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Ways to Cut Costs on College Textbooks

February 28, 2019 · 5 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Ways to Cut Costs on College Textbooks

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it again for good measure anyway: college can be expensive. Very. Once you calculate the cost of tuition, room and board, and living expenses, the dollar signs can skyrocket. And on top of that, college students have to account for other key expenses like school supplies and more importantly, textbooks.

According to the College Board, the average student spends more than $1,200 on just textbooks and materials each year. Depending on your major, textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars each, and keeping up with the publisher’s latest edition can be a real hassle.

But don’t fear. There are a few ways you can get ahead of the exorbitant textbook prices at the bookstore. Here are some tips to help you find the best deals when it comes to your school books.

1. Splitting the Cost with a Classmate

If you know someone else in the class you’re taking, splitting the cost of books with a classmate could be a good way for you both to cut down on textbook expenses. While it may seem inconvenient, it could pay off.

There are a few ways to make sharing a textbook work. You could try alternating study days so you each have the time you need to get your work done. Or, you can even alternate highlighter colors to keep your notes straight. And as an added bonus of sharing a textbook, you have a built-in study buddy you can rely on before tests and exams.

2. Buying Them Used

Chances are, a student who had the book the semester before you could be looking to unload their old hardware. Sometimes university shops or off-campus stores have used books available. You could also take a look at sites like ThriftBooks , eBay , or Amazon .

If you’re purchasing used textbooks online, you’ll probably want to confirm the buyer you’re dealing with is reputable. You can take a look at the seller’s reviews to get a sense of their business model.

Usually when you purchase a used book, you’ll also have the opportunity to select the condition of the book you’re buying. Often times sellers will denote their books as Like New, Very Good, Good, and Acceptable.

And before you buy a used book, double check it’s the right book and edition. The easiest way to confirm this is by using the ISBN when you search for your book. Many sites will also have photos of the book’s cover, which could help you select the appropriate version.

3. Renting Instead of Buying

Books are great to highlight, write in the margins, and keep in case you need to reference them in future classes. But in some cases, you may not need a particular text book after the semester ends. In those instances, renting could be an option to consider.

Renting books can often be cheaper than buying them outright. Compare the cost and see if borrowing a book would be less than owning it. You’ll also be saved the hassle of trying to resell your book at the end of the semester.

4. Getting the E-book

Printing costs are one reason for expensive textbooks. But if you don’t need to have a physical copy, you could save yourself a bit of money.

Try buying the e-book version instead. You can read it anywhere—your computer, tablet, or phone. Sometimes having a book in your hand without the heft and heaviness is worth it.

5. Finding a Book Swap

Some schools have clubs or organizations that run book swaps. This is where you turn in a book you’re not using to get one you need in return.

While not all campuses and colleges have this available, it could be worth looking into. Remember that for book swaps to work, they need participants! You might not have any luck in your book swap because not enough students are swapping on your campus.

6. Settling for an Older Version

Many textbooks have new versions released every year or every few years. Sometimes professors request you have the newest version available, but not always.

Check with your teacher to see if having an older version of the same book is acceptable for the course. If the newest version of the book has updated information or different materials, you may need to bite the bullet and buy the newest edition. But if not, you could save a bit of money by buying an older edition of the book.

7. Trying the Library

Some classes don’t rely on books as much as others. Buying a book that you don’t really use can be a waste of time and money. If you know that a class will be light on the required reading, head to the library.

Be mindful that other students in the class might already have the same idea as you. In that case, it’s a gamble to see if you can take out a book that may not be available. Some schools have reserve copies of textbooks in the library that you can borrow for a specific amount of time.

This could mean you can get your assigned reading done without purchasing the book. But know that these library textbooks usually have some borrowing restrictions, and plan ahead if you intend to use the school’s version.

8. Tapping into Student Loans

If you don’t have any other resources available, you can look into possibly using extra student loan money to help pay for college textbooks.

Student loans may cover the cost of more than just tuition and fees. They can also cover the cost of on-campus room and board and textbooks. If you have scholarships and grants, they can also go toward your textbooks.

If you have student loans and can use them to make your textbook purchases, it could be a good idea to do so.

Do You Have a Plan for How to Pay for College Books?

While not everyone has the same resources available, there are usually options. Textbooks can get pricey. To avoid paying more than they’re worth, consider taking the time to do a little bit of research and see what options would work best for you.

It’s important to know what you can afford before the semester starts. Explore ways you can save either on campus or online. Finding the best deals on your textbooks can mean more money for tuition and other living expenses.

Managing Your Money After Graduation

After you graduate and have secured full-time employment with your new degree, you could consider refinancing your student loans. This would mean taking out a new loan with a private lender.

If you’re in a better financial position than you were before you started school, you could qualify to reduce your interest rate, which means you’d spend less on interest over the life of the loan.

Take a look at our student loan refinancing calculator to get an estimate of how refinancing could improve your student loan repayment.

When you’re ready to refinance your student loans, SoFi is here to help.


No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

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