Save on textbooks

Books can be a major college expense, but they don’t have to be

Save on textbooks

Maybe you’ve been lucky enough so far to get all the textbooks you need for school without forking over a penny. Chances are that will end once you get to college. In fact, research from the Student Public Interest Research Groups shows the average college student spends $900 each year on books and course materials. Stocking up in one trip to the campus bookstore is a sure way to shell out a lot of cash. So, why spend money you don’t have to?

Here are the top 10 ways to spend less on textbooks:

1. Only buy what’s required

First read the syllabus (the paper your professor gives you listing all your tests and assignments). Are some textbooks required and others recommended? Wait on buying those recommended books until you know for sure that you are going to use them.

2. Buy used

Purchasing used textbooks can save you hundreds of dollars. They’re available in the campus bookstore, from fellow students and online. A quick search on the web will show you tons of websites that sell used books. Check more than one site to get the lowest price or go to a price-comparison site for textbooks.

3. Buy an e-book

You might find a book to read on your tablet, e-reader or laptop. This might be the cheapest way to go if you can’t find a used copy.

4. Rent

Why buy a book if you’ll only need it for one semester? You can rent textbooks online and maybe even from your campus bookstore. But Andrew Schrage, editor of the website Money Crashers (, suggests buying books you’ll use in your future job. “Maybe if you’re going into banking, that corporate finance book will still be useful,” he says.

5. Visit the library
Cheryl Harrison bought just one or two books before graduating in 2009 from Capital University ( Instead, she checked out a lot of her books from libraries on or near campus. “The first book that I found in the library was actually for a geology class,” she says.

6. Go back online
Harrison found a lot of books available online for free. She didn’t mind reading them on her computer screen, but you can print the pages on your printer or a campus computer lab.

7. Ask your professor
Before you take out your credit card, ask your professor how often each book will actually be used in class. If it sounds like you’ll need a copy, ask if you really need the edition listed on the syllabus. The fifth edition of your biology textbook might be the only one in the bookstore, but maybe you’ll do just fine with fourth edition. Editions printed for international markets are another alternative — as long as your professor says they’ll be OK.

8. Share
Your professor might just ask you to read a chapter or two from a book. Or you might only need the textbook to get math problems for your homework. It might make sense to split the cost of the book with a classmate.

9. Borrow
Sometimes Harrison would ask classmates if she could borrow their math books just long enough to make copies for homework. Or your professor might let you borrow a copy of the book for the whole term. Nicole Allen, textbook advocate for the Student PIRGs, says professors often have extras because publishers send them books to review.

10. Ask your friends
You might know someone who took one of your classes with the same professor last semester. Ask if the professor actually used every book on the syllabus. You might not really need everything you’re told to buy, says Schrage, who graduated in 2008 with a degree in economics from Brown University (


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