How to Save Money on College Textbooks

by on August 7, 2013

The College Board Advocacy and Policy Center estimates that college students spend $1,168 per year on textbooks. This staggering amount eats away at funds that can be used by students for fees, food, and other educational expenses. College students need not resort to ignoring required reading or dropping out of school entirely if textbook costs are too high. Using a few helpful resources, any student can cut back their college textbook budgets significantly before the next semester begins.

The Internet is filled with purveyors of college textbooks offering used versions of assigned readings. Amazon not only features used copies of novels and non-fiction works but a sizable textbook section. The company has a textbook buyback offer that keeps their selection of used textbooks current from semester to semester. Barnes and Noble operates a similar online operation with thousands of college textbooks available at significant discounts. An oft-overlooked source for inexpensive college textbooks is auction website eBay. Students trying to unload relatively new books feel that they can drive up prices through competitive auctions rather than selling to their bookstores. A college student can find a good deal by watching auctions for required textbooks and bidding when the price is relatively low.

A quick drive or stroll near a college campus reveals nearby sources for affordable college textbooks. The university bookstore is often stocked up not only on new textbooks but used copies to accommodate budget-conscious students. Used copies vanish quickly from the shelves so asking the bookstore when the next term’s books are on sale is a good idea. In college towns throughout the United States, there are unofficial textbook shops that stock used copies for the upcoming semester. These stores might be a bit more hit or miss but they usually stock used textbooks exclusively to attract business.

An important development in textbook publishing is the creation of digital copies of traditional books. Your professor might choose a textbook that has an affordable electronic version available for download. A novel or non-fiction book assigned for class should be available relatively cheap for the Barnes and Noble Nook, Amazon Kindle or Apple iPad. In a pinch, you might be able to use the Books feature on Google to find sections of textbooks assigned in class.

College students should also look to their friends and relatives when trying to save money on college textbooks. A student can consult with a roommate or neighboring students to swap books for general education courses where the textbooks don’t change often from semester to semester. This swap could include reviewing an older edition of a currently assigned textbook to determine if there is any meaningful difference in the material. Professors and departments often hold book sales from the collections of retiring professors, which could yield older books still used in the classroom. A final way to find free or heavily discounted textbooks is to scour Craigslist ads for cities with public universities. The diversity of public university courses could yield a treasure trove of affordable texts from outgoing students.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

stu dent August 10, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Good tips, I was just trying to figure this out myself.

I find that if i buy a book on off-season (times when all the other students aren\’t buying books) I can get a better deal. When people are selling their books at the end of the year thats the time to buy. I not only save money but I have time to read the books before I take the class.
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DaytonCPA September 30, 2013 at 8:52 am

Good tips here. The way I always saved money was to utilize the web or contacts throughout campus to buy and sell books. If I didn’t plan to keep a book I would sell it online to make money to buy my next books. That got me through most of my undergrad. They were way too expensive buying every single quarter.

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