Buying Textbooks Without Breaking the Bank

By Amanda Cohen on June 24, 2018

Even though it’s officially summer, it’s hard not to think about the amount of money you are going to have to spend when you return to school. Or, if you are taking summer classes, this article may be more relevant to you than ever. Textbooks are extremely expensive and, oftentimes, it usually seems like there is nothing to do to get around the high price.

The worst part is that some of these textbooks will only be used a few times (yes, we can all sigh in annoyance together). One time one of my professors made my entire class purchase a textbook (the most recent edition). Since it was the most recent edition, there were no used copies. The textbook cost $495 and I used it twice (aka I’m extremely passionate about this topic) Okay, that’s enough sighing; let’s figure out a way to still buy the textbooks you need without breaking the bank; it may sound impossible, but it can be done… I promise.

It took me two semesters of full course loads to figure out how to save money on textbooks, but I finally did it and I’m here to pass along my wisdom to all of you. Let’s look at this as a spin-off of Walmart’s slogan: “Save money, live better, Walmart.” We can turn it into something like, “Save money, buy textbooks, be smarter.” Okay, that may be corny, but my advice is far from it, so read on.

Image via. https://pixabay.com/en/knowledge-book-library-glasses-1052010/

Amazon (Amazon Prime)

My go-to for just about everything is Amazon (I swear they should hire me as an Amazon Prime brand ambassador, but that’s beside the point). The point is that Amazon is taking over the world for a good reason. One of those reasons is that not only does Amazon sell its own products, but they also have a variety of other sellers on their website and the website allows you to compare prices to ensure that you are getting the best deal possible. Different sellers will give you different options in regards to the type of textbook you are looking for—new, used, electronic, etc.

If you don’t think you’re going to use the textbook that often (ask other people who took the class in the past), then opt for a heavily used textbook (usually sellers will specify if the textbook is lightly used or heavily used). If it’s a class where your textbook will be the main source of information, look for a lightly used textbook. Another tip is compare the price of the paperback version to the hardback version of the textbook (usually one version is cheaper than another); if you do better reading on the computer or on a Kindle, buy the electronic version. Last, but certainly not least, Amazon is really great about offering student discounts (especially if you are looking to purchase Amazon Prime).

Previous Students/Friends

Students who took the class before you and/or friends are your best bet when it comes to getting a good price on textbooks. Not only are the textbooks used, which dramatically decreases the price, but students and friends are in your same boat and will want to help you get the best deal possible. Not only that, but textbooks from past students at your same university might have really helpful notes in the margins of the textbooks. Plus, usually students will be willing to also sell you notes along with the textbook so that you can use the two together (aka you will have so many materials in order for you to succeed).

Usually, a fair price for used textbooks depends on how old the textbook is (the condition of the textbook), the edition of the textbook (many classes require a specific textbook edition), whether the textbook is a hardback, paperback, or electronic, and how much money your friend/peer is trying to pocket for their future expenses. If your friend is feeling extra generous, they may even give you an old textbook for free, but don’t count on that. Count on an extremely fair and lowered price from what you would pay for a brand-new textbook. Even if the person is your friend, try to be fair and don’t screw them out of the money that he/she needs.

Textsurf

I know it sounds too good to be true, but Textsurf is an actual, truly amazing website. It allows you to compare the prices of textbooks, buy textbooks, rent textbooks, and/or sell textbooks. I’ve never used the website myself, therefore I don’t know their shipping policies or anything, but it doesn’t seem like rocket science and it appears that they really do want you to save money on textbooks (just like me)!

The beauty of this website is that you can purchase and/or rent textbooks while you profit off of selling your old textbooks… it’s truly a win-win for you, so definitely take advantage of it. Sell as many or your textbooks as possible so that you have the money to buy new textbooks (and maybe even a brand-new outfit). If you really want to save money, use this website but rent your textbooks instead of buying them. As long as you return the textbooks in pretty good condition, the company will take them back and you won’t be stuck trying to sell textbooks that you probably only used a few times. Ah, yes, Textsurf, it really is a fairytale.

Don’t Buy Certain Textbooks/Share Textbooks with Others

I know this may sound extreme but we all know that professors have us buy textbooks, even when we only have to use them once or twice. If this is the case, don’t buy the textbook. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, opt to share a textbook with a friend or peer. Divide the price in half and alternate who has the textbook and who has the scans of the necessary textbook pages. If you use this method with a used textbook then you are saving even more money.

