It’s a truth any college student or parent knows: textbooks are expensive. In fact, next to tuition and housing, textbooks are your third-highest expense! CollegeBoard.org estimates students spent between $1,230 and $1,390 for the 2016-2017 school year on books alone. Add that to the rising cost of tuition and other college expenses, it’s no wonder so many students live off of ramen noodles for much of the semester! However, one should never have to settle for subpar nutrition in favor of overpriced reading materials. Here are several tips to help students and their parents save much-need cash on textbooks.
Rent instead of buying. Unless you think you’ll reference a textbook extensively for the rest of your days, chances are you can get by with having it just one semester. This is why it’s a smart move to rent rather than purchase your textbooks. Often, you’ll find prices up to 80-percent less than the price of a new book. Sites like Chegg and TextbookX have a variety of popular course textbooks for rent and show you what you’re saving compared to buying books. You can also use the online marketplace BigWords.com to compare rental and purchase prices for textbooks from popular online stores. Amazon also offers textbook rentals and allows you to specify your borrowing period, so you can keep the book for as many semesters as you need. Amazon also takes care of the return-shipping fee which you’ll appreciate when it’s time to send it back!
Use coupons. As with any savings method, coupons are your trusty friend. If you’re buying at your college bookstore, ask the front desk about available coupons. Campus organizations often distribute coupon books to students before the semester begins, and many bookstores keep a stash at checkout for student use. If you’re shopping online for new or used books, or even book rentals, visit a site like CouponSherpa.com for promo codes to Chegg, Textbooks.com, TextbookRentals.com and other booksellers for additional savings. Discounts range from 5 percent to up to 20 percent, and you can often find deals for free shipping or free return shipping.
Buy older editions. Though you should always check with your professor for course specifics, often times you can get away with an older edition of the textbook. According to a 2014 article in TIME, even one edition prior to the latest text can save students up to 70-percent. Before you buy a prior-edition book, identify how old the book actually is and make sure the information covered in your course will coincide with the edition you have. The main drawback to using prior-edition texts is the page numbers are often different and won’t line up with your syllabus assignments. That means more digging for you! The key is to make sure you and the professor are on the same page relative to content (since being on the literal same page is not necessary in this case!).
Buy international editions. Many textbook companies produce their material for other countries at significantly lower prices. This is due to economic conditions, average pricing and demand in foreign countries, but could mean significant savings for Americans. On average, American textbooks are priced higher, though their international counterparts are nearly identical, save for cover graphics and other minor details.
Think you have to travel to another country to obtain them? Fear not, many online textbook retailers including Abe Books and Textbook Rush have a section specifically for international books, and offer money-back guarantees if they’re not suitable. What’s more, both these sites will buy back the editions when you’re done with them. Campus bookstores, on the other hand, will not buy back international editions from students; however, the books are priced so competitively that some students end up spending less on international editions compared to buying, and then re-selling, editions from the U.S.
Borrow a book. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a friend or sibling who took the same course as you and still has their book. If you’re not blessed with such an acquaintance, you can join campus Facebook groups or message boards to see if anyone might be willing to let you borrow a book. If you do find someone willing to lend you their copy, remember to return the favor to someone else by lending textbooks you purchase and no longer need. Another option is to see if your school library has a copy of the book on file, though typically these copies get checked out pretty quickly and you might not be able to keep them during the entire semester. Also check sites like OnCampusBookTrade.com for trade or buy options.
Share a book. If you and a friend or roommate happen to be taking the same course at the same time or during different semesters, why not share your textbook? You can split the initial cost and each take turns with the text or have study sessions. Though this method can get tough if you both need the book at the same time, mapping out your homework and studying schedules can result in major savings in the long run.
Go digital. According to an article from the Los Angeles Times, 92 percent of students still prefer print books to digital ones. However, those who opt for digital versions might encounter major savings! With all the portable devices available these days, there are so many resources for books in just about every format. Amazon Kindle offers textbook rentals, Google Books has a wide selection of texts, and sites like Chegg even let you rent single chapters. Put your screens to good use and shop for tablet or laptop-compatible texts. While you can’t mark directly on the text like you would with a hardcopy, many tablets offer tools for digital highlighting, underlining and bookmarking so you can easily refer back to important passages.
Find free texts online. This tip applies to a limited number of students, but it’s still worth noting: sites like Project Gutenberg and The Literature Network offer free access to thousands of books which can be used in place of physical texts. These sites mostly cater to literature students since their inventories are largely composed of novels. If you come across free digital versions of the textbook you need, it’s likely one of those “too good to be true” moments: many digital textbooks available for free are uploaded illegally. Stay away from these sources and opt to rent your digital texts instead.
Apply for scholarships. Though not all scholarships cover the cost of books and materials, you can find ones that do with a little research. Visit CollegeScholarships.org to find available programs and be sure to note the deadlines. Though every scholarship has different application requirements, frequently you’ll be required to sign up for a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or be registered for a particular program. Select retailers also offer book-specific scholarships, like Barnes and Noble, who rewards as much as $500 towards books for select campuses. Like most scholarships, these awards are limited in quantity and very high in demand, so the sooner you find them and apply, the better!