Smart Ways to Save on College Textbooks

Don’t overpay for your next semester’s college textbooks
piggy bank next to a stack of textbooksPurchasing textbooks is one of the highest recurring costs of attending college, with prices consistently rising. Consumer Reports contributor Beth Braverman cites a report from the Student Public Interest Research Group published in 2016, which showed a 78 percent increase in the cost of college textbooks over the last 10 years.

However, there are a few good ways to avoid the high expense at the start of each semester.

Avoid the bookstore
The first place that a student would be tempted to go for their books is certainly the university bookstore. But from a financial point of view, consumer expert Clark Howard says that the bookstore is the last place they should go, as even used books are typically sold at a high markup thanks to the store’s convenience.

Clark Howard does, however, point out that there is an exception if the professor requires the use of a custom-printed and -bound companion book for their class, which won’t be available anywhere else.

Shop around
As with many other items, the best way to find the best price on college textbooks is to do research. According to Braverman, most often the best price for a new book can be found online, although there are other options to consider. If a book won’t be needed after the end of the class and isn’t likely to be marked or damaged, then renting the book may be a good option. Alternatively, e-books are often offered at prices similar to paperback copies, though are often limited in the number of devices they can be accessed on.

Braverman also encourages buyers to consider what may happen once the class ends. If a new edition will be coming next year, then the value of the current version will drop considerably when it comes time to sell it.

Wait to buy
Clark Howard advises students to wait until after the first class to buy a book, stating: “Some college professors are just as fed up with the rising cost of textbooks as their students.” Some professors may only be using certain parts of the text and are willing to offer other, less expensive options.

This may seem to be a risk, but typically first days in class are devoted to syllabi and course expectations, which would give the student information which may be crucial to the textbook shopping problem. For example, it is possible that an older edition of the text could be perfectly sufficient for the class, and available for a much-discounted price.

Check the library
Finally, both Clark Howard and Beth Braverman agree on one other option: checking to see if the required book is available at the library. This does have one caveat, though—this method will probably only work for more common texts. Clark Howard adds that this method favors texts for liberal arts courses, particularly literature classes that use classic novels in their course materials. Beyond that, Braverman suggests that students could make copies of important pages and chapters, and if the book is unavailable, the student could ask the professor to put one on reserve in the library for that purpose.

Using this variety of methods, the steep recurring cost of college textbooks can be greatly reduced and, in some cases, eliminated entirely.

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