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Paying for College Textbooks on the Cheap

Updated on July 21, 2011

As if the rising cost of college wasn't burdensome enough, the majority of classes tend to tack on a hefty textbook bill. With most college bookstores charging steep fees for their texts and offering students only bare-minimum prices for the books they buy back, smart shopping at alternative locations is essential for the money-minding student. Try some of the following suggestions for cheap or even free alternatives to the campus bookstore.

1) Check Your Local Library
From free access to books and magazines to a library of DVDs ready at no cost for your next movie night, the library is an excellent resource for people looking to save a little money on media buying and rental, and textbooks are no exception. Although the library at the small liberal arts college I attended rarely had the books I was looking for, it was fifteen minutes away from a state school with a huge research library. With a community borrower's card, I was able to access many, if not most of my school textbooks from that nearby university each semester completely free of charge.

2) Forget the Campus Bookstore-- Rent or Sell Old Textbooks on Your Own
Take good care of your old books, and they may help pay for next semester's readings, but only if you get a decent price for them. For just a few cents, you can list old textbooks on EBay. You probably won't earn back the full price of your initial purchase, but if they sell you'll probably make more than the bookstore would have offered you. Just be sure to set the minimum bid no lower than you would want to accept.

Alternatively, you could try renting or selling to other students. You can advertise with flyers, Facebook Marketplace, or even just a status asking if any of your friends need the book you're trying to rent or sell. People will often pay a fair amount of money to avoid the expensive charges they would have to pay at the bookstore.

3) Sell and Shop Used
Even if you don't want to go through the hassle of selling your own things, there are plenty of places willing to do it for you. While stores like Half Price Books may not offer you much more for your textbooks than the campus bookstore might have, you might be able to find used copies of the books you need there at lower prices than new and used books sell at the campus bookstore. Or, if online shopping is more your style, websites like Amazon and Powell's Books have a vast array of used books on sale at very low prices.

4) Swap Books
Does your friend have a book you'll be needing this semester? Or do you have one she or he might want? Try trading or ask if your friend might let you borrow their book. If you don't know what your friends have, this is another wonderful opportunity to put Facebook to good use: Post a shout out looking for your book as your status. Or, if none of your friends has what you're looking for, you can try a book trading service like Paperback Swap or Good Reads. Through these online services, you can earn credits by sending old books to other readers and trade those credits to receive free books in return. The only price you pay is the postage for books you send. So, if you have a few books you are willing to trade, your next semester's purchases could just be dirt cheap!

Have any more ideas for students looking to save some money on books? Feel free to comment below.


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      Kathryn Lamoreux 6 years ago

      Thanks for the tip, Jeff. I think I might've missed this one because I went to a small school, so it doesn't list any books for my college. However, it's a great idea, and I imagine it's a huge help for students whose schools are listed. Great advice!

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      Jeff 6 years ago

      Great article...but you missed my favorite site! It's and it lets you enter your courses and then it finds all the books you need and everyone that sells those books online. I saved a ton from it!