How to Actually Save Money on Textbooks this Semester

I can’t believe it’s time to head back to school already! To be fair, I’ve been wishing it was the fall all summer. I am not a big fan of sweltering heat, and the city has this great way of making you feel like you’re stuck in a crockpot with the lid on. I was literally melting this Monday during the eclipse, everyone was out in full force and the city was experiencing a heat wave in the triple digits. Google hosted an eclipse viewing party that I was lucky enough to be invited to, so I abandoned my air conditioning for charcoal ice cream, viewing glasses, and picnic blankets at the 14th street park. It was a pretty interesting experience, I imagine those in totality had a much more dramatic viewing. Anyways, this all has nothing to do with textbooks except to say that back to school means back to purchasing a large number of expensive textbooks for class! Hooray! Not. As it happens, I am entering my last semester before graduation (so much excitement) and thought I’d share a few tips for saving money on textbooks that I’ve picked up along the way.

how to save money on college textbooks

Rent Your Textbook

Renting your textbook tends to be much, much cheaper than purchasing it. However, there are some pros and cons to consider.

Pros: Renting is cheaper, which means more money for food, Starbucks, weekend adventures, etc. If you’re a responsible person who does not have food-related accidents when studying, doesn’t lose things, and takes good care of books then this might be a great option for you. I rented an Italian textbook for about $36 for three months, a used version of the textbook would have cost me around $435. It was well worth it since we had to bring the book to class every meeting and there was only one copy in the library that had limited availability.

Cons: You have to be sure that you are renting from a reliable source. Even then I recommend photographing the book when you receive it, and the book when you send it back. Most rental agreements have strict guidelines, so if you and your pricey rental get stuck out in the rain you can easily end up having to pay the top price for that book. Also, you can face a hefty surcharge if you don’t return your book in time – read all the fine print and set up a reminder on your phone so you get your book shipped back and in good time.

how to save money on college textbooks this semester

Books with E-Text & Course Software

If you’ve been in college for more than one semester you have probably heard of Pearson MyLab, e-text, MyPearson, etc. Instructors will often ask that you purchase a textbook that comes with access to Pearson or a similar online platform where you will participate in some coursework. Buying a used textbook can be inexpensive, but buying the textbook with access to the platform can be very pricey. There’s no getting around needing access to the platform, as it’s often a strict requirement. Here’s how I’ve saved money on these before:

First you must have your course ID/code. Once you log-in to Pearson using your student email you can locate your school, course, and class code. You can purchase access to the course, or to the course and e-textbook – which is a ebook version of the required class textbook. I don’t recommend doing the latter unless you really need to, I bought access to the ebook for a science class and never even opened it. You have to be logged onto the platform to use it, so it isn’t like you can access it on your kindle or cellphone during class. Your best bet it buying access to the course, then purchasing a used textbook (if required by your instructor) or borrowing the book from the school library.

how to save money on college textbooks this semester

Free College Textbooks? Raid the School Library.

Chances are the school library – especially at SUNY and CUNY schools – is holding multiple copies of your course textbooks. Often the school will require instructors to submit a listing of required reading for their classes, then the school will purchase or source copies of that material to be made available to the student body during the semester. Borrowing is usually limited to a few hours or a day or two. But that’s fine because that’s all you’ll need. Set aside a day at the beginning of the semester and copy out the material you’ll need for your classes. Start by highlighting the readings in your syllabus, and copying those sections out. Many schools now have copying stations that allow you to save your copies as a PDF rather than printing it all out at once. If you prefer to have a hard copy, or if your instructor prefers it, head to a local Staples or printing center to get your copies bound. It usually costs anywhere from $2-5 depending on how many pages you’ve got, which is still a small cost compared to purchasing the textbook.

how to save money on college textbooks this semester

Ask a Friend

I learned quickly that asking around on the first day of class is a great way to pick up great tips and tricks for getting through the semester. I had a communications course where, when waiting for the professor to arrive, other students divulged that the $178 textbook was made available for free online by the publisher. Sites like RateMyProfessor allow former students to let you know whether the instructor uses required course material at all. In other cases, you’ll find the student bookstore will (surprisingly) offer better prices than the lowest price found online. I’ve even given my textbooks to classmates when I found out that they registered for a course I already took.

