How I Saved Money on College Textbooks and Materials

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Summer is coming to a close, and that means heading back to school for many 20-somethings. Whether that fills you with excitement or dread, there’s plenty of things to do to gear up for the new semester, including buying textbooks.

I’ve always felt like there is no bigger rip off than buying textbooks from the college bookstore, especially when the price of a single book is in the triple digits. During my four years of college, I had to buy a lot of books on a limited budget (my income during college was a varying mix of part-time jobs, survey money, and student loans). Here’s some of the ways I saved money.

Find Out The Assigned Textbooks Early

I was lucky because my school bookstore had a website which listed the required textbooks for my classes several weeks before the new semester started. That way I could start looking for deals on the books I needed long before anyone else.

If your college bookstore doesn’t have a website, try visiting the store or emailing your professors about what texts you’ll need for the class. Extra time gives more leeway to shop around and score a really good deal before demand for the books goes up as the semester starts.

Shop Around and Buy Used

This may be a no brainer, but most of my college friends just went to the bookstore and bought the used books there, thinking it was a good deal. Sure, that was cheaper than buying new, but it wasn’t a good deal. I did check the price at the bookstore, but then I also went to Half.com, eBay, and Amazon.com to compare prices, and bought from the place with the best deal. I’m sure there are more sites than this that have great deals, but these were the 3 I used the most.

(Don’t forget to sign up for a free Amazon prime membership to get free shipping on those textbooks. Also, shop through Upromise to earn money to pay tuition or student loans.)

Buy The Previous Edition

A lot of professors are empathetic about the financial situation of most college students and fully aware of how textbook publishers try to rip off students by releasing unnecessary new editions of textbooks. I would discuss it with your professor to make sure, but sometimes there are so few changes between editions that the previous version of the book will do just fine.

I actually had a teacher tell us not to buy the newest edition of a psychology textbook because it was nearly identical to the last version. I was able to buy it for $20 instead of the $100 the new edition was going for.

Borrow (or Buy) from Roommates, Friends, Classmates, etc

Chances are you’re not the first person to take the class, so it’s possible someone you know already made an investment for the course materials and would be glad to lend them to you. I was able to borrow books, a graphing calculator, and art supplies from roommates and friends who’d taken courses before me, and I didn’t spend a dime. In return, I lent friends anything of mine they needed.

Even if you don’t know anyone who would lend you the materials, you may be able to barter for the books you need or buy them pretty cheaply (I find cold hard cash to be very enticing to college students who need beer money).

Borrow the Books from the Library

I found this worked particularly well for my writing classes (which were the bulk of my schedule) where I had to read several novels over the course of the semester or summer classes that only lasted 10 weeks. You may be able to swing it for an entire semester, depending on what the libraries in your area have available.

At my school, teachers could actually put holds on books in the library so no one could check them out, but students could go to the library to use them. I knew students who got by with this every semester, but I liked having the freedom to procrastinate my homework to the last minute.

Sell Your Books at the End of the Semester–but Not to the Bookstore

The second reason I hate college bookstores is because they rip you off big time when you sell your textbook back at the end of the semester. Something that cost you $50 is suddenly only worth $10? I don’t think so.

If you’re never going to use that book again, sell it! Look for friends and acquaintances to cut a quick deal. I’ve sold a few books through Facebook Market Place. Selling online through Amazon, eBay, etc isn’t a bad way to go either, though they’ll want a piece of it. Another option is to shop around and sell your books to different websites or stores who will give you cash for them. I’ve lucked out a couple times and got back that same amount I spent on the book, but that doesn’t always happen.

There you have it, my tips on saving money on those pesky textbooks.

Reader Jeff sent in a link to Your Complete Guide to Cheap College Textbooks which includes 14 tips to cut textbook costs. Feel free to share any of your own suggestions in the comments.


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