Your Complete Guide to Cheap College Textbooks

by News Guy on September 9, 2010

(Guest post by Coupon Sherpa)

Research shows textbook prices have increased at four times the rate of inflation since 1994, with no end in sight. It’s no secret students are turning to alternative methods for cheap college textbooks. But how many upperclassmen teach Cheap Textbooks 101 to incoming freshmen? Perhaps that’s why college students now spend an average of $900 a year on books they’ll barely crack — or approximately 20 percent of tuition at an average university.

While federal rules implemented in July might help ease the pain a bit, learning the ins and outs of sharing, borrowing, renting and buying used textbooks have become standard operating procedure.

Here’s everything you need to know — or at least 14 really good tips — to help you save on textbooks.

1. Wait Until After the First Day
Professors may list a specific textbook on their syllabus and then never refer to it again. Wait until you’ve had a chance to talk with the prof before shelling out big bucks for what may turn into a bookshelf ornament.

2. Don’t Buy the Whole Package
The new federal rules mean publishers can no longer bundle their textbooks with accompanying materials, like workbooks or CD-ROMs. Ask your prof or teaching assistant if you can get by with just the workbook.

3. Use Open Source Textbooks
This movement, led by the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, applies the open-source mantra of the software world to textbooks. Progress is slow, but both Curriiki and FlatWorld Knowledge are steadily growing. You can either download a text for free or buy a printed and bound version for $20 to $40.

4. Shop Barnes and Noble
You’ve got yourself a huge deal when you add Barnes and Noble coupons to standard savings of up to 90 percent on used textbooks and 30 percent on new textbooks. Barnes and Noble also will buy your old textbooks for instant cash with no fees and free shipping. Big-box bookstores are really catching on to offering cheap textbooks and used textbooks, so keep your eye out for major savings in unlikely places.

5. Download Free Books
Google Books has scanned many texts into its database, although you may not find what you need. Project Gutenberg also has scanned in a lot of free-domain books that English majors will find useful. The process can be hit or miss, but both sites are worth checking out.

6. Purchase the International Edition
Abe Books coupons will help you take advantage of a well kept secret: International editions are usually significantly cheaper than the U.S. versions. (Just like medications.) There may be some slight changes, like paperbacks instead of hardcover, or simply cosmetic, like black and white illustrations instead of color. You’ll need an ISBN number to find the correct textbooks online on AbeBooks.com.

7. Rent a Text
Some colleges have started programs that allow you to rent your books. For example, Rent-a-Text has teamed up with more than 800 college bookstores. Students pay about half the purchase price to rent for a single semester and you can shop in-store or online.

eCampus.com coupon codes allow you to save even more on textbook rentals or purchases. You can also download Etextbooks at the same site.

Compare these prices with Chegg.com, the Netflix of book-rental companies (shipments arrive in a distinctive orange box) except they both rent and buy textbooks. Shipping starts at $3.99 and return shipping is free. Chegg also plants a tree every time you complete a textbook rental transaction. Search Chegg by ISBN, book title or author’s name.

Other online textbook renters include CampusBookRentals, BookRenter, ECampus, TextbookRentals and CollegeBookRenter.

8. Borrow A Sample Copy
Just like doctors, profs often receive several samples from sales representatives, which tend to lay around their offices gathering dust. Cozy up to your instructor to see if you might glom on to one of those freebies, which you’ll return at the end of the semester, of course.

9. Borders Textbook Marketplace
Here’s another big-box bookstore that’s gotten in on the cheap online textbooks trend. Use Borders coupon codes to cut more off their already low prices (up to 80-percent off), then cash in at the end of the semester by selling your books back to Borders Textbook Marketplace. Borders also sells international editions (see above). There’s an additional savings when you bundle your buy, plus Borders offers a money-back guarantee.

10. Use the Library
Here’s a no-brainer that goes back to the days when libraries were invented. But you have to get there early as it’s first come, first served. Some college libraries allow you to take out textbooks for an entire semester while others require you use them in-house. It depends on whether you think saving the money is worth the hassle.

11. Put Up With Advertising
Textbook Media hooks advertisers up with students by planting ad copy betwixt the stuff you have to read throughout the semester. Fill out a short survey and advertisements tailored for you are placed within the textbook. Then you just download the mash-up and pay either nothing or a nominal fee.

12. Amazon.com
Your source for everything…everything…has long sold and bought textbooks. Amazon has a great deal going right now for students: Buy select MacBooks and save up to $200 on textbooks. Current students with a valid .edu email address are eligible to receive free two-day shipping for one year. And, as always, don’t forget to use Amazon coupons to seal the deal.

13. Share and Share Alike
It takes some coordinating, but if your friends are organized it’s possible to share textbooks and split the cost. This also works well with study groups. Just make sure everyone kicks in their fair share before you put cash on the line.

14. Use Facebook and Twitter
Why not. We use social media for everything else. List the textbooks you need or visit Facebook pages like TexbooksRUs to trade information.

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Guest post by Coupon Sherpa – A deal hunting, bargain loving, coupon hound who scavenges high and low for the best coupon codes available. He not only finds promotions for your favorite stores but also catches your top household buys at their lowest prices.

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