Going to college can be very expensive. On top of tuition and fees, room and board, and transportation, students spend hundreds of dollars each year on textbooks. The average college student can expect to spend approximately $1240 each year on books and other supplies -- an average of $535 per semester. Especially for many who are managing finances alone for the first time, this cost may be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are lots of great resources that you can use to save hundreds of dollars on the textbooks you need.
Most students are directed to the on-campus bookstore to purchase the textbooks that they need. The problem is that this is probably the most expensive place to buy textbooks. Many students do not realize that there are alternative ways to find affordable (and free) textbooks online.
There is nothing more frustrating than spending $200 on a textbook that sits on a shelf and barely gets used during the semester. In some cases, professors develop their own materials that they prefer to leverage during the course. This allows them to tailor the lectures to their teaching style or specific focus of the course. Despite this, many universities require professors to select an official textbook whether they intend to use it or not. Before making a purchase, ask the professor if you will even need or use the textbook. You might get lucky enough to avoid the expense altogether.
Publishers are regularly making updates to their textbooks and releasing new editions. These changes are typically minor and do not greatly affect the content. Ask your professor if an older edition will suffice. If your professor agrees, you might be able to get the 7th edition for a 90 percent discount compared to the latest 8th edition.
A word of caution, the page numbers in older editions may vary slightly due to added or deleted content. If your professor assigns homework like a reading assignment or another exercise, you should confirm that you have the correct page numbers for the edition you purchased.
There is an ongoing debate about the economics of renting vs buying textbooks. Renting can easily be cheaper than buying the book outright, however, some students have found buying more economical when they can resell the book to recover most/all of the original cost. Whether renting or buying, your savings are contingent upon shopping for a better price. Your campus bookstore is not the only resource for textbook rentals. Retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer competitive textbook rental rates that may be more effective than buying and reselling your book.
Publishers oftentimes create variations of their textbooks for international markets. The content in these textbooks is usually exactly the same. The primary difference is that the books are normally produced using cheaper materials such as paperback versus hardback or black and white print versus full color. Because of this, international editions can be purchased for about half the price of a domestically printed textbook. It may take a little bit of research to track down the international edition since the ISBN will be different. Online retailers understand this and will sometimes list the original textbook’s ISBN in the product description to help you find them easier.
If you do need to buy the current textbook edition, the best option is to purchase it used from another student. While the campus bookstore may have used versions, they are often overpriced compared to private sellers. If you know someone who recently completed the course, you can offer to buy it from them. This is a great option since you do not have to pay shipping charges. If you can not find a local seller, there are great online retailers to buy used textbooks such as bookfinder.com, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Amazon, and eBay.
Some universities provide free access to certain textbooks. Open access textbooks are licensed under a special agreement with the publisher to provide free or discounted access to students and members of faculty. These textbooks typically come in an ebook format, but low-cost printed versions are occasionally made available. Be sure to ask your professor if there is an open-access version of your course textbook. You can also check out COM Library which has a comprehensive list of various websites with open-access textbooks.
Unless your textbook is a solid reference guide for your chosen field, it is highly unlikely that you will open it again after the course ends. With this in mind, you should plan to sell your textbook to someone else. This allows you to recoup some of your expenses and also help another student secure a discounted textbook.
Remember that once a new edition is released, your textbook will lose most of its value. The sooner you sell your textbook, the better your chance of getting the highest selling price. Other students in your class will likely have the same idea. For best results, try to lock down a buyer a week or two before the end of the semester.
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