It’s no secret that the cost of college is skyrocketing, but did you know that textbooks are also part of the problem? Over the past 30 years, the price of the average college textbook has risen by 1,041%, which is more than triple the rate of inflation during the same time period. That means a book that cost $40 in 1977 goes for over $400 today — not an uncommon price for dense science texts.
Textbooks can be extremely expensive, but the cost shouldn’t deter you from pursuing your educational goals. Luckily, there are some ways to save money on textbooks so you can get all the learning you need without the hassle of owning a very expensive doorstop when you’re done with a class.
1. Buy Used Books
The campus bookstore stocks those hard-to-find specialty items your professor requires, but you don’t have to purchase them new. With luck, you can cut your bill by 20 to 50 percent, but you’ll have to get to the stacks before everyone else to snag a deal.
2. Rent Your Books
Thanks to the sharing economy, online services like Chegg allow you to rent textbooks for far less than buying them. When you’re finished for the semester, just send it back. This is a great option for subjects outside your major that you won’t ever study again. Different services offer rental periods ranging from 30 days to a full semester, and you can often get the option to write in or highlight books, if that’s your style.
3. Search the Internet
Textbooks are pricey, so Google the titles you need and search for the lowest prices you can find — Amazon and Barnes and Noble both have textbook programs. Just make sure shipping the heavy book doesn’t negate your savings.
4. Talk to Your Professor
Some instructors don’t use the book often, so it can pay to check to see which books are actually must-have items. Your professors might not realize how much the book costs today and could be open to suggesting lower-cost alternatives or providing copies of material online or at the library. At the very least, she might green-light an older, cheaper edition for you to use.
5. Talk to Other Students
If your professor isn’t forthcoming about books you can skip or skimp on, talk to people who have taken the course before. They should be able to tell you if there’s a book they bought but never used — it happens more than you think!
6. Share With a Friend
Start thinking of your textbooks like Zipcars. You don’t need to use it all the time, so go in with a friend or two to split the cost, then come up with a schedule that allows you all to use the book. In a pinch, photocopying sections to study for an exam is still cheaper than buying your own book.
7. Sell Your Old Books
Don't forget to sell your old books back to the bookstore at the end of each semester if you won’t use them again. You can also try eBay or other online stores if you think you can get a better price, or just put up a sign in the cafeteria to alert fellow students to your offer. Put any money you make directly into your book fund for next semester to cushion the financial blow.
With some creativity and determination, you can keep your textbook costs lower and still get just as much out of your coursework. Use these strategies to stretch your education budget as far as you can, and you’ll be able to breathe a little easier after your bookstore run next semester.