How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents

Beyond Tuition Costs Podcast Episodes

The Skinny on Textbooks
Changing Majors

Listen to the Podcast

Pete and Alex talk about the top 5 money mistakes that college students make. Below that, we discuss ways to address one of their top 5: textbooks.



Read the Show Notes

When I was in college, I searched for every way possible to save money. Carpool, pack-a-lunch, cram classes into one day, Ramen noodle feasts, and more. But every semester, there was one cost that I just couldn’t seem to avoid: textbooks. Hundreds of dollars spent every semester on massive hard-bound books I will likely never open again after the semester . And not only that, it’s incredibly overwhelming to know where to get textbooks when your options appear so limited – especially if you’re an incoming freshman and trying to find your way around campus. So how about we try and figure all this textbook stuff out?

  • College Bookstore: The obvious choice for textbooks is your college bookstore. Not only will they have best selection (because they order based on what the professors are teaching out of that term) but they exist to provide textbook service to students. During my freshman year, I bought textbooks straight from the bookstore as soon as they were available; I wanted as much of a head start as possible. However, purchasing new books outright at the college bookstore is not your only option; most bookstores stock used books at a fraction of the cost. You can also ask about renting the books for one term (which typically requires a contract) and can save a lot of money. Another up-and-coming option at many college bookstores are e-books which can be downloaded straight to your Nook, Kindle, or other e-reader.
When to buy from the bookstore?

You may need to purchase your textbooks from the bookstore if the textbook is new, but always make sure to check other options to make sure.

You procrastinated or signed up last-minute for a class. Head to the bookstore and get that textbook today! However, if you can borrow a textbook from a classmate for a couple of days, you could shop around to see if you can find a cheaper deal.

  • Amazon, e-Bay, and other online stores: If you like auctions or buying second-hand, there are some great options out there for you, such as Amazon and e-Bay. But a quick internet search will give you more selections than just these two outlets. What’s great about Amazon and e-Bay is that there are several different sellers to choose from, all on one site – and best of all – the prices are usually much cheaper than the college bookstore! Both Amazon and e-Bay stand behind their customers, so if you have an issue with your purchase, they will intervene and help you resolve it; however, be sure and check the seller’s rating and reviews.
When to buy from an online retailer?

If you have plenty of time to shop around and weigh your options, then online shopping for textbooks may be a great alternative to the college bookstore. Again, be certain that the seller is reliable; check their feedback and ratings. Also, be aware of their shipping time schedule; if you need your book in a week, purchasing online may not be the best solution. The purchase process, shipping, and receiving can be a lengthy process. If you want to go this route, give yourself time and plan ahead. It may seem like a lot of work, but your pocketbook will thank you!

  • International Editions: International editions of textbooks are exactly like they sound. Aside from it possibly having a different cover, or a different ISBN, the books are usually the same as the US version (ok, they might have a paperback cover instead of a hardbound), except for one major difference: the price. Many times, you can save over 50% off a book simply by purchasing the International edition…and there’s no catch. While you can pretty much only find these books via online retailers (textbookrush.com, e-Bay, etc.,), most have a policy that allows you to return the book for free should you find a difference between the International and US editions.
  • When to buy from an International Edition? If you were planning on buying a textbook online and you don’t care whether or not you book looks exactly like your classmates’, then you would purchase an International Edition in the same manner that you would a book from any online retailer.
  • Chegg.com, bookrenter.com, and more: While similar in nature to Amazon and e-Bay, these online retailers are large chains that supply textbooks to students around the world. Their mission is built on good customer service and their shipping is fast and reliable. Chegg.com and other retailers offer students a way to rent or purchase textbooks, typically at a lower rate than the local college bookstore. Timelines to rent are based by day, week, month, or term. It’s best not to rent too early as you may have to return the book before your semester final is done; however, don’t wait until the last minute either, because supply may be limited.
When to use an online rental or purchase option?

If you need a book fast and don’t want the hassle or worry about bidding on an auction or worry that the seller won’t actually mail you the book, then this is a great option. Prices are typically best to rent; but you can price compare if you’d rather purchase.

  • Buy Local: Another great option is to look around at your local used bookstores. Books from all over end up in these little out of the way stores and you just never know – you may find one of your textbooks for pennies! Former students (either just out of the class or those who have graduated) are often looking to make some extra money and would gladly sell you their textbooks. Buddy up with other students to share the cost of books, or have a book-trading party where everyone brings their unwanted textbooks and you trade for either cash or someone else’s textbooks. Classified ads in the paper or on the college’s website are one more way in which to get textbooks inexpensively.
When to look locally?

Being familiar with your campus community is key for a successful hunt locally. If you have the time and connections to make with other students who are likely to have taken the same class, this option may work out very well for you. Looking around at the used bookstores will take time, so plan to start early. Garage sales, moving sales, and library sales are other ways to find textbooks, but don’t rely on these means alone.

When to Buy: The rule-of-thumb for textbooks is: If a textbook can be used in your future career and not be outdated, then buy it. For example, if you are an Education major and one of your textbooks is Student Development Theory, then you might want to keep that. Theories don’t change too much. However, if you are in a program of study that is constantly changing and evolving, it may not be practical to keep every textbook. Or, if you haven’t yet decided on a major, you may want to look at other options instead of investing in material you will never use again.

When to Rent: Some students don’t have the financial means to purchase any of their textbooks outright and that’s okay. Renting your textbooks is a great option which gives you access to the material without having to store or sell the books after the semester.

Where to Sell: Selling textbooks is easier than ever! All of the places mentioned earlier will most likely be happy to buy your textbooks once you’re done with them as long as the books are still currently being used.

Campus bookstores will typically only buy back the books that they sold. The best time to sell is the week of finals, and be prepared to get only a fraction of what you paid – sometimes pennies on the dollar. The books will need to be in good condition.

Amazon or e-Bay requires that you set up an account in order to sell your books. You will have to input all of the information about the book and sometimes need to include a picture. Using the ISBN number can make the process much faster. You can set your own price, but remember to factor in shipping costs, especially if the book is especially heavy.

Chegg.com and other online rental retailers will buy books as they need them. You will have to mail the books to them for an estimated buying price. Since they make their money by selling and renting these books, the textbooks will need to be in very good condition and the company pays similar to the campus bookstore.

Other students are sometimes the easiest, fastest, and most lucrative method of selling your textbooks. There is no “middle man” to deal with and the money is all profit as you don’t typically have any cost in shipping.

Other Options: If selling your books seems like too much trouble, or perhaps the university is no longer using that same text, what are your options? Well, aside from keeping the books and hope that you’ll have the need for them someday, why not opt for donating the books? You could talk to your local library, middle school, or high school about donating them. Teachers love to get their hands on college textbooks in order to tailor lesson plans to meet what universities are looking for in future students. Another option is to leave the textbooks with the college or a professor to be given to a student who might be in need of a book and cannot afford it on his/her own.