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College Textbooks: Money-Saving Tips

Last updated: 1/21/2016

Being a smart consumer could save you hundreds of dollars every year.  Follow these tips to save on textbooks!

Here's the information you'll need to make sure you get the right book:
• The ISBN, which is a unique number that goes to each book
• Title, Author, Publisher & Edition
• Any supplements included, and if they are required (ask your prof)

1. Shop for used and new books online
Shopping online gives you a greater selection, which usually means lower prices. Search by ISBN to make sure you get the right book, but also search by title, author, etc. to find unbundled versions and older editions. Just make sure your prof is OK with that first.
There is a ton of textbook retailers online, so a simple search will give you plenty of options. Here are some places to get started:
• New textbooks: Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or AbeBooks.com.
• Used textbooks: Half.com, Textbooks.com, or eCampus.com.
• Price comparison: CampusBooks.com, BigWords.com or AllBookstores.com.

Remember to leave time for shipping, because it can take a while.
 
2. Rent textbooks on campus or online
Renting textbooks is probably your best bet if you don't plan to keep the book at the end of the term. Some schools offer local rental programs, but don't worry if yours doesn't - you can rent textbooks online.

• Textbook rental sites: Chegg.com, BookRenter.com, or CampusBookRentals.com
It works similar to Netflix - they send you the book, and you drop it in the mail when you're done. The differences are that you select how long you want it, and you pay up front. You can even choose to buy the book at the end of the term. Just keep in mind that rental companies usually require you to keep a credit card on file so they can charge fees.

Tip: Rental prices are highly variable between textbooks, so don't jump to conclusions.
 
3. Swap books with other students
Save money by cutting out the middle-man--find other students who have your book! With common classes, you can often find books by just asking around. Here are some other ideas if that doesn't work:
• Check out other student-to-student swapping websites.
• Try searching for postings on Facebook or Craigslist.
 
4. Buy e-textbook subscriptions
Don't mind reading on a computer screen? Don't plan to keep the book? Then check for digital versions of your textbook on CourseSmart.com (which was founded by the 5 largest textbook publishers). You can highlight, annotate and bookmark them just like traditional books, and CouseSmart has most common titles.
Be careful! Our Student PIRG study on digital textbooks found that e-textbooks had major drawbacks for a lot of students. Before you buy, here's what you need to know about e-textbooks:
• E-textbooks are sold at 50% of the print retail price, which isn't always a good deal. Just make sure to do the math vs. renting or buying a used copy that you can sell back.
• E-textbooks expire after a set period, usually 180 days, so think of them as "digital rentals."
• You get two format choices: read online only or download to one computer (you can't have both).
 
5. Compare with the bookstore
If you're buying books last minute, you may not have much of a choice. But even if you have other options, make sure to see what the bookstores has to offer. Here are some basic bookstore numbers to keep in mind:
• Used books are typically 75% of the new price - we've found this to be higher than online prices, but more consistent.
• If a book is being used again next term, the bookstore will usually buy it back for 50% of the new price.
• If the bookstore doesn't know whether the book is being used again next semester, they will buy books back for 10-30% of the new price... sometimes less.
Also, don't forget to look in off-campus bookstores! Most schools will have local alternatives to the campus bookstore
 
6. If you're really stuck...
If you can't find your textbook at a price you can afford, don't give up on doing well in the class. Here are some ideas:
• Check the library. Some schools put copies of textbooks on reserve, and if you're lucky, you might get to check out a copy.
• Ask your prof to borrow a copy. Most professors receive at least one sample copy of the textbook.
• Buy an older edition (which are usually dirt cheap) and get the new book's page numbers and workbook questions from a friend.

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