How to Save Money on Textbooks

Buying textbooks for college is expensive! Save some of your hard earned cash by following these strategies.
Close-up shoot of textbooks on a shelf

How to Save Money on Textbooks

You can buy all brand new textbooks from your campus bookstore if money is not an issue. However, new textbooks are not practical and will come with a hefty price tag. If you have a scholarship that specifically pays for your textbooks, you don’t have to worry about any of this. Consider yourself lucky. But for most students, it is more sensible to look for budget-friendly alternatives such as purchasing a slightly older version of a required textbook.

Depending on your credit load and professors, textbooks can cost upwards of $700 each semester. The average cost of tuition for students studying at state universities is between $9,000 and $17,000 each year. For out-of-state residents, the average yearly tuition is just a little above $23,000. Those who attend private colleges have to pay an even bigger amount. Going to college may be costly, but this should not discourage you from attending your chosen university. There are many ways for you to save money on textbooks and other school-related expenses. You just have to take advantage of the opportunities around you to reduce the cost of studying in your preferred university.

Resourcefulness & prudence can go a long way when getting the things you need. Save money on textbooks this year by following these helpful tips:

Professor teaching in front of blackboard

1. Don’t buy anything before talking to your professor

If you can, wait until you’re able to talk to your professor to find out which books are actually needed and to what degree each book will be used. Professors tend to add a few supplementary materials to an already long list of required readings. Though such items further your understanding of the lessons, purchasing them is not mandatory. Even the books that are originally listed as “required” may rarely used in class in some cases. This is because some universities and colleges require the professors to have at least one required textbook for each of their courses regardless if the professor plans on actually using the textbook or not.


2. Understand what books you need, and more importantly, which ones you don’t

In addition to talking to your professor, your first course of action is to review your syllabus carefully.  You can often tell how often you’ll be using a textbook by reading the schedule listed in the syllabus of each class. You may find that you don’t need a certain textbook until halfway through the semester. Prudent students wait to buy textbooks until they are needed in class. This gives them enough time to identify their priorities and pursue options that will help them save money on textbooks. And in some cases, although not often, the professor may change the course material during the semester.

Students may choose not to buy all the textbooks on their list, even if it’s “required.” For minor subjects, you may be able to rely on your notes and pay attention to class lectures.  It’s going to depend a lot on you and your professors’ teaching style. A more cost-efficient approach will be to concentrate on textbooks for major subjects. While you can set aside buying certain textbooks, make sure that you’re not compromising a good grade just to save a few bucks.


Student in a library isle

3. Search your university or college library

Find out if the campus library has any textbooks on your list. A few of them should be available for check out. In some states, universities are required by law to have a copy of each classes textbook in the campus library. There may be an option to keep the books with you until the end of the semester, though most libraries only allow you to check out a textbook for a certain amount of hours. Some campus libraries also set a limit on the number of times students can borrow a book. Refer to your syllabus for guidance of when you will need to rent out the book and plan accordingly.

If you need the textbook for longer than the time allowed, photocopying can be an option. But there are ethical dimensions to consider: When photocopying, do not go beyond a few pages. Never distribute these copies and profit from them (e.g. renting out the photocopies to your classmates). These copies must be for personal use only. Limit your copies to important lessons and jot down notes whenever possible.

If you can’t find the book you need in your campus library, try checking the local city and county libraries.


4. Shop from Amazon’s textbook category

Becoming a paid member at Amazon Prime or a similar online service is also a good way to save money on textbooks. Amazon has deals and promos exclusively for students accessible through an Amazon Prime Student membership. This student-oriented program is entirely different from the usual Amazon Prime offer. Members who join Prime Student can access a wide range of online resources and deals for six months, without charges. The 6-month trial comes with a free two-day shipping. For students who aim to save money on textbooks and other school-related expenses, a Prime Student membership is something to look forward to.

Membership gives you access to a large collection of electronic materials. You can also stream an unlimited number of songs and videos without advertisements, get unlimited photo storage through the Amazon Cloud Drive, download one Kindle book every month, access the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library where you can borrow books from other owners, and enjoy free one-hour delivery for select items and free same-day delivery (for eligible zip codes).


5. Buy used textbooks

Amazon and eBay have some of the biggest stocks of used college textbooks. Conditions vary from “very good” to “acceptable.” If you prefer a textbook, which looks brand new for research or note-taking purposes, then go through titles classified under “very good” or “like new” condition. If budget is the top consideration, then used textbooks with “acceptable” condition are your best bet.

You can also check out local textbook sellers through Craigslist and other online classifieds. While you are spared from paying shipping fees, the downside is that there is no guarantee of getting a book, which matches your preferred condition. eCampus is also a nice place for buying used textbooks – a good alternative to Craigslist and online bookstores. However, if you really want to find the best bargain across the Internet, search your textbook’s ISBN number along with the word “used” to see a full list of options.

The edges may be a bit frayed, but the good news is that item only costs a fraction of its brand new price.


6. Buy an earlier edition

Being able to save money on textbooks means you have to be more practical about your choices. If there is no need to buy the latest edition of a required textbook, then settle for an older version instead. In most cases, you can ask your professor if a different version of a textbook will work. The differences between an older edition and the latest one are not that big. Aside from the cover design, graphics and a few updates, you will hardly see any difference. Older versions are relatively much cheaper than the latest edition, giving you more opportunities for saving money.

The ISBN number plays a huge role in your textbook purchases. Knowing the ISBN number will help you buy the correct version of an older textbook. Different textbook editions have different ISBN numbers. A paperback edition will also have a different ISBN number from a hard cover edition. Before buying, have a clear idea of what edition you want to get, find out that edition’s ISBN number and use it whenever you are ready to make a purchase.


