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College Students Don't Have to Pay Full Price for Textbooks. Here's How to Save Hundreds Every Semester

Martha C. White
College Students Don't Have to Pay Full Price for Textbooks. Here's How to Save Hundreds Every Semester

Everybody knows: College costs are insane nowadays. While the soaring price of college tuition tends to grab the most headlines, it’s far from the only significant expenses students these days are facing. Textbooks are a perennial and notoriously expensive line item on collegiate budgets. College scholarships, even “full” ones, often don’t cover these costs, which can be steep.

The College Board says students pay an average of $1,240 for books and supplies annually, and students majoring in many STEM fields can pay much, much more for required textbooks. For instance, the 8th edition of Calculus: Early Transcendentals costs around $250 new, and that’s a discount off the list price of $299.95; the 8th edition of Principles of Microeconomics will set you back about $115 (and has a list price of $249.95).

But there are a few smart strategies to help you save money on college textbooks. Here are some resources for college students (and their families) searching for lower-cost alternatives to the on-campus bookstore.

Buy Used College Textbooks Online

For starters, used textbooks have always been an option, but previous generations of kids were limited to what they could get at college bookstores near them. Students today have a greater variety available thanks to sites like Amazon, which sells both new and used textbooks. Scoring a used volume means you can potentially slash that $1,240 average cost down to something that’s a lot more manageable. (Just make sure that you’re buying the recommended version of the book; it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly what you’re buying online, and using the correct edition matters in many college classes.)

If you sign up for Amazon Prime Student, you can also save with free Prime shipping on books and more — plus get access to free streaming media and other members-only perks. If you’re lukewarm, you can sign up for a free six-month trial so your college student can get a chance to test it out first.

Rent Textbooks Instead of Buying Them

Another option for some books you don’t plan to need after the semester is over is renting rather than buying them. If you rent textbooks through Amazon, you can get credit for the rental cost if you later decide you want to purchase the book. You can also get free two-day shipping with Prime Student on rental textbooks, and free drop-off at the end of the semester.

Renting can go a long way towards making your textbooks more affordable. That calculus textbook mentioned above with a list price of nearly $300 costs just $23.49 to rent, and the economics book costs $37.49 to rent. Both amounts are fractions of what you’d pay to buy the books, and they represent the cheapest alternatives you can get on Amazon.

Amazon is hardly the only option for renting textbooks too. To get the best deal on college textbooks, shop around at other sites like Chegg, which lets you buy, sell, and rent books for college.

Use Digital Alternatives for Cheaper Textbooks

Education financing site Pay4Education.com suggests open-license textbook sites that offer free educational materials for download (or printable for a nominal cost) like the University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library or OpenStax Textbooks. Electronic or ebooks are also a possibility, although the down side is you might have trouble recouping any of your expenses by reselling the book to someone else later. Digital copies might not be transferrable, so be sure to check the fine print before you buy if you want to resell your used ebook.

Check Out This 10% Off Coupon

For some courses and subjects, there’s no getting around it: You have to buy a new textbook. But here’s an offer that can help take the sting out of that book bill: You can go to Amazon right now through September 22 and use the code TEXT10 to get a 10% discount on your new textbook purchases, up to a maximum of $50 off.

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