How To Save Money On Textbooks

By Ashley Paskill on August 23, 2019

It is no secret that buying textbooks is one of the biggest expenses of your college career. They are an essential part of your education, teaching you things in different terms than your professors, but a single book can be hundreds of dollars. Since you are on a limited budget, it is important to save money when you can, especially on textbooks.

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Avoid the bookstore if possible

While the bookstore is conveniently located on your school’s campus, their prices tend to be much higher than other stores or options for buying books. Use other book-buying options before resorting to the bookstore if absolutely possible. If you are in a crunch and have no choice but to shop at the campus bookstore, make sure you either rent the book or buy it used to get the best price. If you have a book credit from financial aid, it may only be available for use at the campus bookstore and may cover your whole book purchase.

See if your books are at least partially covered by financial aid

Sometimes, if you have money left over from financial aid, it is enough to cover books. Depending on your school, you may be able to get a book credit or a refund. Either way, that money can be used to cover your books. However, the book credit may only be valid on books purchased at the bookstore and may be valid only a short time. It may be better just to wait to get the refund and buy elsewhere, depending on your situation. If you do not have enough money from current financial aid, apply for scholarships to help you cover your books.

There are some scholarships that have funds specifically set aside to cover textbook costs for students. Look into these options and apply to as many as possible to broaden your chances of winning.

Buy the used version of the book

Buying a used version of a textbook instead of a new textbook is a significant way to save money. Even if you have to go to the bookstore, buying the used book is the cheapest option. Even if your professor wants the most recent edition, check to see if there is a major difference between editions. If the only difference is page numbers, your professor may help you and other students by saying what page numbers you need to read in your specific edition. Otherwise, you can likely figure it out based on what is being discussed in class. If you need an online access code and you are opting for the used edition, many campus bookstores sell the online codes separately, so you can purchase it that way.

See if you can get the book from a student who took the class

There are plenty of ways that you can get in touch with students who have taken the class before to see if they are willing to give or sell you the book. See if your professor can get you in touch with previous students that still may have the textbook and are willing to let go of it. Also, check your school’s Facebook groups to see if other students may be selling the book for less than store prices. If all else fails, see if you are allowed to post a notice on a bulletin board on campus, alerting other students that you are searching for specific textbooks.

Consider e-books

More often than not, the online edition of a textbook is cheaper than a physical copy. While some professors want students to have the physical copy, many are okay with a digital copy. You can put it on your laptop or tablet device so that you can carry it with you to study sessions or to class. If you need to take notes, you can have separate notebooks for notes from textbooks.

Also, if you are taking classes that require classic books, you can find them for free online. After a certain point, the copyright runs out so the books become public domain. When this occurs, the book becomes free. While this does not happen with typical textbooks, if you need to read a bunch of novels for a class, this will help you save some money.

Shop online

There are so many online stores now that allow you to compare book prices to make sure you get the lowest price. While you may have to pay shipping, it is still cheaper than buying at the bookstore prices. Many stores also have quick shipping options so that you can get the book when you need it for class. On Amazon, textbooks are sold by Amazon itself as well as sellers who used the textbook. These are typically less expensive than those sold directly from Amazon. In some cases, it is necessary for you to buy the book new, such as a math book with problems in the book. In this case, buying new online is your best bet since it will be cheaper. Some online sources give digital books for free, so see if you can get any of your books at no cost.

When shopping online, use cashback sites such as Rakuten, RetailMeNot or Honey. These sites offer coupon codes and cashback options for you to make some money back. Make sure you read all of the terms of the cashback to make the most back. Sometimes, certain categories are not eligible for the stores, so make sure you look to make sure textbooks can get cashback. This also gives you an opportunity to compare to see where you can get the most cash back.

Sell back unwanted textbooks

At the end of the semester, sell any books that you do not want or need. You can use that money for next semester’s books. Although you may not get back what you paid for the books, every little bit helps and will help lessen the blow to your budget as a whole. When selling back to the bookstore, they may have some rules about what they accept, so make sure you follow what they need. You can also sell your book to future students of the class. Let your professor know that you are willing to have the next semester’s students contact you to purchase the book for the class.

