Back to School: Saving on College Textbooks
Heading into the fall semester, many new college students and their families may be shocked by the prices of textbooks, which generally range from $50-$200+. Some community college students may even find they’re spending more on books than tuition. (See also: 40+ College Resources for Parents and Students)
Inflation on college textbooks is nothing new; the United States’ Government Accountability Office has been studying this trend for years. On average, the GAO reports, the cost of textbooks increases approximately 6% per year. In between December of 1986 and December of 2004, the cost of textbooks tripled.
This news is devastating for those who can barely afford the ever-increasing rates of college tuition, let alone the books that accompany the courses. If you don’t want to be on the hook for hundreds of dollars of textbooks each semester, check out the following techniques to help you keep costs down.
A relatively new concept in recent years is textbook rentals. This option has its pluses and minuses. For one, you can usually rent a hard-copy book at a significantly lower price than if you had bought it outright, and you’re not stuck with a textbook you’ll never read again after the semester is over. On the other hand, buying a used textbook might be more cost-effective than renting in some circumstances, and if you miss the turn-in date, the fines you pay are steep.
An alternative to renting hard-copy textbooks is digital rentals. Since there are no paper and ink costs, these are generally much cheaper and easier to carry around (on your tablet or laptop) than a heavy textbook.
If you’re looking to buy books, don’t immediately jump on your college bookstore’s bandwagon without doing a little research first. Online sites such as Chegg, Amazon, Powell’s Books, and Textbooks.com offer new and used books for sale (and some offer rentals), sometimes at much lower prices than what you’d find in your college bookstore. Case in point — I recently found a book I need for a psychology class for less than $5 on one of these sites, while my college’s online bookstore priced the exact same book at $45!
Buying a textbook without comparing prices from other stores or websites is like buying a new car at sticker price. Don’t get caught in this trap!
If you’re looking to sell last semester’s textbooks, check out BookScouter for the best comparison service. Just type in the title or ISBN number, and BookScouter will show you a comprehensive list of all the sites that are buying your book and how much they’re paying. Selling books, although not a full return on investment, is a great way to cut down on the cost of books for next semester.
If you’re taking a class with a friend or colleague, consider splitting the cost of the textbook(s) and sharing the book throughout the semester. Or, if your friend already took the class, ask if you can buy or borrow the book at a discounted price.
School Bulletin Board
These aren’t just for club announcements; with permission obtained from the school, some people sell their textbooks by posting for-sale signs with phone number clippings at the bottom. These aren’t always the lowest prices, but call them up and see if they’re willing to haggle.
Sometimes, textbooks are legally available online for free. Check Google Books or other credible sites before purchasing your textbooks; you may find that you don’t need to buy or rent the book after all.
As with Google Books, the library is a great resource when it comes to finding textbooks without the exorbitant cost attached. Contact your professor or the library itself to see if there are any copies of the current or older editions of the textbook set aside for students.
What about you? Do you know any clever ways to save money on textbooks? Tell us in the comments below.