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Save Big on College Textbooks

If your child is college-bound this fall—or you are—you might be reeling from the shock of how much tuition and housing will cost. But you may not have thought about the added cost of textbooks. College textbook prices have more than doubled over the past decade, with some costing several hundred dollars, even for used.

Here are some tips to help you save some serious dough on books—and maybe even make a little money when you’re done with them.

Skip the bookstore
Before the Internet, campus bookstores used to be the only game in town when it came to textbook sales. These days, however, the bookstore should be your last choice. It’s better to rent online. You can save over 50% by renting textbooks at sites like Amazon,,,, and Just enter in the book’s ISBN number. On Amazon, for example, Introduction to Psychology costs around $125 to buy, but only about $20 to rent.

Books are rented by the semester, and at the end you just send them back in the prepaid packaging. Just be sure you are getting the correct edition required for your class, since many textbooks have multiple editions. And don’t forget to send them back, or you’ll have to pay the full purchase price!

If you’d rather not price-shop at multiple sites, let Bigwords or Bookfinder do the searching for you. Enter the book’s title, author or ISBN number, and the sites will search for you to find the lowest price available.

Go digital
If your student is o.k. with electronic versions of books, several big publishers such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill offer discounted e-versions of their textbooks on VitalSource. The site’s catalog offers electronic versions of over 90% of the college textbooks in use today, at up to a 70% discount off the shelf cost.

If you must buy, buy used
If your book is not available to rent, or you don’t like digital textbooks, you can find used books online at sites like Amazon, eBay,, and Be sure to read the descriptions carefully and check the ISBN number to be sure you are buying the correct edition.

Go to the library
Most college textbooks are on reserve at the school library. Although you usually cannot check the book out, you can use it while you are at the library and make photocopies of relevant portions.

While having to trek to the library certainly isn’t as convenient as having your own copy of the book, if you’re living in on-campus housing, a quiet library may actually be a respite from a noisy dorm.

Share with a friend
Some classes don’t require that you have constant access to a textbook. If you will only need the book once or twice a week, ask around to see if any of your friends or dormmates are also taking the class and would be willing to book-share with you. Then, the two of you can split the cost of the book. You may also see if there are other students who dropped the class. They may be willing to sell you their book at a discount since they won’t need it.

Sell your books
If you do purchase a physical book, you may be able can get back some of your money by selling it after the class is over. Good places to sell used books online are eBay and Amazon. You may also be able to sell them to your campus bookstore, or to another student signed up for the class. Reselling your books may not let you recoup all of your money, but you can at least get back a portion. Use the money you make at the end of the semester to help pay for your books for the next semester.

Resources: U.S. News & World Report,,

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