ask before you borrow. And if you borrow a book via ILL you might have a shorter loan period than you’re used to, and the loan terms might be stricter. (Libraries get penalized if you don’t return an ILL book on time, so fines can be quite steep if you’re late.) Often the library is the best option for books you read quickly and won’t need to refer back to all term. Some students check out a book, renewing it as many times as they can, and then just pay any fines that accrue so they can keep it the whole term. This is NOT a nice thing to do. You’re getting around the rules in a sneaky way and taking the book away from other students who may need it. If you don’t like the library’s terms, find the book somewhere else.

    Sometimes you can share books with another student. Again, this isn’t good for something you use heavily but for a book you read once and then discuss or for something supplemental, this can work great. Don’t forget to check regular bookstores too. Sometimes even the local independent store can have a good price and you don’t pay for shipping like you might online. Ebay is another option. It also pays to check on whether you’ll need any of the books again. Things like writing or style guides, for instance, are often required in later classes as well, so it obviously pays to hold on to those copies rather than selling them back! Ask students farther along in your program or instructors who teach upper level classes what books might be needed later.

    And communicate with your instructor. Ask early for the reading list, and confirm if all the books will be needed all term. Ask if the instructor has a copy on reserve in the library or if they can put one there. You can also try approaching your instructor if you are really struggling to pay for books. I’d do this cautiously because some instructors are pretty insensitive about textbook prices, but I know when my students told me they had troubles I did my best to help find a solution.

    But no matter what, make sure you have your books on time. This is a HUGE problem in some classes where important reading starts immediately. Students want to order the books online so they’re cheaper, but then they don’t get their books until 3 weeks into the term. They fall behind and class discussion lags because half the students haven’t done the reading (which isn’t fair to the students who DID the reading). The worst is when those students expect assignment extensions because they are behind. If you’re planning to get your books online, make sure you start that process early. If it’s already the first week of class and you find a cheap online book but it won’t be delivered for 3 weeks, find another more expensive option that will be there in a few days or find some other way to keep up with the reading (borrow from a friend, the library, etc).

    Most instructors really are at least aware of the textbook cost issue and take it into consideration. Of course there are always instructors who don’t care, but give your instructor the benefit of the doubt and assume they chose these books because they really felt they would be most valuable for you. 😉

  • Brianna S says:

    I always try to see if one of the following works for me before purchasing or renting the book:
    Borrowing the book from someone else
    Sharing a book with someone else (this way you both split the cost).
    Renting the book from the library
    Finding the book online for free.

    Otherwise I try and find an international edition or a older version.
    Otherwise I just suck up and buy the book somewhere online and then sell it back at the end of the semester. One semester I got such a great deal on a book online that when I double checked the sellback price at my college I made money by selling it to them!
    I am lucky that I have a bookstore scholarship this year but it also makes me sad as I will be paying twice or thrice as much though they do offer a rent book option.

    • Naomi says:

      Book sharing is another great idea! I also did this a number of times in my college career. I was part of an organization at one time where everyone put their books in a stockpile at the end of the semester. You could give a book to get a book you needed, and often set something up to share a book w/ another person so it was often win/win. There are so many ways to get books for less or free. You just have to do what MSM always encourages her readers to do: think outside the box!

  • jennifer says:

    I see textbooks listed on Craigslist a lot! That may be an option.

    I have rented textbooks before I got into my nursing program. For nursing, a lot of our books carry over from one semester to the other so it’s not feasible to rent those.

    I typically use Amazon to purchase books. We are Prime members so shipping is free, no sales tax, cheaper than the bookstore and I have them in a couple days.

    I’ve had great success selling books through my half.com account. Also, Amazon offers a buy back program where you get Amazon credit for your textbooks (movies and electronics too!)

  • lorrie says:

    Thanks for all the tips! Our son starts college soon and we were just talking about getting his books. Now we have lots of resources to try to save us some money.

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