Get Textbooks For Less

By Sharon Naylor

June 10, 2011 5 min read

Most parents know about and are concerned with the rising cost of college tuition, but many are caught off guard by the increasing cost of textbooks. Both The College Board and SimpleTuition calculated that the average amount spent on books per student each year is $1,137 and $1,112, respectively. And the high cost of books is beginning to affect even pre-college-age students. Some high schools require the purchase of textbooks not provided by their school systems.

Before you slash your vacation fund so you can afford textbooks for your kids, know that many educators and parents say you can find textbooks for less, if you know where to look.

"I'm a married-with-three-kids, med-school-bound, third-year-undergraduate student, and books can be expensive!" says Samantha Van Vleet. "My first semester in college I couldn't believe that I had just forked out $500 for just my books. For the price of books, I could have enrolled in another class. I searched around online and finally found a great site that I could use to buy and sell books. Bigwords.com is a search engine that searches several popular textbook sites and finds you the best prices. If you're looking to buy a book, it will find you the cheapest one. If you're looking to sell your book, it will find you the highest one. It's a great resource, and I absolutely live by it. I don't know how I'd afford school without it."

Other sites recommended by educators and budget gurus include Half.com, TextbooksRus.com, Bookbyte.com and FirstClassBooks.com.

If you're wary of shopping from sites with which you are not familiar, your trusted online booksellers may be your saving grace. Both Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com offer new and used textbooks for sale, with some sellers offering their used textbooks at steep discounts.

Amazon.com says its pricing often can save you 30 percent off new textbooks and 90 percent off used textbooks. Visit http://www.AmazonTextbook.com to begin your research.

If you have an e-reader, such as a Kindle, consider the option of textbooks in the form of e-books. The savings may add up. Parents and educators warn that you need to get permission from the child's school to use an e-book. Some school systems require students to use print books.

At most college campuses, large numbers of used textbooks are for sale at discount pricing, but your student needs to assess whether he or she can adequately use a textbook that has been highlighted and marked up by a previous owner. Some students find that existing highlighting and notes distract them; they rather would work with a clean copy. That, of course, can be remedied by the student's flipping through each used copy to find a less marked-up edition that suits his or her needs.

Another advised source of used textbooks and assigned novels is PaperBackSwap.com, a free site on which you can post a number of your own used books, from textbooks to cookbooks to children's books. When a member requests your book, you mail it to that person. Then the recipient marks your "receipt," and you get one credit to shop for a book that another member will then mail to you. When you're done with the book, you just list it back on your profile and wait for another member's request.

Online coupon codes may save you 30 percent or more off new textbooks, plus free shipping in some instances, so look at coupon sites -- such as RetailMeNot, CouponMom.com and CouponCabin -- to snag fabulous discounts at stores such as Barnes & Noble, where -- incidentally -- you may earn an additional 10 to 15 percent off textbook purchases by becoming a card-carrying member.

Renting textbooks is the wave of the future. "Buy textbooks? I think those days have fallen by the wayside," says Carrie Rocha of the blog "Pocket Your Dollars." "I blog about saving money, and the best way to save on textbooks is to rent them from online sites such as BookRenter.com."

Another popular website for renting books is Chegg. College student Allison Shadel says she has used Chegg and other resources and has spent less than $100 on her textbooks.

And of course, students often hand off their old textbooks to friends who will be taking particular courses next semester, so encourage your student to work his or her networking skills to land a great number of books for free.

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