Cheap College Textbooks

Finding cheap college textbooks helped our family save hundreds of dollar this year, so I asked my thrifty college student if she would share some of her tips for saving money on the over-priced, yet much needed, college textbook. So, without further ado...

Aside from college tuition, college textbooks are one of the most expensive investments that almost every college student makes.

Typically, on a college's "tuitions and costs" section on their website, textbooks are often factored in to the entire cost of the year.

Most colleges suggest for you to set aside anywhere from $400 to $800, and hopefully you just re-read that to ask yourself if they are really worth that much money per semester.

They aren't.

I cannot tell you how many times "last minute" problems have come up with my friends and fellow college students causing them to make an expensive decision regarding textbooks; problems that can be remedied with several other - cheaper - solutions, ones that I have discovered both before leaving for college and during the school year.

Plan Ahead

I know. If your mom is anything like mine, her very nature makes you plan ahead. In the moment, it seems like a huge vice, but looking back it's one of the best things that she's done for me.

Once you've registered for classes, look through the syllabi and see what books your professors will be drawing from.

Some of my professors, upon registration, emailed me with the required reading list. Others posted their list on the student portal where you can access it by clicking on your class and then the "content" tab. From these sources, you can compile a pretty accurate list of all the college textbooks that you will need to have access to.

Planning ahead won't work for every class. My first semester, I was registered for my university required math class (trust me, I wouldn't be taking it otherwise). Midway through July, I realized that the class I was in had no professor, no syllabus, no textbooks. This would be the best math class I've ever taken. (Surely it would top my homeschool geometry class, and most definitely algebra 2.)

However, thirty-six hours before my first class, I received an email from a newly-hired math professor with a fully comprehensive syllabus and textbook list. There's no minute like the last one in which your dreams can be crushed!

Buy Used

There are many websites that sell used or cheap college textbooks – most of the time at a considerably discounted price than the campus store or online through the university.

My mom and I used a collection of several different websites to find cheap college textbooks: half.com, amazon, alibris.com, abebooks.com, and bookbyte.com.

By using these websites, we managed to turn what would be an almost $600 bill into a manageable 130 dollars! Pretty cool savings, huh? :)

One note about editions. One of the books I needed for my "Politics in the US" class cost $92. I found a used copy at Half.com for 12 cents. Yes, you read that right, 12 cents! However, it was the previous year's edition. Since I was low in cash, I decided to go ahead and buy it - I mean how much could they really change from one edition to the next? When I arrived at my first class, I asked to borrow a friend's book, just to see how different it was. Flipping through it, I saw that the page numbers were off, but only because the new edition had color pictures and graphs instead of black and white. I went through the entire class with no difficulty at all.  

Do Your Research

When buying cheap college textbooks, it's very important to do your research before you buy. Not only could you be ripped off, but some textbooks come with an individual password or key code for an online component.

The problem with this is these codes are not reusable. See if your professor uses the online component first. If he doesn't, then it's ok to buy the book used.

This doesn't always work out. I took an economics course my freshman semester that required both the current textbook and an online component. The online component was to be used to complete and turn in my homework. The whole package cost $300+ in total if I were to buy it new. However, doing a little research cut our bill down considerably. We ended up renting my book from bookbyte.com for $36.91 - a savings of $160.84!

While this option eliminates the money that you could receive from reselling, it was the cheapest option since it was a newly-published book. We found an unused passcode for $68.85, on alibris.com - and considerably cheaper ($200 cheaper!) than if we had bought it new and packaged together.

As you get better at saving money, you'll find more ways to cut costs; you'll also find additional sources for cheap college textbooks. My second semester, I discovered a couple cost-cutting secrets, and managed to spend no money at all on my college textbooks, thankfully.

Michaela Gneco attends American University's School of Public Affairs, in Washington, DC where she is working on a multi-faceted degree in Communications, Law, Economics, and Government, with a minor in Spanish. She is a former homeschool graduate who loves to save money, and help others save money too. One of her goals is to complete her college education debt-free and without any loans.

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