As anyone who has set foot in a campus bookstore can tell you, a semester’s worth of textbooks can rack up a hefty bill. Fortunately, there are some strategies students can use to avoid paying full retail. Take a look at 11 ways to save money on these college staples.
1. CHECK WITH YOUR PROFESSOR.
A class syllabus will tell you what textbooks are required reading for a given class, but it may not tell you whether or not an earlier—and less expensive—version of a book is acceptable. Checking in with a professor or a teaching assistant to see if you can opt for an older installment could save you the expense of buying the most recent edition.
2. BUY USED.
There’s no real incentive to buy a brand-new copy of required course material when a used copy can be obtained at a significantly lower cost. While you can check your campus bookstore, your best bet for finding a used textbook at a discount price is to search online. A number of websites sell used textbooks; most will tell you what condition those books are in so you can be sure you’re getting one that’s in good shape. (Just make sure you’re getting the right edition!) There are even apps that will let you buy textbooks directly from other students.
3. GO PRICE-SHOPPING.
If you have to buy new textbooks because your required material isn’t available to buy used or rent, don’t jump on the first sale you see. The campus bookstore can be convenient, but it pays to shop around. Major book chains often have back-to-school book sales. Web browser extensions can also shop for titles and quickly give you information on the lowest prices. When you find the right price, make your purchase more rewarding by using a credit card that will generate cash back rewards for you, Discover it Student Cash Back card that will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year as a cardmember.*
4. DON’T FORGET YOUR LIBRARY.
Although you won’t be able to retrieve most textbooks from university or community libraries, you should be able to find ancillary titles—the novels you need for an English literature class, for example—at no cost. Since most libraries offer online renewals, it’s likely you’ll be able to keep the book for the duration of the course. If you can’t find a title, don’t forget to ask if the library can acquire it through an inter-library loan.
5. DON’T ASSUME YOU NEED TO BUY HARDCOVER TEXTBOOKS.
When shopping for textbooks, be sure to explore your options before you buy. Though they’re generally less durable than their hardcover counterparts, paperback textbooks are usually more economical—sometimes the paperback will carry as little as half the cost.
The same economic principle that drives paperback prices is also true for digital versions. With less overhead, companies can rent or sell e-books at a lower price point than their analog counterparts.
6. YOU CAN ALSO RENT YOUR BOOKS.
Renting textbooks has gained popularity in recent years, with services allowing customers to take out long-term loans of titles for a fee that might be half of what it costs to buy the book used. Just remember that books are expected to come back in good shape and there may be charges associated with damage. You can also rent electronic copies that immediately disappear from your device once the semester is over which means you don’t risk late fees on returning your rental.
7. SEARCH FOR TEXTBOOK SCHOLARSHIPS.
Several booksellers, universities, and other organizations sets aside funds for the express purpose of offering financial assistance toward the cost of textbooks. Check with your institution or search online for places that regularly award money or credit that can be used for titles. Military veterans may also be eligible for help with school supplies like books.
8. FIND AN ONLINE EXCHANGE GROUP.
Universities usually have plenty of active online hubs for socializing, studying, and exchanging tips and resources. Do some digging and you’re likely to find a group devoted to an aftermarket for textbooks. You’ll be able to post a want ad or see if you have a title someone else is looking for. Some students might want to trade, while others will accept a fair offer just to get a book off their hands.
9. CHECK BACK AFTER THE SCHOOL YEAR BEGINS.
The mad rush for textbooks usually begins in the summer. If you can wait, however, you might find a great deal a few weeks into the semester, especially if you won’t need some of the texts until later in the term. Students who have acquired expensive textbooks may wind up dropping the courses that require them. If that happens, they may want to get rid of the titles as quickly as possible, which can lead to a bargain for you.
When you’re a student, every dollar counts. With Discover’s Student Card, you can earn more cash back because they will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year as a card member, dollar for dollar.
*Learn more at Discover.