7 ways to save on college textbooks

Student studies with her college textbooksImage: Student studies with her college textbooks

In a Nutshell

College can be a costly endeavor, but textbooks don't have to be your biggest expense. If you rent textbooks or shop for used books online, you could end up saving serious money in the long run.
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It’s no secret that the cost of a college education continues to rise. According to The College Board’s annual report, the average tuition and fees for full-time in-state students at public four-year colleges increased by 3.1% for the 2017–18 academic year.

But tuition expenses only account for a fraction of what students pay to attend college. Many students face additional costs like living expenses, lab fees and college textbooks.

Textbooks are one of the biggest strains on the typical student’s budget, with the average price of a new textbook jumping from $58 in 2011–12 to $80 in 2015–16, according to the National Association of College Stores. At those prices, it certainly pays to rent textbooks or shop for used books online.

If you’re looking for ways to save on college textbooks, we’ve got you covered. Get out your pen and paper, because it’s time to start taking notes.

1. Buy used books online

One of the best ways students can save money is buying used books online. This can allow you to get what you need at a fraction of the cost. Look for “Used” stickers on books at your campus bookstore to get extra savings — and don’t forget to ask whether using your student ID will help you get additional discounts.

You can also look for used books at your local bookstore, as well as on websites like Chegg and Amazon.

2. Rent textbooks

If you only need a book for a short time, or you know you aren’t going to keep the book after the class ends, consider renting your textbook.

“Renting textbooks is such a great deal because you can typically save 70 to 90% compared to buying the book new, and 50% or more compared to buying the book used,” says Robert Farrington, founder of The College Investor.

You can use websites like Textbooks.com and CampusBooks.com to rent the books you need, without the commitment of buying and being stuck with a book you may ultimately not want. You’ll save some time as well by not having to go through the hassle of re-selling your books once the semester is over.

Farrington adds this final reminder in favor of renting: “Honestly, when was the last time you ever opened a textbook after the course was over?”

3. Use price alerts

In order to get the best deal when buying books online, consider using a service like Online Price Alert, which syncs with Amazon to notify you when a product is available in your target price range. Simply add the product URL and enter your email. Your alert will be valid for 30 days or until the item becomes available at your target price.

Setting up a price alert can help you save money so that you buy at just the right time for the best deal.

4. Go halfsies

Are you taking a class with one of your BFFs or roommates? If so, consider splitting the cost of a book and sharing the textbook. Using this option requires a bit more logistical planning, but it can work.

When pursuing this option, it’s important that you and the person you’re sharing with can sync schedules easily so that sharing doesn’t become a burden. One perk: You may have a built-in study buddy.

5. Comparison shop

Sites like CampusBooks allow you to enter your textbook information online and comparison shop new and used books — saving you both time and money.

6. Buy e-books

Purchasing a digital version of your textbook not only can save you money, but is also more environmentally friendly and easier to carry around. You can check out sites like Barnes & Noble to scope out digital textbooks. Digital textbooks can cost significantly less than the price of a new paper textbook and, once you’re done, you don’t have to worry about reselling or storage.

7. Check out the library

For some classes, you may be required to read novels or other popular books. In this case, try checking out the library first.

Libraries are a wonderful asset that can help you save money because everything is free. Just be sure to return your books on time, or else you’ll end up paying the price in late fees. Set up a calendar reminder for the due date so you don’t forget.

Bottom line

Between tuition, living expenses, food and more, college can be a costly endeavor. But one of the best and easiest ways college students can save money is on textbooks. Use these tips to slash your budget and keep the extra money in your pocket.

About the author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy and empowering people to take control of their finances. Her work has been f… Read more.