There are lots of college expenses outside of tuition and room and board, and textbooks are perhaps the most notoriously expensive. Despite their reputation, textbooks aren’t always so expensive. Publishers and campus bookstores are to blame for these high prices, so the easy way to get around them is to buy used, and not from your bookstore. Hunt around online for the cheapest textbooks, check out rental services, consider swapping your books with friends, and sell your books online—if you do these things, you’ll save a ton on buying college textbooks.
Don’t go to your campus bookstore!
Buying your textbooks from the campus bookstore is almost always a bad call. New books are too expensive, and though most bookstores sell used textbooks, the prices are far higher than on sites like CampusBooks or Chegg. Look into online retailers for huge savings, and be wary of your campus bookstore.
Renting College Textbooks
The cheapest way to get your textbooks is to rent them. Prices for rentals are strikingly low: an Intro to Economics textbook that was listed at the bookstore for $150 cost me only $50 through Chegg. The one downside of renting books is that you can’t keep them, but if you don’t mind that, renting is a no-brainer.
Online Textbook Retailers
CampusBooks.com is another great resource for finding cheap textbooks. The site searches through online retailers for the textbooks you need, and then displays options for either buying or renting them. It’s like a search engine for textbooks with a ‘buy now’ button. Amazon.com and Half.com are also great sites, for both buying and selling books.
Whenever you buy your textbooks, check out the return policy. This is the one area in which campus bookstores probably surpass online retailers: bookstores generally have longer return periods, and it’s easier to walk to the bookstore than to go find a FedEx store. You don’t want your course selections to be limited by return policies, either—I’ve had friends stuck in courses because they bought their books online, have passed the return deadline, and don’t want to waste the money they spent.
When will I need my books?
It’s good to get your textbooks right away, but if you don’t have them right at the start of the semester, it’s okay. Students constantly add and drop classes, and professors are generally forgiving if you don’t have the textbooks for the first week of classes or so. They understand the hassle and cost involved in the process, so most will give you some leeway. That doesn’t mean you should wait to order, though. Do that as soon as you know what books you’ll be using.
Should I sell my books back to the campus bookstore?
Nope. If you sell your books back to the campus bookstore, you’ll receive maybe 20% of what the book is worth. Put a little time into selling the books you don’t want to keep online, and your efforts will pay off.
I’ve had a lot of luck with selling college textbooks online, mainly through Amazon and Half.com. You can list your books right around the beginning of a semester, and because both demand for textbooks and traffic on these sites are so high, if your books are reasonably priced they should sell pretty quickly. Keep your books in as good condition as you can to make sure you can get the most money for them.
When you go to buy your textbooks, don’t be lazy. Just put a little time and effort into searching around and you could save hundreds of dollars.