How to Save Money on College Textbooks
If you’re taking college courses, then you may already know how high textbook prices can be. In fact, depending on the classes you’re taking, the textbooks can cost just as much as the tuition at a community college. The good news: there are ways to save money on textbooks that can help you make the most of your budget.
1. Make sure that the professor is actually going to use the books that are assigned for the course. For courses like science or math, there will often be just one standard textbook for the class, but for other courses where more reading is required (like history or English literature), there may be as many as 8 to 10 books assigned. If you can, talk to the professor or other students who have taken the course before to find out if all of these will be used in the course before spending money on them. Some professors also list “suggested” texts, so it’s a good idea to check before purchasing all of the books listed for the course to make sure you’re really going to need each book.
2. An important piece of information you’ll need to have before you go shopping is the book’s ISBN number, which is a unique identifier for every book. That way you’ll be sure to get the exact textbook you need for the course, rather than an earlier edition or a workbook instead of the actual textbook.
3. Look for used books at the campus bookstore. These are often available at a substantial discount over new books. Check the book thoroughly before you buy, though, to be sure all the pages are there and to see how marked up they are. The previous owner may have had a heavy hand with the highlighter or could have written lots of notes in the margins – or all over the text. That could be either helpful or distracting, depending on your style of studying.
4. Look at other bookstores for both new and used versions of the textbooks you need. Both Barnes & Noble and Amazon sell new textbooks, and there’s a decent chance either or both stores are selling the book you’re looking for at a price that’s lower than the campus bookstore is asking. Tip: Look at the savings that are possible by becoming a “member” at Barnes & Noble. The annual membership fee of $25 might be a small price to pay, since it entitles you to discounts on most books. Sometimes the discount on just one book is more than the membership fee. One recent example: an accounting textbook was $190 at the college bookstore, or $128 for Barnes & Noble members. Even including the $25 membership fee, that’s a savings of nearly $40 on the book.
5. Shop online for used versions of your textbooks. It’s important to be a savvy shopper when buying online, because there are scammers out there who are eager to part you from your money. Individuals and smaller bookstores sell new and used textbooks at BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com, as well as at sites like Half.com. You can often find the textbooks you’re looking for at a substantial discount off the list price. However, you do need to do your homework and check out the buyers before you make a purchase. On all 3 of these sites, check the seller’s feedback. This is information provided by others who have bought books and other merchandise from these sellers in the past. Take the time to read through some of the comments and look for clues. Are these buyers satisfied with the transaction? Are there repeated comments (either positive or negative) about how quickly a seller ships and how well they communicate? How do they address any problems that come up? You can also contact the seller in advance to ask a question about the book they have for sale. How they respond (and how quickly they do so) will give you an indication of what it will be like to do business with them. One thing to keep in mind when buying online: pay attention to what shipping service you’re getting. Media Mail is a common choice, and is generally pretty affordable for both the buyer and the seller. However, it’s also a slower service, so if you need a book for a class that starts next week, you may want to upgrade to a faster alternative like Priority Mail. Also beware of international editions, which are cheaper (and poorer quality) versions of textbooks that are intended for sale in foreign countries. It is generally illegal to sell these in the United States.
6. Finally, if you’re not going to use your textbooks again after the course is over, sell them. To get the most money, your best bet is to sell them yourself rather than selling them back to the campus bookstore. There you’re likely to get less than half what you paid for the textbooks, but if you sell them yourself at a site like Half.com or Amazon, you can probably get much more for them depending on their condition.
College textbooks can take a big bite out of your budget, but if you plan ahead and become a smart shopper, there are ways to stretch your dollar and still get the books you need to ace your courses.