This method will even work for multiple people. However, don’t go past four people because that can get messy and you just don’t want one textbook in the hands of so many people. I did this for my statistics class as a sophomore and I am so happy I did because my friend and I bought the textbook and only used it two times (we were lucky to live in the same house so that we wouldn’t need to lug it between two different locations). Instead of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, think of it as the Sisterhood of the Travelling textbooks; it’s one size fits all and it will help all of you succeed in your courses without breaking the bank.

Infographic by Amanda Cohen

Chegg.com

Chegg.com is very similar to cheaptextbooks.org. The only difference between the two is that Chegg also offers different study materials to purchase and not just textbooks. Chegg offers new and used textbooks, paperback, hardback, and e-textbooks and renting, buying, and selling services. The beauty of Chegg is that you are getting a great deal on, not just textbooks, but also online tutors, study guides, online flashcards, and more. I mean, Chegg’s slogan is, “Saving broke students one textbook at a time.” They can’t just say this without the evidence to back it up. Plenty of my friends have purchased and rented textbooks using Chegg and every single one of them was happy with their purchase and never felt that they were breaking the bank.

Two major offers from Chegg are (1) saving up to 90% on textbooks and (2) free shipping on orders over 50 dollars, which is great because textbooks are usually very expensive (aka you won’t have any problem meeting that minimum) and you can order textbooks from the comforts of your bed. Even though I’m writing about how to save money when buying textbooks, I can’t downplay the other benefits of Chegg. Chegg even helps you create a plan to boost your GPA and has online tutors (once again, you can do your homework and study without even leaving your bed). Thank you, Chegg, from all of my fellow broke students.

Library

If you spend most of your time at the library studying anyways, then why don’t you just not buy textbooks and check them out and scan them at the library when you need the textbook. Yes, scanning and printing at most colleges costs money, but not as much money as it would be to buy the whole textbook in general. Before making this decision, make sure that your school library has the textbook on hand (usually this isn’t a problem, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry). Many professors understand how annoying it is to purchase expensive textbooks, so many of them will actually keep a copy of the textbook on hand.

If you are really struggling financially, explain this to your professor and he/she will probably allow you to take the textbook to scan; this way, you won’t even have to deal with the Dewey decimal system in the library when looking for the textbook you need. Going to the library might be annoying, but nothing makes you feel more like a college student than sifting through books in the library (or at least that’s what our parents would say). If you don’t feel like using the library databases to find the textbook, go to a librarian or ask someone online; I’ve actually utilized my school’s librarian online chat system before and it was amazingly helpful (I should’ve started using the system before my senior year, but I guess you live and learn).

Image via. https://pixabay.com/en/library-books-education-literature-869061/

General Tips

Even though everything I said above will 100% help you save money when purchasing textbooks, it’s also important to know some general tips that you should know when you are in any school store or on any website buying textbooks. So, here are the general tips everyone should know.

  • Buy used textbooks, if possible
  • Buy electronic textbooks (this is also better for the environment)
  • Use websites, like Amazon, eBay, or cheaptextbooks.org instead of going to your local school store (school stores tend to jack up the prices of textbooks, so let’s try to avoid this as much as possible)
  • Buy textbooks from students who previously took the class
  • Buy an earlier edition of a textbook if the professor doesn’t specify that you need a specific edition
  • Utilize student discounts (like for Amazon Prime because it’s good for everything, not just textbooks)
  • Buy heavily used textbooks if you know you aren’t going to need to use the textbook that often for a class
  • Compare textbook prices from different vendors, even if it’s tedious and even if it only saves you a few cents because that money will start to accumulate
  • Buy one textbook and share between 2-4 people (split the price and save up to hundreds of dollars)
  • Sell your old books and old school supplies to save up money to purchase new textbooks
  • Utilize the library

Imparting my knowledge on the younger generation is one of my great joys of post-grad life (at least that’s what I tell myself while I sit here wishing I could be tailgating at Michigan right now). However, since day drinking and waking up at 5:00 am for a tailgate is no longer acceptable, I’ll stick to guiding future college students in the right direction.

Don’t go to your school store to buy textbooks just because it’s your school store, you need to worry about your wallet more than ever now that you are a mature college student. Oh, and obviously, once you get your student ID, purchase all of the student discounts you can, whether or not they are textbook related. For those of you in college, savor every moment and use the extra cash that you will have after using my money-saving tips to aid in the financing of college experiences that will help you create memories for life. Happy summer and, for those of you taking summer classes, good luck and study hard!

I am currently a junior at the University of Michigan.

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