The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money on Textbooks

It’s a given that tuition bills will trigger sticker-shock, but the cost of a semester’s worth of college textbooks can have the same effect. In June 2015, the American Enterprise Institute reported that the price of post-secondary textbooks had risen 945 percent since 1978. At some schools, a single new textbook could set you back $400.

As education expenses continue to climb, cost-conscious students looking for budget-trimming tricks should consider textbooks a major line-item expense that can be reduced with a little extra time and effort.

A decade ago, students had little choice but to pop into the campus bookstore to buy their books, feeling victorious if they elbowed their way to a used, discounted copy of “The Norton Anthology of English Literature.” Today’s college student, however, has more textbook-procurement choices. Students can:

  • Rent books from the campus bookstore or an online site
  • Buy new or used books from an online bookseller
  • Utilize Craigslist, eBay or Amazon
  • Use an eBook version for selected titles

In recent years, textbook rentals have become popular. Although the initial cash outlay is less with book rentals compared to new-book purchases, is renting always the smartest approach? Before taking the book-rental plunge, keep in mind that you might not meet the requirements for return if you make excessive notes and highlights or damage the book. Be sure you know the terms of the agreement, look for any hidden fees and find out the penalty for losing a book. Also, consider the rental terms — will you have to return the book before your semester ends?

Remember, if you buy a book, then sell it back to the bookstore (or peddle it online) after the semester ends, you will get some money back. With a book rental, you get nothing (though you will save money on the front-end of the deal). You also don’t have to acquire all your textbooks the same way. Consider rental on a case-by-case basis.

To find out more about book rental vs. buying, let’s do a comparison*. Say you need “Understandable Statistics: Concepts and Methods” (11th ed.) by Charles Henry Brase and Corrinne Pellillo Brase. An Internet search reveals that a new version of the book goes for $135.00 - $323.07 on Amazon. You can also purchase a used version for $134.93 - $600.00 (with free shipping!) Renting the book from Amazon until December 18 will set you back $26.38 - $27.17, though that may not get you all the way through your semester. They also throw in free return shipping. One option Amazon offers is to try the eTextbook for free for seven days. Renting the eTextbook costs a minimum of $66.49, but the price goes up the longer you want to keep your access to the book. You can also buy the eTextbook version for $190.99

Barnes & Noble sells it new for $229.11, sells it used for $173.21, and offers a 130-day rental for $41.64. You can buy it new from eCampus.com for $244.49. Chegg.com sells the book new for $199.49 and used for $157.99. They will also rent you the textbook until December 18 for $26.49. If you go the eTextbook route, you can rent it for 180 days for $81.99. BookRenter.com offers a 125-day rental for $89.69. Given these facts, you decide to rent it from Barnes & Noble for $41.64, figuring you have saved at least $93.29 over buying it new from Amazon.

In this case, renting the book — provided you are able to return it with no additional “use” fees — saves money.

A little comparison shopping might help you find even better options. Try searching a site like book.ly. Through book.ly, you will find the best price for a used version of the textbook at alibris.com for $87.99 plus $4.96 for shipping. Though paying $92.95 for a textbook is certainly a good deal, you may be able to do even better.

Consider the book’s resale value. If you enter the book’s ISBN into BookByte, you will find that the site offers a buyback deal of $89.50 for this volume. If you buy the book used from Alibris, then sell it back to BookByte, you can see that the book will cost you $3.45 for the semester.

This is clearly a better deal. But before you go buying all of your textbooks used, keep in mind that you might not always come out so well. Sometimes, a publisher will issue a new edition, lowering the buyback rate of your book. Or, buyback sites could be well-stocked with your volume and not offer a buyback. In this case, you could still sell it yourself on Craigslist or eBay.

To get the best deals on rentals or purchases, write down the ISBNs for the books you need, then shop online.

Still, there are other options to consider. If you’re needing literature classics for a class, try Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org) to get those books for free.

Like most big purchases in life, a little comparison shopping goes a long way. It may be tedious at times, but rewarding in the end when you find the best, budget-friendly deal.

*Comparison conducted in August 2015. Prices may have changed since then.

Higher Education, Classes

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