Personal Finance

How To Save Big On College Textbooks This Year

College has become increasingly expensive over the years, and the problem only seems to get worse. Not only do students have to cover the growing cost of tuition and fees, but then there are personal expenses, transportation, and room and board to pay for — often with the help of student loans.

Unfortunately, students often forget to plan for the cost of books and supplies, which can add up fast. According to figures from CollegeBoard, students should expect to spend approximately $1,298 per year on textbooks supplies when attending four-year public schools. Considering average tuition and fees at four-year colleges currently sits at $10,560 for the 2020-21 school year, that’s more than 10% in added college costs few people know to plan for.

Fortunately, you do have some control over how much you pay for college textbooks, as well as other types of supplies you need for school. Saving money on college textbooks does require some early planning and compromise, but the effort will be worth it.

Here are some of the best ways to save money on textbooks for the 2021-22 school year:

Check For Textbooks On Project Gutenberg

If your college major relies on basic texts that may be available via public access, then you should always check to see if you can access course materials or textbooks for free. Project Gutenberg is one such place to do just that. There is no fee or registration required to access more than 60,000 free ebooks, which you can download to a Kindle or read online.

Project Gutenberg features some of the world’s greatest literature, and they also feature older works where the U.S. copyright has expired. You can even use the website to search and browse textbooks and other works by author, title, subject, language, type, popularity, and more.

Buy Used Textbooks Online, Including International Editions

The absolute worst place to buy textbooks is usually your campus bookstore, unless you’re able to find used editions there. Either way, you should strive to find used college textbooks instead of buying new when you can.

There are plenty of places to buy used textbooks on the web, including current and older editions that may work just fine. Popular used textbook sites to check out include Chegg.com, Textbooks.com, CampusBooks.com, AbeBooks.com, and even Amazon.com. 

Also make sure to check for used textbooks you need on eBay.com!

Buy An Older Edition

Some academic subjects don’t change much from one year to the next, yet that doesn’t stop book publishers from creating new textbook editions for new students to buy every year. You can win this game and save big money if you’re willing to look for older editions of the books you need for class. Not only are you more likely to find a used version of an older edition, but a book that’s several years old will fetch a lower selling price to begin with.

Just make sure you compare both books (or ask your professor – many have sympathy on book prices) to ensure there aren’t any major differences in terms of subject matter covered. Most new editions feature the same general information with better graphics and different page numbers, but you’ll want to know for sure.

Rent Your Textbooks

Websites like Chegg.com and Amazon.com even let you rent college textbooks, which actually makes a lot of sense since you probably only need your book for one semester of your college experience. 

You can search Chegg by the author’s name, the title of the book, or the ISBN, and you get 21 days to return books if they’re not right for your course.

Compare Book Types (If Available)

Also make sure you’re comparing versions of each textbook to find the best deal. For example, you may pay less to rent a paperback version of the textbook you need, yet a digital version could come in at an even lower price point than that.

As an example, we looked at a Biology textbook on Amazon.com (Biology by Sylvia Mader, 13th Edition). You can rent or buy a hardcover version of the book from $39.71 to $121.32, but you could also rent a paperback for around $58. If you don’t mind reading your book on a mobile device or a Kindle, you could also get an e-textbook for $37 to $41. 

Check The Open Education Network

Also check for books you need on the Open Education Network, which provides a free library of textbooks anyone can use. The community behind this network focuses their efforts on sourcing academic textbooks that are openly licensed. The majority of books on the network are peer reviewed, and all are entirely free.

You can use the network to browse textbooks and subjects, and all books can be downloaded and distributed at no cost.

Share Textbooks With Classmates Or Friends

If you and some friends are taking the same courses, there is nothing in the rules that prevents you from sharing textbooks. You could share the same book in the same semester provided you’re willing to cooperate with one another, but you could also pair up with a friend and buy different textbooks to trade from one semester to the next.

This strategy can work well if you buy new textbooks and split the costs, but you’ll save even more if you can buy used versions of the books you need.

The Bottom Line

Like anything else you buy, it pays to shop around and compare your options when it comes to college textbooks. You may find the book you need on a used basis for a much lower cost, or that you can rent a book you only need for a semester instead of buying.

The best way to save on college textbooks is to avoid your school bookstore like the plague, and to start searching online for the books and supplies you’ll need for school. Buying used, renting, and searching for free versions of the materials your courses require can lead to big savings, but you’ll find the best selection of used books if you start your search as early as you can.

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