The first week of college always sounds fun and relaxing, until you look through all of your syllabi and realize how many textbooks you have to buy. The biggest surprise? One textbook might end up costing you $200! I had no idea how to go about buying textbooks my first semester in college, and ended up dropping several hundred dollars at the campus bookstore. After three more semesters of research and crying over textbooks I never even opened, I’ve finally figured out how to keep those prices down and navigate all of the options out there, and I wanted to share some tips with y’all and hopefully save you some money!
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Before buying anything, make sure you need it!
Just because you’re syllabus says you need a textbook doesn’t mean you’ll actually use it! Every semester I’ve spent close to $100 on a textbook I didn’t use once, and I easily could’ve figured that out by asking a previous student in the class. Facebook groups are a great place to ask, and someone else probably beat you to it already.
Ask previous students
Generally, the cheapest place you’ll find textbooks is in a Facebook group. Previous students who are stuck with textbooks they bought are usually willing to sell them for cheap, especially once the semester starts up. Check your school’s buy/sell/trade Facebook group (or one for your class/department) often to see what’s being posted, or just post with a list of what you’re looking for! Be sure you know what the average going rate for the books you need are, so you don’t get ripped off paying even more than you would on a textbook website.
There are several ways to buy textbooks, and personally, my favorite is renting. The prices are usually reasonable (I’ve paid anywhere from $20-$50), and you don’t have to worry about selling them at the end of the semester, just ship them back in the box they came in! There are tons of websites offering textbook rental out there, but I’ve always stuck with these two:
Aside from their huge selection of textbooks, my favorite part about renting with Amazon is the free two-day shipping. That becomes extremely helpful when your professor assigns homework the first week of school from the textbook! Students get 6 months free of Prime Student, which if you plan the dates out right will be just long enough to rent for fall and spring semester.
You’re pretty much guaranteed to find any textbook you need on Chegg, they have such a huge inventory! This is where I usually find the cheapest price for my textbooks, so I rent around 3 per semester from them. They also send some fun samples with your rentals, so that’s a bonus! As of last semester, my new favorite feature is their study subscription! You can get step-by-step solutions for certain textbooks, which literally saved my grade in Linear Algebra. I subscribed for three months (at around $15 a month) when I was getting homework assigned every week and had midterms/finals, so the cost was worth it to me.
One downside to renting textbooks is that you usually can’t write in them, but depending on the type of textbook you’re getting (I never feel the need to write in math/science textbooks), you might not need to worry about that. If you know you’ll need to write in your textbook though, try buying used! Your campus bookstore is usually the best option for used books, so check there first! Since I haven’t bought used before, I don’t have any website recommendations that I can say I totally trust. Just make sure you do research on where you’re buying from, because you don’t want to end up with a totally destroyed textbook!
Make sure you don’t need to buy new!
Unfortunately, sometimes you have to buy a new textbook, despite the huge price. If your class requires software that comes with the book, or some sort of code that’s a one-time use, there’s no guarantee either of these will come with a rented or used book. In that case, your best bet is to search around online for the best price. If your school has a textbook finder, use that to see what stores sell yours! You should also check if there’s a way to buy only the software/code, and then rent the textbook separately for a cheaper price.
Sell your textbooks as soon as possible
If you didn’t rent your textbooks, you’ll want to sell back or post about your textbooks as soon as your semester ends. That’s not quite as important if you’re selling back to a website like Chegg, but if you’re planning to sell to other students through Facebook, your best hope is with students taking that class the semester after you. Professors change the textbook edition required for their class all the time, so there’s no guarantee a student will need the same textbook as you after 2 or more semesters!