The Best Way to Save Money on College Textbooks
There are three basic options when it comes to getting your textbooks for college:
- You could head to the college bookstore and pay the shelf price
- You can check out the booming online rental market but never get any money back
- Or you can save money on college textbooks buying from sites such as Amazon and eBay
This post contains affiliate links. Upon purchase, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Disclosure
The Campus Bookstore
Before computers (The Dark Ages), students were forced to buy all textbooks at the trusty campus bookstore. While campus stores are fun to peruse, and they offer everything you could ever want with your school name on it, they are far from the best choice for buying your books.
With new-edition textbooks soaring into the $200-plus range, they have become one of the priciest college expenditures besides tuition and boarding costs.
The good news is that students are no longer bound by the shelves on campus. Although bookstores offer used copies, to save the big bucks on textbooks, students should fully weigh all options.
The Rental Market
In the past several years, there has been an upswing in the textbook rental market. Sites such as Chegg and eCampus have emerged as popular places to rent rather than buy. The popularity of such sites mostly revolves around the convenience factor.
Students find the book they are wanting, click on it, and are given a set price for a rental time frame which is usually a typical school semester. Free shipping normally kicks in after the first $50, and the book hits the road, end of story.
When students are done with their course, they send the books back and begin looking for the next batch for upcoming classes. They don’t have the hassle of textbook buyback days at the bookstore or listing them online for resale to recoup their money.
And therein lies the point; there is no money back in the rental market. You don’t save money on college textbooks by renting. You throw it away.
It’s no different than renting a car or a house. You pay your dues each month, and you’re granted use of that property. There’s no ownership and no return on your investment. Books that are rented rather than purchased have no return on the investment of funds.
Buy Online to Save the Most Money on Textbooks
Thanks to online buying options, there’s an affordable way to purchase college textbooks. The largest buying and selling platform is Amazon, followed by sites such as eBay and eCampus, among others.
I’ve strictly used Amazon for the past 7 years, for my own textbooks and for my 3 college kids. We’ve ALWAYS saved at least 1/3 to 2/3 off regular prices!
90% of the time, I’m able to sell our books back for at least what we paid for them or MORE. Check out the link below and see for yourself how much you can save on college textbooks!!
Because they are the most popular buying and selling platforms, Amazon and eBay are your best bets for a huge variety of choices and prices for textbooks.
It may be a little more time consuming than the rental places, but buying textbooks from Amazon listings pays off big time. There are usually dozens of choices and price ranges depending on the condition of the book you are looking for.
Save Even More on Textbooks by Choosing the Right Condition
Textbook conditions range from acceptable to brand new, and everything in between. There are often descriptions to help you choose what best fits your needs.
To save the maximum amount on textbooks, choose a “good” copy instead of “nearly new” or “new”. Who needs a perfect copy when you’re just going to throw it in your backpack anyway?
eBay offers a fairly wide selection of texts as well, with purchase options via auction format or the “Buy It Now” option where you can purchase it on the spot for the listed price.
If you are patient and have a few days to spare, you can opt for the auction method and possibly score a bargain if your accepted bid is lower than comparable prices elsewhere.
The biggest perk to buying your textbooks online is selling them back at the end of the semester. You can usually recover 80-100% of what you paid in the first place, and occasionally you can make a few extra bucks. Mailing costs will subtract a little from what you make, but see my big mailing tip below!
Even if you happen to lose $10-$15, you’ve still only paid that tiny amount for the entire semester. That’s a huge savings over the $60-$90 rental fee with nothing returned to you. It’s simply a smarter use of your money!
If you’re willing to put in a little effort purchasing used textbooks from a reputable site, and later re-listing and mailing them out, you’ll save a bundle.
Speaking of mailing books to buyers — media mail is your best friend for dirt cheap mailing prices for books. Just ask for that option at the post office!
Here’s an Example for You
I did a little legwork for you. Consider, for example, the newest edition of a popular psychology text, “Discovering Psychology” (Hockenbury). It can be purchased at the campus store for around $180 brand new. Amazon has it listed for $150 brand new and in used condition starting at $85.
The popular textbook rental site, Chegg, offers the book for $95.99 for the semester. eCampus offers it for $65.36, and the Amazon rental platform offers it for $60 for the school term.
You can see that the prices are fairly different in the rental market, similar to what happens in the buying market. However, it all comes down to the best use of your money.
Which would you rather do with your cash? Spend $85 on a decent used copy and then resell it on Amazon for around the same price, or rent a text for 60-90 bucks and get zilch in return?
I hope you opt for the first choice since there are a million other things vying for your money while you’re in college.
Buying used textbooks always makes good financial sense and maximizes your savings on one of the biggest expenses in college.
Happy textbook hunting, and may the bargains be ever on your side!!