Save Money on College Textbooks

by Christina Brown · 13 comments

in Frugal Living, School

How to Get Free or Cheap College TextbooksWhen I was an academic advisor, I used to just cringe when I saw the lines of students that wound through the campus bookstore and around the corner.

The college bookstore is THE most expensive place to buy your college textbooks.

Now, let me say that I understand why many students choose to buy their books at the college bookstore. It’s incredibly convenient, and if you’re planning to use financial aid to pay for books, it can make financial sense, too.

But when I was in college, I was caught in the middle class…. my family made too much money for me to get much financial aid, but not enough for me to afford college comfortably. My budget was extremely tight.

So, if you’re stuck in the middle like I was, here are some ways to save money on college textbooks.

How to get free college textbooks

Trade books with a friend. One semester I took Environmental Science, the next semester, Psychology. A good friend of mine did just the opposite and we were able to trade books. You may also be able to borrow books from a friend.

Borrow the books from the library. One of my former students told me she would borrow her literature books for English from the public library. Sure, you can’t write in it and you may have to renew it, but it’s free.

Check to see what resources your academic learning center has. At some campuses, students can read many college textbooks at the library. They have to stay in the library, but that just means you will have to study! Some academic learning centers will also allow you to borrow recorders or calculators, too!

Try Freecycle. Put a request out on Freecycle. You may find that someone has the books you need just collecting dust on a shelf and would be willing to let you have them for free.

How to get cheap college textbooks

Buy used. Whenever possible, buy used textbooks. A brand-spanking new textbook is nice, but it’s like buying a new car – it loses value the second you buy it. Look for used textbooks in good condition and you’ll save.

Check out the college bulletin boards. Many times you can find used textbooks for less than what the college bookstore sells them for. Plus you’re helping out a fellow college student.

Check out what’s available online. When my husband was in grad school, he saved a ton of money on his books by buying them online.  A lot of great retailers have gotten into selling used textbooks. Check out BarnesandNoble.com, Textbooks.com and Amazon to see how prices compare. You should also investigate whether it’s better to buy or rent textbooks from a place like Chegg.com

And don’t forget to put the word out on Facebook and Craigslist. You may be able to score a great deal using social media, too.

A final piece of advice

 on saving on college textbooks

Remember, great deals on used college textbooks will take some time. You can’t wait until the last minute to save some money. You’ll also need to know the name of the book, author, edition, and ISBN number, in order to make sure you’re getting the exact books you need.

Fortunately, the savings is well worth the time invested.

Your turn: What ways have you saved on college textbooks?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Debbie M July 25, 2013 at 10:55 am

My daughter studied abroad in Australia a few years ago. One of her books ran $165. She checked Amazon and found a used copy in the US for $11. I purchased the copy, put it in a flat rate box (20# for $55.00), filled the rest of the box with little things she could use and sent it off. Not only did we save almost a hundred dollars, but she received extra goodies that were quite expensive overseas.

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2 Christina Brown July 25, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Brilliant, Debbie! It really does pay to look around for the best prices!

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3 Amy @ a new old house July 25, 2013 at 11:15 am

You can also join/check http://www.paperbackswap.com – they also have textbooks!

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4 Christina Brown July 25, 2013 at 9:00 pm

That’s a good one! I had forgotten about that one.

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5 Taryn July 25, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I’ve had professors tell me that it was a requirement to assign books, so I either asked professors which books if any were absolutely needed or I found someone who had taken the class previously and asked them. Professors almost always have to assign the latest edition, ask them if a previous one (that you can probably get cheaper or free) would be ok. Also, I occasionally found it an option to share a book with a friend.

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6 Debbie M July 25, 2013 at 4:40 pm

My kids found that at least half the books assigned by professors turned out to be optional, so there was always the fine line between early bargain hunting and waiting for the class reality.

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7 Christina Brown July 25, 2013 at 9:02 pm

That’s true, too. If you can find someone that has had the same class with the same instructor, you can sometimes find out how necessary the textbook is ahead of time.

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8 Christina Brown July 25, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Good advice, Taryn! Sometimes professors even have a copy or two that they would let you borrow for the term. Doesn’t hurt to ask!

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9 Carol Lazette April 26, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Seriously? email your professors and explain to them you are on a tight financial budget and ask them if the previous edition is okay usually these are next to NOTHING on Amazon, and if this does not work check local libraries, even your college library, most have statewide exchange programs. I am in my third year of school at Kent State University and I RARELY buy any books

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10 Christina Brown April 27, 2014 at 12:19 pm

I love the idea of using libraries for text books, but using the previous edition is usually pretty tough to do. As a former academic adviser and someone married to a college instructor, I can tell you that some textbooks change substantially, and only the brightest, most-focused students can have a good experience using the previous editions.

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11 James Krewson July 7, 2014 at 7:15 pm

A couple of things… Students should try a price comparison website that specializes in used, rental, and new textbook price comparison, such as my site, FindersCheapers.com. You want to pick a website that is able to run real-time price checks because textbook prices and inventory levels are really dynamic. When you search for books, try to use the ISBN numbers to ensure you are getting the right editions.

One thing I recommend to my website visitors is that they might consider becoming a bookseller and cutting out the middleman. You can create a free seller account on Amazon Marketplace or eBay’s Half.com and resell your used books for the price you paid. You will have to pay a final value fee that is a percentage of the sale price, but the amount saved will be more than what you would get if you sold the book back to an online bookseller and way more than selling back to the campus bookstore.

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12 Rachael September 23, 2014 at 11:58 pm

My text books for this semester were $720.00 total. So back right after midterms last semester I went online price comparison with some prior editions. Shipping and handling included I spent $17.00 on all 4 books. And my other class is testing a book out from another school before the author releases for wide term use. We use his online language software for free all we have to do is report any errors we find and recommend any changes we would like to see it just costs the price of printing.

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13 Christina Brown September 24, 2014 at 9:12 am

That is excellent! It’s great that your school allows those fabulous opportunities!

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