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10 tips for saving on college textbooks

Published March 28, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    Of all the costs associated with college, buying textbooks is one that can catch many students off guard.

    If this is a challenge you're facing, there are several strategies that you can use to potentially help you save on this expense, maybe even significantly. For instance, have you ever considered renting textbooks? Sharing them? Or asking your professor if he or she has spare copies of the required reading that they could loan you?

    A little craftiness regarding how you get your textbooks can potentially be a money-saving game changer. Here are some tips to try. 

    1. Make sure to only buy the essentials 

    Before buying textbooks for the semester, make sure all of the books on your list are actually required. Many professors will add supplemental reading to your book list, but those are books that you don’t absolutely need for the class. If you're tight on funds, you don’t need to buy those books necessarily. 

    2. Take advantage of the library

    You’ll be able to find many of the books on your required reading lists at your school’s library – for free. They may have a limited quantity, so it’s best to reserve your books in advance if you can. You can also seek the books out at a library outside of your school where they might not be as in demand.

    3. Think about sharing textbooks with classmates

    Sharing a copy of a textbook with classmates can be a good option to reduce your costs. You and your classmates can study together or trade the book back and forth during the week if you have different study schedules.

    Additionally, some students may be willing to sell you their old books for a fraction of the cost of a new version or loan you a copy they're holding onto.

    4. Ask your professor if they have copies of textbooks you can borrow

    While professors aren’t likely to sympathize with you about your workload, they'll likely be sympathetic when it comes to spending money on textbooks. If you bring it up to your professor, they may be willing to give you certain copies of textbooks on loan.

    5. Look into textbook rentals

    Renting a textbook is often cheaper than buying it. Your school bookstore might not give you the option of renting, but plenty of websites do, so consider researching this option.

    6. Compare textbook prices online

    We compare prices for most things, so why should textbooks be any different? Don’t just accept that the school bookstore has the best prices; do a proper online search for the textbooks you need in order to properly hunt for bargains.

    7. Consider waiting before buying your books

    When possible, wait until your school’s course add/drop deadline before purchasing some or all of your books. You don’t want to get stuck with books for a class you ultimately drop.

    8. There's nothing wrong with used books

    Used textbooks are generally cheaper than new textbooks (an exception to this might be if a textbook is out of print). The textbook material will be the same in a used book as it is in a new one, making this a great way to save money. Many campus bookstores offer used textbooks, and they're also available online.

    9. Newer doesn’t always mean updated

    For some courses, you won’t need the newest textbook edition to meet your needs. Check with your professors to find out if anything significant has changed in the latest version of a textbook or if an older printing will be sufficient. Sometimes, the older printing will be cheaper.

    10. Explore if you can download a book for free (legally, of course)

    If your course material is in the public domain, you might be able to download PDF and audiobook versions online for free. This is especially handy for English majors but can also extend to other humanities disciplines.

    Final thoughts

    There’s no question that paying sticker prices for textbooks can be a big expense. Utilize a few tactics for saving money on your textbooks, and you may be able to make a dent in the expense, and hopefully open up some wiggle room in your monthly budget.