If you are planning on selling textbooks back, avoid highlighting and note-taking in the book as much as possible. That way, you will get the highest amount of money back for the books you will sell back. Keep the books in good condition (i.e. be careful not to spill coffee on them).

When selling back your books, check out different sources to see where you can get the most money back. Many times, the bookstore will give you the least, so try selling them on eBay or Amazon. You can also team up with other students and have a textbook flea market. That way you have control over how much money you get back. Do not price them too high or no one will buy the books from you.

Be aware of bookstore return policies

Whether you are buying at the campus bookstore or another store, be aware of the return policy. At campus bookstores, you may have a limited amount of time to return the books you do not end up needing or to buy the right book if you got the wrong one. If you shop online and need to return the book, see if you need to pay for shipping costs and see what kind of a refund you can get. If possible, see if you can get a shipping label from the company to return it for free. Either way, be aware that you may not get a full refund if you return the book after a certain amount of time.

Rent instead of buying

Many campus bookstores, as well as online stores, offer textbook renting. This is especially useful for books you have no intent on keeping. The book is usually less expensive, but you are expected to return the book, so make sure you do not lose it. Also, there are sometimes rules about highlighting and taking notes within the book itself, so make sure you check on the policies so that you are not charged extra for not following a rule or policy.

Like physical copies, you can also rent the e-book version of the textbook. That way, you are saving even more money. This will also help you since you do not have to worry about keeping the book in excellent condition, so you will save on potential fees.

Do not buy the book unless you absolutely need it

Sometimes, professors do not actually require the textbook. They may list one on the syllabus, but will not grade you based on information in the book. If you get the syllabus before the semester starts, email the professor or prior students to see if the textbook is required. That way, you are not buying something you do not need. If the class is within your major, it may be beneficial for future reference, but you can take notes and return it or resell it.

See if a classmate would be willing to share the book

Ask a classmate if they would be willing to share the textbook. The two of you can split the cost of the book so that you are not caught paying the high cost of the book. If you have access to the class roster before the semester, send out an email to see if anyone would be interested in sharing the book with you. Otherwise, you can ask those who are sitting around you on the first day to see if anyone is interested. You can study together and talk about the material, which will help both of you learn better by engaging the material.

Ask family and friends for gift cards

Friends and family members may ask you what you want for your birthday or for gift-giving holidays. Tell them you want gift cards to help you pay for your textbooks. Whether it is the bookstore at your college or an online store, there are options based on where you are likely to shop. That way, you can get the lowest price based on your research and you will not have to pay fully out of your own money. However, do not ask them without them asking you.

Utilize the library

Many professors put the textbook in the library. Instead of buying the book, you can go to the library and read the required pages and put it back. You can read it in the library, so designate a specific schedule for reading the book. Consider teaming up with a classmate to study with so that you have someone to read with. That way, if you have a question on the material, you can talk it out.

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Do not get the access code unless needed

Sometimes, bookstores will sell you the access code for online access for the textbook. Before purchasing it, check with your syllabus or professor to see if you will actually need it. Some professors have homework assignments on the online component while other professors do not bother using them. Do not spend the money on something you do not need. If the class is one that you struggle with and the online access offers help, it may be worth it. Otherwise, do not bother.

Avoid buying hardcover right off the bat

While paperbacks are less durable than hardcovers, they are less expensive. When shopping around for textbooks, see if you can buy a paperback version instead of the hardback. If you plan on renting or selling the book back, make sure you take very good care of it so the covers and pages stay in excellent shape to avoid fees.

Shop after the semester rush

In the weeks leading up to the semester and the first week, there is a mad rush for students to get their textbooks. After the rush, many stores have sales on textbooks. In the meantime, use the library to read the textbook assignments you may have or team up with a classmate who has the book already. Then you can purchase your own copy at a discounted rate.

College is expensive, and textbooks are a necessary evil. If you shop smart and get only the materials you need, you can save a significant amount of money, which can be used for other expenses.

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