How To Save Money On Textbooks

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While the college bookstore is tempting in all its shiny, fully stocked glory, it’s also generally the last place you want to go to buy textbooks. Even used textbooks at the bookstore typically will be sold at a higher markup than you’ll see online. And the new books often are more expensive there than anywhere else.

College students spend an average of $655 per year on textbooks, according to the National Association of College Stores. Even though this figure is down from two and four years ago from $667 and $702, respectively – it’s still a lot of money, especially for broke college students.

Depending on your major, your average book expense may be much more or much less than $655, Hefty textbooks used in math and science classes, for instance, tend to be more expensive than novels needed for literature classes. Still, no matter your course of study, you can apply some of these basic tips to save on college textbooks.

Average Cost of Textbooks

College textbooks constitute a considerable expense to students. While figures vary by school, The College Board estimates an average of $1,200 annually for books and supplies for students at 4-year public universities.

This amount includes electronic educational materials, coursepacks or other books and media that are required for courses, as well as blue books, binders, and other supplies. Instead of paying full price for your books, consider some of the options listed below to save money and still get the materials you need for class.

Money-Saving Ideas


Buy Used Books

Skip the high prices for new textbooks and look for used options. You can buy used books at your college bookstore, but it’s also possible to find good deals online.

You can also find older versions of your textbooks available for much less than the new books, which often come with a variety of supplementary material like workbooks, CDs, and videos. Most professors don’t use any of this supplementary material for their courses, but you can check with them first if you have concerns. If you’re ordering online, be sure and order in plenty of time so you’ll have the books when classes start.


Buy E-Books

Textbooks can be found in electronic form, and you’ll find that these versions are usually more affordable than the print option. These books are available through online sources or you can check with your college bookstore, which might be selling electronic versions. This is also an inexpensive way to read assigned fiction, poetry or biographies for your literature or other liberal arts courses. However, e-books can be difficult to navigate, making it hard to follow along in class.


Rent Textbooks

You can rent textbooks from your college bookstore or you can find several sources online that rent out textbooks. This can be a cheaper option than buying a book at the beginning of the semester and selling it back after finals. Keep in mind, though, that you won’t be able to highlight info in your book and you might need to return it in the original packaging.


Look For Open Source Textbooks

While not that common, you can also find open source textbooks available online. These materials operate under a license that allows them to be used for free. These materials can also be downloaded or used on your e-book or in other formats. You’ll need to check with your instructors to see if the assigned textbook is available as an open source. Books that are no longer copyrighted, such as classics for your English courses, are also available for free.


Buy Books From Other Students

Buying college textbooks books from other students may be able to save you several dollars. You can find a variety of websites that allow students to sell their books directly to other students. You can also check with your friends to see if they have books you can buy or find sale postings online or on campus.

Emily Wilson

Emily Wilson is 3rd-year University student at Brigham Young University and  Financial Writer for University Magazine and Edmonton Gazette