Girl in plaid holding book, piggy bank, making kissy face with stacks of books

How Students Can Save Money on College Textbooks

College textbooks can be expensive, but if you know how to shop around, they don't have to break the bank. Here are a few ways you can save money on books.

Given the ever-increasing cost of tuition—not to mention all other college costs—it’s easy to forget that you also have to plunk down a sometimes jaw-dropping figure for your textbooks. Seriously? $130 for Adventures in Calculus? Worst adventure ever, especially since you’re already paying at least a few hundred dollars per credit hour. What’s a frugal college student to do? Luckily, these days you don’t necessarily have to buy brand-new textbooks—and in some cases, you may not need to buy a hard copy at all. Here are a few tricks to help you save.

Used textbooks

Your first line of defense against pricey textbooks is to look for used editions. You can find them at your campus bookstore, second-hand bookstores like Half Price Books, and websites like eBay. Just make sure you’re buying the exact edition required for your course, and make sure you look out for descriptions that specify the textbook is in decent condition. Nothing is worse than ordering anything, regardless of price, and having it arrive damaged or broken. 

Related: 6 Quick Tips for Better Reading Comprehension

Textbook rentals

Websites such as Chegg and Amazon allow you to rent textbooks, potentially saving you a tidy sum compared to buying them. Some campus bookstores also now give you the option of renting your textbooks for a fraction of the price of buying, provided that you return them in good condition. Textbook renting is a popular option these days because most students know they won't get any use once their course is over. But if you end up wanting to keep one of your textbooks that proved particularly helpful, you can still buy it later, usually subtracting what you already paid to rent from the total cost. 

Electronic textbooks

Many textbooks are now available as electronic versions, which can save you some money as well as space in your backpack. Chegg and Amazon let you buy or rent electronic textbooks and read them on the device of your choice. Worried about highlighting and making notes? Many eTextbooks let you highlight the text with different colors, display your notes, and even filter important concepts to simplify studying. However, as great as eTextbooks can be, it’s worth noting that they aren’t always cheaper, so it’s important to crunch the numbers before you decide which version to buy.

Which textbook option is best?

Once you’ve registered for your classes, make a list of all your required textbooks and shop around for each of them. Renting is often the cheapest way to go, especially if you’re short on cash. But if there’s a book you’ll need for more than one semester, in the long run it may be cheaper to buy it (either used or new) rather than renting it. If one of your required textbooks is an older edition, you likely won’t get much money if you try to sell it back at the end of the semester, so renting may be the best option. Or you could look for a used edition rather than shelling out the full price of a new copy. And if you’re notorious for spilling drinks or dripping pizza grease on your books, you’d probably be well advised to buy instead of renting your textbooks, since there are usually fees for returning a damaged book; damage-proof eTextbooks might be an especially good option for you.

Related: How to Buy Textbooks: A New College Student's Quick Guide

Long story short: College textbooks are expensive, but you can save yourself some serious sticker shock if you take the time to do a little research and weigh your options.

Did you know many scholarships are offered specifically to buy textbooks and other academic materials? Use our Scholarship Search tool to find free money and make textbooks more affordable!

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah is a former writer and senior editor for Carnegie and CollegeXpress. She holds a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in Journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times, she has been an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. 

 

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