how to save money on college textbooks this semester

Consult School Bulletin Boards

Pretty old school, but people still post advertisements on school bulletin boards. You’ll find everything from employment opportunities, internships, tutoring, events, school club ads, and textbook offers. Also look around on Facebook for student groups, where people occasionally sell their textbooks and tutoring services too.

how to save money on college textbooks this semester

Shop Smart

I was introduced to DealOz by my older sister, and I use the site for everything from buying DVDs (yes, I still buy them on occasion) to buying course textbooks and the books I read for fun (shameless plug for my Goodreads account). Here’s a step-by-step way to save money when buying textbooks online:

1. Verify the ISBN number on your syllabus, especially if you’re not allowed older and/or international editions. If you are allowed those, then look for them as they are often cheaper.
2. Plug in the ISBN on DealOz, which will find the best price for New, Used, e-books, International Editions, and Rental textbooks.

3. Locate the cheapest book, and open up the link. DealOz now has its own cash back rewards program, which you can sign up prior to shopping OR you can use an alternative one…
4. Once you’ve added your textbook to your cart, open a new tab and search for the rewards program of choice. My two favorites are ShopAtHome and Ebates (affiliate link). You just search the store you plan on buying your book from and click “Shop Now” when you find it.

ebates abebooks textbooks

Shop At Home and Ebates do not always carry the store you are looking for, nor do they always carry the same stores – just something to keep in mind when comparing cash back percentages. Either a new tab or window will open taking you to the website, where your textbook should still be waiting in the cart. Check out as you would normally. Ebates and Shop At Home will send users an email once the order has gone through and the cash back has been credited to your account.

In case you’re wondering if it works, here’s the cash back that I’ve received (actual checks, yes) in the few years that I’ve used the service:

shopathome cash back

If you’re taking an English course you might have received a syllabus with a plethora of course texts. They can often be books that don’t fall into the realm of “textbooks”, we’re talking novels and paperbacks here. Here’s an ebay hack for getting the best price – and remember to go through ebates or shopathome before checking out!

1. Search for your book(s) on DealOz, if ebay has the cheapest or close to the cheapest sellers, open the down (+) menu. Open up each “Buy Now” link in individual tabs.

how to save on books on ebaypart2
2. Review each tab, each listing for that book on ebay (there is usually between 4-5, and should take no more than a minute to do this). Look for the listing that features a promotion such as “Buy 3, get 1 free” or “Buy 2, get 20% off”.
3. When you find the listings attached to promotions, add them to your cart. This may result in having multiple versions of the same book, from different sellers in your cart. Do NOT check out yet.

ebay promotions books
4. Repeat this action for the rest of the books on your purchase list.
5. When you’ve found all the books, with promotions, and added them to your cart, open your cart up.
6. Ebay splits your cart into sellers, and when it comes to books there are some larger book sellers (often tied to some goodwill industry or another) that offer a variety of promotions. You’ll notice that the books you added individually have now been split up into sellers and promotions. You can immediately tell if you have qualified for any promotion, as there will be a check mark and a notice. You’ll then want to use the process of elimination to find the best deals for you – being careful not to purchase the same book twice.

shopping online for books
7. Once you’ve organized your cart, bundling up your books to get the best price (and often free shipping too), go back to your rewards site (ebates or shopathome), search for ebay and click “Shop Now”. When you’re taken back to the ebay website, click on your cart, and check out individually for each seller.

Tah-dah! It took a little bit of leg work, but if you’ve worked through this process then you not only found the cheapest price for a book, you then saved money with a promotion, and then also earned a little cash back! I recently bought 5 books from one seller for $12, with free shipping AND I earned a few cents cash back. I would have paid at least $10 more if I hadn’t bundled them up on the promo, and much more than that had I not used DealOz and purchased them at the school bookstore instead.

how to save money on college textbooks this semester

Have any of these worked for you? What are your favorite ways to save during the school year? Let me know in the comments below!


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