Long gone are the days when the only place to buy college textbooks was the campus bookstore. As textbook prices have skyrocketed so, thankfully, have ways to acquire them for less than the three-figure sticker price demanded for a single book.
Kyla Mace, a rising junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, worked this summer for her mother's personal finance websites. As part of her job, she helped with a story about how to save money on textbooks.
Mace learned this firsthand when searching for an introductory psychology textbook called "Psychology: Themes and Variations, Briefer Version." At the campus bookstore, the book was $182.35 new and $136.75 used. But on Amazon.com, she found the current version of the book for $110 used and an earlier paperback edition for just $4.05 (plus shipping). An e-book version was going for $43.41 at online retailer eCampus.com.
One tried-and-true method of saving on textbooks, which was good during your parents' time and is still valid today, is simply not buying them. Savvy students often wait until after the class starts to purchase the book to make sure they will really need it.
"I had one professor who told us what the book would be, then basically gave the ole 'wink, wink, nod, nod' and inferred that the book wouldn't really be used," Glen Craig writes at Free From Broke, the website he publishes as a stay-at-home dad of four in Lynbrook, New York. "Talking to students who took the class before could be useful if the professor won't give a definite answer," he writes. "You may be able to get by without the book, go to the library to study, or borrow the book from a fellow student when needed."
Antoinette Peterson of Chicago, who publishes Sister Save-A-Lot, saved thousands on textbooks by getting as many as she could at the library. "Many schools, as well as public libraries, participate in some sort of interlibrary loan program," she says. "If my school did not have the current textbook I was needing for my class, I would request to borrow it from another library."
You can cut your textbook costs by selling the books back when you're finished with them. There, too, you may find a better deal outside the college bookstore. Mace found she could sell her psychology textbook back to Valorebooks.com for $90.42, Chegg.com for $74.25 or Amazon for $114.54, though Amazon pays in gift cards, not cash.
Here are 10 tips to save money on textbooks:
Shop online sources. You can buy textbooks online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Half.com, AbeBooks.com, CengageBrain.com and many other sites. Try BigWords.com, which searches multiple sites and also finds coupons and other deals, or CampusBooks.com, which gives you both purchase and rental options from multiple sources.
Look for e-books rather than paper books. Many sellers of paper books also offer e-books. A loaded Kindle or tablet is much lighter to carry around than six heavy textbooks. Plus, ebooks are searchable, which will save you time when crunching for midterms.
Rent your books. If you're planning to buy a book and sell it back at the end of the semester, consider renting instead. Many booksellers rent books, as do Bookbyte.com, eCampus.com, Chegg.com, BookRenter.com and CampusBookRentals.com.
Download free textbooks. OpenStax College provides free textbooks online or as PDF downloads on your computer. This initiative by Rice University, supported by a number of charitable foundations, is working to make more textbooks open source. OpenStax, which has published seven widely used textbooks so far, provides print copies of its titles for $30 to $54.
Buy an earlier edition. Some new editions of textbooks contain substantially different information than the old versions do, and some do not. If there aren't many changes, you may want to save $100 and drop by the library to read the few new pages your old edition lacks.
Get an international edition. These books usually have the same content, but often a different cover. The chapters or pages may be in a different order, but that is easy to work around. Craig found an international edition of a calculus book for half the price of the U.S. edition.
Share with a friend. If all you're going to do with a textbook is read a chapter or two each week, consider buying with a friend. You can take turns reading and studying -- at half the cost.
Look for notices online or on-campus bulletin boards. If you cut out the middleman -- in this case, the bookstore -- both the seller and the buyer can save substantially in the transaction.
Track down students who took the course the previous semester. It is easier and more lucrative for them to sell the book directly to you than to sell it online or to the book store. There's no exact science to finding students who were enrolled in the class before you, but if you ask around within your circle of friends and classmates, you'll probably come across someone.
Do an online search for the book you need, and see what comes up. You may find a copy offered at a lower price at a less common bookseller.
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