You worked hard, got good grades and pulled yourself up by your bootstraps to get into college and further your education. High five! Investing in your learning will challenge you and change your life. You’ll acquire solid marketable skills and a wealth of background knowledge that will make your future boss love you. College is also an amazing opportunity for personal growth, making friends and discovering things about who you are as a person that you didn’t know before.
With so many bright sides, it can be easy to forget that college is expensive.
Really, really expensive.
You surely already know just how much you’re paying in tuition and fees — not to mention room and board, if you live on campus — but one of the major “hidden” expenses of a university education is the good old textbook.
Contrary to popular belief, and despite the prevalence of online classes, lots of professors still rely on printed tomes that you can use as a hefty doorstop when your course is complete.
And just one of these textbooks can cost you more than a cross-country airline ticket.
In the 35 year period between 1978 and 2013, the price of textbooks shot up by a whopping 864 percent. That’s about three and a half times more than the Consumer Price Index that tracks how prices for everything else have risen in the same time period. According to the College Board, the average student today pays just shy of $1,300 per year on books — and your payout could be much more if you choose a science-heavy major.
Your best bet? Skip the campus bookstore whenever possible and try some alternative methods to purchasing your books. With a little creativity and a helping hand from the internet, you should be able to bring down that book bill to save your pennies for something besides studying.
Option One: Buy Used Books
You’ve probably noticed that the campus bookstore offers used copies of the many textbooks — these are often helpfully labeled with a bright yellow “used” sticker on the spine. These will be discounted, though the savings may not be as much as you’d like. This option is convenient, but you can probably do better with a little more work. If you do choose to snap up used books at the campus bookstore, flip through the pages to check the condition first.
You may also be able to buy used books directly from other students. Check physical bulletin boards as well as online chat rooms and websites for ads placed by your classmates. You may be able to get a better price, or even swap books or barter something else if you meet up in person. Another advantage? Comparing notes on professors and class requirements for a little extra knowledge before Day One.
Option Two: Renting Books
The sharing economy is here to stay, and if you can borrow a Zipcar or Citibike, why not a textbook? For classes outside your major — you know, the ones you have to take but don’t actually care about — borrowing a book is an excellent option. After all, why should you buy something you don’t want to keep a day longer than you need to anyway? Online book rental services have you covered.
Chegg is probably the most famous, and they offer both ebooks and physical copies of texts, so you can choose whichever you like best. You can choose a rental period, and if you change your mind, they let you buy the book to keep. Amazon (of course) also offers textbook rental, along with buying and selling options, too. If you’re looking for rock-bottom prices, this can be a great option, since they connect you with a variety of rental services all in once place. For flexible rental periods, check out Bookbyte.
Option Three: Google It
For the dead cheapest price, try Googling your textbook title and edition. You may find it for sale in a whole host of places, from biggies like Amazon and Barnes and Noble to individuals trying to get rid of their stuff on eBay, Craigslist or on their own. Just be sure to figure in shipping costs before you buy — some of those texts are enormous, and shipping costs are determined by weight.
Option Four: Share It
Do you have a friend with the same major, or who you plan to sit next to as you slog through some of the same gen ed classes together? If so, you should consider going halvsies on your textbooks and sharing them. If you get along well and can come up with a fair schedule — along with ground rules about highlighting, dog earring and note taking — this cold be a great solution for you. For a 50 percent discount, it’s definitely worth a shot.
Pro Tip: Make this method even more effective by sharing used or rented books, and you’ll really rack up the savings.
Option Five: Do Some Detective Work
Fun fact: Professors don’t always update their syllabi to reflect changes in their teaching. This means that they might just put in the same book list every semester without really thinking about it, even if they don’t spend much time on a certain book any more.
That’s fine for them, but it could be an expensive oversight for you. To avoid this, shoot the prof an email asking which textbooks are essential and which (if any) aren’t. If you explain that you’re on a tight budget, they might also be able to point you to some online resources instead, or provide some photocopies or textbooks in the library that the whole class has shared access to throughout the term.
Option Six: Sell, Sell, Sell!
Don’t forget that for every textbook you buy or rent on the cheap, someone used that book before you and made it happen. Don’t forget to sell your books at the end of the semester, whether to your campus bookstore, another student, a stranger online or a rental company. When you do, don’t blow that cash on pizza Instead, put it straight into the kitty for next semester’s books, and you’ll already be ahead of the game.
Got any more tips about frugal living or making college more affordable? Let us know in the comments!