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How to Find Cheap Textbooks

Education is expensive. Dorms, rent, food… it all adds up fast. That has nothing on textbooks, though. The average cost of textbooks has jumped 812% in the past 35 years. If you’re not uncomfortable with that amount, you’re not paying attention.

You don’t always have to shell out thousands of dollars to get an education and fill your textbook needs, however. While you may not be able to get every textbook you need for your classes at a discounted price, don’t be a sucker and buy them all at the college bookstore.

Don’t Buy, Rent

If you don’t have to buy your textbooks, why would you? After that class, you will probably never open that book again. Instead of purchasing a very expensive dead tree for your education that year, consider renting one.

Sites like Chegg, Campus Books, and even Amazon all rent various editions of popular textbooks. Renting instead of buying can save you up to 90% off of the purchase price, which is insane to think about.

The downside? You need to be careful with it. This textbook is going back to its home after you’re done with it, so you should take extra care with keeping it in good condition. While average wear and tear is expected, if you destroy the book you rented you could be on the hook for the full purchase price.

Use an Older Version

This is a little tricky because you can’t always do this. Some books require a one-time activation pass, and some classes need you to have the latest version.

Your best bet is to search online before the class begins to find what older versions are available, and how much each is. Ask your professor after the very first class (yes, you should go to it. Yes, it normally is just reading the syllabus. But in this case, it could save you money!) if you are able to use the previous year’s versions.

Most teachers understand that students aren’t made of money, and education is expensive.

Share Books

This only works if you have a friend in the class, but if you must buy a book full price, consider splitting the cost with a friend. You can study together or share ownership of the book, and photocopy any vitally important passages that you need.

Many times, only a small fraction of the book is used in class anyway. As long as you and your friend are both dedicated to ensuring you can swap the copy whenever you need to, it can cut your purchase price in half.

Resell to the campus bookstore after and split the profits for even more savings.

Electronic Versions are Cheaper

This is so important! Some people feel that they need to have a physical copy of a book, but the electronic version is just as good and after a whole lot cheaper.

The downside is, of course, that you can’t resell the textbook after you’re finished with it. But the upfront savings is very nice, and often past textbooks don’t sell for that much anyway. You can read your electronic version on your phone, a tablet, or a computer. And it is a whole lot lighter than carrying around the full book!

Don’t Buy Before Class

This is a rookie freshman mistake, so many of you have already come and gone with this. But never, ever buy your textbooks before the first day of class unless you’ve received an email from your professor stating you must.

There are many instances where you do not need the textbook at all, or you only need a few passages. There are often copies at the school’s library that you can check out or photocopy for easy reference. There’s no need to spend $100 on a book for your education that you just don’t need.

You never want to be that person who drops $2k in the campus bookstore and discovers the next week you didn’t need half of what you bought.

If you’re nervous about not finding copies of your books, which can happen, you can always purchase them ahead of time and do not open them. Bookstores have a small return window usually, so make sure you fit yourself right into that.

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