Paying $300 for a 100 page textbook isn’t cool. I don’t care if every page is bound by golden threads weaving wads of knowledge from cover to cover. I’d rather take a pass on pricey tomes and save that moolah for something more pressing — like preventing massive student debt from spiraling outta control. You with me?

If you (or a savvy student in your life) is bound by a student budget and needs to hit the books for less, then send them to the head of the class ’cause I have ten ways to keep textbook costs under control. I’ll leave cramming for that final exam up to you though.

Used Textbooks

1. Search Online Marketplaces and Booksellers.

Skip the college and university bookstores, kiddies. Seriously. To save real money — up to 90% — on required reading materials always grab an advance copy of your course booklist (email your profs repeatedly until they cry) and search online book retailers and marketplaces for used copies. Sites like Amazon.com Textbooks, Half.com, Alibris.com, AbeBooks.com, BetterWorldBooks.com, and ThriftBooks.com all have virtual bookshelves loaded with used textbooks ready for your cost-conscious studies.

The trick is to have your required textbook’s ISBN number handy so you get the right book for your class. Just because a particular book has the same title or author doesn’t mean it’s the right edition for your course.

2. Use a Textbook Comparison Engine.

When bagging a bargain book price is more important than the name of the retailer, use a textbook comparison engine to search for the lowest priced texts from around the world. Sites like BigWords.com, Bookfinder.com, and
LocAZu.com (Canadian Only) let you search hundreds of stores, retailers, and private sellers to score that new or used textbook for a super low price. Just be sure to calculate shipping costs before checking out — some sellers may offer a book for a few bucks but charge students excessive shipping rates that quickly kill the savings.

3. Find an Online Student Exchange Network.

School is a social place, so why not tap into a social network where students swap, sell, and exchange used books at budget prices? Finding a student exchange can be as simple as logging on to Facebook, locating an online school forum, or seeking a class chat room where students are eager to swap texts for far less than bookstore prices.

For example, by searching Facebook for a few minutes, I quickly found the University of British Columbia Textbook Trade Center with over 700 members looking to buy and sell used books. Need Chemistry, English, Economics, Anatomy, or Computer Science books this fall? It’s all there!

4. Borrow from the library.

Does a free textbook help balance your strained student budget? If you answered Yes then you get an ‘A’ in frugality and an ‘F’ in consumerism. Kudos. Now go check out your school or local library to see if they shelve anything on your reading list. Many school libraries carry a few copies of each course textbook, so be sure to check the shelves for the expensive texts each semester before buying. Just watch out for the late fees — those can cost you dearly!

5. Share textbooks with friends.

Don’t be afraid to make a few bookworm friends the first day of class. You may just find a fellow cash-strapped classmate looking to share a textbook to help lower costs. Better yet, form a study group where multiple copies are available for sharing.

6. Rent a textbook?

OK, textbook rentals didn’t exist back when I was dining on Kraft Dinner, but today students can pass on owning textbooks outright by renting them for a semester. One of the biggest players in the rental field is Chegg.com. Chegg claims that renting books can save you anywhere from 30% to 80%, with the most common texts saving you a whopping 50%. Sure, they offer a sweet compromise between buying an expensive new textbook and shopping for a used tome of dubious quality, but the biggest advantage may be not having to find a buyer when you’re done with the book. Don’t rent these books for too long though — rental fees add up fast and can quickly make a rental more costly than purchasing a book outright.

6. Rent (or buy) a digital textbook.

Want to save a few trees? Buying or renting a digital textbook can not only save you around 30% to 55% off the cover price, but this reading method could save you bookshelf space too. Amazon Digital Textbook Rentals and Chegg.com are popular digital rental options, while eCampus.com and Zino are happy to sell you a digital copy.

Be sure to read the fine print before buying and downloading digital textbooks though — not all mobile devices are supported, and not all sellers allow you to access your copy from more than one device.

For digital renters: I’d be wary of renting over longer periods of time (let’s say 120 days) since the price goes up prohibitively as time moves on. For example, the rental price of Amazon Digital Textbooks in the $100 to $120 price range starts at around $40 for 30 days — that cost can easily double for a semester-long rental to $80. Used books can often be found for cheaper, and unlike rented digital editions, you get to keep the book after the rental period.

7. Shop after classes start.

College and university professors often pad their class reading lists with optional (and expensive) textbooks. Buying every book on your list before class starts might help you make the grade (nerd!), but it could also be an expensive mistake if only a few titles are required reading. To save big bucks, talk to students who have taken the class, or wait until classes start and buy only the essential textbooks for each subject.

8. Get real with your student budget.

It makes little sense to shop for any back-to-school supplies without knowing how much money you have to spend. Maybe you can afford that new textbook? Or maybe you’d rather spend that textbook cash on a nicer apartment! The thing is, you won’t know until you add up the numbers and do the math.

Download my free Student Budget Planner to tally your tuition costs and calculate your campus expenses. You may just find some additional moolah in your budget for that $300 Computer Science book after all.

9. Keep your receipts for tax season.

Depending on your citizenship or country of study, your textbook and student expenses may qualify you for a juicy tax break. Be sure to keep those receipts and read up on the tax rules in your area — both the IRA (United States) and the CRA (Canada) can call you up for proof before handing you a tax refund.

For example: Canadian students can claim the Textbook Amount, a federal non-refundable tax credit which allows full-time students to claim $65 for each eligible month of study, or $20 per month for part-time students.

10. Photocopy, scan, and hide?

Photocopying or scanning a textbook is generally illegal — it’s stealing, really. While paying up to $300 for a single textbook may seem like robbery, making a copy of a textbook could land you in big legal do-do. The Toronto Star recently reported on how textbook piracy is thriving due to the massive price increase on college and university texts over the past few years. There’s no doubt that at $0.10 a copy, a 100 page textbook costs a mere $10 — a $290 savings over buying the real deal for $300. The solution? Well, re-read options 1-9 before even thinking of breaking the law. 😉

Love, Kerry