7. Use social media connections to find deals on books

Resourceful students make use of social media to connect with seniors and friends of friends to help them acquire older textbooks at a lesser price. You can also save money on textbooks by trading or striking a deal with other students at your school’s online marketplace. If not available, university Twitter and Facebook pages can be good venues for plugging your textbook concerns. If your university website has an online forum where students interact regularly, you can start a thread about buying older textbooks or trading some of your books for a used copy.

The rest of the community may wonder why you were posting such a thread. Highlight the fact that you want to save money on textbooks. Students in a similar situation may even join your cause and offer good suggestions.


Glasses on a book

8. Share textbooks with your classmates

Work with your friends, roommates, or even people in your classes to share a textbook. You can do this by splitting the cost of purchasing the book.  Sometimes your friends may have already bought the book and is nice enough to let you borrow it for free. This saving option is practical and gives you an easier time handling your budget. There is a downside though: It can be inconvenient sharing a single textbook with several people, especially if there is a big test coming up. But the savings may be worth a little bit of extra effort of scheduling your study time. On average, students spend $1,000 every year just to purchase textbooks. Add this to a $17,000 annual tuition fee, then it makes sense to split textbook costs whenever the opportunity presents itself.

To make things easier, set a schedule for textbook co-owners. You’ll have to take turns studying.  If you have the same class together, you can sit together during lessons and organizing group studies. Participants will not only share a single textbook, but they will also engage in meaningful discussions and contribute ideas.


9. Rent online

Another way to save money on textbooks is to rent. Students can now rent college textbooks online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookRenter, Chegg and ValoreBooks, to name a few. Shipping charges differ per site. Take time to compare prices and shipping rates to get the right bargain. After carefully considering your choices, pick the site whose rental fees are in line with your budget. A psychology textbook, for instance, will have different base prices at different sites. Rental fees for a Psychology 11th edition textbook by David Myers (ISBN-13: 9781464140815) range from $26.48 to $49.95 at Amazon. Other websites offer similar rental prices, but slightly higher by a few cents or dollars.

Be mindful of rental policies. Corresponding penalties apply for books that are not returned on time. Most online textbook rentals have a grace period of 15 days. If you fail to return a book within this time frame, you may end up paying the entire purchase price. For this reason some, students avoid renting textbooks online.


10. Get electronic versions

Purchasing a digital version of a book can help you save a little money. One of the advantages of electronic textbooks is that you don’t have the weight of carrying them around a large campus. You may need to charge your electronic reader from time to time, but on the whole, e-books are friendly to the environment.

Though cheaper than hard copies, some e-books come with a set of restrictions. Usage may expire and there are limits to the number of pages you can print. Take for instance this accounting textbook – Fundamentals of Financial Accounting, 5th Edition (ISBN-13: 9780078025914) – priced at $136.99 if bought brand new, shipping not included. An electronic copy of the textbook is only $103.75, good for 60 days, which helps you save more than $30. Despite the limitations, students can still save money on textbooks by buying the electronic version instead. This is a good option for students who don’t like to deal with selling their textbooks at the end of the semester. Read the terms and conditions before making a purchase.


Baylor University Bookstore

11. Check your campus for rental or buy-back programs

The answer to your textbook dilemma can sometimes be found within your university or college. Everyone knows just how costly textbooks are at present. Some schools are not turning a blind eye to this problem and are doing what they can to make things easier for their students. Some state universities are already taking steps to help students save money on textbooks.

Professors have designed courses that do not require expensive textbooks. Universities and colleges are also offering low-cost solutions to financially challenged students through rentals, buy-back programs and electronic materials. You can check with your professors or university staff for available saving options.


12. Sell your textbooks at the end of the semester

If your goal is not just to save money on textbooks, but also to get some money back, then you have the discretion to sell your college textbooks after you no longer need them. First, go through the textbooks you own. Next, go through course outlines for the next few semesters to separate textbooks that you can still use from those eligible for selling. When in doubt, consult professors, seniors or faculty staff. Selling your textbook helps you get back at least a portion of your initial expense.

If you are not sure where to sell them, then do some research. Some of the best websites for selling textbooks are Amazon and eBay. Should you find it bothersome to list down your textbooks one by one and pay for shipping fees, a better option is to sell your textbooks to websites that buy them. Amazon will give you a gift card in exchange for a textbook while sites will pay you in dollars. These websites offer competitive rates, but if you want a more convenient method, then you can sell your books back to the campus bookstore. However, the most campus bookstores won’t give you that much money for your book.

Selling textbooks through Amazon or eBay is not that difficult if you already have an account in place. You will not be charged for the books you sell. Unfortunately, you will have to deal with price cuts (around 13 percent of your textbook’s original selling price) plus other nominal charges. If you choose to sell through any of these websites, make sure you have read the terms and conditions thoroughly.


13. Apply for a tax credit

Did you know that you, and even your parents, can receive a tax credit for textbook expenses? The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) will shoulder up to $2,500 for college costs – tuition, textbooks, supplementary materials, miscellaneous fees – charged to personal funds. Single filers must have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $90,000 below to qualify for a tax cut. Tax credits can also be granted to married couples filing jointly with an AGI of not more than $180,000.

If you or your parents meet the qualifications set by the AOTC, then you will have an easier time applying for a tax credit. AOTC has other eligibility requirements you may want to take note of:

  • Students should be taking up a degree or a similar type of education
  • Students must have at least one academic period at the start of the tax season
  • Students should not have completed four years of higher education at the start of the tax season
  • Students should not have claimed an AOTC or former Hope credit over the last four tax years
  • Students should not be convicted of any crime when the tax year closes


Now that you know how to save money on textbooks, come up with a concrete plan and set it into motion. Opportunities to reduce school expenses are abundant but not many students are aware of them. For students who know where to look, however, no financial problem can ever be too great.

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