Textbook Savings Hacks: How to Save Big Bucks on Books

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It's no secret that college is an investment — and the dollar signs can easily stack up with tuition, food, housing, and more. While most of these costs are expected, one thing that is often surprising to incoming students is the sticker shock to the cost of textbooks and course materials.

The average cost of college textbooks and supplies for first-year, full-time undergraduate students is roughly $1,000 to $1,250, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which collects data about student costs based on schools' estimates.

What's more surprising, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is prices for college textbooks have increased pretty dramatically between 2020 and 2023. They're up 7%, which is faster than tuition inflation!

But there's good news!

There are many ways you can save on college textbooks and course materials. Read on for a list of seven tips to keep money in your pocket. First, let's investigate why books cost so much.

Why Do College Textbooks Cost So Much?

The cost of textbooks is generally a simple case of supply and demand — five companies own 80% of textbooks. Because there aren't a lot of textbook publishers in business, they don't have a lot of competition for lowering prices. Plus, they know they have an engaged audience of students who need those required books for their courses.

But it's not just that. Textbooks cost a lot of money to produce! They are often quite lengthy and include a lot of information that has to be researched, written, and edited.

Also, for particular fields — like medicine and science — information, data, and best practices are constantly changing, so textbooks are frequently rewritten and updated. Therefore, publishers charge a premium for the latest editions.

How to Save on College Textbooks

While textbook publishers have a lock on the market, there are still many alternatives to the high cost of college textbooks.

1. Consider pre-owned textbooks.

Just like buying a pre-owned car, you can purchase previously used books. There are many second-hand bookstores and online retailers that have used textbooks. They're always cheaper and generally come with some "character" — from highlights to notes in the margin and more. So, make sure you're aware of the condition of the books before you buy them!

2. Rent your books.

Why buy when you can rent?! Amazon is in the textbook game, too, and can be an easy place to start, as is Barnes & Noble. Check out Chegg, too. There are many other resources out there, too, that facilitate textbook rentals for a fraction of the cost of buying them. While you may be unable to highlight and write notes in the textbook, it could still be worth it for many of the course materials you need.

3. Sell your books.

Many campus bookstores and online retailers have buyback programs where you can sell your textbooks after each semester and earn some of that monetary investment back. Or, you could even sell them directly to other incoming students. At DBU, students often sell their textbooks and other things through the DBU Facebook group.

4. Shop around.

Whether you're buying or selling, online price comparison tools like CampusBooks, TextSurfBookFinder, and BigWords can be a great place to start to get the most bang for your buck. Many of these sites even have a rental option, too.

5. Ask other students.

It never hurts to start the conversation with other students and ask those recently taking a course for some insight. They may have insights into which books are essential and may still have their books that they're willing to loan to you or sell at a bargain price. They'll likely appreciate you taking those books off their hands, avoiding the hassle of shipping them to an online seller. Another option is to share your textbook with a classmate, which allows you both to split the cost. For reading the material, take turns on who reads when by the next class meeting.

6. Make sure you really need the book.

Don't be afraid to ask your professors which course materials they consider significant contributors to success. Sometimes, a professor will include books that may only be used once or twice — or as a reference point. Those books could make less sense to invest in. You could also ask your professors if they have a PDF version or copies they loan students.

7. Look for an ebook or PDF version.

Often, you can find electronic versions of textbooks and other course-related books that are convenient and less costly to buy. The caveat here is that this option doesn't always work — especially for new textbooks or certain types of courses — but classics are relatively easy to find.

8. Check the Library

The DBU library will often have a copy of the textbook or other course-related books if you only need a book for just a few weeks. If the DBU library doesn't have the book, they can help you see if a local public library, such as the Dallas Public Library, has a copy of the book. The Dallas Public Library even has Cards for non-residents!

Textbooks Are a Worthwhile Investment

Textbooks are an investment in your learning and your education — and that is worthwhile! With these eight tips to save on textbooks, you can ensure you're stewarding your resources well.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7 NIV

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