Five Ways to Save Mo’ Money on Textbooks

College is freakin’ expensive, bro – aside from tuition, you’re expected to pay exorbitant sums for trivial, frivolous things like housing, food, clothes, deodorant, and toilet paper – all of this on top of the necessities you already need such as new scoreboards for your school’s football field and flatscreen TV’s for the dining centers. In this economic climate, being expected to pay for stuff like this is extreme, and yet we students have to pay for something else on top of it all: textbooks. We just can’t catch a break, can we?

Despite textbooks being dry, boring, heavy, made of paper, expensive, and useless approximately 52% of the time, I still recommend getting them. In my post about addressing constraints to student success, I asserted that students often shoot themselves in the foot – academically speaking – by not providing themselves with access to the information they need in order to succeed. Sure, you may not need your textbook most of the time; however, when it comes down to passing the classes you’re paying a bajillion dollars for, I think it’s worth making sure you have access to the information you need in order to, you know, not fail.

I realize this can be a hard recommendation for some of you to swallow; unless you can stand on your head and spit quarters all day, your financial reserves are probably pretty low after tuition and fees and all that crap rob you blind. That’s why you can’t afford to waltz willy-nilly into your campus bookstore and pay full price for all your books; it’s much better to use your noggin and find some cheaper sources of those paper monstrosities. Here are five tips for doing just that – I’m going to show you some cool and possibly unconventional ways of saving dough on your books.

Get Old Editions

In some classes – most notably, those in rapidly-changing fields – textbooks get refreshed often and you’ll need to get the latest edition just to keep up. Your introductory Econ class is not one of them. Neither are most of your math classes, english classes, introductory programming classes, and many others you’ll take during your college years. In fact, I’d say a good portion of your classes can be taken successfully with an old edition of the required textbook. Usually, new editions of textbooks will add only a sliver of new information, most of which will probably be covered in class anyway. Sometimes, new editions simply have different formatting or new pictures – they’re basically “different enough” to pass the standard set in order to call something “new”.

Not wanting to blindly risk getting a useless textbook? Ask your professor for the lowdown. Seriously, most professors are cool and want to help students save money; they’ll tell you if you really need the new edition of a book or not. Professors that say the old editions are cool can usually be trusted immediately; on the other hand, you might do well to ask a second opinion if they recommend the new one. More than once I’ve bought an old edition and breezed through a class that a professor recommended a new book for.

Rent Your Books, or Buy Them Used

New books are for sucks, just like lawyers. Unless you’re buying a book that was just published, or requires one of those stupid access cards that can only be activated once, you should either be renting or buying a used edition.

If you’re one who absolutely has to own your books, there are quite a few ways of getting your mitts on used editions. One of the easiest ways is to buy books from friends who have already taken the classes you’re going to be in; often, you’ll get the best prices from your buds (maybe you’ll even get them free). Your campus bookstore may also sell used editions, though they tend to run out quick and may not have the most competitive prices (go figure). My preferred method is to buy textbooks online from places like TextbooksR’us or Amazon.

Renting your textbooks can be an even cheaper option in some cases (not all, though). If you don’t care about owning your books after your class ends, try renting. While you probably won’t be able to utilize your friends for this option, most campus bookstores are starting to incorporate rental programs into their offerings. I can’t speak for every campus, but here at Iowa State, rental prices are actually pretty competitive and I’ve had a great experience renting here. If the books you need can’t be rented cheaply at your campus, though, you can always hit the internet. If you’re stuck on Amazon, note that you can only rent textbooks on the Kindle; however, sites like TextbooksR’us and Chegg have robust rental programs for physical books if the Kindle isn’t going to cut it.

When buying your books online, you should check the reputation of the seller. I’ve bought books from Amazon and TextbooksR’us in the past, and I can say that both are great (though you should check individual seller ratings on Amazon). When you’re looking for books, check the Reseller Rating for the site you’re using. This post was originally going to be sponsored by an online textbook seller, until I checked their rating and found it to be less than 1 out of 10! (After finding that out, I decided to just remove their name and keep writing the post) Do your homework and don’t get screwed.

Sell Your Old Books For Much-Needed Dough

Some textbooks will be useful to your for many years to come – especially the ones in your major. Other textbooks, however, are only good for the class you need them for; after that, you’ll probably never look at them again. They become a big-ass paper weight. Don’t let them sit around; sell them off!

Your campus bookstore will probably offer to buy back your books at the end of the semester, but I’d take that offer as a last resort. You can often get a lot more than what the bookstore would pay you by selling your books to people you know. Since the bookstore will buy your book for pennies on the dollar and then ramp up the price tenfold for the next buyer, you benefit both yourself and your friend by cutting out the middleman. Selling your Econ book for $20 to a buddy is a lot better than getting $5 for it and then having him go buy it used for $50. If you don’t have immediate access to friends who need your books, try posting on Craigslist or Zaarly and see if you get any interested buyers.

Start a Book Trading Club for Your Major

This is a novel idea that I’ve yet to see implemented at my own school, buy maybe you’ve seen it at yours. You know that people in your major will all use the same books; why not start a book trading club? There are many ways to go about doing this, and they’re all pretty easy. You could partner with the major’s official club at the school to do a “book trading night”, or you could simply start a Facebook group for people to post what they need or what they’re offering.

Note: if your campus bookstore gets pissed, don’t worry. This is a relevant image.

Buy a Single Book with Friends and Share It

Who says you need your own copy of the book? If you have a friend in your class that you see a lot, you can most likely get by with sharing a single book. This isn’t a new concept; I’ve noticed that a lot of the international students do this at my school. Why other students don’t do it more often is beyond me; in my experience, textbooks often aren’t needed very often and sharing works really well. I’m currently sharing my religion book with my girlfriend and have never needed it badly enough to warrant owning my own copy.

What money-saving textbook tips do you have?

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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Pamela Nguyen

I wrote a post similar to this a couple months ago. it’s not as well written as yours but it does have a lot to offer in addition to your tips! http://www.survivingcollege.com/2011/08/ways-to-save-money-with-books/

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